Mental Health at Work is Strongly Linked to Workplace Stress

Mental Health in the Workplace is linked to workplace levels of Stress. Some companies question whether individuals mental health should be ascribed to them personally and their own personal psycho social issues. But increasing research evidence shows a clear delineation between the types of stressors at work that are “independent” of an individuals mental health issues.

In fact, excessive workplace stress leads to a syndrome called Burnout. Burnout is a syndrome that results from chronic stress at work, with serious consequences to workers’ well-being and health including physical and psychological impacts.

Burnout is a syndrome that results from chronic stress at work, with several consequences to workers’ well-being and health. A 2017 meta analysis of 36 different studies showed……..

In a 2017 meta analysis of 36 different studies on Burnout at work, consequences on employees physical health included:

  • Hypercholesterolemia,
  • Type 2 diabetes,
  • Coronary heart disease,
  • Hospitalisation due to cardiovascular disorder, musculoskeletal pain, changes in pain experiences,
  • Prolonged fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems, severe injuries and
  • Mortality below the age of 45 years.

The psychological effects were:

  • Insomnia, depressive symptoms, use of psychotropic and antidepressant medications,
  • Hospitalisation for mental disorders and psychological ill-health symptoms.
  • Job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, and presenteeism were identified as professional outcomes.

The Costs of a Mentally Unhealthy Workplace

A mentally healthy workplace is one that protects and promotes mental health and empowers people to seek help for depression and anxiety, for the benefit of the individual, the organisation and the community. It is one that recognises workplace stressors and provides preventative health and well-being strategies to reduce the risks and costs of physical and psychological burnout and stress at work.

According to Worksafe Australia, (2015), around 91% of workers’ compensation claims involving a mental health condition were linked to work-related stress or mental stress. So the organisational as well as personal costs of highly stressed people are enormous. In fact research on the State of Mental Health in the Workplace in Australia states:

Mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year. This comprises $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism and $146 million in compensation claims.
PwC. (2014)

State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia,—tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf

In mentally unhealthy workplace 46% of workers have taken time off due to feeling stressed, depressed, anxious or mentally unhealthy. Further, employees who believe their workplace is mentally unhealthy are unlikely to disclose within their workplace if they are experiencing a mental health condition, seek support from HR/management, or offer support to a colleague with a mental health condition.

This means that if you are in an organisation that has limited workplace health initiatives, it is even more crucial for you to ask how your employees are this Thursday 12th September RUOK day. Even more important though is to begin the conversation with management about how you can start embedding a culture of psychological safety and wellbeing. “Walking the talk.”

Managing Stress at Work
Managing Stress on RUOK Day,


1. Have a Conversation

Asking your colleagues if they are ok in an authentic and connected way is one of the most powerful ways to check in with people at work one on one. This may be a friend, mentor, boss or work colleague that you have developed a relationship with.

RUOK recommends you:

1. Check whether you are in a good headspace yourself first.

2. Ensure you have the time, capability and space to really actively listen.

3. Be prepared that someone may get upset, emotional and embarrassed.

4. Ensure you choose a time and place that is comfortable and appropriate for both of you.


Then ask them open ended questions such as, “How are things going for you?”,

“How are you travelling?”

“What’s going on right now?” or,

“I’ve noticed you seem more tired than usual, what’s been happening?’

Listen Without Judgement

Aim to listen without interrupting and encourage them to explain. Take seriously what they are saying and try and be patient while they are explaining themselves. Let them know you are asking because you are concerned.

Encourage them to take action by taking the next step such as speaking with their doctor, a family member, a trusted friend or EAP advisor about where to from here. Ask them how you can help and what they need from you.

Then, in a few days, follow up and check in on them to see how they have gone and how they are. If they have not followed up try not to be judgemental and realise it may take them some time to reach out for professional help. Try and remain open and positive about getting help at some time in the future.

RUokday conversation at work
RUokday conversation at work by Mindful Life Training Australia

2. Implement Mindfulness Based Training and Practice Strategies

Research on mindfulness in the workplace shows, mindfulness reduces stress, worry, and emotional reactivity, whilst increasing working memory, cognitive flexibility, self-awareness, ethical behaviour, relationship satisfaction and well-being.

Mindfulness trains us to become aware and reduce our negative brain bias. This can help significantly with our perception of the world, our place in it and our understanding of our strengths and resources approaching work and life with a greater state of equanimity and calm. Eight week evidence based mindfulness courses have been shown to significantly reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

Whilst we know more research on mindfulness is necessary. According to Dr David Vago, Harvard based neuroscientist and Research Directer at the Osher Centre of Integrative Medicine says. that there is very good quality evidence research on Mindfulness in reducing stress, depression and anxiety. And growing evidence on resilience, emotional intelligence and emotional regulation. Despite conflicting press on Mindfulness and the quality of the research,

 In addition, there are now a number of workplace-specific papers on the effect of mindfulness on staff. For example, Hafenbrack et al (2013) found mindfulness improved decision making; Dane et al (2013) said it increased the ability to work in high-pressure environments; and Adams (2011), that it improved work-life balance.

  1. Here is a 5 min – Breath Awareness narrated by Diana Winston – MARC at UCLA (UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center ).
  2. And a 2 minute version by us at Mindful Life Training
  3. Review our September Stress Busting Mindfulness Options
Embed a Culture of Health and WellBeing
Mindfulness, Health and Well-being Training

3. Embed a Culture of Physical and Mental Health Safety and Well-Being

Ensure you have a good EAP system that is communicated well, encouraged and discussed with staff as acceptable, normalised and is useful in becoming a total well rounded human being. Encourage employees to raise issues with HR, OHS and/or EAP staff. Provide education and training on the difference between mental health and mental illness issues.

Provide education on Evidence Based Heath and Well-Being Strategies. Whilst physical health is vital, it is only one component of managing mind, body and emotions. Evidence based training on proper nutrition to sustain mental health, productivity, concentration and mental energy is critical. As is education on optimal sleep for fatigue prevention and breathing to manage our nervous systems and regulate the immune system.

Small lifestyle changes through education and training supported by organisations policy can result in significant psychological/behavioural change in individuals and amongst teams. Education and practise in understanding our brain, emotions and minds can fundamentally affect our nervous system, perception, behaviour and relationships. This impacts the fundamentals of good mental and physical health in the workplace creating. a culture of greater engagement, positivity and productivity.

For more information on combating stress and burnout in the workplace this September, review our September Stress Busters for Mental Health at Work.

Or email us at [email protected]

I would be interested to know.

What Mental Health Strategies have caused a ripple effect of positivity across your organisation?