The workplace plays an important role in the health and wellbeing of employees. Work gives us identity, structure, and a sense of connectedness and belonging as relationships develop. Working, doing and achieving helps us to feel good about ourselves. People who work in healthy workplaces are more likely to share ideas, work efficiently, engage with others, and feel good about themselves. Whether working in a trade, an office, in retail, or the arts, the culture of a workplace is important for everyone’s mental health.
Workplaces that encourage honest, open discussion among co-workers are more likely to have healthier and more motivated staff. Workplace wellness programs are becoming a bigger part of the overall strategy of many companies. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) have been shown to be very helpful in lifting mental and emotional wellbeing in workplaces all over the world.
If you and your co-workers experience positive mental wellbeing at work, it is likely to boost your mental health outside of work as well. The ties you make with co-workers can connect you with useful resources, broaden your network, and help open up future career opportunities.
We spend a lot of time with the people we work with. This can put us in a good position to observe whether a co-worker appears to be travelling well, or if they don't seem like their usual self.
Our workmates, like us, have many demands inside and outside of the workplace. Challenges at various times in life can overwhelm any of us and impact our wellbeing. They can also affect our ability to perform well at work and other areas of life.
Small gestures can make a big difference at the workplace. Reaching out to say hello to a co-worker or helping them feel valued and accepted in the workplace, helps create a more supportive work environment.
Factors for mental health in the workplace include physical safety and fair working conditions such as work hours, income, job security, and work autonomy. External influences such as home life, or concerns over changes in the greater industry also contribute. Combined and overall, the main factor is stress.
Managers and organisations can be more supportive and inclusive of people with mental health challenges. Many workplaces have been developing initiatives and processes to support employee mental and emotional wellbeing.
Take a look at the resources below to learn more about workplace wellbeing. We also have pages on work as a purposeful activity, and on how to support someone.
“It's important that we teach managers how to have these conversations, so that they can be prepared when one of their staff members has a mental health issue.”
A closer look
EXERCISE AND NUTRITION HAVE A POSITIVE EFFECT ON WORKPLACE WELLBEING
Physical activity is shown to lift mental wellbeing. The benefits are likely to partly be due to increased social interaction—solitary exercise does not improve wellbeing as much as group activity. Nutritional habits also help a person deal with the stresses of work. Those who are healthier have more energy, are happier, and tend to take less time off work.(Source)
SOCIAL LINKS WITH CO-WORKERS CAN IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL WELLBEING
A recent Australian study of people from a wide range of occupations showed those who have good relationships with co-workers have better physical and psychological health and face a lower risk of burnout. The study’s authors suggested that the mental health benefits may come from the support provided by co-workers, but also the meaning and purpose that people experience as members of social groups. (Source)
Employers are obliged to consider mental health
All employees have a legal right to a safe, healthy workplace
Bullying is a major workplace risk factor for mental illnesses, and you have a right to a workplace that is free from bullying and harassment. If you suspect your co-worker’s mental health is being affected by bullying behaviours - like threats, humiliation, harassment, being ganged up on, violence, and online or cyberbullying - your workplace will most likely provide options to report this behaviour. You may want to refer to your workplace policies on these issues and encourage your colleague to consider further action. (Source)
Mental illness is a leading cause of absenteeism in the workplace
Depression accounted for 24% of all time off work for chronic disease in the Australian workforce in 2010. As of 2017, depression has become the leading cause of disability worldwide. The total cost of medical-related work absenteeism to the Australian economy is around $7 billion per year, while the cost of not fully functioning at work due to mental conditions is approximately $26 billion per year. (Source 1) (Source 2)
Your co-worker might not feel comfortable talking about it
In Australia, workers who have disclosed their mental health issue have reported fear of workplace discrimination. They indicated that stigma is still a barrier to seeking or accepting support in the workplace. Only 22% of full-time workers with signs of mental illness received treatment. Many workplaces are improving their understanding of mental illness, offering training, resources, support or general health and wellbeing care programs. (Source 1) (Source 2)
You might find online and phone-based mental health resources helpful. Some suggestions are below. You can find more with our Search tool (opens in a new tab).