Panorama Employment: More than token hiring

Figtree crew.jpgABOVE: Nancy, Sandra, Liza, Mark, Deyonne and the other Figtree Conference Centre staff all hold themselves to a premium standard   PHOTO BY WARREN HEGGARTY 

The many benefits of nurturing good health in the workplace…and the consequences of ignoring it.

By Grant J Everett

According to Marketing Manager Heather Hammond from CHESS Connect employment services (1), there is a common misconception that employees with disability require more attention and resources from their employer than the average worker, take more sick days, and don’t last as long in their job roles. 

Heather contradicted all of this, stating that workers with disability generally take less sick leave, have a higher job retention rate, and even once you take reasonable workplace adjustments into account, their employment costs tend to be lower than other employees. These misconceptions are not only incorrect, but fuelling the stigma that people with disability are a liability rather than an asset. Heather said that in the right role, people with disability are just as productive and competent as any other employee. Hundreds of thousands of Australians with disability are working on many rungs of the ladder in a variety of industries, and with a little assistance, they are making a valid contribution.

Mental health issues are the third biggest health problem in Australia after heart disease and cancer, with depression being our leading cause of non-fatal disability. 

Heather identified many pluses to employing somebody with disability: they don’t seek worker’s compensation as often, it will enhance an organisation’s image, and tapping into the skills, abilities, creativity and innovation of a diverse employee pool can help get the job done. After all, a tradie wouldn’t be very effective if he only had hammers in his toolbox, would he?

Good reasons for developing mental health strategies for the workplace

Many disabilities aren’t visible. According to Workers with Mental Illness: a Practical Guide for Managers (2) by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), 45% of Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives. Statistically, we will either go through one ourselves, or be close to someone who does. This means most businesses are already employing workers with mental health issues…whether they’re aware of it or not. If somebody can manage a mental health issue without it impacting their work, does this make their diagnosis irrelevant to their employer?

It’s definitely worth investing in a healthy workplace environment for the sake of your workers’ mental health (and for the bottom line). According to the same AHRC source (2), a healthy workplace reduces employee absences, lowers turnover, fosters staff loyalty, improves productivity, provides a higher return on training investments, improves morale, and minimises legal repercussions like fines and litigation. Better yet, for every dollar that’s spent on supporting the mental health of workers, employers experience close to a 500% return in improved productivity through increased work output and reduced sick leave.

Disability discrimination legislation requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of disabled workers, and Commonwealth industrial law prevents workplaces from taking adverse action against workers due to medical conditions. According to Work Health & Safety Guidelines, employers are obligated to identify and eliminate risks in the workplace. In turn, employees are obliged to take care of their health, safety and wellbeing and that of their co-workers, and must cooperate with reasonable WHS instructions. 

If the cost of ignoring the problem is far greater than the cost of developing and implementing a safe and healthy workplace, doesn’t this make good business sense?


(1) Marketing Manager Heather Hammond from CHESS Connect

(2) Workers with Mental Illness: a Practical Guide for Managers

(3) Graffam, J, Shinkfield, A, Smith, K, and Polzin, U 2002, “Employer benefits and costs of employing a person with a disability”, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, vol. 17, pp. 251-263.

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