Mental Health in the Workplace

Fostering a supportive environment

The culture of an organisation plays an important role in helping someone with a mental health problem successfully return to work.

The culture of an organisation plays an important role in helping someone with a mental health problem successfully return to work. Your organisation should be committed to reintegrating all workers with a mental health problem and should have ways of making this known to employees at all levels. Fostering a supportive work environment that is conducive to good mental health and the enhancement of mental wellbeing can be achieved by:

  • encouraging staff to discuss stress and seek support when experiencing mental health problems
  • creating a culture in which disclosure of mental health problems is accepted
  • taking action to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health problems
  • adopting a positive attitude towards those recovering from mental health problems

The attitudes and behaviours of senior managers often set the tone for other employees and are therefore particularly important in creating a supportive work environment. Stigmatising attitudes often arise out of fear or ignorance and greater awareness or preferably, mental health training can play a valuable role in helping to overcome stigma.

Providing counselling services for your employees through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help those who need it seek support. However, it is important to be aware that an EAP does not provide clinical treatment. In cases of significant mental illness, the role of EAP providers should be to recommend appropriate treatment in the community in order that symptoms are appropriately recognised and addressed. The Employee Assistance Professional Association of Australasia has a listing of providers in your state or territory.

Assessing your workplace culture as it relates to mental health

You may find the following checklists useful:

WorkingMinds workplace checklist

Guarding minds @ work organisational audit

There are many tools which can assist an employer to assess workplace culture and identify any workplace hazards relating to mental health. The list provided is a small example of some accessible audit tools. If you need more information on the application of audit tools you may want to consult with Human Resources, OHS or Management Consultants or Organisational Psychologists on the best methods of assessment for your organisation. This may be particularly important in cases where initial audits or risk assessments or existing data on sick leave, staff turnover, leave intentions etc. suggest that there are substantial problems.

Useful links

WHO’s Guide to Healthy Workplaces

Useful Links – Click the logo to visit the website

"In so many cases, managers or colleagues, they might think that there's a problem but they avoid it, they don't ask early enough. So by the time they do have the conversation, it's really difficult - people are on the back foot and it can get hostile. Managers need to be more proactive and have these conversations earlier. You can keep it low key, just check in with the person, ask them if they are getting the support they need."
HR Manager
*not her real name
"If someone broke their arm we wouldn't be worrying about whether or not we were liable, we'd just send them to the doctor. It should be the same for mental health problems."
OHS Manager
* not his real name
"Some employers think that if they accept that there is a problem, then that means they are accepting liability. Sometimes that stops them helping get employees into treatment. Actually they would be better off getting the person into treatment early - that's likely to reduce the risk of a stress claim. I recommend that where they can, employers offer to pay for two sessions of treatment without considering issues of liability."
Occupational Physician
*not her real name