Every workplace is unique. However, there are a number of key issues and mental health risk factors that are relevant to workplaces across all industries and business sizes. An important first step is to understand the specific issues within your workplace and identify priority areas of action.

Take a look at the categories below and think about how these relate to your business. What are you doing already? Where are the gaps?

Raising awareness of mental health conditions

Raising awareness is key to creating a more mentally healthy workplace. This includes raising awareness of mental health conditions (e.g. the signs and symptoms), roles and responsibilities of individuals in the workplace, the benefits of creating a mentally healthy workplace and what your organisation or business is doing to make a difference.

 

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Stigma can be a

barrier

to seeking support

Reducing stigma

Stigma means viewing someone negatively because of some inherent part of themselves they can't change – their race, religion, sexuality, gender identity or disability, for example. The stigma around mental health conditions makes it hard for people to talk about it and seek support, and can can affect the way people feel about themselves. 

 

Supporting individuals with mental health conditions

Employers and employees need to have the skills and confidence to approach someone they are concerned about and provide ongoing support, through a stay at work or return to work plan. Providing support is also part of employers' legal responsibilities under anti-discrimination legislation.

Cutting back on stress

Although depression, anxiety and work-related stress are sometimes related, there's a key difference between them. Depression and anxiety are clinical health conditions; stress is not.

However, we know that job stress can be a risk factor for developing a mental health condition, and can delay recovery. 

A range of factors can contribute to job stress, including:

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  • where organisational change (large or small) is poorly managed and communicated
  • when employees do not have clarity regarding work objectives and accountabilities, their colleagues’ expectations of them, and the overall scope and responsibilities of their job
  • low support from supervisors and/or colleagues – employees feel they can’t talk to their supervisor and colleagues about work problems
  • low levels of recognition and reward
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  • time pressure, working too hard or too fast, difficult targets
  • working long hours or overtime, working through breaks or taking work home
  • shift rosters that are unpredictable and/or affect amount and quality of sleep, or make it difficult to balance work and family life
  • work that is monotonous and dull or doesn't use an employee's range of skills or previous training
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  • work that is emotionally disturbing or requires high emotional involvement
  • high mental task demands, work that requires high-level decision making
  • job insecurity, where employees feel uncertain about the stability of their job
  • roles where people have low levels of control – where there's an unnecessary level of supervision, excessive responsibility but little authority, or little or no say in how work is done

Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is a major risk factor for mental health. It can take the form of abusive language or behaviour, unfair or excessive criticism, tactless remarks, malicious rumours or social exclusion.

Under Work Health and Safety legislation, businesses and organisations have an implied duty to protect their workers from workplace bullying. Ways they can do this include:

  • involving workers in the decision-making process
  • ensuring that managers address emerging issues proactively
  • providing a high-quality performance feedback program
  • making flexible work arrangements available.

Workplace discrimination

Discrimination is never OK. Workplace discrimination – whether based on gender, ethnicity, race, sexuality or pregnancy and parental status – puts people at a significant risk of developing a mental health condition. 

At the same time, employees with an existing mental health condition often face high levels of discrimination relating to their condition. 

Regardless of how and where it happens, discrimination can harm your business financially and culturally, and put it at risk of legal action.

To combat discrimination, Heads Up encourages all organisations to put in place anti-discrimination policies and procedures, including disability and mental health provisions.

Industry-specific issues

Some risk factors may be specific to an industry. For example, mining industry employees are often isolated from family and friends; doctors have high levels of exposure to death and suffering; and people working in customer service roles may deal with unrealistic expectations and verbally aggressive customers.