Using the interaction of mental health symptoms and treatment status to estimate lost employee productivity

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2010 Feb;44(2):151-61. doi: 10.3109/00048670903393605.


Objective: In Australia it has been estimated that mental health symptoms result in a loss of $ AU2.7 billion in employee productivity. To date, however, there has been only one study quantifying employee productivity decrements due to mental disorders when treatment-seeking behaviours are considered. The aim of the current paper was to estimate employee work productivity by mental health symptoms while considering different treatment-seeking behaviours.

Method: A total of 60 556 full-time employees responded to the World Health Organization Health and Work Performance Questionnaire. This questionnaire is designed to monitor the work productivity of employees for chronic and acute physical and mental health conditions. Contained within the questionnaire is the Kessler 6, a scale measuring psychological distress along with an evaluation of employee treatment-seeking behaviours for depression, anxiety and any other emotional problems. A univariate analysis of variance was performed for employee productivity using the interaction between Kessler 6 severity categories and treatment-seeking behaviours.

Results: A total of 9.6% of employees have moderate psychological distress and a further 4.5% have high psychological distress. Increasing psychological distress from low to moderate then to high levels is associated with increasing productivity decrements (6.4%, 9.4% and 20.9% decrements, respectively) for employees in current treatment. Combining the prevalence of Kessler 6 categories with treatment-seeking behaviours, mean 2009 salaries and number of Australian employees in 2009, it is estimated that psychological distress produces an $ AU5.9 billion reduction in Australian employee productivity per annum.

Conclusions: The estimated loss of $ AU5.9 billion in employee productivity due to mental health problems is substantially higher than previous estimates. This finding is especially pertinent given the global economic crisis, when psychological distress among employees is likely to be increasing. Effective treatment for mental health problems yields substantial increases in employee productivity and would be a sound economic investment for employers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Australia
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Efficiency, Organizational / economics*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / economics*
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Health
  • Sick Leave / economics*
  • Stress, Psychological / economics
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace / economics*