How managers can support worker mental health
Supportive and responsive managers understand the needs of their workers and help to break down the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental ill health.
Even in times of change and uncertainty, your role as a manager remains the same - to provide a healthy and safe workplace where the mental health and wellbeing of your team members is supported.
Most people with mild to moderate mental illness are able to stay at work but may require some adjustments. When you understand and support your workers’ needs early, you help improve recovery time and reduce the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health.
This video developed by the Black Dog Institute helps managers by suggesting adjustments and strategies that can be used to promote staff wellbeing in the workplace.
As a manager, you play a vital role in supporting your workers' mental health and wellbeing.
Enhance your capability as a manager and keep up to date through these simple and practical guides, tools and resources on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
Managers need to know what to look for, what to do and how to prioritise psychological safety. Better understanding of psychosocial hazards in the workplace and the conditions that may affect performance can improve your ability to manage.
1. Understanding mental health
The first step in creating a mentally healthy workplace is to better understand the mental health continuum and the potential risks to psychological health in your workplace.
These risks include but are not limited to poorly managed workplace change, remote work, bullying and fatigue.
Managing and supporting worker mental health at work is a critical and growing challenge for managers. The way you interact with your workers at work can have a great effect on the mental health of your workers.
- What is a mental health illness? – SANE Australia
- Mental health conditions – Heads Up
- Mental health - fact vs myth – SANE Australia
- Workplace mental health toolkit – The Black Dog Institute.
2. Your role as a manager
Managers are generally responsible for leading, supervising and supporting worker health, safety and wellbeing.
The way you interact with your workers can affect their mental health. Given their role and influence, managers may also have a duty to be proactive and continuously ensure that their workplace complies with work related obligations under the WHS Act.
- Your mental health responsibilities at work
- Introduction to psychological health and safety in the workplace – Comcare digital learning
- Understanding my role as a manager – APSC
- How to help when you are a manager – SANE Australia
- A manager’s guide to mental health – Mind UK.
- Workplace mental health awareness – Heads Up e-learn.
3. Promoting mental health and wellbeing at work
Providing easy access to support early can improve worker productivity, engagement and their overall health.
- Wellness Action Plan for Managers – Mind UK
- Wellness Action Plan for workers – Mind UK
- Promoting mental health and wellbeing at work – SANE Australia
- Tips for managers to create a mentally healthy workplace – Heads Up
- Disclosing a mental health condition - the pros and cons – Heads Up disclosure tool.
Identify and address mental health
Under work health and safety laws, employers have duties and obligations to provide physically and psychologically safe work.
Organisations also have obligations to consult with workers and their representatives about health and safety, identify risks to mental health, assess these risks, eliminate or minimise the risks, and review to ensure strategies are effective.
Identifying and addressing mental health issues is a key responsibility of managers.
It is not your role as a manager to diagnose a mental health condition or to be a counsellor. But you can guide workers to supports if they are acting out of character or you are concerned about their mental health and wellbeing.
1. Identifying the warning signs of mental ill health
Many people will experience poor mental health at least once in their lifetime and this may affect their work.
Spotting the signs of stress or poor mental health at an early stage means managers can address the risk before it impacts the worker's health and productivity.
- Are they okay? – Heads Up
- Mental health conditions – Heads Up
- Anxiety and Depression checklist – Beyond Blue
- Managing mental health risks at work – Beyond Blue e-learn.
2. Having a discussion
If you suspect poor mental health, or a worker discloses to you, it is crucial to start a conversation early.
These conversations can assist you, as the manager, and the worker to identify and implement appropriate supports, adjustments or access to help.
If the discussion indicates that work is a contributing factor to poor mental health, seek further guidance from your human resources team.
- How to have a conversation – Heads Up
- Starting a conversation – Heads Up
- What would you do? How to approach an employee you are concerned about – Heads Up.
How to support a worker
Workers living with a mental health condition or illness can often manage their own condition without it affecting their ability to do their job well.
However, there may be times when a worker requires support and reasonable adjustments at work to help them get well and stay well.
1. Providing ongoing support to help your worker stay at work
Good work is engaging, fair, respectful and balances job demands, autonomy and job security.
Workers don’t have to be 100 per cent well to be at work and good work can help in recovery, injury and illness.
- Early intervention: An overview for managers and supervisors – Comcare digital learning
- Managing someone with a mental health condition – Heads Up
- How to help others stay at work – Heads Up
- How to help an employee with mental illness – SANE Australia
- Providing ongoing support – Heads Up
- How to support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem – HR magazine article.
2. Supporting your worker to return to work
If a member of your team is off work and struggling with mental health, it is important that you are supportive and proactive.
Whether the struggle is work related or not, it is still a manager's responsibility to support the mental health and wellbeing of their workers.
- Working for recovery: Suitable Employment for Return to Work Following Psychological Injury guide (PDF, 1.9 MB)
- Return to work process for employers
- Role of middle managers and supervisors
- Supporting the return to work of workers with depression or anxiety – Deakin University
- Returning to work after a period of absence – Heads Up case study
- Beyond Blue Return to Work Plan – Beyond Blue.
Supporting managers’ mental health
Managing a team can be challenging so it is also very important to look after your own wellbeing.
A manager who can lead by example and demonstrate a good work life balance will encourage their staff to do the same.
- Taking care of yourself – Heads Up
- Heads Up for Managers – Heads Up
- Wellbeing check-in – SuperFriend
- Look after yourself as a leader – SuperFriend
Enquire with your employer to see if they have a manager assist program available or take the time to reflect on how you might use the above resources to support your own mental health.
Courses on mentally healthy workplaces
We provide training through our learning management system called Comcare LMS.
To access our training, you first need to create an account in Comcare LMS (see the steps to create an account). Then, select the training course you are interested in and login with your email and password.
For more information about the courses we offer, see Training and learning.
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