Workplace mental health: 4 key elements

workplace mental health

The social and economic benefits of mentally healthy workplaces are indisputable. Correspondingly, the business case for implementing appropriate workplace mental health-specific policies, procedures, and practices to secure these benefits is somewhat of a no-brainer[1] — perhaps even a foregone conclusion.

Recognition of this fact, however, renders the findings of a recent Australian study[2] challenging to reconcile.

For example, it is unclear why only 52 per cent of employees in Australia believe that their workplace is mentally healthy when 91 per cent of them think that mental health is an essential issue for businesses[3]. Or why 81 per cent of organisational leaders disclose that their workplaces have one or more policy or practice to support mental health, yet a significant proportion (35 per cent) of employees don’t know these resources exist or don’t have access to them[4].

Something is not right with these equations. While everyone seems to agree that mentally healthy workplaces are necessary, if not vital, there is undoubtedly a discrepancy between perception and reality.

Is it a simple case of a lack of communication?  

Do business owners consider the task too difficult or find they lack the support to do so?

Is there a general misunderstanding within the business community regarding the federal, state and territory legal obligations of employers to foster workplaces that promote health and safety[5], prevent discrimination[6] and protect the privacy[7] of all employees including those with mental illness?

In truth, it is probably a combination of these and other factors.

About now, most business leaders reading this article will be asking one logical question.

So, what is the solution?

I am glad you asked.

The good news is that you do not have to reinvent the wheel, and it is a relatively straight-forward process. There is a plethora of comprehensive, practical information —including how-to guides[8] — readily available to assist business leaders in the development and implementation of a workplace mental health strategy.

Before you embark upon the journey or take steps to enhance your current position, you must develop a basic understanding of what constitutes a mentally healthy working environment, regardless of the size, scope and nature of your enterprise.

Common characteristics of mentally healthy workplaces include:

  • a positive workplace culture – a place where everybody that turns up to work there feels good about coming, and everyone is respected, encouraged, and supported.
  • workplace risks for employees, including stress, heavy workloads, unrealistic deadlines, poor communication, and uncertainty, are effectively managed.
  • supporting workers with mental health conditions by helping them remain at, or return to work, and
  • protecting workers with mental health issues from discrimination through a zero-tolerance approach which encourages diversity and ensures everyone gets a ‘fair-go’ — including making reasonable adjustments for workers with mental health conditions when and where necessary.

Not only are these traits common in workplaces considered to be mentally healthy, they are mostly common sense and on any objective view represent not only good governance but effective leadership.

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© 2020. Robert Nicholls. All Rights Reserved.

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[1] See Robert Nicholls (2020). 3 reasons for business leaders to adopt mentally healthy workplaces, 28 May 2020, at

[2] TNS. (2014) “State of workplace mental health in Australia” [Online]. Retrieved on 25 May 2020 from:—tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=2

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] In the Australian context, while the Commonwealth, states and territories of Australia are responsible for implementing, regulating and enforcing workplace health and safety (WHS) laws in their respective jurisdictions, the model WHS laws (comprising of laws, regulations and model Codes of Practice) developed by Safe Work Australia have been implemented (with some slight localised variations) in all jurisdictions except Victoria and Western Australia..

[6] Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) and equivalent state and territory laws.

[7] Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and similar legislation in some states and territories of Australia.

[8] For example, Beyond Blue Limited (2018). Developing a workplace mental health strategy, A how-to guide for organisations which can be accessed at

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