Engaging employers on workplace mental health

It’s no secret that employers are increasingly recognising the strong business case for investing in workplace wellbeing initiatives. As a result, these activities are increasingly making their way into company business plans and performance targets.

Research by Heads Up and Beyond Blue’s Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance (MHWA) found that for every $1 invested in mental health initiatives, there’s an average return on investment (ROI) of $2.30.

The absence of appropriate mental health and wellbeing support can reduce productivity and engagement and increase staff turnover and attrition costs. Research by KPMG and Mental Health Australia found that mental ill-health and its flow-on impacts costs the economy almost $60 billion a year, and that improvements in mental health could improve workforce participation rates by 30 per cent. 

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The good news is that workplace wellbeing initiatives don’t need to be costly, complex or drawn out to be effective. In fact, most employers are already engaging in a range of workplace mental health and wellbeing activities — but may not have formally structured their program or have targets or success measures in place. 

Super funds and insurers are often working towards the same goals regarding positive member outcomes, including wellbeing. This shared vision can also help employers create a more positive, preventative approach to achieving mentally healthy workplaces. In fact, evidence shows that this kind of collaborative approach is the way to go, with the ideal state having everyone tapping into each other’s resources, skills and expertise to achieve a shared vision of member wellbeing. 

So how does this work in practice? How do super funds and insurers engage with employers to create mentally healthy workplaces? 

Understanding the types of employers

The first step for super funds is to recognise the different types of employers and their key priorities. This can help you refine your approach for higher and more successful engagement. 


An empathetic employer is typically one who recognises the value of investing in good culture and doesn’t necessarily need the return on investment or business case to be articulated. 

Quite often, this understanding is based on their own life experiences of mental ill-health or suicide, which they embrace and bring into the workplace. 

Empathetic employers may already be engaged in workplace wellbeing activities, but without realising they are doing so or formalizing their approach. 

For super funds to engage with an empathetic employer, they need to help them connect the dots. Work out what programs and initiatives are currently in place, document them, build measurement mechanisms to show results — and plan for continuous improvement. 

Empathetic employers are fertile ground; they’re ready, willing and engaged, which makes it easier for the super fund to align its values and vision to theirs. 


With risk-focused employers, you typically need to start the conversation by understanding their issues and concerns. 

Often, risk-oriented employers focus on a physical workplace safety culture but may be unaware of the psychological risks associated with the workplace, such as poor job design or excessive workloads. 

The role of the super fund here is to introduce employers to these psychological risks in a language they understand, also explaining the associated impact on employee health and wellbeing, which can lead to workplace stress, poor mental health and increased staff turnover costs. Super funds are often well-equipped with tools and resources to help employers embed mental health and wellbeing into their existing model of risk to reduce the prevalence and impact of these issues. 

Another important task for super funds is to help employers look beyond work-related risks to identify risks associated with the individual’s personal life, such as relationship breakdowns or financial hardship, which may hurt productivity. 

It’s about applying experiences to help employers understand that even without direct responsibility under the law, they must take a ‘whole of person’ view by understanding their employees’ situations both inside and outside of work, in order to help them thrive and be productive. 


With financially-focused employers, discussing the return on investment and the business case can be a good starting point and a strong driver of change. 

Super funds need to focus on understanding the business of the employer, the industry they operate in, and the gaps and opportunities to be able to work out the ROI for investing in good workplace mental health and wellbeing. 

The role of the insurer 

There are some real benefits for super funds to be bringing their insurance provider into conversations with an employer. 

First and foremost, there is an education component from the insurer’s perspective, particularly when working closely with employers who have never dealt with a person going on claim. 

The insurer can learn about the type of claims the employer has navigated, which can in turn help employers consider workplace improvements and claims management strategies and learn more about related areas such as workers’ compensation. 

Another role the insurer can play is working with employers on preventative and supportive approaches, helping to illustrate the benefits and long-term positive impacts these approaches can bring to their workers. 

Instead of being the last port of call for employers (i.e. when something goes wrong and someone’s injured) we’d achieve much more positive outcomes if insurers were engaged early and seen as a valuable resource for helping employers design and create environments where employees can thrive and do good work. 

Moving towards healthier workplaces

To ensure Australian employers are moving towards mentally healthier workplaces, SuperFriend encourages employers to download its free Building Thriving Workplaces guidelines and consider applying the simple, practical action ideas it contains.

The guidelines enable leaders and people and culture professionals to identify characteristics of mentally healthy workplaces, and educate them on what they can do differently and how they can shift their organisation to more effectively support their people to thrive. 

For super funds and insurers, Building Thriving Workplaces can help them educate employers about cost-effective and straightforward ways of prioritising mental health and wellbeing, and what positive outcomes in this space can look like for their business.  

Margo Lydon is the chief executive officer of SuperFriend.

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