August 22, 2005
Project Could Boost Bottom Line for Business ‘Blues’
A national study will demonstrate how Australian employers can save up to $1 Billion lost every year by assisting employees with untreated depression.
Depression is the leading cause of disability in Australia with one in five Australians suffering a major depression episode during their life time spelling a miserable time for a large group of people.
The truly sad fact is that half of people that have depression never seek any form of help or treatment for the condition, yet treatments are effective in over 70% of cases.
Untreated depression takes a big bite out of the economy, costing an average of almost $10,000 a year for every untreated employee due to absenteeism and work under-productivity.
World Bank consultant Professor Harvey Whiteford, is directing the WORC (Work Outcomes Research and Cost-Benefit) Project collaboration between Harvard University, University of Queensland and the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research. Professor Whiteford said while many employers have known for years the obvious cost of depression on their workforce through absenteeism, the hidden costs of 'presenteeism' is on a far bigger scale.
"Absenteeism is actually the smaller part of the problem" Professor Whiteford said. "Whereas absenteeism costs around $1.2B per year for the economy, 'presenteeism' or work cut-back costs almost double that at $2.3Billion."
"We're talking about employees with untreated depression that can last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, and causes that employee to function at around 40% of their capability while they are at work." Professor Whiteford said "the potential to investigate cost-effective interventions was enormous."
"The WORC Project surveys employees, and helps those with depression access treatment, and determines the financial return on investment from the employers' perspective," Professor Whiteford said. "We want to proactively help people to access treatment, but employers also need to know that the cost of screening and treatment are more than offset by increased productivity, expressed in dollar terms"
"It might be impossible to measure an individual's happiness against a budget line, but we are looking for economic indicators in other ways, such as decreased absenteeism, increased productivity, reduced Work Cover costs, decreased staff turnover, and those incalculable benefits of improved morale."
"For those participating employers, we calculate treatment and intervention will recoup around $338 for every employee per year; that's each employee, not just those with depression. This is a big carrot for employers, just as the personal, familial and social benefits of lifting the clouds of depression is for the people who actually experience it."
The WORC Project, the first time a study of this type and size in Australia, has surveyed 80,000 employees across Australia. Employees who have symptoms of depression and who are not currently seeking treatment are linked in with psychologists and General Practitioners or other specialists. Early results indicate that 65% of employees with depression symptoms have not sought help in the last year.
The WORC Project had already attracted the attention of large national employers who had projected the benefits for their workplace and have signed on as project participants.
Professor Whiteford said. "Some competitive organizations have been trying to address this issue within their own workforce for years, and recognize the benefits of being part of a national collaboration."
"The most proactive participants seemed to have been those organizations that recognized the economy-based drive for health and wellness we've seen to most effect in the United States."
"Depression is an economic issue. If you treat it, there's economic benefits on a number of levels. There's a cost to not treating depression."
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