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Action 1: Be aware of the workplace environment and how it can be adapted

Every work place is unique. It's important that before starting you source the necessary information about where you work, to determine what policies will be best suited to your company.

Understand the benefits of a mentally healthy work environment

Organisations with positive work environments actively support the mental health of employees, leading to greater productivity, creativity, and satisfaction.

Conversely, jobs with high workload, time pressure, and low levels of autonomy and authority increase stress and the risk of ill health. In addition, when employees perceive that rewards are not commensurate with the effort they invest in work, the risk of poor mental health increases. The perception of fair processes in the workplace - notably, accuracy of assessment, inclusion in decision-making and respectful treatment by supervisors - also influences mental health.

Practices that reduce stress and promote mental health include:
• implementing practices that support health and safety, including identification of distress and illness and providing resources to manage them
• making it clear to all staff that such support is available
• ensuring employee involvement through increased autonomy and participation in decision-making
• supporting practices that help employees balance work and non-work demands
• supporting employee growth and development through training and career development opportunities
• employee recognition and provision of rewards

Understand the landscape; from stress to mental illness

Common mental disorders, like anxiety and depression, affect more than 350 million people around the world. Although symptoms of anxiety and depression can be part of the typical spectrum of emotional experience, clinicians identify them as illnesses when the symptoms intensify and endure over time.

In fact, when symptoms like depressed mood, loss of pleasure or interest in life, poor concentration, agitation, disrupted sleep and disturbed appetite last for more than two weeks, a provider usually makes a diagnosis of major depression.

At its worst, major depression is disabling and can increase risk of suicide, but mild and moderate depressive illnesses are also common and contribute to personal suffering as well as poor productivity. Even without a diagnosis of depression, insomnia, indecisiveness and severe emotional distress are all symptoms that lead to worse work outcomes for men and women, with fatigue also adversely affecting women. 

Anxiety disorders, which are distinct from depression, also encompass severe and enduring symptoms of anxiety that cause distress and interfere with daily activities. As a group, these are the most common mental disorders, and they include conditions such as generalised anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and social phobia.

Anxiety and depressive disorders are associated with absenteeism and presenteeism (i.e. people in the workplace who are unable to function) and, consequently, with under-performance.

In short, mental disorders may reveal themselves in the context of work, and symptoms of mental illnesses can lead to underperformance and consequent low productivity. These generate costs felt by employees and employers.

An organisation’s policy aimed at enabling people suffering from mental illnesses to remain in the workplace provides more opportunities for sustained health and employment. It also underscores the need for recognition of these problems in employment settings.


Understand how to intervene to create a healthy workplace

Interventions for a mentally healthy workplace and workforce should take a three-pronged approach:

  1. Protect mental health by reducing work–related risk factors for mental health problems
  2. Promote mental health by developing the positive aspects of work as well as worker strengths and positive capacities
  3. Address mental health problems among working people regardless of cause
  • Protecting mental health – Interventions to protect mental health range from organisational policies that reduce workplace strain (e.g. by increasing job control for employees or educating) to individual stress reduction interventions that build resilience
  • Promoting mental health – These interventions stimulate positive practices in the workplace, such as ensuring work is meaningful, implementing positive leadership practices, or building a positive organisational climate
  • Addressing mental health problems – Workplaces can implement programmes that increase mental health literacy and improve recognition of mental health problems among employees; promote help-seeking when problems arise; and deliver effective treatments for common mental disorders

Take action!

A mentally healthy workplace is achievable.

The risk factors for stress in the workplace can be modified, and an organisational climate that promotes wellbeing and creativity can be developed by targeting workplace policies as well as the needs of individual employees.

Similarly, effective treatments exist for common mental disorders, and an employer can facilitate access to care to those who may need it.

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