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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 and Accommodate Illness; and
  • Increase Individual Resources for Managing Mental Ill-Health.

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.

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:

  • Build capacity to monitor and identify illness; and
  • Create HR systems for monitoring and detection.


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

Support and Accomodate 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. 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 complete meaningful work.

Removing these barriers within organisations is critical for people being able to readily access support. 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 support and accommodate illness include:

  • Provide appropriate support;
  • Remove barriers to support;
  • Manage crisis and injury; and
  • Provide effective return to work processes.


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

Increase Individual Resources for Managing Mental Ill-Health

It is important to build the motivation and capacity of individual workers to manage their own mental health.

In contrast to the above categories which focus strongly on changing organisational practices and systems, this category has a focus on the individual. Organisations should provide employees with the resources they need to increase their mental health literacy, help-seeking, and recovery.

Key strategies to increase individual resources for managing mental ill-health include:

  • Raise awareness of personal mental health;
  • Build individual willingness to seek help; and
  • Build individual capacity to recover.


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

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.