Understanding the signs of a mentally healthy workplace

Understanding the signs of a mentally healthy workplace is important for creating environments where people, and your business, can thrive together. There's 11 factors within an employers control that influence the mental health of the workplace - check them out below.


There are 11 common factors that influence workplace mental health

Understanding the signs of a mentally healthy workplace is tricky - especially when you can't see them. That's why we've created the WorkWell Toolkit, to help you control hazards that you can't see and help you on your way to creating a mentally healthy workplace and fulfilling your responsibilities as an employer.

What are work related factors?

So what are the signs of a mentally healthy workplace? Well, there is 11, and they're called many things... like work-related factors, or psychosocial hazards (if you're feeling fancy). These can be anything from the way you design or manage work which can negatively or positively influence an employee's mental health. If not managed well, there is an increased risk of work-related stress, which can lead to physical injury, mental injury or even both at the same time.

We've explained each of these 11 common workplace factors below and provided next steps for take action to manage these factors. The free WorkWell Toolkit gives you a step-by-step guide to creating a mentally healthy workplace.

Job demands are too high or too low

Job demands relate to the physical, mental and emotional effort required to do the job.

This can look like:

  • long work-hours
  • high workloads – too much to do, being expected to work faster than is realistic, or high-pressure deadlines
  • work that involves seeing traumatic events or violence (for example, car accidents or workplace injuries)
  • shift work, which can lead to tiredness, sleeping problems and higher risk of fatigue
  • not being given enough work to do (this can make people feel bored, anxious or like they are not seen as useful contributors to the team)

There are some simple ways to address high or low job demands in your workplace.

Low level of job control

Low job control is when an employee has little control over aspects of their work, including how and when a job is done.. It is also when decisions that affect an employee are made without telling the employee or asking for their opinion.

This can happen when:

  • work is 'micro-managed' (employees are expected to do tasks only in one specific way, even very small, unimportant parts of the task)
  • employees have little say in the way they do their work, when they can take breaks or when they can change tasks
  • employees are not involved in decisions that will affect them or their clients
  • employees are unable to refuse to deal with aggressive clients (for example, frontline emergency workers)
  • machinery or computer software forces employees to perform work tasks in the same way each time

There are some simple ways to give all employees more job control, even for entry-level positions.

Poor support

When employees don't get the support they need from leaders and colleagues, it can harm their health and wellbeing. Support can be both emotional and practical.

Lack of support can mean:

  • employees are not given clear work goals or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • employees are provided inadequate induction, information or training to support their work performance
  • employees don't have access to additional supports such as Employee Assistance Programs
  • employees are not able to ask for flexible working arrangements
  • employees are not given constructive feedback (for example, in performance reviews) so they can improve
  • employees are not given help when they take on new or challenging tasks
  • employees aren't given the tools, equipment and resources they need to do the job

There are some simple ways to make sure your employees are getting the support they need.

Poorly managed organisational change

Change is unavoidable, and often a good thing: it’s how businesses grow and adapt. But when organisational change (large or small) is poorly managed or not communicated to employees well, it can cause stress and anxiety. Change can include people’s job descriptions changing, downsizing, relocating, and introducing new technology or production processes.

Poorly managed organisational change can look like:

  • not enough consideration of the potential health, safety and performance impacts during change
  • not explaining changes to employees properly, or asking for their viewpoint before making major decisions
  • not giving employees enough practical support during change
  • not having a good system to communicate with employees (such as regular team meetings or a newsletter). This can lead to rumours spreading because 'official' information isn’t reaching all employees
  • not giving employees opportunities to participate in the change process, to encourage motivation and ownership of change
  • not giving employees enough time to think about and respond to any changes

There are some simple ways to improve how your workplace manages change.

Poor organisational justice

Poor organisational justice is when people are not treated fairly, or there is inconsistency or bias in the workplace. It’s important to be open about how decisions are made – if employees can’t see what’s happening, they can’t know whether or not people are being treated fairly.

Poor organisational justice can look like:

  • applying policies and procedures sometimes but not at other times 
  • unfairness or bias in decisions about how resources, work tasks and shifts are allocated
  • not giving underperforming employees the support they need to improve
  • hiring or promoting people for reasons that aren't related to performance, experience or not using valid selection and consistent recruitment methods

There are some simple ways to improve organisational justice in your workplace.

