December 7, 2017

“Stress is associated with 50% of all lost time away from work” – how work stress impacts productivity

Recent figures estimate that 20% of staff are experiencing some level of psychological distress above the norms. There is a strong link between productivity and mental illness but we generally link this to depression. Stress is associated with 50% of all lost time away from work.
A recent study on Australian coal miners mental health takes a good look at the industry and workers’ mental health but also provides an investigation into psychological distress and the impact on productivity. In 2015, the cost to the industry in reduced productivity as a result of psychological distress was estimated at $153.8 million. The study drew on self-reported survey data on psychological state and distress-related lost time from 8 coal mines in NSW and Queensland.  A total of 1,456 coal mining employees participated in the study of which 53.0% worked in open cut
mines and 47.0% worked at underground sites. In this sample, 28.5%  worked on fly-in/fly-out and drive-in/ drive-out arrangements.
Participants were asked to complete the K-10 psychological assessment, followed by specific questions on the number of days off and the number of days where they had to cut down on their activities, in the previous 4 week period, due to stress-related symptoms. The participants explicitly described time off work and/or sub-optimal work performance (presenteeism) due to psychological distress.
Job security was a number one concern for the sample with 77% concerned about losing their jobs. Those extremely worried about losing their job resorted to high alcohol consumption. Research has shown a significant link between alcohol consumption and depression and that job security has an impact on the delayed reporting of mental health symptoms. In the four week period investigated in this study, almost 10% of staff had had one day off due to psychological distress and 20% at least one day of presenteeism. The annual cost for each mine for the days lost was estimated at $2.9 million.
This is a significant loss to productivity and a wake up call to the industry to provide improved support for this group of workers. Stigma within male-dominated industries such as coal mining, inhibits help seeking for mental illness. Employers need to look at alternative ways to encourage help-seeking and engagement in their well-being programmes.
Dr. Susanne Bahn, Director and CEO, Tap into Safety
With over 11 years’ consultancy and 9 years’ research including more than 50 published journal articles, Sue knows her way around safety in hazardous workplaces. Her specific expertise focuses on induction deafness, risk blindness and risk management. A passionate individual, Sue is on a mission to lift the safety standard across Australia and internationally. Her qualifications include a PhD (Business – Health and Safety Management), a Masters in Human Resource Management, a Bachelor of Education and a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. In July 2017 Sue was appointed as a panel member of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s Small Business Finance Advisory Panel. This appointment is an exciting opportunity to provide the Bank with valuable information on the financial and economic conditions faced by small businesses throughout Australia.

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