Mentally healthy workplaces

Mental illness can be a part of every workplace - we know that almost one in two Australians will experience mental illness in their lifetime. However, employers and workplaces play an important role in maintaining the health and well-being of their workers and supporting the recovery of staff with mental health problems.

What is mental health?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

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What is a mentally healthy workplace?

A mentally healthy workplace is one which supports everyone to identify and manage potential risks to mental wellbeing, fosters a culture of inclusion and takes action to address behaviours that can impact negatively on mental health, including discrimination.

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Creating mentally healthy workplaces

Research has shown that discrimination and other forms of unfair treatment can have detrimental effects on individuals’ mental health. Fostering a culture of fairness and inclusion not only supports people who are suffering from mental illness, but can also go a long way to preventing the onset of mental health issues for other staff.

Some questions employers can ask themselves include:

  • What does it mean to be mentally healthy?
  • What is our workplace doing to promote mental well-being?
  • What policies and resources do we have in our workplace that promote mental well-being?
  • What processes does our workplace have for identifying and managing potential risks to mental health?
  • What could our workplace do better to foster a mentally healthy workplace?

As an employer or manager, critically look at your policies and procedures that address discrimination and health and wellbeing, and update them if necessary.

You might also want to look at any current workplace initiatives focused on mental health and assess their effectiveness.

Some workplaces have trained mental health first aid officers. Depending on your workplace, this might be something you could consider.

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Making accommodations for employees with mental illness

Employers should consider requests from their employees to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace, which might include:

  • physical aids or adjustments to the work environment that can help the worker;
  • changing the duties to be performed.
  • changes to the hours of work, or number of hours worked;
  • incorporating additional breaks;

Adjustments should be made to accommodate the person’s needs, unless it would place an unjustifiable hardship on the employer.

Read more about ill and injured employees

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Disclosures about mental health from employees

Employees should disclose to their employer any medical condition that prevents them from performing the essential requirements of their job. Employers should then consider whether they can accommodate the medical condition by providing special equipment, or adjusting the way that employee works.

Under the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003, during the recruitment stage the employer can make a written request to a job applicant to disclose any existing injury or medical condition that might be aggravated by performing the duties of the job.

If the job applicant knowingly gives false or misleading information, the applicant is not entitled to workers' compensation, or to seek common law damages for any work-related event that aggravates their pre-existing injury or medical condition.

Under the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the impairments of employees in the workplace, as long as these adjustments do not impose an unjustifiable hardship on the employer. Having this conversation can be tough for both employer and employee. It is a good idea to consider what the employee’s needs are, and how specific adjustments will assist them with continuing to work.

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Extra resources on mentally healthy workplaces

Creating a mentally health workplace: return on investment analysis

This 2014 report outlines the technical background to the return on investment (ROI) analysis for creating a mentally healthy workplace. The aim of this analysis is to estimate the ROI for employers investing in a mentally healthy workplace. The report was produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for beyondblue, the National Mental Health Commission, and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance.

Access the Creating a mentally healthy workplace: return on investment analysis final report (PDF File, 667.7 KB)

State of workplace mental health in Australia

This study of Australian employees was produced by TNS Social Research, an independent research agency, in 2014 and provides a snapshot of the current state of workplace mental health in Australia.

The research found that while nine in ten Australian employees (91%) agree that is it important to work in a mentally healthy environment, only 52% of employees agree their workplace is mentally healthy. Furthermore, one in five Australian employees report they have taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell
(stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy) in the past 12 months.

Access the State of workplace mental health in Australia report (PDF File, 737.9 KB)

Developing a mentally healthy workplace: a review of the research

A central piece of work conducted for the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance is an Australian-first review of the research around workplace mental health which was released in November 2014.

Developing a Mentally Healthy Workplace: A review of the literature, was produced by the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute.

The report brings leading mental health and business experts together for the first time to look at the evidence of what works in creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace. Where possible, it also provides practical advice for businesses. In addition to providing a detailed analysis of the research, the report identifies six key success factors for a creating a mentally healthy workplace and suggests a five-step process for embedding them.

Access a summary of the Developing a Mentally Healthy Workplace report (PDF File, 1.3 MB) to help start a conversation in your workplace.

Access the full Developing a Mentally Healthy Workplace report  (PDF File, 1.3 MB)

Workers with mental illness: a practical guide for managers

This 2010 guide produced by the Australian Human Rights Commission provides managers with information on how to appropriately support workers with mental illness. It also provides information about how to develop and promote a safe and healthy work environment
for all workers.
As well as supporting your workforce, this guide will help you to understand your obligations under occupational health and safety (OHS) and disability discrimination legislation and to understand mental illness
and how to talk about mental illness.

Access the Workers with mental illness guide (PDF File, 1.5 MB)

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