SuperFriend has launched practical guidelines to help Australian businesses mitigate the $10.9 billion loss to the economy through mental illness and poor mental health, following a systemic international search of relevant publications and actionable strategies.

The newly released report, ‘Promoting positive mental health in the workplace: guidelines for organisations’, was provided at the SuperFriend Forum 2015 in Sydney.

Delegates heard the number one risk to an organisation is when the people who are paid to work and be productive are not, with poor mental health often being the root cause.

Also, organisations that demonstrate and communicate a commitment to employee mental health tend to generate greater engagement from their workers, as well as improvements in employee commitment and performance.

Global evidence suggests a workforce which experiences positive states and positive psychological health contributes to the bottom line through their high performance.

Robyn Perkins, managing director of people risk at Aon Hewitt and the keynote speaker at the forum, said organisations needed to look at themselves rather than across the board as the reasons for absences, a good indicator of sub-optimal mental health, can vary even within similar sectors and locations.

The important question for each company to ask itself, in her view, is what it was doing that resulted in people not being at work.

“The secret is once you understand what it costs to have people not at work, you can actually say this is the return on the investment (to mental health) in this particular area, and this is the timeframe we will give that return in,” Perkins said.

“This is speaking the language of the CFO.”

SuperFriend states in the report that mental health should be viewed as a related, although separate, concept to mental illness, as the absence of mental illness does not in itself mean that an individual is experiencing optimal mental health.

It advised that holistic and integrated solutions were the best option and gave detailed guidelines within the report on how this could be achieved.

Perkins added that it was essential to identify people risk issues, understand the cost of the issues, design risk based solutions, implement the strategies and manage for future sustainability as a “continuous improvement cycle” was necessary as things change over time.