Good work is good for people’s mental health and wellbeing. It provides structure and purpose, a sense of identity, and opportunities to develop skills and increased feelings of self-worth.
There are some circumstances, however, where work has undesirable impacts on health and wellbeing.
Eliminate psychosocial hazards
Psychosocial hazards are aspects of work which have the potential to cause psychological or physical harm.
Bullying in the workplace
Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.
Examples of workplace bullying include offensive language, intimidating behaviour, belittling comments, practical jokes or unjustified criticism.
Bullying in the workplace is often the result of poor workplace culture supported by an environment which allows this behaviour to occur. Identifying and dealing with bullying and other workplace conflict early helps promote respectful behaviour and prevents bullying from becoming accepted behaviour.
For more information on the risk and how to prevent and respond to bullying in the workplace, see Bullying by Safe Work Australia.
Resources for employers
Resources to assist employers to fulfil their responsibilities:
- Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying guide
- Framework for Developing a Bullying Policy checklist for employers (PDF, 228.0 KB)
- Promoting a Culture Free from Harassment and Bullying in the APS guide
- Having a harassment officer – sometimes known as a contact officer, equal opportunity officer or equity contact officer – in place for workers to speak to
Workplace bullying support pack for employers:
- Workplace Bullying factsheet (PDF, 182.4 KB)
- Managing Difficult Conversations and Providing Feedback factsheet (PDF, 180.0 KB)
- Responding to Workplace Bullying pocket guide (PDF, 142.9 KB)
- Two Minute Toolbox Talk to Team Leaders script (PDF, 181.6 KB)
- Workplace Bullying Prevention self-assessment tool (PDF, 146.7 KB)
- Example Workplace Bullying Survey administration instructions (PDF, 157.6 KB)
Resources for employees and other workers
Resources for workers concerned about inappropriate workplace behaviour or bullying:
- Dealing with Workplace Bullying guide – for workers who believe they are experiencing or witnessing bullying and those who have had a bullying report made against them
- Dealing with Workplace Bullying and Requesting Comcare Assistance information sheet for workers (PDF, 108.4 KB)
- Workplace Bullying factsheet – by Australian Human Rights Commission
- Fair Work Commission Anti-Bullying Measures – workers who believe they are being bullied at work can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop bullying. The Commission has timeframes in which to undertake a review and will work with you and your employer
- Heads Up practical guides for employers and managers to help take action against bullying.
Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy. It is an acute, ongoing state of tiredness that leads to mental or physical exhaustion and prevents people from functioning normally.
Fatigue is a physical condition that can occur when a person’s physical or mental limits are reached.
Signs of fatigue include:
- tiredness even after sleep
- reduced hand-eye coordination or slow reflexes
- short term memory problems and an inability to concentrate
- blurred vision or impaired visual perception
- a need for extended sleep during days off work.
Most industries are affected to some degree by fatigue. However, some types of work and sectors have an inherently higher risk of fatigue, particularly those involving shift work or long-haul transportation:
For more information on the risks and remedies, see:
- Fatigue – Safe Work Australia
- Work Health and Safety in the Road Freight Transport Industry report – statistics and information from Safe Work Australia about body stressing in the transport industry and the impact of speed and fatigue on drivers
- Forklift Safety, Reducing the Risks factsheet (PDF, 192.0 KB) – Comcare’s guidance on responsibilities, physical hazards, safety tips and the importance of supporting traffic management systems.
Work-related mental stress is the worker’s reaction when workplace demands and responsibilities are greater than the worker can comfortably manage or are beyond the worker’s abilities. It can affect each worker differently and originate from different sources.
Mental stress causes the body to move into a fight or flight reaction which releases adrenaline and cortisol, raises the heart rate, boosts glucose levels in the bloodstream and diverts energy from the immune system to other areas of the body.
This reaction helps people remove themselves from danger at which time the body usually returns to normal.
When mental stress is prolonged, the body will not return to normal as easily and many key body systems can be affected and may start to break down causing major health problems.
In the workplace, the symptoms of stress can translate to personal and business costs, such as:
- breakdown of individual and team relationships
- poor morale and erosion of worker loyalty and commitment
- increased absenteeism and staff turnover
- reduced employee efficiency and workplace productivity and profitability
- increased employer costs associated with counselling, worker assistance and mediation
- increased workers’ compensation claims and employer legal costs.
The Job Demands-Resources model of occupational stress highlights that employees need to balance both the demands of a job and the resources available to them in the workplace, to reduce work-related mental stress.
High levels of job demand and low levels of job resources increase the risk of mental stress.
Job demands can include:
- role overload
- role ambiguity or conflict
- mental and emotional demands of the job
- conflict arising from tasks or relationships
Job resources and strengths can include:
- job control
- supervisor and co-worker support
- praise and recognition
- following fair and just process
- change consultation.
In practice, preventing and managing stress in the workplace before it becomes a risk to health and safety may be achieved by:
- having senior management commitment to reducing workplace stress
- consulting with workers to create and promote a mentally healthy workplace culture
- ensuring the organisation has appropriate policies and procedures in place and workers are aware of these
- managing workplace psychosocial risk factors
- providing regular and respectful performance feedback
- having a dedicated harassment officer – sometimes known as a contact officer, equal opportunity officer or equity contact officer – in place for workers to speak to
- providing training around managing workplace and individual stress levels.
