For EY, the conversation has moved from simple resilience training to a “more integrated system-based approach” said Roberto Garcia, director for health, safety and environment services at EY.
This includes looking at potential “hazards”, which can include processes that may stifle creativity, right through to bullying and harassment. According to the Black Dog Institute, up to 50 per cent of Australian employees have experienced workplace bullying, with the mental health consequences estimated to cost the economy $36 billion each year.
Houston said organisations have an “obligation” not to tolerate negative behaviour and to make it safe for employees to speak out when they need to do so.
“It’s stripping it back to basics about how, as leaders, as employees, as colleagues, we behave to build a positive workplace culture,” said Debra Brodowski, national manager for psychological services at the Centre for Corporate Health.
Super fund challenges
Beyondblue’s Leopold said it was essential to think of mental health in the workplace as a green-to-red “continuum”, where at the green end a person was thriving and at the red end they had a mental health condition. He said it was about keeping the “healthy, healthy” but also acting on the “amber” warning signals before people go into the red.
For 118,000-member Prime Super – a comparatively small fund – working with employers to detect members in the “amber” zone remains an ongoing challenge.
“We’re a regional and rural superannuation fund looking primarily after farmers,” said Dana Clarkson, senior manager for insurance and member services at Prime. “From an employment perspective, we don’t have a lot of big employers. From a mental health perspective, it’s just not talked about…in those types of industries. And that’s a real issue for our membership.”
AIA chief group insurance officer Stephanie Phillips acknowledged connecting with employers and members was a challenge for super funds, but urged funds to consider how they could create a closer relationship “much, much earlier”.
“We’ve got to take some of the advice we’ve got from corporate funds that still have that relationship…with their staff,” Phillips said. “What we’re trying to do is be more proactive with our super funds in recognising that they’ve got multiple employers that could be ‘mum-and-dad’ operations or rural small businesses where they don’t have access to mental healthcare.”
For Tracey Allan, the insurance and resolution manager for HESTA, the $50 billion fund for healthcare workers, considering mental health a continuum was a “fascinating” concept. Over the last two financial years, 20 per cent
of HESTA’s income protection claims related to mental health, Allan said.
“I think employers might talk the talk, but they don’t actually walk the walk. I think it’s about [having] a safe environment where you’re actually allowed to be yourself,” she said.
At the larger end of the scale, AustralianSuper, with 1.4 million insured members is adept at assisting members, in the “red zone” with regards to rehabilitation for its income protection claimants, but the fund’s head of insurance, Richard Land, said it would like to “get earlier access for its people”.
“I think what we’re not quite so good at is in the ‘green’ area and engaging with our employers to help people stay in the green area,” Land said.
Using technology and data analytics to better understand the health of super fund members and keep them healthy when they’re in the green zone remains a burgeoning area. AIA national rehabilitation manager Joanne Graves said it was about using the information the insurer has but also about getting more of it.
“You might start to see an influx of claims come through for mental health for, say, one sector of the community,” Graves said. “We tend to drill down on that…and then work with those organisations to create some early intervention and change.
“We’ve done a lot on the red light of the spectrum, and we’ve done a lot on the green light…particularly with corporate employers. Over the last five years, we’ve really worked out, ‘How do we work with an employer to notify when someone’s not coping well?’”
KPMG’s Murray said wearables, such as Fitbits, could be used to detect stress points across a population, or even a sector or division of a business.
“Should they be going through a transformation, or a merger, etc, you might see spikes, so you can do early intervention from that,” he said.
AIA’s Phillips said it was also key to encourage members, and employers, to view super funds as a source of information about mental health.
“It’s about how to be more positive in the process,” she said. “There is a commercial aspect because you want to reduce premiums and increase wellbeing within the membership, but you also want to be proactive in helping employers understand this. It’s really about how you connect with people way before they leave [work] because of a medical condition.”
BT Financial Group’s chief medical officer for life insurance, Dr Summer Zhu, suggested that super funds could “identify each individual member rather than just make them a kind of homogenous group”.
“It’s their super [fund] actually possibly playing a more long-lasting kind of lifetime friendship role than their employer,” she said.
Phillips cited employers such as Clayton Utz and EY as examples of what could be done when time and money were invested into changing processes and systems to generate better outcomes for the bottom line, staff and members.
Clayton Utz’s Houston said: “The media have talked a little about the commercial benefits of investing in this [mental health prevention], but I think as employers all around the room, bottom line benefits aside, we really have an obligation to invest in the mental health of our people, and I think we can do so much more if we work together.
“We know that being at work is good for people’s recovery…as an employer, we’re keeping people engaged, they’re performing, and we can get them back on the road to excelling.”