Mental health is a state of wellbeing that allows people to realise their potential while coping with the ordinary challenges of life.
We all experience varying levels of mental health during our lives.
Good mental health supports people to thrive in their life, work and relationships with others. Meanwhile, mental ill-health can negatively impact these parts of our lives in a significant way.
A mentally healthy workplace
Work is a big part of our daily lives and can help to prevent mental ill-health by giving us a feeling of purpose and a sense of contribution.
A mentally healthy workplace has measures in place to prevent harm by identifying risks to mental health, managing harm from an early stage, and supporting recovery. At the same time, positive work-related factors are encouraged and promoted.
In a mentally healthy workplace:
- mental health is everyone’s responsibility
- mental health is considered in every way you do business
- everyone contributes to a culture where people feel safe and supported to talk about mental health
- mental health support is tailored for individuals and teams
- everyone can see that supporting worker mental health is a priority
Who has legal duties?
In section 5 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act), health is defined as including psychological health.
Under the OHS Act, employers must provide and maintain a working environment for their employees, including independent contractors, that is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work.
Employers also have an obligation to consult with employees and health and safety representatives (if any) on matters that directly affect, or are likely to affect their health or safety, for example when identifying hazards and deciding on appropriate risk controls. This includes hazards and risks associated with mental health.
Employees have a duty while at work, to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, and to take reasonable care for the health and safety of people who may be affected by their acts or omissions in the workplace. They also have a duty to co-operate with their employer’s actions to comply with a requirement under the OHS Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations).
Causes of workplace mental injury
There are a number of work-related factors within the control of employers that can impact on mental health and safety.
Work-related factors, also known as psychosocial hazards, are anything in the management or design of work that increases the risk of work-related stress, which can lead to physical injury, mental injury or even both at the same time.
Workers are likely to be exposed to a combination of work-related factors. Some of these may always be present, while others occur occasionally.
- low job control
- high and low job demands
- poor support
- poor organisational change management
- poor organisational justice
- low recognition and reward
- low role clarity
- poor workplace relationships
- poor environmental conditions, such as:
- hazardous manual tasks
- poor air quality
- high noise levels
- extreme temperatures
- working near unsafe machinery
- remote and isolated work
- violent or traumatic events
Creating a mentally healthy workplace
As an employer, you are well placed to create a positive, supportive and inclusive workplace and to develop good systems of work for supporting mental health in the workplace.
A mentally healthy workplace requires leaders who:
- demonstrate commitment to mental health in the workplace
- manage workplace relationships respectfully
- treat employees with fairness and respect at all times
- demonstrate a zero-tolerance for bullying and discrimination
- are accessible and willing to listen
- communicate clearly and openly in a timely manner
- provide feedback in a constructive way
- ensure employees have safe workloads
- clarify role expectations and reporting structures
- provide reward and recognition for good work
Good work design enables employees to be engaged in work that is healthy, safe and productive.
- consulting with employees on matters that affect their mental health at work
- designing jobs with safe workloads
- ensuring safe work schedules through:
- providing suitable rest breaks
- designing shifts to minimise fatigue
- providing for appropriate fatigue recovery
- providing sufficient notice of schedule or shift changes
- providing employees with appropriate control and flexibility over how they do their work
- implementing policies and procedures for responding to workplace bullying, stress, and occupational violence
- minimising isolated work and ensuring adequate support and communication where isolated work is necessary