Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace: A Step-By-Step Guide

With one in five Australians experiencing mental health issues each year, supporting mental health has become a priority for many workplaces. As awareness grows, there are also new legal considerations to manage psychosocial hazards under Australia's evolving workplace health and safety laws.
Mentally Healthy Workplaces - Why they matter

Creating a mentally healthy workplace doesn't have to be complicated or costly. Implementing best practices can protect employees' wellbeing and foster a positive work culture. The benefits are clear: mentally healthy workplaces have more engaged and productive employees, fewer injuries and sick days, and lower turnover costs.

In this article, we'll explore what a mentally healthy workplace looks like, outline some practical steps you can take to create one and introduce a tool that makes it easy to promote mental health in your organisation.

What is a mentally healthy workplace?

A mentally healthy workplace is one that actively promotes and supports the mental wellbeing of its employees. Some key characteristics of a mentally healthy workplace include:

  • A proactive approach to identifying and managing risks to mental health, such as high job demands, low job control, poor support, and other psychosocial hazards
  • Policies and practices that support positive mental health, such as flexible work arrangements, employee participation in decision-making, and opportunities for growth and development
  • A culture of openness, respect and inclusivity, free from stigma and discrimination
  • Regular mental health awareness and resilience training for all staff
  • Early intervention and support for employees experiencing mental health issues, including Employee Assistance Programs, adjustments to work tasks, and return-to-work programs
  • Commitment from senior leadership to creating a mentally healthy workplace demonstrated through actions and open communication

The business case for investing in workplace mental health is strong. According to an analysis by PwC, every dollar spent on successfully implementing appropriate mental health initiatives in the workplace can generate $2.30 in benefits to the organisation. These benefits include increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and compensation claims, and lower turnover costs.

How to create a mentally healthy workplace

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must eliminate psychosocial risks so far as is reasonably practicable. This means identifying psychosocial hazards, assessing the risk factors, implementing control measures to eliminate or minimise those risks, and reviewing the effectiveness of the controls.

Creating a mentally healthy work environment involves a range of strategies, from leadership commitment to risk assessment and action planning. It's an ongoing process that requires input from everyone in the organisation. Here is a step-by-step guide to get you started:

1. Get leadership buy-in

  • Help leaders understand the importance of mental health and the legal obligations around managing psychosocial risks.
  • Promote the benefits of a mentally healthy workplace, such as increased productivity and reduced absenteeism.
  • Encourage leaders to model positive behaviours, like taking breaks and discussing mental health openly.
  • Ensure there's a budget allocated for initiatives.

2. Engage your employees

  • Regularly check in with staff about their mental wellbeing and the factors impacting it at work.
  • Use anonymous surveys, focus groups, or workshops to gather honest feedback.
  • Encourage employees to speak up about psychosocial risks, and assure them that their concerns will be taken seriously. Consider implementing an anonymous reporting tool like Elker to provide a safe channel for raising sensitive issues at work.

3. Identify risks and analyse data

  • Use psychosocial risk assessment tools to pinpoint risks like high job demands, low job control, exposure to traumatic events, discrimination and harassment. To better understand the various risks, read our article What Are Psychosocial Hazards?
  • Safe Work Australia has a helpful risk assessment matrix to help you identify and manage risks (Appendix C - last page).
  • Analyse HR data on absenteeism, turnover, compensation claims, and EAP usage to spot trends.
  • Where appropriate, look at customer feedback and whistleblowing systems like Elker to identify any emerging or systemic issues.
  • Consider the unique mental health risks arising from your industry and work environment.

4. Create an action plan

Every organisation has different inherent psychosocial risks, depending on factors like industry, business size, job roles, and level of public interaction. Your action plan should be adapted to address the unique needs and challenges of your workplace - it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. What matters is the proactive effort to tackle psychosocial hazards and improve mental health and wellbeing.

Your action plan should document how you will meet your compliance duties concerning psychosocial risks and promote a mentally healthy workplace. Include initiatives such as the following:

  • Update policies on:
  • Ensure policies are clear, accessible to all and are communicated regularly.
  • Facilitate stress management training, particularly for high-risk roles, as well as training for management in supporting the psychological health of their colleagues.
  • Consider flexible work arrangements and support programs to facilitate workers' recovery from mental illness.
  • Regular mental health awareness events and "R U OK? Day" activities.
  • Promote your Employee Assistance Program and other support services.
  • Ensure there are accessible, confidential ways for staff to report mental health concerns or workplace issues, such as an anonymous reporting tool like Elker.

5. Review, adjust, repeat

Regular reviews and adjustments of your mental health strategy are essential. They ensure it remains effective and responsive to the changing needs of your organisation and employees.

  • Establish a regular schedule for reviewing the effectiveness of your mental health initiatives, such as quarterly or bi-annually.
  • Seek employee feedback through various channels, such as pulse surveys and focus groups. Ask specific questions about the perceived impact and value of different initiatives.
  • Monitor key metrics that may indicate the overall mental health of your workplace, such as:
    • Survey results
    • Anonymous reporting data
    • EAP utilisation rates
    • Absenteeism and presenteeism rates
    • Workers' compensation claims related to mental health
    • Turnover rates and stated reasons for leaving
    • Engagement and satisfaction scores from employee surveys
  • Analyse all the data collected to assess what's working well and where there are opportunities for improvement. Look for initiatives that have had a positive impact and consider how they could be expanded or replicated.
  • Based on the review, make necessary adjustments to your mental health strategy and action plan. This may involve modifying, replacing or discontinuing initiatives that aren't delivering value, or introducing new ones to address emerging needs.
How Elker promotes positive workplace culture

The role of technology in supporting mental health at work

Technology can play an important role in workplace mental health support. One such tool is Elker, an anonymous reporting platform designed to help Australian businesses manage issues that can impact employee wellbeing.

Employees often fear speaking up about workplace issues or reporting discrimination, misconduct, or psychosocial hazards. Elker addresses this by providing a secure, encrypted channel for staff to anonymously disclose sensitive issues. The platform features intelligent pathways that route cases to the appropriate responder, ensuring prompt and effective handling of reports.

In addition to its reporting capabilities, Elker offers pulse surveys that gather real-time data on workplace health. This enables organisations to proactively respond to potential problems before they escalate.

By utilising Elker, companies can demonstrate their commitment to employee wellbeing while simplifying compliance with various federal and state regulations, including work health and safety laws, and anti-discrimination legislation.

To discover how Elker can support your organisation in creating a mentally healthy workplace, book a demo today.

Additional resources

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