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12 Apr 2024

Why training is the key to a mentally healthy workplace

Why training is the key to a mentally healthy workplace

Lost productivity, staff absenteeism and employee turnover is now costing Australian companies an estimated $39 billion each year, with mental illness reported to be the leading cause of absenteeism and long-term work incapacity. New data from Safe Work Australia shows a 36.9% increase in serious workers’ compensation claims between 2017/8 and 2021/22, with the median time lost totalling more than four times that of time lost to physical injuries and illnesses.

As such, managing psychosocial hazards in the workplace is as much about safety of staff as it is about creating an environment that drives increased productivity, staff retention and reduced costs.

Unpacking the mental health risk factors

The first step in managing workplace mental health is understanding that organisations have a legal obligation to manage the mental health risks that arise from work.

According to Dr Aimee Gayed, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Black Dog Institute, those risk factors can be grouped into three categories. Establishing a mentally healthy workplace requires a holistic, top-down approach that acknowledges and addresses all three of these categories:


  • Organisational factors, including the ‘psychological safety climate’. This refers to the extent to which a workplace values staff mental health, and whether or not there are stigmatising attitudes towards it.
  • Team-level factors, including the relationships between individual staff members, their colleagues and superiors, and the nature of their working environments. Are these relationships supportive? Is action taken to prevent bullying?
  • Job-level factors, including individual roles and responsibilities, the level of control each employee has over their work and the demands that employers place on them.


5 key strategies for the creation of a positive mental health environment

Researchers have identified five key strategies for improved workplace mental health, including designing work to minimise harm, enhancing personal resilience, promoting early help-seeking, supporting recovery and return to work, and building organisational resilience.

The implementation of these strategies can feel like an overwhelming overhaul to company culture (particularly in the current, challenging economic climate where many organisations are already feeling the pressures of trying to do more with less.

“Managers play a pivotal role in implementing these strategies, underscoring the importance of equipping them with the necessary skills through evidence-based mental health training,” says Dr Gayed.


How training can unlock better mental health

Evidence shows that skills-based mental health training for workplace leaders can be an especially effective strategy to mitigate psychosocial risks, by empowering them with the skills and confidence to identify, talk about and respond to mental health concerns within their teams. 

In a randomised control trial to measure whether manager mental health training can reduce the occupational impact of mental health disorders and reduces sickness absence among employees, the Black Dog Institute found a 10:1 return on investment through a significant reduction in sickness absence among the managers’ employees. It also improved managers’ confidence in and their likelihood of contacting employees off work due to mental health problems. 


For more than two decades Black Dog Institute has been translating their world-leading workplace mental health research into programs, services, and products. To find out more about how Black Dog Institute can support your organisation through workplace mental health training, please visit the Black Dog Institute website

Find more further resources on Black Dog's YouTube channel. Specific to the topic of mental health, Professor Sam Harvey, Chief Scientist and Executive Director, dives into Black Dog Institute's Leading research and The importance of leadership capability.

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