14% of Your Workforce are Mentally Unhealthy

Leaders urged to address the underlying issues.

Mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression have been evident in our collected data across Australian professional services and mining workforces for the past 5 years. Our findings from over 200,000 data points, pre and post COVID-19, indicate that an average of 14% of the workforce are mentally unhealthy. Put plainly, they are at high risk and need further professional support. University of Cambridge and University London College have recently published comparable results as part of a UK research project. Data analysed on almost 20,000 people aged between 16 and 65 across 20 industries found 1 in seven people in the workplace experience mental health problems, and women are nearly two times as likely to have mental health problems as men.

These findings support Optimum’s real-world data, albeit our sample size is smaller. Cambridge has reported more than half of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions. This equates to 26.8 million lost workdays. Safe Work Australia figures show stress, anxiety and depression impacted 82,800 workers with 17.9 million working days lost.Stress alone accounted for 21.2 days lost per reported case. There are 7,985 Australians compensated for work-related mental health issues each year. This represents 7% of total claims costing a whopping $33.5 billion – all for non-physical injury workers compensation claims.

Mental health problems in the workforce are increasing, and they are not something that can be ignored nor hope they magically will return to ‘normal.’ According to Cambridge’s new research, mental health problems in the UK were on the rise across the board prior to COVID-19. Around 5 million Australians suffered from a mental health condition pre COVID-19, translating into 10-12 days sick leave. The Productivity Commission found that this cost $39 billion in lost productivity in 2020.

Post pandemic data continues to reinforce the greatest risk for businesses comes not from systems or machines, but from people. Terms like ‘quiet quitting, the great resignation and workplace culture’ have overwhelmed our media and gained momentum. It only takes another event or world crisis of a different nature like an economic crash, to see the associated mental health triggers impact directly on your employees and your company’s risk profile.

Understanding how to deal with such mental health issues in the workplace is a challenge. With the growing number of Apps and courses emerging to counterbalance the impact of mental health on performance at work, leaders need to first decide whether they want to go beyond the tick the box approach. We can all have an App on our phone, we can all do lunch time massages and wellness days, but unless it is part of a holistic employee value proposition that collects and analyses data as well as suggest specific interventions, nothing will change. We must go beyond “simple solutions.” We need to do more than respond to outcomes. The focus must be on prevention and support. Current business leaders must think beyond the quick fix, as long-term business success depends on how they manage mental health in their workplace.

The leaders who implement an integrated corporate health, wellbeing and safety program are driving change within their organisation for long term benefits. These leaders are elevating their organisations to becoming an employer of choice. A business that follows this path is 2.5X more likely to be viewed as a top performing organisation. 64% of employees will stay for at least 5 years if satisfied with their company’s mental health program.

A 2022 American Psychological Association survey found that employee expectations related to mental health support are shifting. More than 80% agreed that how employers support mental health will be an important consideration for them when they look for future work. The fact that more organisations are acknowledging the important connection between the workplace and mental health is an encouraging shift, but still requires risk assessments and analytic insights to have a meaningful impact.

The biggest challenge for leaders in 2023 will be responding to mental health in the workplace as they manage through economic uncertainty. How you respond could determine whether you are an employer of choice.

Optimum are well placed to work with you and your organisation to help navigate a path through the upcoming challenges and complexities of 2023, with the support of world class, human risk systems, programs, and onsite services.


University of Cambridge and University College London: Industry specific prevalence and gender disparity of common mental health problems in the UK: A national repetitive cross-sectional study
Australian Bureau of Statistics
SafeWork Australia – costs of injury and illness statistics, 2012-2013 (last modified March 2020)Optimum’s workplace data

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