There are three foundational elements, which are all required to develop a mentally healthy workplace.
Mentally healthy workplaces recognise and promote the positive aspects of work, including:
- Seeking ways to support good mental health and wellbeing.
- Identifying and building on ‘what is working well’.
- Supporting workers and teams to use their strengths.
- Providing learning opportunities.
- Encouraging workers to collaborate to build a mentally healthy workplace.
Mentally healthy workplaces take steps to prevent physical, environmental and psychological harm to workers, including:
- Identifying and assessing risks to psychological health.
- Evaluating and proactively managing psychosocial hazards.
- Engaging in good work design, which involves workers having input into how they manage and complete their own tasks.
- Reviewing the wider workplace environment to ensure safety. (e.g., worker and customer interactions and effectively managing any conflicts).
(Please see WorkSafe Victoria for additional guidance).
Mentally healthy workplaces identify and respond early to any warning signs of distress, declining wellbeing and mental ill-health. This is to make sure that people are given appropriate support. This includes:
- Being prepared to support workers.
- Responding early to any warning signs to improve the likelihood of better health and wellbeing outcomes, which in turn may also lead to better workplace outcomes (e.g. reduced absenteeism).
All three features are related, interconnected and have a more positive impact on the workforce and workplace when considered together.
Areas of focus
There are six areas of focus to drive and enable mentally healthy workplaces, which have a more positive impact when considered to be related and interconnected.
- Leaders create a psychologically safe environment and set the tone for how safety, mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is valued and prioritised.
- Positive leadership practices and behaviours promote worker wellbeing, create inclusive cultures and work experiences, and lead to improved performance.
- Workers are more likely to seek help, reach out to leaders and support each other through difficult times when the tone from the top reinforces these behaviours as ‘norms’.
- Individuals and teams have the confidence and skills to understand their own wellbeing and support the wellbeing of others.
- Addressing stigma and providing supports can look different in every workplace but should include education and awareness.
- All workers understand and respect the need to maintain privacy and confidentiality in relation to mental health disclosures.
- Teams with positive, strengths based cultures promote psychological safety.
- Promote actions that include diversity, inclusion, respect, collaboration, camaraderie, reward and recognition, and a strong sense of meaning and purpose.
- Culture is influenced best at a team level, where strengths can be better identified, with the aim to expand across the whole organisation.
- An inclusive workplace creates equal opportunities for individual workers and teams to participate, contribute, and develop healthy and respectful interpersonal relationships.
- Paying attention to the unique and diverse needs of individual workers across the workforce can support the design of workplaces and resources that are tailored and accessible to all workers.
- When designing or reviewing any workplace structures, systems, policies and practices, consider worker wellbeing alongside your organisation’s needs and outcomes.
- Policies that prioritise wellbeing should be effectively communicated in a way that a diverse workforce and those who may need additional support can understand.
- All wellbeing and mental health policies should consider your workers’ privacy and confidential information will be kept secure.
- Psychosocial risks are aspects of work and workplaces that can cause psychological or physical harm or injury. These can lead to workers having long recovery times, with cost to themselves and their workplace.
- Investing in ongoing education and training, supports, processes and systems can help to proactively identify hazards and assess and manage risks to psychological health.
- Timely and effectively solutions can be created by implementing a range of assessment tools to identify hazards, in addition to regular and ongoing worker consultations, effective management of hazards, and transparent reporting.
- WorkSafe offers further guidance here.
External factors and specific industry circumstances will influence what areas of focus your workplace may consider.
Where to start
In developing and implementing a mentally healthy workplace, start with these five priority actions:
- A Strategy / Action Plan
- Positive team and workplace culture
- Leadership capability development
- Aligned structures, policies and practices
- Proactive risk management
Co-design and develop your plan with workers and identify opportunities to include mental health and wellbeing actions into accountable workplace practices.
Create a Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy/Action Plan to know what to do to drive commitment, accountability and action across your organisation.
This Strategy/Action Plan should consider the whole workplace, the organisation’s needs and challenges, unique worker groups and regulatory requirements.
The Strategy/Action plan should align with the organisation’s overarching mission/vision, values and strategic / business plan.
