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How Mentally Healthy is your workplace really?

Updated: Jun 2

Mental health problems are the third biggest health problem in Australia, after heart disease and cancer does that surprise you?

Have you ever found yourself saying things like:

  • ‘I feel burnt out’

  • ‘My workplace is toxic’

  • ‘I feel like I am being micromanaged'

  • ‘I am waking up at 2am, thinking and planning out my day at work!’

  • 'I might just have another glass of wine to help me calm'

  • 'My body aches all-over and I have no idea why!'

How are you feeling? Does this sound all too familiar?

Signs of an Mentally Unhealthy Workplace

Things have certainly changed over the last couple of years.

‘The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression WORLDWIDE!’course in today's modern world, we have all seen behaviours spill over beyond the workplace and into social media and other forums, making it even more challenging. Cyberbullying in general is on the rise and being online means access 24/7.
One in five Australians (21%) have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy. This statistic is more than twice as high (46%) among those who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy.[2]

Have you noticed a co-worker, family member or friend who has been talking to you (or simply showing signs) about their: -

· inability to concentrate, feeling muddled or being unable to ‘find the right words’

· development of insomnia

· mysterious muscular aches and pains.

· worry of burnout

· depressive moods

· heightened stress levels

· feelings of anxiety

· over-use of substances like drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes to help keep a sense of calm

These are signs that should not be ignored - they are signals of distress.

Can a mentally unhealthy workplace contribute to psychological risks?

The short answer is – yes that is possible. Are all psych hazards a concern? – possibly not, if a one-off or exposure occurs on occasion. So we need to explore this a little more.

One hazard alone may not create a risk, however combined with another or multiple other psych hazards, over frequent, prolonged periods, it can cause both psychological and physical harm to workers.

Let’s talk about this - what does a psychosocial hazard look like, and let's look at some real-life examples. If you are reading this and can relate to some of the above statements, this might be a time for you to reflect yourself about:

  • your habits,

  • your self-care,

  • your workplace

Sign that says Self Care

Is it your workplace’s responsibility to keep you psychologically safe?

How Mentally Healthy is your workplace?

Whilst your workplace is not able to manage what you do in your spare time, they are responsible for consulting and assessing the risks within the workplace and together, workers and the business can come up with solutions and ideas to improve the organisation’s wellbeing strategy.

I do say together, as it needs consultation with workers to come up with improvement and solutions.

People working together

This may require an investment in resources including people, money, and time, which in turn has benefits to both employees and the business.

It’s an investment in:

  • Your business

  • Your people

  • Everyone’s future

Invest in your people

The first thing to understand is if there is a hazard. So, let’s look at what the ‘hazards’ might include:-

  • high and low job demands

  • low job control

  • poor support

  • poor workplace relationships (includes work-related bullying and harassment)

  • low role clarity

  • poor organisational change management

  • low reward and recognition

  • poor organisational justice

  • poor environmental conditions

  • remote and isolated work

  • violent or traumatic events.

Let’s look at some real-life examples so we can relate (please note these are examples only and the controls are not exhaustive. You would be required to assess risk and determine appropriate measures at your workplace).

High or Low Job demands

I worked as a Safety Advisor for a manufacturing company for many years. Low Job demands on a production line could be perceived as being monotonous, due to the repetitive nature of the tasks.

How can it be hazardous or a risk?

  • Low level of problem solving

  • Little mental stimulation

  • Little variety in job tasks

  • A risk to physical health from the types of manual tasks undertaken (and repetitive manual tasks)

How did we work together with our workers to help?

  • Rotation of tasks and activities/cross training with other areas of the business

  • Scheduling sufficient breaks across the shift

  • Robotics employed where possible to assist workers (easing burden of hazardous manual tasks).

  • Monitoring that sufficient rest breaks were taken

  • Recognition of the skill and capability required for the tasks and ensuring training provided/tracked.

  • Pre-shift meetings to discuss with the team and allow some input to pace and order of the tasks for the shift.

  • One to one conversation with leaders – yes! open dialogues with leaders roaming the lines. A great way to hear what’s working and what’s not.

Remote and Isolate work

Another real-life example in Logistics this time, as both the supplier and receiver of products. Long distance freight drivers are considered as undertaking isolated or remote work.

How can it be hazardous or a risk?

  • Placing demands on a driver causing the driver to breach speed limits or fatigue management requirements

  • Setting schedules with unrealistic timeframes

  • Loading up vehicles incorrectly

How did we as the receiving business help?

  • Set up of a driver’s room to allow drivers to rest and recuperate

  • Set up of access to facilities, functional kitchen, showers etc.

  • Chain of Responsibility check-in officers to monitor signs of fatigue and fitness for work for drivers

  • Time monitoring to ensure safe travel timeframes met

  • Rostered deliveries to ensure no lengthy delays in load/unloading process

  • Vehicle integrity inspected upon arrival

  • Providing training for all identified workers on their responsibilities to support long distance freight drivers and the correct loading of trucks.

