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At any given time, approximately 1 in 5 Australian workers is likely to be experiencing a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.

Mental health issues can have a significant negative impact on individuals and the workplace. PCBUs must consider the psychological health and wellbeing of workers in the same way they do physical health.

A mentally healthy workplace protects and promotes the psychological health of everyone at work by:

  • having a positive workplace culture
  • minimising psychosocial hazards such as:
    • bullying and conflict
    • fatigue
    • work-related violence
    • stressful working conditions
  • supporting people with mental health conditions appropriately
  • reducing stigma and discrimination.

Our role

SafeWork SA’s role is to ensure that the employer and employees meet their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA).

Our role is not to:

  • advocate for an individual
  • become involved in the details of a workplace conflict
  • provide legal advice
  • mediate between persons involved
  • secure an apology or compensation
  • remove an alleged bully from the workplace.

SafeWork SA will prioritise all psychological risk complaints according to the risk to the health and safety of people in the workplace. We can only act on complaints if there is evidence to substantiate the allegations.

Good business sense

Work-related psychological injury is expensive. It’s estimated that poor psychological health and safety costs Australian workplaces $6 billion per annum in lost productivity. This is primarily because psychological injuries typically require three times more time off work than other injuries. Workplaces with poor psychological working conditions also accrue 43% more sick days per month.

Businesses that create and promote mentally healthy workplaces will benefit from improved productivity, performance and staff retention, and be perceived as an employer of choice. For every $1 spent on mental health initiatives, there’s an average return on investment of $2.30.

Common causes of psychological hazards

Psychological hazards are anything in the design or management of work that increases the risk of work related stress. A stress response is the physical, mental and emotional reaction that occurs when a worker perceives the demands of their work exceed their ability or resources to cope. Work-related stress if prolonged and/or severe can cause both psychological and physical harm.

Some of the causes of psychological health issues in the workplace include:

  • level of work demands
  • low job control
  • poor support from supervisors/co-workers
  • poor role clarity and role conflict
  • poor workplace relationships
  • low recognition and reward
  • poor organisational change management
  • poor organisational justice.

Addressing the risks

PCBUs can often be confused about their responsibilities when it comes to psychological health and safety. Employers should regularly check for psychological health risks by:

  • looking at systems of work design and management
  • undertaking one-on-one discussions with workers
  • personal observations
  • reviewing past incidents.

Employers and managers should ask themselves these questions:

  • What are individual job demands and has the level changed recently?
  • Do any workers have too low a level of control/ autonomy in their daily duties?
  • Have you provided sufficient support to your workers (management, training, resources, employee assistance program)?
  • Do workers have good relationships at work?
  • Have you clarified job descriptions appropriately?
  • Have you communicated and managed any business changes effectively?
  • Are workers remunerated and recognised adequately?
  • Are you treating all workers fairly?

A few simple control measures include:

  • matching jobs to skills
  • setting reasonable and achievable timeframes for work, in consultation with workers
  • clearly defining job roles and scope of the work
  • providing flexible working arrangements and considering work/life balance
  • engaging workers in decision-making and providing regular feedback on performance
  • ensuring support systems are in place for workers
  • linking workers to employee assistance programs.

Maintain and review control measures to ensure their effectiveness, in particular when a psychological injury occurs or before making change.

Leadership and management commitment

Leaders and managers should visibly demonstrate and communicate the workplace's commitment to building a mentally healthy workplace. This shows workers that positive mental health is important and encourages them to engage in positive practices.

Once you have leadership commitment, it can be demonstrated by:

  • developing and endorsing workplace policies that align with a mentally healthy workplace
  • promoting learning and development opportunities around the effective identification and management of psychosocial hazards
  • implementing and participating in programs and initiatives that contribute to a mentally healthy workplace
  • circulating and displaying communications such as emails, newsletters and posters with key messages that promote a commitment to a mentally healthy workplace
  • modelling psychological self-care.

Consultation

Consultation is a key element of providing a mentally healthy and safe work environment. While it is a requirement to consult workers and health and safety representatives in issues that directly affect them, input and participation from workers can improve decision-making on psychological health and safety.

