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Unless businesses act on mental health, productivity and profits will remain under threat

New research shows that there is a business imperative to addressing mental health issues in the workplace.

The “Creating shared value: the business imperative to improve mental health in Australia” report, created by the Shared Value Project in partnership with NAB, IAG, AIA, SuperFriend and PwC, urges corporate Australia to take the lead on addressing the nation’s mental health crisis.

Mental illness affects one in five Australians, costing the economy $60 billion per year – or around 4 per cent of GDP, the report detailed.

“For business alone, the cost of lost wages, decreased productivity and support services related to mental health amounts to $13 billion annually.”

Commissioner for the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, Allan Fels said: “The prevalence of mental illness and its impact on our weakening economic growth rate [call] for an urgent response from business.”

“For the industries most impacted by poor mental health, such as financial services, this is not only a competitive business opportunity, but vital risk mitigation. Companies rely on the productivity and prosperity of their stakeholders, and they limit their success if this isn’t taken into account,” he said.

The research explored how this interconnected social and economic issue can be reduced through the adoption of shared value – a profitable business strategy designed to solve social issues.

Recognising the enormity of the problem, the leading financial services and not-for-profit organisations have seized the opportunity to consider how they could collectively address the issue, while strengthening the bottom line.

Shared Value Project CEO Helen Steel said: “Improving the operating environment is critical to business sustainability and resilience.”

“Addressing mental ill-health can increase employee efficiency and attendance, improve customer engagement and financial stability, and create more thriving communities to do business with. Ultimately, healthier stakeholders equate to a healthier bottom line,” she said.

NAB GM Social Impact Sasha Courville added: “At NAB, we see shared value as integral to ensuring our long-term success; and improving the financial health of our customers is one of our key goals. Given the strong relationship between mental health and financial health, we identified the need for NAB, and other business, to better understand and address this issue.”

“Historically, business has had a strong focus on successfully supporting staff in times of need, through the likes of employee assistance programs. We now recognise that a focus on proactively strengthening the mental health and wellbeing of all stakeholders – including staff, customers and the community – presents even greater financial and social opportunities for all parties,” she said.

Ms Steel said she hoped that it would assist in further embedding the idea that purpose and profit go hand in hand – building on the momentum of shared value in  Australia.

Professor Fels, whose daughter has schizophrenia, said: “As the proliferation of mental ill-health increases, and public resources lessen, we must recognise that it’s going to take a disruptive strategy like shared value to make the headway needed.”

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