Mental Health in the Workplace

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.

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