The costs of a mentally unhealthy workplace

woman pharmacist stressed about not finding medicine

What is workplace bullying? And how can community pharmacy owners alleviate workplace stress? Guild employment experts provide the answers

According to the latest statistics, mental illness is more prevalent than many people realise, with one in five people experiencing a mental health disorder in the last 12 months, say Pharmacy Guild experts.

The benefits of providing a mentally healthy workplace are wide-ranging, explained Amanda Seeto, Professional Practice Pharmacist at the Pharmacy Guild, at an APP2019 conference session on the Gold Coast this year.

“Your staff are engaged, they’re motivated and they’re productive,” she said at the session entitled ‘Mental health and your workplace’.

A mentally healthy workplace is more likely to have a positive workplace culture and high morale, with less absences, reduced compensation claims, and higher business productivity.

Meanwhile the costs of providing a mentally unhealthy workplace include:

  • Unplanned absences from work
  • Reduced productivity
  • Increased staff turnover and consequent increased costs with recruitment and training
  • Increased presenteeism (working while sick)
  • Workers’ compensation claims

“Research from PWC shows that for every dollar an organisation invested in creating that mentally healthy workplace, resulted in a positive return of $2.30. So that’s a pretty good investment,” said Ms Seeto.

“Employees also have a duty to take care of their own health and safety, and ensure that they don’t do anything that adversely affects the health and safety of other people,” explained Tina Scrine, Pharmacy Guild Industrial Relations Manager (Qld) who has over 20 years’ experience working in industrial relations, 14 of those with the Guild.

“Under discrimination legislation, as employers, if someone has a mental health condition we are required under that legislation to make reasonable adjustments to enable them to perform the inherent requirements of the job.

“We have obligations as employers that if we have identified a hazard in our workplace, to eliminate that hazard, or if we can’t eliminate it to manage the risks associated with it as far as reasonably practicable to deal with or prevent someone sustaining an injury or illness – and that would include a mental illness – from the work that they perform or their workplace.”

In 2011 to 2015, a typical mental health compensation claim was almost three times times higher than a physical claim.

And between 2010 and 2015, approximately 91% of mental health work compensation claims were related to workplace stress, said Ms Scrine.

Issues that can create workplace stress include: work that’s fast paced; inadequate resources; inadequate training; lack of clarity between people’s roles; workplace bullying; disciplinary matters; low job control; poor support from colleagues and managers; poor organisational change management; conflict; discrimination; harassment; performance management; and violence.

Ms Scrine goes into more detail about bullying and violence in the workplace.

“Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. Victimising, humiliating, intimidating, spreading misinformation and malicious rumours, withholding information that might be vital to someone doing their work, setting tasks that are unreasonably above and beyond, changing work arrangements or rosters to the detriment of the person,” she said.

“Workplace violence, that’s something unfortunately that we do experience in a community pharmacy, is any incident where a person is abused, threatened or assaulted arising out of the course of employment.”

“Someone can also suffer from or be a victim of workplace violence just by observing the workplace violence. Commonly that’s in armed holdups; even staff who weren’t on that shift can be affected.

“Biting, spitting, scratching, hitting, kicking, throwing objects, punching, shoving, pushing, verbal threats – which is probably what we’d more commonly hear in a community pharmacy setting – any form of indecent physical conduct, and threatening or attacking someone with some sort of item, so a knife or a weapon – or a Samurai sword – we’ve had situations [like this]…”

So how can employers work to support employees and create a mentally healthy workplace?

If there is a hazard, an employer’s first obligation is to eliminate the risk, explained Ms Scrine.

If that is not possible the next step would be to isolate people from the hazard.

Administrative controls are the lowest level of control, she said.

“These might be having policies and procedures that talk about what reasonable behaviour is and enforcing those policies and procedures. It might be minimising someone’s exposure to a particular hazard [by rotating them out of that area].”

Employers can also work to intervene early by recognising when an employee needs some assistance.

“If you know your staff, you can recognise the signs a little bit better,” says Ms Seeto.

She says some signs that an employee might be under stress include:

  • If a staff member responds inappropriately and emotionally to something.
  • They’re obsessed with some parts of the job but neglecting others.
  • Working fewer or longer hours, depending on the situation they’re trying to avoid.
  • Generally disengaged from the workplace.
  • Withdrawal from social situations.
  • Turning up to work looking dishevelled.

Some ways to create a mentally healthy workplace include “showing commitment, [and] demonstrating this by providing learning and development opportunities for your staff,” says Ms Seeto.

Other points include having respectful workplace interactions, which creates a culture where all of your staff feel valued; having open, honest and effective communication through regular staff meetings, newsletters, and; implementing a system where staff can report a hazard or a risk, for example, providing incident report forms.

“Make sure staff are aware that they can report the psychological hazards or incidents in the workplace,” says Ms Seeto.

“Building awareness of psychological health and safety can be simple as displaying a list of resources where staff can go to for assistance if they feel management is not the right option for them.

“Managers and employers model that psychological self-care, so take the time to have that lunch break, take that time to engage with others in your workplace and get to know your staff and coworkers.”

See our CPD Activity on Resilience: How to build it within yourself and your staff


Are  you feeling stressed, anxious or overworked? Contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910 (8am to 11pm) to speak with a volunteer pharmacist counsellor.

See PSS’ document Managing Stress in the Pharmacy here

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