Let’s look at a common ‘isolated work’ option now –

Work from Home

How can it be hazardous or a risk?

  • Slips, trips, falls in the home (workplace)

  • Ergonomics – body stress from incorrect workstation set up

  • Mental health – isolation and social disconnection from the workplace,

  • Working extended hours/burnout

  • Other risks – such as exposure to domestic violence, cyber risks

How did we work together with our workers to help?

  • Provided a hybrid model of work – some time spent at the office/some time spent working at home

  • Identification of DV risks in the agreement to Work from Home set up process

  • Access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)/Wellbeing resources

  • Access to EAP (Above) through a variety of means including SMS/text (as this is a preferred option by younger workers)

  • Work from Home agreement outlines daily check in’s for managers and teams/defined work timeframes

  • Ergonomic review by reviewing photographic images of office set up

  • Team meetings held regularly/wellbeing checks conducted regularly

Could more be done?

Sure – it is about reviewing, understanding, and improving. We need workers input so we can truly understand how to support a diverse workforce and continuously improve on the wellbeing strategy.

Work from Home options may not be viable for a business, so it is also an understanding of what roles are determined as a need to be face to face and unable to offer work from home options. It’s all about balance and consultation for everyone.

Poor Workplace Relationships

Have you ever been affected or have you been witness to poor workplace relationships such as:

  • A co-worker constantly putting you down, being rude or abrupt to you/others. Perhaps they have displayed some highly inappropriate behaviours towards you or others. Maybe this has gone on for a long time unchecked.

  • Silo working environments where it seems whole team or departments are not able to get along and it seems that the managers turn a blind eye as to what is happening. It may even mean one department putting down another department quite openly.

  • Unreasonable behaviours which involves bullying (or cyber bullying), aggression, harassment (including sexual harassment), and/or discrimination.

Have you ever experienced bullying behaviours at work?

  • Perhaps you have seen others in the team appear to be treated differently.

  • People made fun of or isolated because of their religious or cultural beliefs.

  • People deliberately walking out of a meeting room as you enter to join the discussion.

I would like to think that these types of behaviours are no longer prevalent in a workplace, but sadly they still do exist and in some businesses, the culture within allows the behaviours to continue.

These are only some examples of the types of workplace behaviours that can impact on a person’s mental state, which in turn may result in physical symptoms as well. It should not be underestimated about the potential of harm to a person to allow these types of poor behaviours go unchecked.

Of course in today's modern world, we have all see behaviours spill over beyond the workplace and into social media or other forums, making it even more challenging. Cyberbullying in general is on the rise and being online means access 24/7.

What can be done?

  • Workplaces should address these types of behaviours, providing feedback in a respectful and effective way. What does the culture in your workplace look like? Is it mentally healthy?

  • Don’t put your head in the sand and ignore the problems. Businesses should confront the issues and look to ways it can be resolved.

  • Provide training and awareness for all people to help broaden their knowledge of what is expected in terms of behaviour and help guide people to seek help.

  • If your team feels psychologically safe, they will feel encouraged to open up and share their thoughts and ideas, contributing towards solutions.

  • Provide access to support – that could be to mental health training, access to employee assistance programs or other resources/health professionals.

Signs that says Mental Health Matters

Do these approaches give you some ideas on how to help?

There are many workers who are currently 'quietly quitting'. If you find workers/co-workers in this position, they are 'checking out'. It is not a good sign that your workplace is a mentally healthy one. Quietly quitting won't also work towards any resolution, so there are no winners to this approach and has the possibility of causing harm to one's mental health, as well as harm to the business.

It is important if you are a recipient to poor workplace behaviours, that this is raised so the matter can be resolved.

This brings us to the question, how common is mental illness?

According to Beyond Blue, it is estimated that a GP sees on average 40 patients a day and can expect that between 8 – 10 of those patients shall require support for anxiety or depression. That is a whopping 20 – 25% of patients per day. That’s an alarming number and stats over the last few years, show that these figures are growing.[5]

Graph showing causes of Mental Health Issues

Causes of Mental Health Disorders based on Work Cover claims - Sourced from WorkSafe Qld

Changes to the way we work, the fast pace of modern life and external stressors, all contribute to our mental health and wellbeing. We spend a lot of time at work. It is time to evaluate just how mentally healthy your workplace really is and help shape change for the better.

We are here to help you.

Reach out today for guidance on communication strategies, self-care and mental health programs to make your workplace a mentally healthy one.

To understand what psychological risks may be present in your workplace, complete this risk assessment tool from Work Safe Qld. Make a fresh start for a healthier future.

[1] World Health Organisation [2] [3] Worksafe Qld – Preventing and Managing to Workplace Psychological Health [4] – Mental Health Workplace [5] Beyond Blue

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