It should outline the:
- Key goals (shared vision) in creating a mentally healthy workplace
- Action areas/initiatives that will be delivered
- Roles and accountabilities for achieving these goals and initiatives, and
- Metrics or measures that will show progress and outcomes.
A tool has been developed to support organisations through the key steps to create a Strategy/ Action Plan. Please see here for the Guide to developing your Mentally Healthy Workplace Strategy and Action Plan.
Promote and embed a culture of care, trust, safety and transparency across all teams and at all levels of the organisation, including all units/divisions and different worksites. Foster a culture that creates psychological safety and upholds the values of diversity and inclusion.
Key things to consider include:
1. Organisational purpose is clear and well understood
- Workers connect with the organisation's mission and understand how their role and responsibilities relate to the organisation’s overarching purpose.
- Information is shared openly, allowing workers to feel empowered to build a stronger sense of purpose in their work, and foster trust in their team and the workplace.
2. Teams experience psychological safety
When developing psychological safety, leaders and teams need to consider:
- What a shared understanding of psychological safety would look like, and be experienced, and how to create it.
- How they might undertake team-based co-design activities that focus on defining behaviours that promote psychological safety and understand any issues that may be stopping this.
- How they will measure psychological safety at regular intervals to ensure it is consistently maintained.
- Workplace leaders and advocates to promote psychological safety.
3. Workplace mental health is considered across different stages of an individual's employment
- Provide relevant interventions catering to worker needs and their circumstances at different employment life-cycle stages (e.g. induction or onboarding, promotion into leadership role).
- Provide workers with the right resources and training to improve their skills and confidence, and independently choose how they structure or conduct their work (whenever possible).
- For workers experiencing declining wellbeing or mental ill-health, co-design and provide reasonable adjustments and provisions to reduce or remove barriers that they may be experiencing when at work.
- Certain worker groups (e.g. women, young individuals, migrant individuals) are at an increased risk within a workplace. As an employer or leader, you should be mindful of this and provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and free from risk to health so far as reasonably practical.
4. Mental health and wellbeing literacy is promoted
- Promote and support education, learning and development that is designed with workers to improve workplace mental health and wellbeing knowledge, understanding and skills across all levels.
- Upskill leaders to actively set an example of ’best practice’ and engage in open conversation about mental health and wellbeing. Ensure leaders and workers understand the importance of maintaining privacy and confidentiality.
- Promote and provide clear pathways of support.
5. Promotion of care, trust, diversity and inclusion
- Workers at all levels of the organisation demonstrate care and compassion and treat each other with trust and respect.
- Workers and leaders create a strong sense of belonging and inclusion for all workers.
- Leaders encourage, support and reinforce positive behaviours through appropriate recognition and role modelling.
- People address conflict proactively when it arises.
6. Psychological safety enables diversity and inclusion
- Adopt ways of working and interacting at work that promotes trust, transparency, a speak-up culture and enables workers to learn and grow.
- Have regular conversations and open discussions about mental health (e.g. on lived/living experience, case studies, sharing of experiences) to reduce stigma.
- When making decisions or planning and implementing any change agendas, consider the wellbeing of workers, including people with lived/living experience.
- Use a holistic, person-centered approach that considers worker wellbeing from a physical, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual perspective when designing and providing support.
- Seek understanding and insights as to the best ways to provide supports to workers from diverse backgrounds (e.g. through materials translated into a worker’s preferred language and practical demonstrations guiding task completion, where appropriate).
7. Proactive psychosocial hazard management
- Identify psychosocial hazards through widespread and regular worker consultations to ensure proactive identification, management and prevention.
- Transparently report all identified psychosocial hazards and how these are managed.
- Work collaboratively with workers to identify effective strategies to address risks.
Equip leaders with the skills, capabilities and confidence to create a mentally healthy workplace and lead teams that are psychologically safe.
Actively support and promote opportunities for all workers to grow and develop. Equip leaders with specialist skills-based training to build their confidence and capability in managing people, especially through difficult times. This could include training on how to become a trauma-informed workplace.
Key things to consider include:
1. Visible role modeling
- Leaders actively role model care and proactively engage in early intervention conversations to contribute to a culture of openness.
- Leaders role model how to manage competing priorities, professionally and personally.
- Leaders have good communication skills, including being able to effectively resolve conflicts.
