Job stress and mental health problems

Stress is a normal part of daily life and can be positive or negative. It is a natural physical and mental response that is designed to help us cope effectively with challenging situations. It can be associated with work, family or personal relationships and usually means that something is happening that's causing worry and affecting how we are thinking and feeling. Signs of stress in the workplace can occur due to:

  • demands and expectations at work not appropriately matched with a worker’s needs, abilities, skills and coping strategies events occurring in a worker’s personal life
  • a combination of experiences and events occurring in the workplace and in a worker’s personal life

While stress in itself is not a disease, if it persists, it can lead to mental health problems as well as poor general health and wellbeing, lower productivity and increased sickness absence. Psychological injury is the main form of injury associated with work-related stress.

Preventing and managing job stress involves considering the following issues:

  • Demand – issues like workload, work pattern and the work environment
  • Control – what say the person has about the way they do their work
  • Support – including the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the employer, line management and colleagues
  • Relationships – including promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour, including bullying
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that the person does not have conflicting roles
  • Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation

The culture of an organisation plays an important role in helping someone with a mental health problem successfully return to work. If the culture of the organisation is not conducive to wellbeing at work, then return to work is less likely to be successful whether or not work factors have been identified as contributing to an employee's mental health problem.

Useful links

Helpful information on building healthy workplaces from Victoria's Health Promotion Foundation, VicHealth

WorkSafe Victoria's guide to the risks of work-related stress and information about making workplaces safe.