The mental wellbeing of people at work is good for everyone and enhances personal and organisational resilience and success. Everyone has a role to play, both in looking after their own mental health and creating a mentally healthy workplace.

It is estimated that 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, the most common being anxiety and depression.

Although anxiety and depression can be as debilitating as a serious physical illness, less than half of the people experiencing these conditions seek help. Anxiety and depression tend to affect people during their prime working years.

What makes a workplace healthy?

While the places we work come in all shapes and sizes, mentally healthy working environments generally have a few things in common:

  • There is a positive workplace culture. A positive workplace culture is where people feel good about coming to work and everyone feels encouraged and supported.
  • Stress and other risks to mental health are managed. Stress, heavy workloads, unrealistic deadlines, poor communication, uncertainty – these and other factors can all contribute to anxiety and depression, and it’s up to managers and leaders to keep a close eye on these issues and ensure they are addressed.
  • People with mental health conditions are supported. Helping employees to stay at or return to work has clear benefits, both for the individual and the business.
  • Zero-tolerance approach to discrimination. As well as being a legal requirement, protecting employees from discrimination encourages a diverse workforce and ensures everyone gets a fair go.

Mentally healthy workplaces enjoy the following benefits:

  • Decrease in work-related injuries and illnesses
  • Decrease in workers’ compensation claims
  • Engaged workforce
  • Increase in productivity
  • Decrease in absenteeism
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Decrease in turnover and recruitment costs
  • Increase in attraction of top talent

Creating a healthy workplace isn’t as difficult as you might think. Here are some ideas:

1. Improve understanding of mental health

Provide information on self-care, positive coping strategies and resilience together with signs and symptoms of mental health conditions and suicide risk factors.

Regularly provide information to staff through multiple channels, about mental health and wellbeing services and support networks, including any provided by external organisations.

2. Address any risks

The health and wellbeing of a workplace can be enhanced by minimising the impact of risk factors and maximising the impact of protective factors in the following areas:

Work and organisational design factors

  • Role clarity – Ensure employees understand their role, reporting relationships and key duties, and are informed of any changes including new responsibilities.
  • Job control – Provide opportunities for employee participation in decisions that affect them (e.g. two-way feedback, committees) and enhance flexible working arrangements (e.g. part-time or home-based work, job sharing, non-standard working hours) to support employees’ work-life balance.
  • Resources and skill development – Provide appropriate resources and training to enable employees to competently do their job and manage its associated demands.
  • Individual factors – Recognise the often-conflicting demands of work and home life and acknowledge that people respond to stressors at work in different ways.
  • Respect, trust and equity – Develop policies for workplace behaviour, diversity and inclusion that are implemented and widely promoted. Challenge behaviour and actions that may adversely affect employee mental health and wellbeing.
  • Leadership and management capability – Provide leaders and managers with effective people management training including identifying and addressing risk factors.

Operational factors

  • Dealing with the public – Develop and implement procedures that deal with threatening or inappropriate customer behaviour, to ensure employees feel safe.
  • Shift work – Use best practise shift systems to minimise fatigue and ensure that rosters allow adequate time between shifts for employees to be well rested.
  • Long working hours – Regularly review workloads, prioritise tasks, define performance expectations, cut-out unnecessary work, give warning of urgent jobs, and encourage employees to discuss issues so solutions can be developed.

3. Foster an anti-bullying culture

Create greater awareness of bullying and inappropriate behaviours to break any cultural views that bullying is common and acceptable. Implement confidential reporting and response procedures for when bullying occurs. Ensure policies and procedures protect anyone who reports or witnesses workplace bullying, from victimisation.

4. Combat stigma

Encourage senior leaders and managers to speak openly about mental health in the workplace by actively endorsing and participating in activities and events aimed at reducing stigma. Promote zero-tolerance from discrimination against staff who have a mental health condition.

5. Promote positive mental health and wellbeing

Develop manager capability in positive, proactive leadership (e.g. promoting employee growth, matching employee skills and strengths with tasks, and providing recognition and constructive feedback). Encourage staff to work on tasks together, discuss ideas, share skills and take part in social activities. Emphasise the value of the work they do, celebrate achievements and praise effort as well as results.

6. Support employees living with a mental health condition

Develop the capabilities of managers and leaders through training that focuses on people management skills, mental health and suicide prevention in the workplace. Provide and promote confidential and easy access to a range of external and internal mental health supports (e.g. Employee Assistance Program, grievance officers, HR, peer supporters and ‘wellbeing champions’).

7. Suicide awareness

Communicate information and provide resources to highlight the warning signs of suicide. You could do this in line with dates such as World Suicide Prevention Day.

Where to find more information:

R U OK? at Work -

Heads Up – Healthy Workplaces -

Beyondblue -

We want to answer your questions

Our workplace advisers are standing by and ready to answer your questions. For further advice or assistance on this topic, or any workplace relations matters, Employment Plus clients who have placed two or more candidates have free access to the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line.

1300 862 217, 8.30am– 5.15pm AEST Monday-Friday