- Leaders know how to create psychological safety and avoid toxic positivity (which encourages individuals to only report positive outcomes and feedback, regardless of the reality of their circumstances).
2. Leaders feeling empowered to share
- Leaders are educated, supported, and empowered to show appropriate vulnerability and know how to safely speak about their lived experience in a workplace context, or share learnings and challenges in their careers.
- Leaders are educated in emotional intelligence.
- Leaders understand the benefits of supporting a safe environment which allows individuals to be vulnerable, and able to share their experiences in their workplace.
3. Strengths based leadership
- Leaders are collaborative and support workers and teams to use their strengths at work, providing personal and professional development opportunities for them to feel empowered in their roles.
- Leaders encourage job crafting (when appropriate) and know how this improves psychological wellbeing.
- Leaders regularly praise workers and teams for positive work behaviours and outcomes.
- Leaders ensure that workers receive adequate support to complete their tasks, while also accounting for other priorities.
4. Accountable and responsible leadership
- Leaders understand regulatory obligations and their role in developing and implementing strategy, plans and actions that embed workplace mental health and wellbeing (including safety).
- Leaders recognise barriers that may impact their working environment based on circumstances such as industry and organisation size, and ensure they are able to address these and adjust accordingly.
- Consider the needs of diverse workers and any barriers they may face to seeking help.
Embed structures, systems, policies, and processes to support mental health and wellbeing.
A mentally healthy workplace is driven by a foundation of strong structures, systems, policies and practices that considers the mental health and wellbeing of all individuals.
Key steps to take include:
1. Policies are designed with workers for workers
- Policies, practices, systems, and structures are co-designed, implemented, and reviewed in collaboration with the workers that may be impacted by them.
2. Policies are reviewed to balance people and your organisation's needs
- Regularly review policies, practices, systems, and structures to ensure they meet and balance the mental health and wellbeing needs of workers and the needs of the organisation.
- Ensure workers feel comfortable raising questions, challenges or concerns, or proposing changes, in a safe forum with the expectation that they will be supported and a meaningful outcome can be reached.
3. Availability of mental health and wellbeing resources
- Adequate tools, resources, and interventions are available, accessible, and known to all workers, through organisations such as Beyond Blue, WorkSafe Victoria, and Black Dog Institute, amongst others.
- Ensure resources and supports are easily accessible for all workers in time of need, ideally housed in a single location, such as a shared-drive or intranet.
- Regularly remind workers that they can access support through helplines, organisation specific support programs, medical professionals, and online tools and resources.
- Ensure resources are regularly updated so that they remain fit-for-purpose and relevant.
4. Embed mental health and wellbeing into business as usual practices
- Enable, promote and role model practices that embed mental health and wellbeing into daily tasks, meetings, training, projects, workplans, and decision-making processes.
- Ensure leaders are consistent and clear in their practices and strategies to encourage mental wellbeing and ensure that work is structured to support this.
5. Ensure the privacy and confidentiality of your workers
- It is essential to consider the privacy of your workers and the confidentiality of any information you receive.
- Ensure that your policies and procedures take into account how you will keep information confidential and model respect for worker’s privacy.
- Ensure that you have the agreement of the person experiencing the illness or injury regarding what is shared (or not), with whom and under what circumstances.
- Ensure that data that is captured about the workforce, such as disability status or the proportion of the workforce from a diverse cultural background, is stored sensitively and for a purpose.
- Review and update the confidentiality agreement so that it remains relevant and fit-for-purpose.
Proactively manage psychosocial hazards and prioritise psychological safety.
Workers are likely to be exposed to a range of psychosocial hazards within and outside the workplace, which may contribute to declining wellbeing or mental ill-health. Where hazards are not managed well, they can psychologically injure a worker.
Workplaces should encourage proactive risk management to mitigate and minimise psychological hazards.
Key steps to support this include:
1. Collaborate and consult with workers to identify, assess, and mitigate hazards
- Leaders work collaboratively with workers to identify psychosocial hazards to mental health and wellbeing and assess the risks.
- All leaders and workers collaboratively mitigate the impacts of hazards, as far as reasonably practical, and implement and communicate controls to prevent their re-emergence.
