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  • Eugene McGarrell

Ignore a mentally unhealthy workplace at your peril.


Deteriorating work culture, narrowing profit margins and increasing workers compensation costs... who does that serve?




October is Mental Health Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about mental illness and mental health promotion. There have been a number of significant initiatives to hit the media this October including the “uberisation of mental health” by Professor Ian Hickie and a report published by Shared Value Project and PWC on the business imperative of mental health and the potential for Shared Value to be a solution.

There is a growing demand for mental health services, the current infrastructure for service delivery is not fit for purpose and a gap is widening between the need for care, support and treatment and the local resources available to offer timely and effective service.

The Productivity Commission is releasing their draft report on mental health and the link to the economy on 31 October with public hearings to follow. Mental health is certainly the flavour of the month.


There is a growing demand for mental health services, the current infrastructure for service delivery is not fit for purpose and a gap is widening between the need for care, support and treatment and the local resources available to offer timely and effective service. A band aid is applied when advocates shout loud enough and serious incidents are reported in the media. But the patch of band aids are themselves becoming unstuck.

A band aid is applied when advocates shout loud enough and serious incidents are reported in the media. But the patch of band aids are themselves becoming unstuck.

Mental health and mental illness are not simple issues. The problems occur when policy holders and politician’s fanfare simple solutions to solve the complexity of mental wellbeing. More beds, more funding, more technology and more research in themselves are not the whole solution.


Psychological injury rates are emerging in the workforce. Rates are growing at a significant cost to employers who do not have the tools to reverse the tide of workers compensation claims and reduced productivity. The problem again lies in the reductive narrative of the issue.

Rates are growing at a significant cost to employers who do not have the tools to reverse the tide of workers compensation claims and reduced productivity.

The adversarial nature of many psychological claims only serves to fan the flames (and costs) of injury for the worker, the employer and the insurer.


“My boss is a bully”


“The worker is using the system to avoid work”


“The GP is too sympathetic”


‘The lawyer is too combative”


These are the narratives that surround many psychological claims and prevent any possibility of people returning to work. The impact is insidious but real, particularly to the worker who can’t reconnect with meaningful work and her colleagues. It also adversely impacts the employer who will feel the rising cost of claims, narrowing of profit margins and deterioration of the workplace culture.

The impact is insidious but real particularly to the worker who can’t reconnect with meaningful work and her colleagues.

But let’s not pretend that there aren’t winners. An industry is prospering, and profits are being made from the stress felt by the worker and employer. The wider the gap between the worker and employer gets, the more profits are made by this industry.


The Shared Value Project and PWC Report rightly shows the economic imperative to positive mental health. There is a significant relationship between mental health and productivity, yet I suspect most CEOs and Boards are not paying any attention to this issue.

SafeWork NSW and their partners published a mentally healthy workplace strategy for NSW.


This strategy contains a framework to create mentally healthy workplaces. Included in that framework are recommendations for building organisational capacity. Leaders serious about their productivity should grab a hold of the strategy with both hands.


But the first and hardest step for any leader facing rising costs and deteriorating profits due to mental illness, psychological injury and lack of psychological safety is to look squarely in the mirror and ask:


·        How am I contributing to the culture that is creating an unhealthy workplace?

·        How do I change my style of leadership to reduce costs and improve profits?

·        How can I transition to create a positive mentally healthy workplace?


To break the cycle, the leader must first turn the blame from others. By becoming a conscious and mindful leader we end the blame game and finger pointing. The system that is making other people a profit will begin to break down. The culture improves so that people enjoy coming to work and the emotional and financial drain on litigation becomes a distant memory.


Mental health is a business and economic imperative. It always has been. But now thanks to leadership by Shared Value Project, PWC and SafeWork NSW we are seeing a much more credible link.


There is an iterative link between conscious leadership, positive workplace cultures, stronger profit margins, a growing economy, mental well-being in the community and reduced demand for services. Leaders are in a great position to create positive change not just for their business but also for the community.


That is where the shared value proposition lies.


Eugene McGarrell coaches people, teams and organisations in transition.



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