Designing workplaces for better mental health

Feb 29, 2016

Holding weekly yoga sessions and getting people talking about mental health are great first steps to creating positive workplaces. But if you’re after sustainable, systemic change, you'll need to look at the foundations and how your work is designed.

Focusing on the way tasks and systems are structured – striking a balance between business needs and those of employees – is one of the most effective ways of lowering workplace stress levels and psychological harm. Good design means taking a step back and reassessing all the elements that make up your work, including the physical environment, the demands on employees, and your team's abilities, skills and capabilities.  

If that all sounds a bit daunting, Safe Work Australia's Principles of Good Work Design booklet provides a how-to guide to applying this ethos to your workplace. Covering the 'why', 'what' and 'how' of best practice, it can help you identify and 'design out' hazards, as well as 'designing in' protection, productivity and support.  

Starting with systems 

One way of kicking off a more systems-led approach is by asking employees what works well and where the sticking points are. As a team, figure out the best way to complete tasks in the allocated time, build in autonomy so people have more control over what they're doing, and understand everyone’s preferred ways of working. Consultation in the planning stages will ensure any changes achieve the results you’re after in the longer term.

Good work design is about much more than installing a pool table or chucking a fruit bowl in the staff room. As this New York Times article points out, perks that mask underlying issues can be alluring ‘golden handcuffs’ – seemingly great conditions that hide unreasonable work expectations.

How Heads Up can help

Want to improve work design but not sure how to go about it? We’ve got some resources to help you.

  • Part of creating a Heads Up action plan involves taking a close look at what areas cause stress in the workplace, including specific tasks, schedules and working environments. Your resulting plan provides a step-by-step approach to tackling each issue.
  • Having agreed procedures and systems in place means everyone’s on the same page. We’ve taken the hassle out of policy-making with this series of handy templates.
  • Head over to our LinkedIn community to swap ideas and tips.  

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