How to create a mentally healthy workplace
Knowing where to start, or what to do next, can sometimes seem unclear. Use this practical, step-by-step advice to create a mentally healthy workplace.
On this page
- Get leadership support. Have you seen our ambassadors?
- Find out how your business is tracking. Have you used the capability check?
- Identify the factors that can impact people's mental health at work.
- Make a plan and implement it. We have free one-on-one business coaching to help.
- Read below for step-by-step advice.
Step 1 – Get leadership support
Taking action for good mental health starts at the top.
Get the support of your leadership or executive team so they can help drive positive change in your organisation.
Leadership sets the tone, culture and policies across a business, so genuine engagement from the top will drive positive change.
Get the support of your leadership by:
- finding out how your business is tracking in being mentally healthy with our capability check. Your results will show how you compare with your industry. Share your results with your leadership team and discuss what actions can be taken to improve
- talking to your leaders about why mental health is important to your team and the benefits a mentally healthy workplace can have on the business’ bottom line. HeadsUp’s Return on Investment tool tells you how much money you could save
- asking your leadership to share their commitment to creating a mentally healthy workplace with the whole organisation.
- it's important for leaders to empower everyone in the workplace with adequate resources and ensure everyone understands their legal obligations.
Step 2 – Consult with your team
Ask your team what changes would better support their health and wellbeing.
Your workers know best what they need to do their jobs effectively. Talk to them.
It is important to consult with your team throughout the whole process about what workplace factors are affecting them and how you can provide a working environment that supports their mental health and wellbeing at work.
You can do this through:
- staff surveys, focus groups, workshops or one-on-one conversations
- regular check-ins on improvements or adjustments for continual improvement
- genuine communication with your team regularly and transparently
- finding your mental health champions - start up a team of people in your workplace who are passionate about creating a mentally healthy workplace and discuss opportunities to make a difference.
Step 3 – Identify factors and analyse data
Often the information needed to understand and identify factors impacting mental health in your workplace already exists or can easily be obtained.
Take this approach:
- continue the consultation process to understand your team's perspective
- analyse your human resources data such as unplanned leave, workers compensation claims, access to support services and tools, and reports of bullying and harassment
- use our free capability check to help you understand how your workplace is tracking with providing a mentally healthy environment. It'll give you actions on how to improve
- the People at Work tool can also help you identify psychosocial risk factors.
You also need to consider:
- the unique factors that the nature of your workplace and the type of work carried out creates
- the cumulative effect of work demands on your employees over time.
This data and feedback will help you understand what areas need to be addressed as you form your action plan.
Step 4 - Make a plan
The next step is to take the information you’ve gathered and put it into a plan (or strategy).
Remember to consider the factors that have been identified and outline actions to manage each one. Make your goals realistic and achievable. Share it with your team for feedback.
Your workplace mental health and wellbeing plan should consider the following:
Building a positive and inclusive culture helps people feel valued and supported at work. You can do this by:
- encouraging everyone to participate in making decisions about their workplace – for example, through surveys, discussions and workshops
- encouraging social connection in your workplace and create opportunities for colleagues to get to know each other
- recognising and celebrating diversity and differences. Be respectful. Make everyone feel like they belong and that work is a safe place to be
- recognising and rewarding staff achievements and hard work helps people feel like their contribution is valued
- talking about mental health at work to help reduce stigma. Start the conversation.
COVID-19 has had an impact on the way many of us work. Get tips on how to support your team, connect and build a positive culture in a changing work environment.
Resources you can use:
- Download the icare Social Connections Toolkit to create a socially connected workplace.
- RUOK has great tips about how to start an open conversation about mental health.
Watch how Newcastle Airport improved workplace culture by taking part in our free mental health training.
As part of creating your mental health and wellbeing plan, look at your existing procedures and policies to see if they could support mental health.
Having mental health and wellbeing policies, strategies or processes can help everyone at work understand their employer's commitment to their health and safety.
Mental health policies work best when they are clearly and effectively communicated to everyone:
- seek feedback from staff on draft policies to make sure they are easily understood
- share them with employees when they do their induction when a policy is updated, created or breached
- employees should be able to access these policies easily, without needing to ask for them.
Resources you can use:
- Our free one-on-one coaching program can help you review or create these policies.
One of the best ways to prevent workplace ill-health is to design jobs, work processes, and environments that are healthy, safe and productive.
To achieve good work design, make sure (as much as possible) the work:
- is appropriate for your workers’ experience and skills.
- is achievable given the workload and resources available.
You should continually review workloads and resources and consult with your workers on how they manage and perform their jobs.
Resources you can use:
Everyone at work needs to know what is expected of them and why. This helps workers feel productive motivated and engaged.
You can achieve role clarity by making sure each team member knows:
- their job’s requirements and responsibilities
- the outcomes they must achieve
- how their role fits into the organisational structure
- who they report to.