Methods for consulting workers can vary according to the size of the workplace and the distribution of workers across sites and shifts. Examples include:

  • pre job start or toolbox discussions
  • focus groups
  • worker surveys
  • WHS committee meetings
  • team meetings
  • one-on-one discussions.

See the Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, co-operation and co-ordination for further details.

Training and education

Providing information, instruction, training and supervision can help to protect workers from psychological health risks.

Training, instruction and information should include:

  • workplace practices concerning psychological health and organisational values
  • induction information on the expected workplace behaviour and conduct including all relevant policies and procedures, for example the prevention of bullying, harassment and violence at work
  • management training to assist managers and supervisors support workers, identify hazards and risks at work and manage conflict.

Management capabilities

It is important for managers and supervisors to have the knowledge and skills to be able to effectively communicate, empower their team, manage their workers stress and emotions, as well as manage difficult situations when they arise.

There are particular competencies that, when achieved by managers, are shown to reduce work-related stress and promote positive mental health. These competencies centre on:

Being respectful and responsible

  • Integrity: Be respectful and honest with workers.
  • Managing emotions: Behave consistently and calmly around the team.
  • Considerate approach: Be thoughtful in managing others and delegating.

Managing and communicating existing and future work

  • Proactive work management: Monitor and review existing work, allowing future prioritisation and planning.
  • Problem solving: Deal with problems promptly, rationally and responsibly.
  • Participative/empowering: Meet, listen to and consult with the team. Provide direction, autonomy and development opportunities to individuals.

Managing the team

  • Personally accessible: Available to talk one-on-one.
  • Sociable: Relaxed approach, such as socialising and using humour.
  • Empathetic engagement: Seek to understand each individual in the team in terms of their health and satisfaction, motivation, point of view and life outside work.

Managing difficult situations

  • Manage conflict: Deal with conflicts decisively, promptly and objectively.
  • Use of organisational resources: Seek advice when necessary from other managers and divisions/work areas.
  • Take responsibility for resolving issues: Be accountable and take the lead for resolving problems.

It is in the best interest of the workers and the business for managers to understand and develop these competencies.

A self-assessment is a great starting point for managers to identify and measure their strengths and development areas across the competencies. However, self perceptions may differ from the team, peer and manager perceptions. Consider consulting other sources of data or information to inform strengths and development areas and continue to perform assessments on a regular basis.

Further information and resources

Stress in the workplace fact sheets

Health and safety checklist

Top 10 Tips to maintain your mental health

Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties - Safe Work Australia

Mentally healthy workplaces toolkit - Work Health and Safety Queensland

Psychological health for small business - Work Health and Safety Queensland

Support services

In case of emergency

GPs can also refer you to specialist psychologist services, such as a Mental Health Shared Care Plan.

Support services and initiatives

  • Australian Human Rights Commission’s Mental Illness: a Practical Guide for Managers provides information on how to appropriately support workers with mental illness and how to develop and promote a safe and healthy work environment for all workers.
  • beyondblue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.
  • Black Dog Institute workplace mental health and wellbeing programs help to create a work environments that promote mental wellbeing, increased worker engagement and greater productivity.
  • Department of Health has made the search for mental health services and resources easier by handpicking resources from publicly funded providers.
  • Heads Up a national campaign to support and create mentally healthy workplaces, with resources for employers, workers, managers and small business owners. The Mental health in the workplace toolbox training package is a free resource that includes a 90-minute training session delivered by a nominated professional or educator to team leaders and managers who are then equipped to deliver mental health toolbox talks to their team.
  • headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, and provides early intervention mental health services for young Australians aged 12-25 years.
  • MATES in Construction is helping reduce the high level of suicide within the Australian construction industry.
  • The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance is a national approach by business, community and government encouraging Australian workplaces to become mentally healthy.
  • SANE Australia is a national charity helping Australians affected by mental illness and provides resources to help employers respond to workplace mental health issues.
  • Suicide Prevention Australia provides national leadership for the meaningful reduction of suicide in Australia.
  • World Health Organization for the latest international information, publications, statistics and more about mental health.