Reduce the risk of mental harm in your small business

How to stop the risks to mental health in your workplace


Step 1: What does 'mentally safe' workplace look like?

When work is 'mentally safe', people look forward to working and their needs are cared for.

Here are some things to look out for that contribute to keeping work healthy:

  • Work demands – making sure everyone has everything they need to get the job done.
  • Control over work – talking to people about how their work is done and how decisions are made.
  • Support and care – If someone needs help, it is given and co-workers respond in the right way.
  • Roles are clear – employees know what they need to do, how to do it and if any changes are coming up.
  • Relationships are positive – there is trust, honesty and fairness in the workplace. Employees enjoy and feel connected to their work and they feel motivated to do their job well.
  • Change is managed well – talking about any changes with the people involved.
  • Respect – people treat themselves and others with respect.

Step 2: Talk about mental health risks at work

Talking about mental health helps to figure out what the risks are.

When you do this without judgement, it builds trust within your team.

Getting the conversation going is always a good place to start.

Here are some of the ways you can talk to your employees about understanding mental health:

  • Speak to people one-on-one.
  • Bring up mental health risks during your regular staff meetings.
  • Walk around your workplace with your staff and have casual chats.
  • Speak to your health and safety representatives (if you have these).

Step 3: Find and list the risks to mental health

Finding out what mental health risks you have might take time as you build trust with your employees.

Keeping a record of complaints or issues that come up can help you see what is causing problems.

Once you can see any patterns, you can then work on ways to stop them from happening again.

This record can be as simple as a diary or a more modern online tool, but it needs to be kept confidential.

What are the risk factors?

Look at your day to day work, and think about what things could affect mental safety.

You might find helpful information by looking at:

  • how much work people are getting done
  • noting how work gets done, any rushing, delays or work backlog
  • peak and seasonal trends in work demands
  • leadership skills and effectiveness
  • how often people miss work
  • how often employees resign
  • exit interviews
  • how people treat each other during work activities
  • customer feedback
  • incident or employee complaint reports
  • using surveys to get feedback from your employees and managers.

Step 4: Decide how serious each mental health risk is

To understand more about risks, you might want to use a 'risk assessment tool'.

Tools like this can help make it clear where and when you need to act.

Mental health risk assessment tips

A risk assessment might look at:

  • if employees face any abuse or trauma
  • whether risk builds up over time or happen once
  • how likely it is that someone's mental health will be harmed if the risk isn't managed
  • what potential harm they may experience and who will be harmed if the risk isn’t managed.

Step 5: Start working on fixing the problems

After figuring out what the mental health risks are, you will need to take steps to reduce them.

It is more likely that you will be successful if:

  • there is a commitment to mental health and wellbeing
  • employees can have their say on what they think is mentally unsafe
  • you get input from employees on how to manage the risks you find
  • there is a plan stating what will be done, by when and by who.

Here are some ways to manage mental health risks:

  • knowing how you and your managers can support your employees. Coaching, mentoring or training can help.
  • planning work to make sure no one is given more than they can do in the time they have
  • giving employees more freedom to control when and how they do different jobs
  • making sure people know exactly what they have to do, and how their work will be measured
  • offering support programs or lists of local counselling services
  • being available and open to talking through problems
  • making sure any changes are clear
  • creating space for people to speak up early if there are problems
  • setting an example of good mental health.

Step 6: Putting it all together

When putting a new strategy in place, it's important to get your employee's opinions. This helps build trust and keep the business growing.

  • Ask the right questions: are we doing things right, or are there better ways it can be done?
  • Have regular conversations with all employees and keep them interested. If something didn't work, tell them that and get them involved in ways to make things better
  • Review regularly – set a date and stick to it
  • Look to see if you have reached your goal. If not, why? Was it a lack of understanding?
  • Make a specific person in charge of tracking how things are changing over time.

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Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.