Mental Health In The Workplace

Posted November 11, 2019, by Elesha

How emotionally healthy are you feeling at work right now? An overbearing boss, unpleasant working conditions, unrealistic targets, personal health issues, and more can all affect our mental health in the workplace. 

Burnout is now recognised as a serious condition but many of us still struggle to prioritise our emotional wellbeing. 

Let’s take a look at the importance of mental health in the workplace and if you’re struggling, what you can do to help turn things around. 

Why Mental Health Is Important At Work And For Your Career

Mental health relates to the concept of our ability to cope with stress and sadness, enjoy life, reach our goals, the strength of our sense of fulfillment and connection to others. 

Mental health isn’t a fixed state. We can move between a positive, healthy mental state to a poorer one, depending on our ability to cope with the circumstances unfolding in our lives, which includes what’s happening at work. 

The 2019 report released by the Australian Productivity Commission, The Social And Economic Benefits Of Improving Mental Health found that employees dealing with poor mental health have a greater likelihood of being absent from work and were less productive while at work. 

There are many reasons our emotional wellbeing can take a hit at work. From super demanding roles to workplace bullies, working in isolation and even not having clarity around your role can all take a toll.

How Do You Rate Your Work-Life Balance? 

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is key to looking after your mental health in the workplace. When you’re spending too much time (mentally and physically) in work, you can begin to struggle with –

  • Emotional mood swings – particularly irritability towards colleagues
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble focusing on even simple tasks
  • A drop in productivity
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • A blurred line between home and work-life

We all have different thresholds when it comes to work stress and the approaches we take to maintaining work life balance. Some people buckle at the first sign of pressure while others can cope with stress for long periods before the cracks begin to show. Know your limit and take action before you reach breaking point.

Is Your Commute Getting You Down?

The time it takes you to get to and from work can have a big impact on work / life balance and mental health too. 

The  2019 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey revealed that an increasing number of Aussies are unhappy with their work-life balance – often due to longer commute times.

“Commute times are much longer and we’re struggling to find a better balance between work and family commitments.” 

The survey showed commuting times for the average Aussie worker was 4.5 hours 2017.

If you do have a long commute, are there ways you can turn it into a time for self-care? You could use the Headspace app on public transport or listening to some inspiring podcasts or TED talks

What Support Is Available To You?

The Australian Government recognises that workplaces play an important role in supporting the mental health of Australians. The Australian Chamber Of Commerce is a founding member of the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance and a supporter of Heads Up, an initiative supporting better mental health in the workplace. 

Suggested resources available on the Heads Up website include –

Many workplaces now offer their employees confidential counselling services with a professional therapist or counsellor for free. 

If you a struggling with anxiety or depression, not-for-profit organisations, such as Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute, and Lifeline can offer over-the-phone support too. 

More Tips For Taking Care Of Your Mental Health In The Workplace

If we want to be good parents, partners, friends and employees (basically, all-round good humans!) it begins by taking care of our own wellbeing; especially at work. 

Get active

It’s no secret that exercise affects our mental state as well as our physical state. Incorporating regular movement into your day – no matter how simple – can really boost your emotional and mental state at work. Be realistic and do an exercise you enjoy; walking is a great starting point and something you can easily fit into your lunch break. 

Take your lunch break

On the topic of lunch breaks, are you taking yours regularly?

It’s easy to skip meals when you’re feeling overloaded at work but missing meals or not drinking enough (coffee doesn’t count) won’t help – your mental state will quickly slide into fuzzy and irritable. Make time to take a lunch break, at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted rest for time to eat and grab some fresh air.

Eat mindfully

Getting mindful while you eat can also help boost your mental health in the workplace. Put away your screens and focus on your food; what it looks like, tastes like, the texture, etc. By focusing all your attention on your meal, you give your mind a rest from thinking about work-related issues.

Work on your time management skills

A few new time management habits can improve your work-life balance and feeling of mental health in the workplace too. When we feel organised, stress levels can dial down. Check out these 11 tips for a more productive work day.

Step away from your desk for a breather

It might feel like it but really, the world won’t fall apart if you stop working and take 5 minutes for a breather.

The work will still be there when you get back (sorry!) and taking a quick walk around the block can help you be more productive in the long run. Taking a break when you need one is self-care in the workplace 101. 

Take a mental health day

It’s definitely ok to take a mental health day off every now and then. If you had a stomach bug, you’d stay home to rest and recover and allowing yourself some relief from mental stress is just as valid.

Under the National Employment Standards (NES) full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 10 days paid personal leave annually. 

If you can, book your mental health day in advance – so you can plan around it and not spend your whole ‘stress-free’ day stressing about work. Sometimes though, an impulsive mental health day is called for to hit pause on work commitments for a while and return more energised and productive.

Is It Time To Consider A Job Or Career Change?

Sometimes no matter how many mental health days we take or mindful meals we eat at lunch, our situation simply doesn’t improve.

If you are working in a toxic workplace environment with bullying, gossip and just general unpleasantness, it may be the only way to improve your situation is to remove yourself from the environment.

Is a career change or a new job is the answer to a healthier, happier workplace?


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