Energy Super tackles mental health in the workplace

With one in five Australians currently dealing with a mental health issue, industry super fund Energy Super is encouraging employers to address and strengthen the mental health of their employees by bolstering workplace early intervention and support programs.

Energy Super CEO Robyn Petrou said the male-dominated energy and resource industries were particularly sensitive to mental health issues.

“Men are on average three times more likely to die by suicide compared to females, and men in their 50s are most likely to make an insurance claim for mental illness,” she said.

“As a first step, we are introducing our employers to SuperFriend, which can conduct an initial audit and review of any existing employee mental health and wellbeing workplace initiatives.  It can then make some recommendations of recommended internal action and/or tailored programs that are available, whether they be by SuperFriend or other mental health experts, such as Mates In Construction,” she said.

Addressing mental health issues early can be a win/win for employees and employers, with the potential to both boost productivity and improve quality of life for the worker. CANSTAR caught up with Superfriend for some more information about its services.

Q: SuperFriend is a terrific initiative. How can employers best take advantage of it?

A: There are a range of evidence-based workplace initiatives that aim to support employers in developing a whole-of-business approach to workplace mental health and wellbeing.

For many employers, they are already doing some great work, but it often just needs some coordination within their businesses and some simple solutions to enhance their efforts. SuperFriend, through our partnership with Energy Super, can provide guidance to employers through our Wellbeing Works program.

This program is tailored to the workplace and develops specific recommendations for employers as to where to start. Furthermore, there are a range of resources available on the SuperFriend website that can be of assistance. Most importantly, for workplace wellbeing to be successful, it needs to engage the people across the organisation and achieve genuine buy-in from senior leadership/board all the way through the organisation.

Q: Energy Super noted that men in their 50s are most likely to make an insurance claim for mental illness. Has the number of mental illness-related claims overall been increasing in recent years?

A: From SuperFriend′s large research project, SuperMIND, that looked at mental illness related claims over five years, and across 13 super funds, we know that mental illness related claims make up approximately 10% of all claims. For certain age groups or other demographic factors, this can be much higher than 10%.

In general, we also found that mental illness related claims are increasing in volume as a result of a number of factors including, overtime, the improvement we have seen in claims classification within life insurance and superannuation that more accurately captures the nature of the claim cause. However, we think the most significant factor contributing to the increase is that people′s general awareness of mental illness is growing and this is leading to early identification of issues and diagnosis of mental health problems.

In short, people these days are a lot more aware of mental health problems and are more willing to talk about it and seek help.

Energy Super has advised that:

  • Overall approximately 25% of all illnesses are psychological conditions
  • Between 2011 and 2015, claims relating to mental illness grew by about 260%
  • Average claims length of finalised claims is 307 days where a psychological condition is the primary reason for incapacity compared to an overall average of 167 days.
  • This does not take into account claims where psychological conditions were a secondary condition.

Q: It is an illness where early intervention can make a big difference. What encouragement would you offer employers who are reluctant or perhaps too busy to use the SuperFriend services?

A: All the research in treatment for mental illness supports that early intervention leads to superior recovery and health outcomes.

A proactive employer who understands the reason for work absence, not just the number of days lost to sickness, is taking the first steps to being able to positively address this issue. Providing a mentally health workplace culture that encourages high engagement is also shown to positively affect the profitability of an organisation through increase productivity and decreased costs. Being too busy, or reluctant to understand an employers′ obligations will not serve the business well, let alone its people.

Q: What makes energy and resource sectors sensitive to mental health issues?

A: The high-pressure, high-risk nature of the energy and electrician industry (eg. FIFO workers – living away from home / family / friends, constant travel, long shifts, greater job demands) make this industry more susceptible to mental health issues.

With a higher proportion of males compared to females, this also increases the overall risk of the energy and resources sector as male-dominated industries generally have higher rates of mental health issues when compared to other industries.  Eg. Manual workers are more at risk than non-manual workers and blue collar workers are significantly more at risk than white collar workers.

Mental health problems are the third biggest health problem affecting Australian workers, after heart disease and cancer.

SuperFriend is a national health promotion foundation that helps all profit to member superannuation funds to promote and support improved mental health and wellbeing for their members, through the workplace.

Energy Super is a platinum-rated* $6 billion industry super fund providing retirement planning solutions to around 49,000 of its members across Australia.

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