You should also have clear job descriptions, workplace inductions, opportunities for training and development, and regular catch ups between people leaders and workers to discuss feedback.
By being flexible in the way work is delivered, you will support the needs of your team and create benefits including improved work/life balance, increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and improved morale. In some circumstances, employees have a right to request flexible working arrangements.
Flexibility will look different in each workplace, but the aim is to provide your team with options that work best for their personal circumstances.
Flexibility can include arrangements such as:
- varying daily or weekly work hours and start and finish times
- staggered rosters
- part-time or job share roles
- working from home or remotely.
Build your flexible workplace by:
- talking to each of your workers to understand what works best for them
- building a flexible working policy that meets the needs of both the individual and the business
- checking in and evaluate regularly to see if anything can be improved.
Resources you can use:
- Our policy resource kit can help you create a flexible workplace.
- Fair Work Ombudsman has information on flexible working legal requirements.
- The Australian Government's Workplace Gender Equality Agency has more helpful information.
- Get tips to support yourself and support your team to work remotely or from home.
Western Earthmoving improved work life balance by moving from a six day to a five-day working week. See how they did it.
Once you have identified the factors affecting your workplace and considered all the feedback and data you have gathered, you can use this information to decide on actions to improve mental health outcomes.
Your risk assessment should determine the seriousness of these factors. You should consider:
- who is most affected
- whether your current actions (if any are in place) are adequate
This will help you prioritise which actions you need to take first, for example there may be a particular team you need to focus on first.
Make sure you document this process, so it can be continually monitored, evaluated and communicated to your team.
Resources you can use:
- The free People at Work tool can help you identify, assess and control your workplace factors.
Mental health training can help you and your team build resilience and better understand how to look after yourself and support others at work.
There are three types of training that support mental health at work:
- prevention – how to stay mentally well
- responding – how to act on warning signs of mental ill-health
- recovery – how to support people with mental illness to recover.
Mental health training teaches you how to provide the right support at the right time, which is important because our mental health needs change.
Choose a mental health training provider that:
- delivers training via a mode of delivery that suits you
- delivers training tailored to your business (for example, the factors you need addresses) or your industry
- delivers a program that has been proven to achieve results
- provides a facilitator who is suitably trained and experienced.
Resources you can use:
- Register now for one of our free training programs for people leaders and individuals.
Manufacturing business TrendPac took up this free training offer and have seen the benefits.
Nearly 1 in 6 workers are experiencing poor mental health at any given time, which means mental ill-health is likely to be in your workplace - whether you can see it or not. We bring our whole selves to work, and most of us will need support at some time.
Good support from managers and colleagues can help people manage stress, seek help early and take less time off work.
As a people leader, you don’t have to be a mental health expert to support your team. All it takes is the ability to notice when things aren’t right, starting a conversation to check in, and connecting people to support if they need it.
If you do notice changes in your workers’ mood, behaviour or appearance, that can be a sign that they need support with their mental health.
If you’re concerned, it’s important to act early by starting a conversation with them and connecting them with support services if they need it.
Ways you can provide support include:
- promote your workplace counselling service or Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If EAP is not available, there are many free support services, tools and resources available. Share these with your team, so they know where to go if they need support
- do mental health training with your team so everyone knows how to recognise the signs and act early
- have peer support or health champions in your workplace, who promote positive behaviour and are trained to recognise early signs of mental illness and connect people to support
- learn how to support your team if they are working from home or remotely.
As a small business managing day-to-day pressures, S1T2 realise the importance of building a resilient workplace where people look out for each other and know how to access support if they need it.
Supporting people living with mental ill-health to recover at work benefits everyone. Workers often recover sooner, it helps retain workers’ skills and experience, creates a positive and inclusive culture, and avoids the cost of recruiting and onboarding new staff.
How can you support recovery at work?
- Talk – have a conversation with your team members privately about their situation and offer support.
- Plan – discuss, agree, and write down goals for your workers’ return to work. Make workplace adjustments to support their mental health as they recover.
- Stay connected – organise to keep in touch regularly and make changes to their plan as needed.
Resources you can use:
Step 5 – Put your plan into action
Your plan needs to be put into action, not just sit on a shelf.
Your plan and policies will work best when they’re clearly and effectively communicated to everyone in your workplace.
Be sure to include it in induction training and make sure it’s easily accessible in hard and soft copy. This helps you continue the consultation throughout the process.
Below, watch South Western Sydney Primary Health Network’s journey creating their workplace mental health wellbeing plan and putting it into action, with positive results for both staff and the business bottom line.
Step 6 – Evaluate and improve
The journey to a mentally healthy workplace is a process of continuous learning, consultation, feedback and improvement.
Make sure you:
- keep a record of all the workplace factors identified and the actions taken to address them.
- check-in with your team all the time – are things improving? Has there been a positive change in culture? What more can be done?
- look at your business data – are you seeing a reduction in unplanned leave or increased productivity?
- continually monitor progress and make adjustments if needed.