- Provide all workers with training on identifying psychosocial hazards and associated risks to help drive risk management capability and protection from harm, including mechanisms for reporting. WorkSafe Victoria has a range of existing resources dedicated to managing psychosocial risk factors through the WorkWell Program. Mental Health First Aid training may also be beneficial.
2. Adopt a strengths based approach
- Use strengths based approaches when identifying and managing workplace risks and hazards, including recovery at work or return-to-work practices. Consider how specific hazards have been effectively mitigated in other parts of the organisation and apply those learnings across the organisation.
- Emphasise the value that workers bring to the workplace as individuals, through their skills, knowledge and potential.
3. Psychological safety is embedded across training and workplace practices
- Drawing on the key action areas of Positive Team and Workplace Culture and Leader Capability Development, embed psychological safety into workplace training, practices and policies to ensure that workers feel safe to raise issues or concerns about hazards in a timely manner, and believe that they are addressed as a priority and are proactively managed.
- Measure psychological safety in teams as a lead indicator for safety and workers willingness to speak up early.
- Measure psychological safety for diverse worker groups, including culturally and linguistically diverse workers.
4. Monitor, measure and report transparently
- Embed processes to transparently monitor, measure, and share findings on the psychosocial risks and levels of psychological safety in the workplace and review for continuous improvement in consultation with workers.
- Monitor, measure and report on cultural diversity data relating to levels of psychological safety and emotional and mental wellbeing at the workplace.
- By keeping all workers aware of the actions that the workplace is undertaking in supporting their emotional and mental wellbeing while at work, workplaces can build trust amongst their workers.
(Please see WorkSafe Victoria for additional guidance).
How to implement the Framework
The image contains 6 connected circles, the circles are labeled "Strengths Based; Actions; Integrated Approach; Co-Design; Continuous Improvement; and Consistency".
A strengths based approach leverages the strengths of individuals, teams and organisations. It applies to tasks, interventions, worker interactions and team cultures, and workplace actions. Strengths based approaches improve the likelihood of positive outcomes for workers and the workplace.
Reframing mistakes as learning opportunities will also support worker and team development and growth.
Consider needs, preferences, and strengths that vary across different worker groups.
The Framework, and its features, should not be considered in isolation.
Developing an integrated approach to workplace mental health requires all three features to be addressed:
- Protecting mental health by reducing workplace risks and hazards;
- Promoting mental health by taking strengths-based approaches; and
- Responding early to mental ill-health regardless of the ‘root’ cause (workplace, personal or external factors) in an appropriate way.
Continuously monitoring and improving actions, initiatives and interventions will allow workplaces to understand what works best for their workers and their organisation. This may include how to adapt existing initiatives, and assess what is sustainable.
Be willing and prepared to adjust initiatives to respond to the evolving environment and changing needs of workers and the workplace.
Reporting progress and outcomes transparently builds trust and engagement with workers.
Actions should be co-designed, implemented and evaluated with people with lived and living experience, and/or the impacted workforce. This includes people from diverse cultural and demographic backgrounds, individuals with intersecting identities, people living with disability, people across a range of employment types, and people across different locations.
Co-designing actions will promote buy-in and participation from workers as they are more likely to feel engaged, valued and heard. It will also mean that actions and interventions are better catered to meeting their needs and preferences.
Note: consultation with workers is not the same as co-designing with workers. Consultation is asking for input from workers but controlling the outcome. Co-design enables workers to be actively involved in the whole process, including design, prioritisation/decision making and implementation.
Creating a mentally healthy workplace and workforce is an ongoing process, requiring organisations to prioritise actions, embed these into business-as-usual and measure the outcomes over time.
Workplaces should assess the level of effort, resources and time that actions will take, and the impact it will have on workers’ wellbeing and the organisation. This should be done in consultation with workers. This will allow some actions to be prioritised and create a pace of change in workplaces that allows leadership and workers to be brought along the journey.
Where possible, instead of focusing on the ‘quick wins’, workplaces should prioritise actions that prevent the highest risks to worker safety and mental health and wellbeing, including to culturally diverse workers.
Workplaces vary in how progressed they are in implementing initiatives. To ensure the approach taken is effective, interventions and actions must be evidence-informed and have a level of standardisation in how tools and resources are applied in practice.
As workplaces seek to implement programs, actions and approaches to support workplace mental health, they should leverage guidance from key agencies and tools.