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What does it mean to Mitigate Illness?

Mitigate Illness is one of three pillars in the Thrive at Work Framework and an important contributor to creating a workplace in which employees can thrive.

The Mitigate Illness pillar has three building blocks that work together to support employees experiencing mental illness. They are:

  • Detect Illness,
  • Support Illness, and
  • Accommodate Illness.

Research tells us that mental illness can impact people across all types of workplaces, and all industries.1 To mitigate illness, organisations should aim to help employees identify when they are experiencing mental ill health, support employees who are impaired to get well again, and assist those who have been unwell to return to the workplace.

Mitigate Illness pillar table showing building blocks, and key strategies.

Why is it important to Mitigate Illness?

Approximately 45% of adults between the ages of 16 and 85 will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime.2 Many Australian adults who experience mental health issues will be of working age and employed in different roles, across all industries.

Research consistently shows that untreated mental illnesses negatively impact turnover, absenteeism and workforce productivity. 3,4 Organisations that mitigate illness demonstrate to their workforce they are committed to supporting employees experiencing poor mental health.  In turn, employees want to work for and stay in organisations that acknowledge the importance of mental health and assists employees recover from mental illness.5 Organisations that mitigate mental illness can experience a significant return on investment, through increased productivity and reduced absenteeism.


Untreated mental health conditions cost Australian business approximately $10.9 billion per year in absenteeism, presenteeism and compensation claims6.

Detect Illness

Early intervention is vital to reducing the impact of mental ill health on individuals and to aid recovery. However, it is often difficult for individuals to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental illness in themselves and others.

To detect illness, organisations need to increase the capability of leaders and employees to identify, take action on, and monitor mental health issues.

Key strategies to detect illness include:

  • Leader and employee education – educate leaders and employees such that they are able to recognise changes in behaviour, appearance and performance in themselves and in colleagues, enabling recognition of potential mental health issues.
  • Monitoring mental health – provide leaders and employees with the skills to be able to monitor employee mental health through meaningful conversations and organisational indicators of well-being.


1 in 5 employees report having taken time off from work due to being mentally unwell.7

Support Illness

Unfortunately, employees who have identified that they need support are often faced with the challenge of mental health stigma and organisational barriers to accessing support.

Removing these barriers within organisations is critical for people being able to readily access support.

Key strategies to support illness include:

  • Reduce mental health stigma – organisations and employees should continually challenge stigma by opening dialogue on mental health and well-being.
  • Remove barriers to support – reduce difficulty to accessing workplace mental health support programs through clear communication of what is offered and allowing time for attendance.
  • Employee Assistance Programs – make a confidential counselling service available via an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offered to all employees.


A recent Australian survey revealed 43% of employees with mental health issues believe they experienced stigma with respect to mental health in their work environment.8

Accommodate Illness

For those employees who are experiencing mental illness, or employees who are returning to work after illness, original work tasks and conditions may need revising to ensure that employees are able to focus on recovery as well as still completing meaningful work.

Organisations should actively make accommodations for employees who are experiencing illness or injury or who are returning to the workplace after illness.

Key strategies to accommodate illness include:

  • a work-design focused injury management process – employees who are experiencing mental illness or injury and able to remain at work are provided with a structured, tailored injury management process that also considers the quality of the work undertaken; and
  • a work-design focused Return to Work process – employees returning to the workplace after time off to recover from mental illness undertake a structured, tailored return to work process addresses the quality of the employee’s work.


A report commissioned by SafeWork NSW has estimated that the return on investment for psychological return to work programs is $3.90 for small-medium enterprise and $3.74 for large employer per dollar invested.9


Mental Health Issues at Work: How to have the conversation

The workshop will provide an easy to use framework and simple, practical tips for people in workplaces who need to respond to someone they are concerned about.

It is suitable for managers, supervisors, HR staff, CEOs, OHS staff and anyone who wants to learn how to understand how to respond appropriately when someone has a mental health issue.

Registrations are open.

Next step

Detect Illness

The Detect Illness building block increases the capability of leaders and employees to identify, take action on and monitor mental health issues in the workplace.