HSE Articles

How your workplace can affect employees' mental wellbeing


The recognition and acceptance of mental health and wellbeing is gaining momentum through the workplace.


Companies are becoming more aware of how psychological factors, work or non-work related, can have a significant effect on an individual’s mental state in the workplace, productivity and engagement.


Companies have a duty of care to ensure a psychologically and physically safe working environment for their employees, but there is also a growing demand for more positive and supportive workplace cultures.


Research conducted by Instinct and Reason, on behalf of Beyond Blue, found that “three-quarters of Australian employees say a mentally healthy workplace is important when looking for a job.”



Understanding psychosocial hazards in the workplace


In order to create a mentally healthy work environment, you need to know and address any potential psychological risks. Safe Work Australia refers to these as psychosocial hazards – mental and emotional stressors created when an employee doesn’t feel they have the ability or resources to cope with their job demands.


People with existing mental health conditions are not the only ones who are exposed to psychosocial hazards nor are they the only ones who respond to them. Psychosocial hazards affect anyone in an organisation.


They may be always present due to the nature of the job or work environment or they may occur from an event. Some employees may even be exposed to a combination of them.


As people react differently in certain situations, the susceptibility of exposure and harm can be very subjective and must be treated with great care and sensitivity.


From CEOs to graduates, everyone has the right to come to a positive work environment and feel they can express their views, concerns or hardships in a confidential and supportive manner.





Ignoring psychosocial hazards can have detrimental effects


If not addressed and identified properly, exposure to psychosocial hazards can lead to work-related stress, unplanned absences, staff turnover, poor work or poor product quality, and even long-term depression and anxiety.


Safe Work Australia highlights that each year 7,200 Australians are compensated for work-related mental health conditions, and approximately $543 million is paid in workers’ compensation for work-related mental health conditions.


Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, 91% of worker’s compensation claims involving a mental health condition were connected to work-related stress or mental stress. The top three causes were work pressure, work-related harassment and/or bullying and exposure to violence.



Achieving mental wellness takes an integrated approach


As mentioned in our previous article Mental wellness in the workplace identifying, managing and controlling psychosocial hazards can be done through the risk management process and incorporated into existing WHS/OHS procedures.


To truly sustain a mentally healthy workplace, however, takes an integrated and collaborative approach from people across all levels of an organisation.


Companies should implement mental health and wellbeing strategies and policies that are endorsed and promoted by senior management. It is important for leaders to commit to mental wellness initiatives and education, and even be good role models demonstrating their own healthy work habits and self-care.


It is also important for managers and supervisors to be effectively trained in discussing mental health and wellbeing with employees, and how to look out for, approach and support employees who may be struggling with work or non-work related stressors.





The key attributes of a mentally healthy workplace


Heads Up outlines some key attributes of a mentally healthy workplace:


  • Prioritise mental health across all levels of employees


  • Build a trusting, fair and respectful culture


  • Demonstrate a commitment and shared purpose from leadership


  • Match roles to employees’ skills and abilities


  • Set reasonable workloads and timelines


  • Encourage skills and career development


  • Encourage work/life balance


  • Be responsive and supportive to employees with mental health conditions



Not only can these practices and strategies help create a more positive workplace culture and reduce employee exposure to psychological risk, they can also assist those with existing mental health conditions feel more supported and accepted in the workplace.



Tips to keep you mentally well at work


If your organisation is still working on an effective mental health and wellbeing strategy or mental wellness is not a priority, there are still ways that you can contribute to a mentally healthy work environment.


For managers:


  • Increase your own knowledge, and your staff’s knowledge, about mental health and the support services available


  • Educate yourself on how to effectively identify and support any team member who is struggling with their mental health


  • Find out the most appropriate ways to have open and honest discussions with team members on mental wellbeing


  • Lead by example – take regular breaks, leave on time and take care of yourself


For employees:


  • Take care of your health, both physical and mental


  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of work-related stress and mental health conditions and ask for support if needed


  • Know what your legal rights are regarding mental health conditions in the workplace


  • Provide support to colleagues especially if they don’t seem themselves


  • Encourage your company to be proactive about mental wellbeing





Psychosocial hazards: causes & solutions


Below is a table of the common psychosocial hazards in the workplace as outlined by Safe Work Australia, and some possible causes and solutions.


Click here to download this table as a PDF to share with your managers and team members.


Click here to download a table of the common psychosocial hazards in the workplace as outlined by Safe Work Australia, and some possible causes and solutions.



Pyschosocial hazard Possible causes Possible solutions*
High job demands

Jobs that require continual high physical, mental or emotional effort

  • Long work hours
  • High workload
  • Fast paced work or significant time pressure
  • Long periods of alertness for irregular events (e.g. air traffic controllers)
  • Shift work
  • Monitor employee workloads
  • Where possible, allow employees to self-manage their workloads
  • Encourage employees to talk to their manager if they have any workload pressures
  • Make sure workloads and tasks match employees’ abilities and experience
  • Avoid letting employees move from one demanding project straight to another
Low job demands

Jobs that require low physical, mental or emotional effort

  • Little work to do
  • Repetitive work
  • Encourage employees to talk to their managers if they feel they don’t have enough work to do
  • Allow  employees to explore internal positions they might feel better qualified for
Low job control

Jobs where the employee has little control over of how and when a job is done

  • Machine or computer-paced work
  • Tightly managed work
  • Employees not involved in decisions affecting them or their clients
  • Where possible, let employees set work-related goals, have a say in how their work is organised and when their breaks are taken
  • Involve employees in the allocation of tasks and the establishment of objectives, timeframes and resources
  • Communicate decisions with employees that might affect them in advance
Poor support

