Home' News Bulletin : ADA News Bulletin August 2015 Contents 42
Mentally Healthy Workplaces
The prevalence of mental health problems in Australia is
underestimated. According to the Human Rights Commission,
approximately 45% of Australians between 16 and 85 years of age
will experience a mental health problem at least once in their lifetime.
One in five Australian adults will experience a mental health problem
at least once in a year. One quarter of patients who visit a GP on a
daily basis require treatment for anxiety or depression. Considering the
prevalence of mental illness, the notion that you or a co-worker will
be grappling with a mental illness at some point is not improbable.
Mental health problems are complex. No one factor alone is
responsible as mental health problems are usually caused by a
combination of genetic and environmental factors (e.g. stressful
or traumatic life events, substance use and lack of social support).
Prevention is better than cure, so having a healthy, well-balanced
lifestyle will help prevent mental health problems developing.
This concept extends to your work life. It is unrealistic to expect
your employer to be solely responsible for preventing you from
ever becoming unwell. However, there is still a strong business
case to be made for your employer providing a healthy and safe
workplace, which will help to prevent mental health problems
For starters, both employers and employees have a legal obligation
under the relevant state/territory Work Health and Safety Act
(Occupational Health and Safety in VIC and WA, WHS in all other
states/territories) to maintain a safe workplace. A safe workplace is
one that ensures the risk of injury, both physical and psychological
is eliminated so far as is reasonably practicable or eliminated
completely. Another reason is financial; the Human Rights
Commission 2010 (Workers with Mental Illness guide) reports in total
3.2 days per worker per year are lost due to workplace stress. This
equates to a loss of $6.5 billion every year for Australian businesses.
Workplace compensation claims for work-stress related illnesses
costs insurers $10 billion each year. A happy and healthy workplace
is conducive to higher productivity, morale and reduced turn-over.
Conversely a workplace which is stressful and therefore has a
negative impact on your mental health, is more likely to encourage
you to leave. More than a quarter of Australian employees have left
a job due to the work environment being too stressful.
Your workplace needs to take creating a mentally healthy
workplace seriously. If your workplace environment is conducive
to good physical and mental health, it typically has some of the
1. Managers at all levels are committed to WHS/OHS and employee
wellbeing. They actively create an environment of wellbeing
through their actions and the workplace policies they endorse.
2. Your workplace has WHS/OHS policies and procedures designed
to identify and address workplace hazards and these policies
are strictly followed. The main hazards in the workplace likely to
cause stress are excessive workloads, conflict between co-workers,
bullying, lack of reward and recognition, lack of role clarity,
unrealistic deadlines and performance expectations. Some hazards
which may be potentially traumatic are inherent to the type of
work an individual performs. For example police officers on patrol
are always at risk of being attacked by an offender they may
attempt to apprehend. These hazards cannot be eliminated, but
the other hazards are within the control of management.
3. Your workplace has HR policies designed to promote workplace
cohesion and clarity in terms of what behaviour is appropriate and
what is not. These may include: workplace bullying, grievance and
dispute resolution, drugs and alcohol, employee work-life-balance
(see point 4), performance management, performance appraisal
4. Your workplace has a work-life-balance (WLB) policy and
has implemented various WLB initiatives. WLB initiatives may
also go by the name 'workplace flexibility' initiatives. Essentially
these initiatives make use of flexible work arrangements such as
telecommuting, variable start and finish times and days. It may
also include access to initiatives provided by your employer such
as a gym membership and a company social sports team.
5. New employees receive close supervision to facilitate their
induction into your workplace. Existing employees receive ongoing
mentoring from more senior employees. All employees have access
to ongoing training to enhance their skills (i.e. point 3).
6. Your employer rewards you based on your results. Your hard
work does not go unnoticed. Rewards don't necessarily have to
be monetary -- a simple "thank you" goes a long way.
7. There is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) available if you
need help from a professional when you are feeling stressed.
Your workplace doesn't necessarily have to have all of these
qualities to be a healthy workplace. The right mix of some of these
initiatives and others would however have a positive effect on
reducing workplace stress if it is a problem in your workplace.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR WORKPLACE IS
NOT MENTALLY HEALTHY?
This is a complex situation to deal with and so proceeding cautiously
is advisable. Factors that should be considered depend on the culture
and politics of your workplace, your position in the organisation
and the nature of the problem. It will also depend on the policies
and procedures you have in your workplace which regulate various
systems and behaviour in the workplace. For WHS/OHS hazards,
legally you are required to report WHS/OHS hazards as soon as you
identify them to your manager or WHS representative so they can
be addressed as soon as possible. Other sources of potential stress
that are not obvious WHS/OHS hazards, e.g. not feeling adequately
remunerated for meeting performance goals, need to be addressed
in conjunction with your manager and relevant co-workers. Thus at
some point you will most likely have to broach the subject to your
manager. The HR Advisory service can assist you in finding the best
way to address problems in your workplace which have an impact
on the mental health of your workplace.
For more information or assistance, please contact the
friendly team at the ADA HR Advisory Service on:
Phone: 1300 ADA INC (1300 232 462)
Fax: 02 8448 3299
ADA online HR Portal at: www.ada.org.au after login
to the members' area.
The ADA HR Advisory Service is available from
8:30 am--5:30 pm (AEST) Monday to Friday.
'The answer could be just a phone call away'
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