What are the two hallmarks of mentally healthy workplaces?

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 26 August, 2021 - 12:45
Industry news
National News

Good OHS systems and committed leaders are the two hallmarks of mentally healthy workplaces which create environments that decrease the risk of work-related stress, according to WorkSafe Victoria.

“Firstly, leadership actively prioritises mental health – it’s business as usual (BAU) as part of OHS, and staff outputs are valued equal to their wellbeing,” said Jennifer Fry, director of WorkSafe Victoria’s WorkWell program, which is creating an evidence base for systemic change to prevent mental injury among Victorian workers.

“Secondly, leadership and management walk the talk – they create environments that decrease the risk of work-related stress, by managing 11 work-related factors that impact on mental health, such as role clarity, job design, support and more.”

For workplaces that have OHS systems in place and leaders who are committed to preventing occupational stress, Fry said there is a direct impact on psychological safety and quality of work-life outcomes of both workers and managers.

“To get in front of the mental health crisis we need real change in workplace culture and to think about mental health differently,” said Fry, who was speaking ahead of an AIHS webinar on a multipronged approach to prevent workplace mental injury, which will be held on 12 October 2021.

“We need to respond to mental health risks in the same way as we do physical risks – through prevention. WorkWell focuses on primary prevention, which means we support employers to identify and address psychological risk in the workplace in order to prevent harm in the form of mental injury.

“We know there is a good return on investment – with both improved absenteeism and improved productivity for those workplaces who do this. Operating in the primary prevention space, means working with employers to identify and then control the root causes of work-related stress to prevent psychological injury.”

Work design and the control of work-related factors also play a role in preventing mental injury, and Fry said work design considers not only the type of work – such as tasks and activities within someone’s work role – but also the workplace environment, working relationships and responsibilities of employees.

“Good work design improves employee health and wellbeing and can increase business success and productivity,” she said.

“Designing work differently such as offering flexible working arrangements and conditions can help build a mentally healthy workplace and establish workplaces as an employer of choice.”

There are a number of factors within an employer’s control that can impact the mental health and safety of their team, and Fry said there are 11 work-related factors that influence workplace mental health:

1. Job control

2. Job demands

3. Support

4. Organisational change management

5. Organisational justice

6. Recognition and reward

7. Role clarity

8. Workplace relationships

9. Environmental conditions, such as: hazardous manual tasks, poor air quality, high noise levels, extreme temperatures, working near unsafe machinery

10. Remote and isolated work

11. Violent or traumatic events

“If these work-related factors are not managed well, there is an increased risk of work-related stress, which can lead to physical injury, mental injury or even both at the same time,” said Fry.

WorkWell is a $50 million, 5-year government-funded program being delivered by WorkSafe Victoria and the Department of Health, which aims to support employers to make systems level changes to prevent mental injury and create safe and mentally healthy workplaces.

“While everyone has a role to play in preventing mental injury, it is through leaders that organisations can effect real change and begin to drive a culture of psychological safety and wellbeing,” said Fry.

To equip employers to prevent mental injury and promote a safe and mentally healthy workplace, WorkSafe has created a free online tool called the WorkWell Toolkit.

The WorkWell program also provides large-scale investment via a mental health improvement fund to pilot programs that aim to prevent mental injury and promote positive mental health in Victorian workplaces. There are currently 25 projects funded across a range of industries.

The third stream of the program is the WorkWell Learning Networks, which bring together five groups of employers to share expertise and knowledge, and collaborate on initiatives to prevent mental injury.

Fry was speaking ahead of an AIHS webinar on a multi-pronged approach to prevent workplace mental injury, which will be held on Tuesday 12 October 2021 from 14:30-15:30 AEST. For more information call (03) 8336 1995, email or visit the event website.