Jobs or tasks where workers have little to no practical or emotional support

  • Little to no inclusion or empathy from managers or co-workers for work or personal struggles
  • No leave given for urgent personal matters or appointments
  • Provided inadequate training and information to perform their job and tasks
  • Provided inadequate tools and resources to complete tasks on time
  • Provide opportunities, such as an employment assistance program, where employees can express their work concerns or personal issues
  • Create a culture that encourages teamwork and collaboration, and discourages gossip
  • Management should be approachable, visible in the workplace with an open-door policy
  • Offer opportunities for training and mentoring to develop and enhance skill sets
  • Provide flexible working arrangements and approve leave for personal matters
Poor workplace relationships

Jobs where employees are physically or emotionally hurt, treated unfairly or work in a toxic company culture

  • Workplace bullying, aggression or harassment, discrimination or unreasonable behaviour
  • Poor relationships and/or conflict between an employee and their manager, supervisor or co-worker
  • Lack of fairness and equity in the handling of organisational issues
  • Poorly managed performance issues
  • Treat all employees equally and allocate work responsibilities fairly
  • Have clear and consistent procedures for dealing with complaints and inappropriate behaviour in a timely and confidential manner
  • Ensure all employees have equal opportunity to respond to any allegations regarding issues of misconduct
  • Make employees aware of other avenues to raise their concerns, like union representatives
Low role clarity

Jobs where there is confusion or changes to the role

  • Uncertainty about, or frequent changes to, tasks and work standards
  • Important task information not available
  • Being told conflicting expectations from different managers
  • Make sure all employees have clear, adequately detailed and up-to-date job descriptions that clarify responsibilities and expectations
  • Provide employee inductions and suitable training for each role
  • Avoid giving roles that may cause conflict between an employee’s personal beliefs and professional demands
  • Have clear reporting lines and avoid having employees reporting to more than one manager
Poor organisational change management

Workplaces affected by major changes

  • Lack of consideration of potential WHS/OHS issues and performance impacts during downsizing, relocation or introduction of new technology or procedures
  • Lack of consultation, communication and support between key stakeholders and staff during transition times
  • Inform and prepare staff in advance of any proposed major changes to their work environment, duties or responsibilities
  • Provide adequate training and support before, during and after times of change
  • Be honest and transparent in communications with staff, particularly regarding factors affecting the organisation such as re-structure or merger with another organisation
  • Have strategies to support those who will lose their jobs and those who may feel insecure about their job future
Low recognition and reward

Jobs where employee satisfaction or advancement is ignored

  • Lack of positive feedback and informal recognition or reward
  • No opportunity for skill development or career advancement
  • Skills and experience are not used adequately
  • Set realistic and agreed goals and deadlines, and provide the support and resources to achieve them
  • Acknowledge and reward individual and team achievements, and celebrate organisational accomplishments and milestones
  • Provide opportunities for learning, personal development and career advancement
  • Provide positive and constructive advice in performance reviews and focus on skill development rather than failings
Poor organisational justice

Unfair and biased work culture

  • Policy and procedures are not followed consistently
  • Unfairness or bias in decisions regarding who performs certain tasks or receives certain resources
  • Poor management of those who are under-performing
  • Recruit employees based on merit, person-job fit and competence, and promote employees based on performance
  • Have a fair and transparent process for awarding salary increases and bonuses
  • Engage employees in the development of policies and procedures that will affect them
Poor environmental conditions

Jobs where there is exposure to poor quality or hazardous work environments

  • Hazardous manual tasks
  • Working near unsafe machinery
  • Environmental factors such as poor air quality, high noise levels or extreme temperatures
  • Ensure appropriate controls are implemented to reduce risks and ensure the safety of employees working on hazardous tasks
  • Where possible, make sure work areas have enough lighting, are well-ventilated and are at a comfortable temperature
  • For any work processes that release harmful substances, have controls in place to extract the substance at the source
Remote & isolated work

Jobs where the work location is far from others, or where the employee is working alone or with a few other people

  • Resources, communication and emergency assistance are difficult to access
  • Travel times may be long
  • Access to help from others may be difficult
  • Job examples are farmers, real estate agents, nurses who conduct night visits, night shift workers for petrol stations or convenience stores and fly-in fly-out workers
  • Make sure you are in regular communication with the employees
  • Ensure employees have means of communication for emergencies
  • Make sure employees have access to clean, safe and well-functioning facilities
  • Manage fatigue particularly for those frequently travelling
  • Where possible, give employees the option to reside in local communities
Violent or traumatic events

A workplace incident where the employee has been exposed to or threatened with abuse or harm that has caused fear or distress

  • Employees who have been robbed, assaulted, bitten, spat on, scratched, kicked or threatened with a weapon
  • Job examples where this occurs regularly are first responders, disaster and emergency service workers and defence personnel
  • Prepare workers, particularly police and emergency services roles, for the types of situations they may be exposed to
  • Provide information, guidance and training on the impact of these potentially traumatic situations and how to respond to them with confidence and resilience
  • Train leaders to have the confidence and skills to identify, and consult with, individuals who may be struggling
  • Implement processes to monitor exposure to trauma, and consider screening employees for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health difficulties
  • Create a culture that removes any stigma towards mental health difficulties
Secondary or vicarious trauma

Those who have witnessed a fatality or investigated an injury or fatality

  • Employees who repeatedly listen to individuals’ detailed descriptions of traumatic and painful events
  • Job examples of where this occurs are child protection workers, lawyers, police officers, journalists, custom officers