Despite the clear business case to improve workplace mental health, progress is going in reverse, the latest research from SuperFriend shows.

SuperFriend estimates that investment into training for mental health and wellbeing by employers delivers them a threefold return on their money, via improved productivity, talent retention and other long-term cost benefits.

But despite increased awareness of the importance of mental health at work, there has been a marked decrease in recognised wellbeing factors, according to the SuperFriend Work in Progress 2016 report.

“Most significantly, fewer employees think their managers give clear guidance and direction on what is expected of them and their priorities, a decline of 10 per cent in 2016 from the previous year’s survey,” the report states.

SuperFriend is a national mental health foundation that works with super funds, insurers and employers to improve mental health and wellbeing practices in the workplace. It is funded by 21 industry super funds and eight group insurers.

Poor workplace mental health can contribute to increased absenteeism, presentism, inefficiency and bad decision-making. These can all lead to a drop in the contributions paid to super funds as members leave the workforce, as well as increased insurance payouts from associated health issues.


Workers are fed-up

The recent SuperFriend survey showed employee tolerance for poor mental health environments at work has dropped dramatically. Only 17 per cent of respondents said they would stay and try to improve the situation – a decrease from 30 per cent in the 2015 report – and half had left a job because of the poor environment.

“Three in four employees surveyed believe their company is more likely to recruit and retain the best talent by adopting mental health practices and initiatives,” SuperFriend chief executive Margo Lydon says. “When you compound this with the increased productivity of mentally healthy workers, the reduced numbers of worker’s compensation claims and fewer absences – it is obvious that mental health is a worthwhile investment.”

SuperFriend calculates that for every dollar invested into mental health and wellbeing training, there is a return in social value of $3.10 to $3.60.

But Australian businesses remain poor at promoting practices to stop burnout.

The survey found just 21 per cent of workers felt their company encouraged them to take leave (down 9 per cent from the previous year), 16 per cent reported their workload was monitored to avoid burnout (also a decline of 9 per cent), 18 per cent believed they had support for work/life balance and only 14 per cent said their company offered any physical health initiatives to support their wellbeing and job performance.


Financial services staff at risk

“Employers are more likely to invest in intervention, rather than prevention, and there [must] be a shift in this mentality if companies are going to succeed in creating healthier environments for their employees,” Lydon says.

While 20 per cent of the overall working population at any given moment faces mental health issues, in the financial services industry it is 33 per cent, MetLife Insurance chief executive Deanne Stewart said at an industry event last year.

In the US, the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance concluded that workers in the financial services sector are one-and-a-half times more likely to die by suicide than the general population.

For the local superannuation and wealth-management sector, this trend represents a risk to investments, as the attrition of skilled staff at the underlying companies, or even at the fund manager level, can lead to underperformance and material losses.

Lydon encourages all business leaders to download SuperFriend’s Work in Progress 2016. It outlines 38 “desired-state characteristics” that can help employers identify issues in their workplace, what they can do differently and how they can move their organisation to support their team’s success at work.


Conexus Financial and SuperFriend, with thanks to event partner AIA Australia, will host a morning seminar on workplace mental health in Sydney on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Mary Ann Baynton, an expert in mental resilience from Canada, will share insights into global best practice on how pension funds and insurers can help create mentally healthy workplaces. For more information about the event, please contact Emma Brodie via or +61 9227 5708 or register online.


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