Mental health in the workplace is a concern for many employers, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic and considering current cost of living challenges. While drawing attention to problem areas is always important, the positive steps workplaces take to improve employees’ mental wellbeing often get overlooked. The Indicators of a Thriving Workplace Survey completed in August, surveyed 10,000 Australian employees with more than 100 questions about factors known to influence mental health.1
The five Domains of workplace mental health
SuperFriend, a leading workplace mental health and wellbeing not-for-profit has identified five Domains - each contributing to mental health within the workplace. They include: Connectedness, Safety, Leadership, Work Design and Capability. Each Domain is made up of several indicators which are combined to achieve a total Domain score used to identify priority areas for workplaces to action.
How did Australian workplaces fare in 2023?
Last year, the National Thriving Workplace score for 2023 was 68 out of 100, with Connectedness rated as the best performing area for Australian workplaces. Work Design and Capability are both areas that employers have a great deal of potential to improve.
The study also looked at psychosocial hazards – these aspects of work that have the potential to cause a stress response that leads to psychological harm. Unsurprisingly, Workload, Change Management and Recognition of workers’ effects were rated as the most likely to lead to harm in the workplace.
Almost 1 in 3 people surveyed reported experiencing burnout, with 38% experiencing high levels of psychological distress.
Connectedness is the most important Domain for keeping a workplace mentally healthy, combatting burnout and is a strong predictor of employee retention. This Domain was rated highly, with little variation across industries. Facilitating quality relationships in the workplace provides a safe space for employees to be open about their mental health and share their experiences and is also something that can be achieved without the need for a large investment.
Simple steps such as taking the time to ask people about their wellbeing and treating each other with respect contributed to a higher Connectedness score.
The Capability Domain focuses on the skills and resources available to support mental health. Many Australians are experiencing trouble accessing mental health support due to barriers such as cost or long wait times2. The workplace is an area that is currently underutilised when it comes to providing mental health support and one that has been shown to have positive impacts.
SuperFriend’s research also found 11% of people with a mental health condition said work had a positive impact on their mental health. This shows there is untapped potential for the workplace to be a place that improves mental health – and together employers can take action to lift that number higher. (Associate Professor Ross Iles, SuperFriend).
Supporting your employees and team
Reducing the stigma around mental health in the workplace is an important step to encourage employees to seek help. Although initiatives such as RUOK? Day are paving the way for discussions about mental health, it’s important that employees feel they can speak up and receive support at any time of the year. Providing regular mental health training for leaders helps them to develop the skills needed to be a compassionate leader. Knowing how to start a supportive conversation with an employee who might be struggling is one of the key recommendations to help people thrive at work.
Improving Capability also has a positive financial impact for organisations, with a $15 return on investment in the way in the way of productivity retention and reduced work injury claims, for every $1 spent.3 Often, we focus on the negative impact of the workplace on mental health conditions, and how it can cause or contribute to poor mental health. The Domain of Capability highlights the potential to turn this around, providing support to people when they need it most. So much of our time is spent at work and it makes sense from both a financial and wellbeing perspective to consider how the workplace can positively support mental health.
Find out more about the five Domains and how you can help your workplace thrive by downloading the 2023 Key Insights Report.
1. SuperFriend, 2023, Indicators of a Thriving Workplace Survey – 2023 Key Insights, accessed on 8 December 2023 at superfriend.com.au
2. Mental Health Australia, 2023, Report to the Nation
3. Return to Work South Australia, 2023, Mentally Healthy Workplaces