The Cost of Ignoring Mental Health in the Workplace

We all have our rough days!

Those days when you’re feeling down because you didn’t quite hit the mark, when worries from your work spill into time with your family, or when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the hundred things still on your to-do list.

It’s impossible not to be familiar with those days, with 1 in 5 Australians currently affected by a mental health condition and just less than half of us estimated to experience a mental health condition at some point in our lives. This number grows substantially when you consider that an even larger the portion of the population are currently affected by severe worry, emotional exhaustion and other forms of decreased mental health. While these latter experiences do not always justify a formal diagnosis, they all fall on the mental health continuum.

We all know that when our mental health takes a hit, other areas of our life suffer. But do our workplaces realise the extent to which mental health affects productivity, and the bottom line?

I think many would be surprised to learn that mental ill-health has been estimated to cost Australian businesses 11 billion dollars every year. The research, conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, estimated that the cost associated with presenteeism related to mental ill-health towers over the costs associated with absenteeism and compensation claims. So, when we’re at work but our brains just can’t focus on the work, productivity is lost in a big way!

The numbers don’t lie: out of sight, is not out of mind. So what can be done to create more mentally healthy workplaces?

In my time as member of the team at Diversity Inclusion, I’ve been exposed to many people’s stories of bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination at work and I have come to understand how these experiences have negatively impacted the lives of those involved, especially the detrimental effects on their mental health.  

There is no doubt that bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination in the workplace effects our mental health. These behaviours have been consistently linked to increased symptoms of depression, anxiety, and physical health problems (among others!) and these effects are seen in both the targeted individuals and those who witness them. The effects permeate the workplace culture and ramifications can be felt for years after the incident. That’s why preventative action is the most effective way to protect employees and minimise costs to the organisation.   

At Diversity Inclusion, we have spent years developing our ‘Call It Out’ program, working with all levels of organisations to develop tailored programs that incorporate the latest research to empower employees to ‘call out’ negative behaviours. When everyone has the tools to help create a workplace free of bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination, we feel safe, included and supported. And our brains can go back to focusing on what’s important.  

Today, on World Mental Health Day, please take the opportunity to consider your mental health. Sit down with friends and colleagues and have a chat about ways you can work together to support each other’s mental health and what your workplace can do to help. You can also contact Mental Health Australia to organise a ‘Morning Tea for Mental Health’ and discover the range of events held across Australia throughout the week.



(1)   PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Creating a mentally healthy workplace: Return on investment analysis. In: Blue B, editor. Australia: PriceWaterhouseCoopers; 2014.

(2)   Yu, S., & Glozier, N. Mentally healthy workplaces: A return-on-investment study. In: SafeWork NSW, editor. Australia: Centre for Health Economics Research and Brain and Mind Centre; 2017.

(3)   Dollard, M.F., Dormann, C., Tuckey, M.R., & Escartín, J., (2017) Psyschosocial safety climate (PSC) and enacted PSC for workplace bullying and psychological health problem reduction. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 26(6):844-857.

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