- Working Together: Promoting Mental Health and Wellbeing at Work guide (PDF, 13.7 MB) – aims to empower managers and workers to build inclusive workplace cultures and effective systems to promote mental health in the Australian Public Service.
- Psychological Health and Safety: An action guide for employers.
- Management Standards on Stress – from the UK Government Health Safety Executive, defines the characteristics of an organisation which effectively manages and controls the risks from work-related stress and focuses on good work design.
- Heads Up practical guides – online resources from Beyond Blue about workplace bullying with information for employers and managers.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act), the duties of a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) and an officer’s obligations in respect to managing workers overseas are identical to workers onshore.
Each overseas project has its own psychosocial and physical hazards and risks. The PCBU needs to consider, take reasonably practicable steps, and document the steps to address the health and safety risks of managing the overseas project and travel.
For more information, see:
- Overseas Workers - How Should I Identify and Manage the Risks factsheet (PDF, 67.6 KB)
- Travel Risk Assessment checklist (PDF, 223.9 KB)
Remote or isolated work
Working alone or remotely increases the risks to physical and psychological health in any job. Exposure to violence and poor access to emergency assistance are among the common hazards associated with remote or isolated work.
Remedies depend on the conditions and context of the work, but may include:
- relocate the work
- provide vehicles, equipment, tools and communication equipment suitable for use in the terrain
- have at least two workers in remote locations
- ensure workers are physically and mentally fit to perform the work
- provide appropriate training about working in remote or isolated environments
- avoid riskier times of the day, such as excessive heat, cold, storms and when the circadian rhythm wants the body to sleep
- ensure adequate facilities for workers including toilets, drinking water, eating facilities and personal storage
- provide accommodation
- have a check-in process where workers must contact ‘home base’ at a nominated time
- have an emergency response plan if workers fail to report in at allotted times.
For more information on the risks and remedies, see:
- Remote or Isolated Work guide (PDF, 161.4 KB) – Comcare
- Remote or isolated work – Safe Work Australia
Change is a part of working life and can bring about positive changes for organisations and workers, such as increased productivity, clarity of role and increased work satisfaction. Change can also be challenging and can affect moral and engagement if not managed well.
During times of change it is important to consider your work health and safety management systems and integrate these into the change process to monitor and prevent risks to workers.
When change is supported through consultation and effective communication, workers are more likely to receive the change positively and this can improve health and productivity. In contrast, when change is not well managed, it can lead to psychological injures, poor health outcomes and a decrease in productivity.
During change, it is important for organisations to focus on these key elements which help protect employees and other workers from psychological harm:
- early intervention
- recovery and return to work
For more information about managing change well, see:
- Looking after your Employees During Times of Change self-assessment tool (PDF, 122.2 KB)
Comcare's guidance for 'persons conducting a business or undertaking' (PCBU) to integrate work health and safety and risk management into corporate planning during times of organisational change.
- Reducing the Psychosocial Risk of Workplace Change self-assessment tool (PDF, 169.2 KB)
Comcare's self-assessment tool for workplaces to identify key risks and corrective actions to help minimise psychosocial risk factors during workplace change. The review process addresses consultation, prevention, early intervention, recovery, return to work, and leadership.
- Working Together: Promoting Mental Health and Wellbeing at Work guide (PDF, 13.7 MB)
Comcare's guide aims to empower managers and employees to work together to build inclusive workplace cultures and effective systems for promoting mental health in the Australian Public Service.
- Dealing with Change, and Planning and Managing Change training
Training by the Australian Public Service Commission to assist agencies to develop the core skills of staff in dealing with and leading change.
- Heads Up guidance
Beyond Blue's initiative to offer simple, practical, and tailored information, advice, and resources for all people in the workplace from across the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance.
- People Matters with Machinery of Government Changes factsheet (PDF, 537.0 KB)
Comcare's overview of change and how employees and other workers often feel and respond in times of uncertainty. It offers practical advice and a simple checklist to guide you through the process of supporting people.
- Psychological Injury and Performance factsheet (PDF, 661.9 KB)
Comcare's high-level advice about managing risks to mental health at work.
Workplace violence or customer aggression
Workplace or occupational violence can be any incident where a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances arising out of, or in the course of their work.
The violence can be either directed at the person or as a result of witnessing violence against someone else.
Examples of violence may include:
- biting, spitting, scratching, hitting, kicking
- punching, pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing
- throwing objects
- verbal threats
- aggravated assault
- any form of indecent physical contact
- threatening someone with a weapon or armed robbery.
For more information on the risks and remedies, see Work-related violence by Safe Work Australia
Psychological injury and health
- Work-related Psychological Health and Safety: A Systematic Approach to Meeting your Duties guide – Safe Work Australia
- Working Well: An Organisational Approach to Preventing Psychological Injury guide (PDF, 399.1 KB) – Comcare's guide to organisational health.