Mentally healthy workplaces: A supervisor’s guide

mentally healthy workplaces

Supervisors have a range of legal responsibilities concerning work health and safety and injury management under workplace health and safety legislation in Australia. Usually, these responsibilities extend to ensuring employees adhere to related policies and procedures, identifying and reporting on any incidents and hazards, training and management of injured workers returning to work. They also extend to ensuring mentally healthy workplaces.

Mental health is a workplace risk and a potential hazard for all employees within a business.

As a manager, supervisors can play a vital role in creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace through the people they supervise and as a leader capable of influencing others within the business. Workers will routinely look to their managers for leadership, guidance, and support.

“The role of a leader in creating a mentally healthy workplace is to promote awareness, and importantly, to promote a culture that allows people to take the steps they need to stay mentally healthy.”

Dr Andrew Wilson, Medibank [1]

If you are a supervisor or manager, there are many things that you can do to foster a mentally healthy workplace regardless of whether or not the business you work for has a current plan for the management of mental health or considers it a priority.

Some practical tips for supervisors and managers seeking to create a more supportive culture regarding workplace mental health include:

  • increasing their knowledge about mental health and awareness of the support that is available to those impacted by mental illness — Beyond Blue has a multitude of free online resources which are capable of providing supervisors and managers education on a diverse range of related topics, including a Mental health awareness online training program;
  • developing an understanding of mental health in the workplace;
  • encouraging employees to speak with their manager if they are experiencing any issues regarding mental health and taking what the worker may say seriously;
  • treating these employees with sensitivity, respect and empathy;
  • listening without judgement;
  • talking openly and communicating regularly about mental health at work and encouraging others to do the same;
  • encouraging respectful behaviour and communication by and between team members;
  • asking questions about the welfare of workers in a private and informal location;
  • allowing enough time for any conversation regarding the mental well-being of an employee;
  • encouraging affected workers to act—whether by talking to family, a trusted friend, their doctor or employee assistance provider;
  • ensuring that contact information for employee assistance providers and your human resources department (if you have one) is readily available to provide to impacted workers;
  • maintaining confidentiality and privacy;
  • following up with the worker to determine how they are feeling — a few days after your initial discussion and periodically after that to maintain consistency in your support of the employee;
  • taking steps to improve work design, identifying, and eliminating where possible workplace stressors;
  • leading by example demonstrating a commitment to healthy work habits;
  • encouraging colleagues and senior management to make workplace mental health a priority — highlighting the risks and benefits; and
  • working with your team to develop a strategic plan for the management of mental health in the workplace — employee consultation is a crucial ingredient of success in this process.

The implementation of these practical tips contributes to a supervisor’s efforts to comply with work health and safety laws. They will also promote greater understanding within the workplace of the nature and impact of mental health, enhance the level of support for those workers who have a mental illness, and facilitate the taking of further steps towards eradicating the inherent stigma which exists in many Australian workplaces.

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© 2020. Robert Nicholls. All Rights Reserved.

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[1] Beyond Blue Limited, Tips for managers to create a mentally healthy workplace for all employees, retrieved on 8 July 2020 from

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