Lack of recognition and reward

Not rewarding your employees’ efforts and recognising achievements can result in them feeling unappreciated. They may feel it doesn’t matter if they work hard or not. This increases the risk of work-related stress and mental injury.

A lack of recognition and reward can look like:

  • lack of positive or constructive feedback
  • an imbalance between employees' efforts and the formal and informal recognition of these efforts
  • lack of opportunity for skills development
  • employees' skills and experience are underused

There are some simple ways to improve how you recognise and reward your employees.

Low role clarity

Low role clarity means that people are not sure what their responsibilities are or what is expected of them. It can also mean there are conflicting roles – when employees are told to do different things by different managers, and they are not sure who to listen to.

This can happen when:

  • tasks and work expectations change often, so it's hard for employees to keep up
  • important information about task is not given to the employee
  • conflicting job roles, responsibilities or expectations (such as when an employee is told a task is a priority, but another manager disagrees)
  • employees are not sure who to report to, or who to bring different sorts of problems to

There are some simple ways to improve role clarity in your workplace. 

Poor workplace relationships

Unresolved conflict or strained relationships between co-workers or with managers lead to mental ill-health.

Incivility is one of the biggest causes of problems in workplace relationships. Incivility is inappropriate behaviour such as rudeness, sarcasm and belittling or excluding people. This can be spoken or written.

Problems in workplace relationships can mean:

  • workplace bullying, aggression, harassment including sexual harassment, discrimination, or other unreasonable behaviour by co-workers, supervisors or clients
  • poor relationships between employees and their managers, supervisors, co-workers and clients or others the employee has to interact with as part of their job
  • conflict between employees and their managers, supervisors or co-workers. This can become worse if managers are reluctant to deal with inappropriate behaviour
  • employees are not given clear guidelines about how they are expected to behave
  • a workplace culture that encourages disrespectful behaviour and ideas

There are some simple ways to improve relationships and respect in your workplace.

Remote and isolated work

Employees who have to work in remote areas may not have easy access to resources and communication. Travel times may be long.

Isolated work is where there are no or few other people around and so it is hard to get help from others especially in an emergency. When employees are working alone, remotely or in isolation they are at a higher risk of not only physical injury but also mental injury.

Remote and isolated work is more risky when:

  • there are no policies and procedures for working alone, remotely or in isolation
  • employees aren’t given appropriate Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) and access to first aid equipment
  • employees don't have equipment to keep them safely in contact.  This equipment could include mobile or satellite phones, GPS tracking systems, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) or Personal Location Beacons (PLB)
  • the workplace doesn’t offer flexibility (for example, because no other employees are available to rotate shifts with) so employees keep working even when fatigued or ill
  • employees don’t have a way to socially connect with others

There are some simple ways to support employees who are working alone, remotely or in isolation.

Violent or traumatic events

Workplace incidents which expose people to abuse, or the threat of harm, or actual harm, can cause fear and distress which can lead to stress and injury.

Different people find different events traumatic, so all employees are at risk of experiencing workplace trauma. Trauma doesn’t just affect the employees who are there at the time. Hearing stories about distressing incidents can result in second-hand trauma ('vicarious trauma') for some people.

Your employees are more at risk of harm from violence or trauma when:

  • the workplace has not done risk assessments for potential exposure to physical and emotional trauma
  • there are no procedures to document previous incidents
  • there are no guidelines to follow for when a traumatic event happens in the workplace
  • employees can’t access peer support programs or services such as an Employee Assistance Program
  • managers are not given training in how to manage workplace trauma

There are some simple ways to help prevent violence and trauma in the workplace, and to support employees if it does happen.

Poor environmental conditions

Working in poor quality and hazardous working environments, such as poor air quality, high noise levels, extreme temperatures, working near unsafe machinery is not only a risk to your employee’s physical health, but also their mental health.

While some aspects of a hazardous working environment are unavoidable, it is especially risky for employees when:

  • physical work health and safety procedures, including audits and regular risk assessments, are not done
  • employees aren’t given the equipment and resources they need to do their work safely
  • the work environment isn’t monitored to test for decibel levels, air quality, and so on
  • employees do not receive information, instruction and training on how to perform hazardous tasks or how risks can be eliminated or appropriately controlled

There are simple ways to improve how you manage environmental conditions in the workplace.


WorkWell Toolkit

The WorkWell Toolkit is a free online tool. It uses a step by step approach to help business leaders to promote a mentally healthy workplace and prevent mental injury through access to tailored and relevant research, tools and information.

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