Mentally healthy workplaces

One in six working-age people are living with a mental health condition. Mental health conditions can come at a huge cost to individuals, those close to them, and to businesses that are ignorant to the existence of mental health problems in the workplace.

Workplace factors such as pressure; lack of support, poor communication, bullying, harassment, discrimination, exposure to violence or trauma and poor management can lead to employees developing or exacerbating a mental health disorder.

Mental health conditions are typically characterised by the presence of symptoms to the extent to which they disrupt an individual’s ability to function across different areas of life including managing relationships and maintaining work [1].

The impact of mental health disorders can be significant to both the individual and the business. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimate a cost of approximately $10.9 billion per year to Australian businesses. The costs can arise due to:

  • Absenteeism – when a worker does not attend work when they are required or expected to attend as a result of a mental health condition.
  • Presenteeism – occurs when a worker is less productive in their role due to a mental health condition.
  • Worker’s compensation claims – a typical compensation payment per claim for work-related mental disorders is $23,600.

Each year 7,500 Australians are compensated for work-related mental disorders. This equates to around 6% of workers compensation claims. The types of mental disorders and the percentage of each type claimed are:


(Safe Work Australia)

Why your business needs to be concerned about mental health

You have a legal obligation under health and safety law to ensure that your employees are provided a safe workplace free of risks to psychological and physical health.  Your duty of care requires you to be abreast of and understand the mental health risks in your workplace. You must ensure you identify and implement effective ways to manage the risks to your employees.

If an employee develops or exacerbates a mental health condition as a result of exposure to a health and safety risk in the workplace, the business can be held liable.

A proactive approach to providing a mentally healthy workplace can have many benefits to individuals and the business. If you provide a mentally healthy work environment for your employees, they are likely to be more engaged, motivated, leading to increased positivity and productivity. It is also a factor in attracting talent to your business. Research has found that three quarters of Australian’s say a mentally healthy workplace is important when looking for a job.

Investing in cultivating a mentally healthy workplace can offer you a positive return on investment. This means that for every dollar a business spends on successfully implementing a targeted approach to increase mental health in the workplace, there is an average of $2.30 in benefits to be gained.


The Develop a mentally healthy workplace[1.1] report identifies research informed strategies contributing to mentally healthy workplaces. They include:

  1. Designing and managing work to minimise harm
  2. Promoting protective factors at a team and organisational level to maximise resilience
  3. Enhancing personal resilience
  4. Promoting and facilitating early help-seeking
  5. Supporting workers’ recovery from mental illness
  6. Increasing awareness of mental illness and reducing stigma

Creating a mentally healthy workplace should be a priority for your business. If you’re not sure where to start, Heads Up  have created a tool for you to devise action plan for your business. The action plan is free and helps your business take action across three areas;

  1. raising awareness and reducing stigma;
  2. supporting employees with mental health conditions; and
  3. promoting a positive working environment.

Visit Heads Up to start an Action Plan for your business.

[1-1.1] Develop a mentally healthy workplace: A review of the literature, November 2014



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