Mental Health: a workplace issue
My Matt Littleboy, Workplace Health and Safety Officer
Mental health is a workplace issue, and one that your employer is required to consider when creating a working environment that is safe and free from risks of both physical and mental health.
A mentally healthy workplace takes positive steps to prevent harm by identifying mental health hazards, managing harm from an early stage and supporting recovery, just as we would with physical hazards at work.
Employers must manage risks to psychological health and safety by:
- eliminating risk of psychosocial hazards as far as is reasonably practicable;
- minimising the risks that can’t be eliminated;
- understanding the hazards and risks associated with the workplace’s operations; and
- using the highest protections to proactively eliminate or reduce risks.
Employers must also consult with workers and health and safety representatives and their unions on matters that affect health and safety in the workplace.
Mental Health Hazards
There are several hazards at work that can cause mental health injury or illness, and your employer must manage them by implementing appropriate health and safety measures.
Mental health hazards in the workplace include, but are not limited to the following circumstances:
High and low job demands
Job demands are one of the most common mental health hazards at the workplace for retail, warehouse and fast food workers.
While challenging tasks can make workers feel excited and motivated about their work, when workers are overloaded with excessive, unrealistic or unreasonable demands, this creates a mental health hazard. This may also arise when job demands interfere with the ability to fulfil family or caring responsibilities.
Low job control
Low job control occurs when an employee has little control over the work they perform. Being excessively supervised and micromanaged can create an unreasonably stressful work environment.
Poor organisational change management
Change is inevitable in the workplace, but when it is managed poorly and without consultation with workers and their representatives, it can have a significant impact on the working environment and the health of workers.
Poor organisational change can include:
- making changes without talking to or allowing workers and their representatives to have a say;
- announcing changes at the last minute;
- not ensuring that workers and their representatives properly understand the changes that will affect them.
Support is an important element in any workplace. Adequate support improves productivity, efficiency, and overall workplace morale, while poor support can have the opposite effect.
Support in the workplace is the practical assistance and emotional support that managers, supervisors, and co-workers provide to employees. Providing adequate support can help employees get through challenging situations in their work.
Violent or traumatic events
As essential frontline workers, SDA members are disproportionately exposed to abuse, violence or threats of sexual/physical harm, and traumatic events in the workplace.
Violent and traumatic events include:
physical and verbal assault from customers, including sexual harassment;
- witnessing or experiencing stressful events including accidents or injury;
ongoing bullying; and
- workplace accidents, injuries or deaths.
Remote or isolated work
Remote or isolated work can make it difficult for workers to get help or assistance from other people because of the location, the time when the work is performed, or the nature of the work being done.
This is particularly common in smaller stores and at service stations, but can affect many SDA members and employees in our sector.
Poor workplace relationships
The relationships you have with those in your workplace can positively or negatively affect your mental health and work performance.
Examples of how poor workplace relationships manifest include:
- Verbal and physical abuse;
- Bullying and harassment, including discrimination and sexual harassment;
- Abusive or offensive emails or messages;
- Threatening body language;
- Isolating or excluding workers from activities or training;
- Allocating some workers more tasks than others, or allocating very minimal tasks;
- Deliberately withholding information needed for work performance.