We spend most of our waking weekday hours at work as well as potentially spending more time with our workmates and clients than we do with our own families and friends. It’s important that we feel mentally healthy, safe and valued at work, so we can perform at our best and flourish in other aspects of life.

Mental illness is now the leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia.

In mentally healthy workplaces:

  1. people watch out for each other and can ask someone if they’re ok
  2. managers and teams understand mental health and openly talk about it
  3. people know about things they can do to build resilience for challenging times at work and at home
  4. staff with mental health concerns seek help early
  5. staff with mental health issues are supported in their recovery

Mentally healthy workplaces are good for people and businesses

When our workplaces are mentally healthy, we see enormous benefits to individual employees and to the business itself, such as:

  1. Enhanced work performance and productivity. We perform at our best when we have high levels of psychological wellbeing and job satisfaction.
  2. Improvements for your company’s bottom line. Reduced staff turnover, recruitment and training costs; fewer sick days and presenteeism (being at work but not able to work at capacity); greater productivity and creativity are all good for your business – increasing revenue and decreasing costs.
  3. Improvements to your wellbeing. Work instils us with a sense of purpose, provides social networks and supports, gives opportunities to grow and develop, and helps us achieve in areas of strength – all important contributing factors to our wellbeing.
  4. Helping recovery. For those of us living with mental illness, work can play an important role in helping us recover. Many mental illnesses we see in the workplace are treatable, and in some cases, preventable.
  5. Attracting (and keeping) great talent. Businesses that invest in mental health are more likely to attract and retain the best and brightest. The culture of workplace wellbeing has many flow-on effects to individuals, businesses and the community.

It’s in everyone’s interest for the workplace to be as mentally healthy as possible.

Important facts about mental health and the workplace

One in six working-age Australians are currently experiencing mental illness, most commonly depression and anxiety.

If you work in a place with more than 10 people, there’s a good chance at least one or two people in your team is living with a mental illness.

Further to that, an additional one in six of us will have symptoms associated with mental ill health – such as worry, sleep problems and fatigue – affecting our ability to function well at work.

That’s one in every three people in each Australian workplace currently experiencing some kind of mental health challenge.

Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, are costing Australian businesses between $11 and $12 billion dollars each year through:

1. staff being absent from work (sick days)
2. reduced work performance and productivity (presenteeism – at work but not working well)
3. increased staff turnover rates and associated recruitment and training costs
4. compensation claims.
5. Up to 50% of Australian workers have experienced bullying. Workplace bullying is estimated to cost our economy $6-$36 billion annually.

Mental illness is now the leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia.

More workers are absent due to stress and anxiety than flu and other physical illnesses or injuries. Mental illness is also associated with high levels of presenteeism. That’s when someone remains at work even though they’re experiencing symptoms, resulting in lower levels of productivity.
Given these figures, it makes perfect sense to address mental health and wellbeing in each and every workplace.

Factors contributing to a mentally healthy workplace

There are risk factors and protective factors that may contribute to the level of mental health in the workplace. These include:

  1. Job design: demands of the job, control in the work environment, resources provided, the level of work engagement and potential exposure to trauma (such as emergency workers).
  2. Team factors: support from colleagues and managers, quality of interpersonal relationships, effective leadership and availability of staff training.
  3. Organisational factors: changes to the organisation, support from the business as a whole, recognising and rewarding work, how justice is perceived in a workplace, culture of safety and support.
  4. Home/work conflict: conflicting demands from home, including significant life events and how they impact our work.
  5. Individual factors: genetics, personality, early life events, cognitive and behavioural patterns, mental health history, lifestyle factors and coping style.

These factors interact in complex ways. Many of these work-based factors can be modified, and there are many ways employers can make a workplace more mentally healthy.

How you can help create a mentally healthy workplace

Every business has a legal and moral responsibility to provide a safe and fair workplace. We know that creating a mentally healthy workplace has many benefits for both employers and employees.

A well-designed workplace should support individual mental health and lead to reduced absenteeism, increased employee engagement and improved productivity.

It makes great business sense to invest in the mental health of your team

Every dollar spent on effective mental health action returns $2.30 in benefits to an organisation.

Six ways you can help make your workplace mentally healthy

There are lots of simple things everyone can do to make a mentally healthy workplace. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, and you can engage all the team to make it happen.

1. Smart work design

Establish flexible working hours.

Address workplace culture of when, where and how you work.

Involve staff in deciding how work is performed. Listen to people’s ideas about how to get their work done.

Monitor staff workloads.

Ensure your physical work environment is safe and encouraging.

2. Building personal resilience

Provide stress management and resilience training for those in high-risk jobs, such as emergency service workers exposed to significant levels of trauma or stress.

Use evidence-based approaches such as cognitive behaviour therapy.

Provide and encourage regular physical activity opportunities like lunchtime yoga, jogging or meditation.

Encourage mentoring and coaching

3. Building better work cultures

Learn how to have conversations with people you’re concerned about and encourage all staff to look out for each other.

Provide mental health education to the whole team.
Reduce stigma. Speak openly about mental health conditions.

Ensure senior staff are engaged in mental health promotion and providing a safe and positive workplace.

Implement a mental health policy including zero tolerance of bullying and discrimination.

4. Increasing awareness of mental health

Provide access to mental health information. Leave brochures about mental health on team notice boards.

Talk openly about mental health at work.

Participate in events like RU OK Day.

Conduct mental health awareness programs and mandatory training.

Include mental health development in staff induction and development.

5. Supporting staff recovery from mental illness

Provide supervisor training on how to support workers recovering from mental illness and stressful life events.
Facilitate flexible sick leave.

Modify duties and work schedules when appropriate.

Provide a supportive environment and ensure no discrimination or bullying occurs.

6. Early intervention

Encourage staff to seek help early.

Consider wellbeing checks once appropriate supports are in place.

Provide mental health training so staff can support each other.

Provide a peer support program for staff.

For further advice on Workplace Mental Health contact EAP Assist.