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A mentally healthy workplace

Whilst everyone’s experience is unique and people will respond and react to situations in varying ways, given these statistics and current research most, if not all workplaces will have employees who experience a mental health condition; the most common being anxiety or depression

Leading the way to a mentally healthy workplace

This information aims to assist leaders and managers in establishing and promoting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
The workplace often represents a significant part of a person’s life, and consequently plays an important role in supporting the mental and physical health of its employees. Work-related mental health conditions (psychological injuries) are an increasing concern for workplaces.

What is a mentally healthy workspace?

A mentally healthy workplace is one that promotes a positive and inclusive workplace culture where staff feel appreciated and supported in the workplace, and where leaders and managers:

  • Drive mental health awareness through open communication enabling employees to feel safe raising mental health conditions and seek help
  • Are trained to recognise possible signs of mental health conditions in staff, to have mental health conversations, respond appropriately and know how to refer to professionals when necessary. 
  • Are aware of mental health support and know how to access both internal support and external mental health resources.

The aim of a Workplace Mental Health Plan is to have a structured, ongoing approach in the supportive management of employees’ mental health and wellbeing. It includes intervention strategies, addresses risk factors, and has a plan to manage mental health conditions and support staff. Health and safety needs to be front of mind and integrated into all workplace procedures, workplace practices and communicated openly by the leaders and management to all employees. Once developed, best practice would be to seek input and feedback from employees to ensure they are aware of and are comfortable with the Mental Health Plan.

Let’s look at some considerations to include in your Mental Health Plan.

1. Mental Health Awareness and Wellbeing training

Leaders and managers who are formally trained in mental health and wellbeing, will be equipped to openly and regularly communicate the importance of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. Additionally, having the skills and knowledge to recognise when someone could benefit from a mental health conversation, respond appropriately in crisis conversations and refer to professionals when necessary is key. Mental health awareness at the senior level also helps to reduce the stigma attached to mental health conditions which helps create a supportive environment

2. Understanding mental health risks in the workplace

Knowledge of mental health risks can assist leaders to proactively identify, evaluate and minimise possible psychological issues in the workplace. This can help alleviate stress which can have a positive effect on an employees’ mental health. For instance, consider:

  • Reviewing absences to identify any trends – for instance staff burnout, stress leave or compassion fatigue for customer facing staff
  • Programs to identify bullying and violence and aggression Safe Work Bullying Safe Work Violence and Aggression
  • Conducting exit interviews to determine if there may be any systemic mental health concerns in the workplace
  • Reviewing job design for mental health risks such as workplace conditions, physical danger and exposure to trauma, as well as less obvious aspects such as repetitiveness, lack of peer and management support, and inability to meet expected outcomes.


3. Ensuring a fair and reasonable workplace environment

A 2014 study of Australian employees found that 35% of employees didn’t know if their workplace had any policies, procedures or practices to support mental health. Whereas, 81% of the leaders indicated their workplace had one or more policies, procedures or practices to support mental health5. Consequently, many employees don’t actively seek mental health support at work because there is either a lack of policies, procedures and practices in place, or they don’t know that these resources are available. Research tells us that employees are more likely to seek support from a work colleague than from a manager or through formal pathways, so it’s important employees have the basic skills and awareness to help assist them with supportive conversations and guide their peers to the EAP.

5TNS (2014). State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia. (In Conjunction with Beyond Blue)

Implementing safe workplace practices should include:

  • Fair and reasonable expectations are set and agreed regarding job design, workloads and work life balance
  • A process in place to support employees that disclose they have a mental health condition
  • A Return to Work Plan to help employees return to work after being absent with a mental health condition
  • Access to counselling via an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
  • Encouraging peer level, informal support networks and mechanisms is an important component of improving and addressing mental wellbeing at work.
  • Regular communications to the whole organisation in conjunction with proactive support of these policies by management.
  • 1 in 5 Australian workers experience a mental health condition in any year1
  • 47% of Australians aged 16–85 will live with a mental health condition at some point in their lives1
  • $10.9 BILLION Mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces $10.9 billion per year2

Useful information and resources

If life is in danger call 000.

For Crisis telephone support call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat or text with a crisis supporter (available 24/7)

1The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted in 2007 found that an estimated 1 in 5 (20%) Australians aged 16–85
experienced a mental disorder in the previous 12 months (ABS 2008). 2SafeWork NSW, Mentally health workplaces in NSW: A return on investment study, October 2017

1The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted in 2007 found that an estimated 1 in 5 (20%) Australians aged 16–85 experienced a mental disorder in the previous 12 months (ABS 2008). 2SafeWork NSW, Mentally health workplaces in NSW: A return on investment study, October 2017, 3, 4 & 5.TNS (2014). State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia. (In conjunction with Beyond Blue)