What is a mentally healthy workplace?

A mentally healthy workplace is one where

  • employees feel respected, supported and free to speak about concerns or stress.
  • risks to mental health are managed.
  • people with mental health conditions are supported. By helping employees to stay at or return to work has clear benefits, both for the individual and the business.
  • there is a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination.

You can do this by controlling the work-related factors that influence mental health and creating an environment where you and your staff can balance work with personal life.

Benefits of a mentally healthy workplace

Building a mentally healthy workplace has great benefits for small business owners and their workers, such as:

  • improved wellbeing and mental health
  • fewer injuries and sick days
  • greater job satisfaction
  • increased productivity
  • increased worker engagement
  • reduced staff turnover

How to build a mentally healthy workplace

There are many ways to create a mentally healthy workplace. The WorkSafe Victoria’s WorkWell Toolkit for Small Business is a key resource to help you build a plan that is right for you and your business.

Watch the following video to learn more about wellbeing in the workplace.

We know work is a big part of our daily lives, and can help promote our mental health by giving us a feeling of purpose and a sense of contribution.

There's a clear link between our experience in the workplace and our mental health. Thriving at work can have a profoundly positive impact on how a person feels.

Under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, 'Employers must provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.'

This includes psychological health.

But what is a mentally healthy workplace?

Firstly, it's one which has measures in place to prevent harm by identifying risks to mental health. It manages harm from an early stage and supports team members' recovery along the way.

So, if a person's mental health is connected to their work, how are your workplace system and practices affecting your team? There are a number of work-related factors which can be controlled and managed by employers to create a mentally healthy workplace, and to prevent mental injuries.

Work-related factors that are not controlled and managed can increase stress. This can lead to physical injury, mental injury, or even both at the same time.

Of course, workers can be exposed to more than one work-related factor at a time. Some may always be present while others occur occasionally.

Common work-related factors that can become hazards if not managed are:

  • low job control
  • high and low job demands
  • poor support
  • poor organisational change management
  • poor organisational justice
  • low recognition and reward
  • low role clarity
  • poor workplace relationships
  • poor environmental conditions
  • remote and isolated work, and
  • violent or traumatic events

Here's a few a examples.

Employees need challenging tasks to maintain their motivation and to develop new skills, but they also need to be able to cope. Let's call these job demands. They can have a significant impact for your team. If job demands are high, think about the support employees need from supervisors and their work colleagues. And think about the level of control the employee has in their job to meet demands.

Poor workplace relationships can negatively affect the way an employee feels at work. When groups of people work together, it is likely some conflict will arise from time to time. So, it's important that a workplace takes proactive steps towards preventing and managing conflict by developing a culture that promotes appropriate workplace behaviour and respectful relationships.

It's important to consider the environmental conditions in your workplace and the impact on how someone can feel. Air quality, noise, and temperature can increase the risk of stress to an employee. An employee may not identify and report these factors immediately, but over time they can impact on their mental health and contribute to a mental injury. Good work design enables employees to be engaged in work that is healthy, safe, and productive.

Consulting with employees on matters that affect their mental health at work is the first and most important step. Bring your team along for the journey.

As an employer, you have the power to create a positive, supportive, and inclusive workplace and to develop good systems of work for supporting mental health.

Discover more about the work-related factors at www.worksafe.vic.gov.au.

You can also start by talking about common factors that cause stress at work and finding ways to reduce them.

Here are some easy tips for how you can start promoting mental health and positive wellbeing in the workplace.

Induct and train staff

Set up proper induction and training processes for new employees. Induction usually involves:

  • introducing new staff to the people they'll be working with
  • explaining how the business works
  • making sure they know how their role fits into the organisation

Make sure all new staff have the training, resources and information they need to do their job, and know where to go if they have issues or questions.

Your employees should also have a clear understanding of what is expected of them at work. You might include this in your business's HR policies and procedures manual template (DOCX 216.86 KB)DOCX icon.

Create a safe place to work

Feeling safe in the workplace is not just about physical safety but psychological safety, too.

Make sure your employees are protected from aggressive behaviour, bullying and harassment. They should also feel comfortable raising issues and sharing ideas about their work, their roles and the workplace.

It's a good idea to schedule regular meetings or catch-ups with your employees to give them the chance to speak to you about any issues they have. This can also be a great opportunity to hear their ideas for improvements for the business. You can do this as part of your staff performance reviews.

Make sure staff know where to go for help

There should be clear processes for reporting issues such as harassment and bullying. You can outline this in your HR policies and procedures manual template (DOCX 216.86 KB)DOCX icon.

If a staff member needs mental health support, you can connect them to your employee assistance program if you have one, or suggest other resources for wellbeing and mental health.

Remember, not all staff will feel comfortable asking for help. This is why it's a good idea to talk about mental wellbeing openly in the workplace, and provide all staff with access to some kind of support service, even if you're unsure they need it.

Offer flexible working arrangements

Juggling work and personal responsibilities can be stressful. You can negotiate flexible working arrangements with employees to allow them to fit work around other commitments and achieve better work–life balance

Make sure staff understand the leave they are entitled to and the flexibility you can offer them. Be responsive if a staff member requests leave, flexibility or changes to their role.

Talk about mental health in the workplace

Be open to talking about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. You can do this by speaking to your employees regularly (one-on-one, if possible) and being responsive if they raise issues with you.

Identify potential stressors your employees may face and think about how to reduce them.

Common stressors at work can include:

  • not understanding the role
  • not feeling valued
  • a workload that is too high
  • not having the training or resources required to do the job

Healthy workplace resources and programs

There are resources and programs and training available to help small business owners create a mentally healthy workplace.

WorkWell Toolkit for Small Business

WorkSafe Victoria’s WorkWell Toolkit for Small Business is a free online tool to help businesses promote mental health and prevent mental injury in the workplace. Work through the Toolkit step-by-step to access tools and information tailored to your business size and industry type.

Mentally Healthy Workplaces framework and tools

Mentally Healthy Workplaces is a trusted source of tools and information for employers and employees to promote good mental health and prevent barriers to good mental health in the workplace.

Healthy Workplaces Achievement Program

The Healthy Workplaces Achievement Program is a free, evidence-based health and wellbeing program with tools and templates that will help you create a workplace that promotes health and healthy behaviours.

Thriving workplace information and guides

A thriving workplace is one where business owners promote positive mental health practices in the workplace, in addition to managing risks to mental health and wellbeing and supporting employees with mental health concerns.

Superfriend publish an annual survey of thriving workplaces in Australia in addition to a practical guide on Building Thriving Workplaces.

Fee-For-Service Training

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a not-for-profit business organisation providing information, programs and support for members and non-members. They run training sessions on mental health and wellbeing for managers and business owners.