How to tell if your workplace is mentally healthy

Dec 22, 2015

While every business is different in size, structure and industry, there are some universal signs that your workplace is mentally healthy and, conversely, clear signs that you have more work to do.

Five attributes of a healthy workplace

1. An environment where everyone – employees to top-tier managers – speaks openly about mental health

Speaking about mental health and distributing information – through emails, team meetings and in-house training sessions – dissipates the stigma around anxiety and depression. It gives those who have a mental health condition more confidence to approach managers or HR and seek support without fear of rejection or discrimination.

2. Work/life balance is…balanced

Managers keep a proactive eye on the amount of overtime people are working and ensure employees’ personal time is respected.

3. Everyone supports each other

Workplaces where managers and employees support each other, particularly within teams, can protect individuals against the stressors of demanding work. Having other support options available, such as Employee Assistance Programs and external helplines, are also important signs of a mentally healthy workplace.

4. Employees are happy, productive and loyal

The statistics don’t lie: 91 per cent of Australian employees believe mental health in the workplace is important, according to the State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report. Equally, 80 per cent who believe their company provides a positive and safe working environment will stay in their role.

5. Lower stress and sick leave

One in five Australians (21 per cent) have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy. But in workplaces that employees consider mentally healthy, self-reporting absenteeism as a result of mental health almost halves to 13 per cent (State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report).

Five attributes of an unhealthy workplace

1. Stigma rules the roost

In a mentally unhealthy workplace staff are less likely to approach managers or HR about depression, anxiety and workplace stress for fear of being stigmatised and discriminated against. As a result, people may be unable to access the support they need.

2. Risks to mental health are not identified

A mentally unhealthy workplace has inadequate procedures in place to identify workers who may be struggling with workloads, workplace stress or a mental health condition. There is often no framework in place to support employees who are experiencing issues.

3. Buddy-free zone

People who feel unsupported or isolated in the workplace are at a greater risk of developing a mental health condition.

4. Missing out on young talent

Retaining skilled, experienced staff is essential for a successful business, particularly younger employees who can grow within the organisation. However, the Employer of Choice study revealed 53 per cent of employees under 30 and 55 per cent of those aged 30-39 left a job because they deemed it mentally unhealthy.

5. High levels of sick leave that cut into your bottom line

Employees who are fearful of seeking support for their mental health condition at work are more likely to take sick leave in order to cope. ABS figures show that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year in absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.


A group of happy people in a work meeting

Top Stories

  • Five steps for promoting positive workplace culture

    Organisational culture is crucial for a mentally healthy workplace, but can be a hard thing to pin down. It's largely based on intangible feelings and actions that are difficult to measure - the way people treat each other, loyalty, and a sense of camaraderie.
    Learn more