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Mental Health in the Workplace: Six key steps employers can take to optimise wellbeing

Katie Adams

Jul 29, 2019

Did you know 80% of the working population will have 1 clinical symptom of a mental illness at point in time? And yet, only 50% of organisations focus on fostering psychological health in their employees. Professor Nick Glozier of the Brain and Mind Centre, Sydney Medical School, opened an important conversation hosted by the College of Organisational Psychologists on Mental Health at Work, with these confronting statistics.

Lucinda Brogden, National Mental Health Commissioner, reinforced the importance of addressing Mental illness in the workplace, highlighting that it costs organisations $37 billion in sick leave alone, excluding the cost of treatment and return to work for employees who become seriously debilitated from a psychological injury. Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe environment for their workers, and that’s not just physical – psychological safety is included.

The costs alone are confronting, when we consider how mental illness impacts on our workforce. However, when addressing mental health in our organisations, Traci Carse, Organisational Psychologist, argued we shouldn’t only be looking at the absence (or reduction) of ill-health.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as, “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution…”

The experience of mental health vs mental illness was well-articulated by Traci, who shared that we each fall somewhere into Slade’s complete state model of mental health at any point in time:

mental health axis

For example, you might have a team member who has a mental illness, but is effectively managing their symptoms and is high in wellbeing – even flourishing at work. On the flip side, you might have an employee who is low in mental illness; however they are under a lot of pressure, starting to work longer hours to achieve their goals at work, or perhaps coping with personal circumstances that have piled onto their plate. Continue allowing this employee to be exposed to high stress and they might develop mental illness symptoms, pushing them into the mental illness sphere. 

Let’s start talking about mental health in the workplace as a focus that not only reduces the risk of mental illness, but includes all of our employees on a daily basis and supports them towards optimum wellbeing. After all, if realising your potential, coping with stress and working productively are aspects of optimal wellbeing, why wouldn’t you want each and every employee to be operating in this space?

The Mentally Health Workplace Alliance have been conducting some valuable research into how employers take action to not only reduce mental illness, but increase mental health in their workplaces.


Six key steps employers can take to optimise wellbeing:

  1. Designing roles and managing workloads to reduce harm to employee wellbeing

  2. Equipping managers with leadership capability, in turn enhancing team member resilience to stress 

  3. Building resilience in employees, particularly those who are exposed to unavoidable stressors

  4. Encouraging early help-seeking behaviour for those who are experiencing mental illness symptoms

  5. Supporting return to work for those who have become debilitated by their mental illness

  6. Increasing awareness and working to reduce the stigma that still exists around mental illness


At A Human Agency, we understand the value every individual has to offer, and the importance of open conversations about mental health that support and sustain a healthy and effective workplace.

Topics: culture mental-health

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