Two women at a desk creating workplace mental health policy

Workplace policy: walking the walk

Over our lifetimes, we will spend up to 90,000 hours at work and another 11,000 travelling to and from work. That’s a fair chunk of our waking lives. And according to the Black Dog Institute, of the 45% of Australians who will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime, 54% will not seek treatment. That means millions of Australian workers are going to work while experiencing a mental health problem.

It is essential for businesses of any size to consider employee mental health and look after the mental health of their workforce. Moreover, it is imperative to develop and enact a genuine and meaningful workplace mental health and wellbeing policy to help ensure staff are supported.

What is a workplace mental health policy?

Workplace policies act as formal statements of intent and are set by business owners or the most senior management. They define the conduct and operations of the business – internal and external.

Workplace policies usually include an overview of the business practices or procedures that are in place that employees are obliged to follow. Business owners or senior management review policies annually and, in some circumstances, monitor performance and compliance at regular intervals (e.g. monthly, quarterly etc.)

Workplace policies can be supported by detailed management plans and standard operating procedures, depending on the business, its day-to-day operations, and the policy itself. For example, a business can have a Safety Policy that relates directly to Safety Management Plans for various sites or locations, as well as Safety Procedures, Safe Work Method Statements and even Inductions for specific (high risk) work tasks.

In context of occupational health and safety, the mental health and wellbeing of workers is no different to their physical health and wellbeing. As such, it warrants specific attention and a workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy usually relates to other policies such as Injury Management & Rehabilitation, Bullying & Harassment, and/or Diversity & Inclusion.

How to improve mental health in the workplace using policy

At a time when competition for talent and the cost of low productivity is so high it makes cultural and economic sense for businesses to look after the employee mental health and wellbeing at the workplace. The benefits of a mentally healthy workforce are significant and include:

  • High performance culture
  • Elevated morale and collaboration
  • Superior decision making
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • High productivity and continuous improvement
  • Reduced stress
  • Individual and organisational resilience

According to Mental Health First Aid™ the economic costs of poor mental health policies and (management) procedures in a workplace can be significant. In Australia, absenteeism from mental health related concerns costs businesses up to $4.7b, lost productivity or presenteeism costs up to $6.1b, and workers compensation claims up to $146m.

Similarly, Professor Samuel Harvey of the Black Dog Institute says: “Creating a mentally healthy workplace should no longer be considered a peripheral concern for leaders. It is something that needs to be at the core of successful, thriving organisations.”

Employee mental health resources: what mental health supports can be included in a workplace mental health policy?

Most responsible employers have some form of mental health support available to their employees, but they often fail to enshrine it through a formal policy document.

However, post-COVID, more and more employers are realising the benefits of a mentally healthy workplace and are actively seeking ways to introduce a structure that supports the mental health and wellbeing of their workers, including developing a workplace policy that codifies their practices and procedures toward mental health.

There are a number of supports that can be included in a workplace mental health policy, some of which might already be in effect for employees.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Workplace EAPs are often the first thing that comes to mind when people think of workplace mental health supports, and for good reason.

A workplace employee assistance program is a confidential counselling service designed to support employees experiencing mental health issues of any kind – be it personal, family or work-related.

It is a brief, practical intervention delivered by psychologists to develop strategies to approach current and future employee mental health and wellbeing concerns.

It’s important that this service is front and centre of any mental health workplace policy, including how to access the service and what employees have access to.

Peer support program

If your organisation has a peer support program – that is, a system where specially trained individuals act as a first point of contact to assist with mental health-related issues – then this should be included in a mental health workplace policy.

The policy should identify the individuals trained to support members of staff with mental health concerns, where in the office they are located and how they can be contacted should a member of staff have any kind of issue.


A full list of resources available to employees should be outlined within the workplace policy, including a list of websites, phone numbers and other contact details that may be useful.

Websites like Heads Up or Beyond Blue are great choices, with both sites packed full of free resources that aim to educate and support people with a range of mental health conditions.

What else should be included in a workplace mental health policy?

Along with the employee mental health supports listed above, there are a few other key items that should be included in your organisation’s mental health policy.

Purpose and goals

Like any good workplace policy, a workplace mental health policy should have a clearly defined purpose and a set of realistic and measurable goals.

The purpose of the policy should include why the policy was created. For example, to establish and promote and maintain the mental health of staff.

Meanwhile, the goals should be anything the organisation hopes to achieve through its workplace policy, which can be quite extensive.

For example, one goal may be to build an environment and culture that supports mental health and wellbeing and that prevents discrimination.

Another goal could be to develop extensive support networks that foster support and encourage employees dealing with mental health conditions to use available resources.


It can be a good idea to include definitions of any key words that might be open to interpretation or difficult to understand.

Even covering basic terms such as “mental health” is a good idea to help avoid any confusion for those reading the document.

Tips for looking after employee mental health

It’s also good idea to include a list of things employees can do to look after their mental health, both in work and outside of work. Empowering your workers to self-manage their own mental health, and to watch out for the mental health and wellbeing of their colleagues, is no different to everyone looking after their own safety and the safety of everyone they work with or around.

For example, it’s good to remind employees of the importance of exercising each day, or practicing mindfulness or yoga – just as it is good practice to induct them on task specific procedures.

A mental health policy could also provide tips for adopting work-life boundaries that encourage employees not to let work overtake their life.

This can include things like clocking out on time, not working any unnecessary overtime and spending weekends away from their work phone or laptop.

Management training

According to the Black Dog Institute, management mental health training results in improved knowledge, confidence, and management of mental health at work, generating a $10 return on investment for every dollar spent on training. In addition to management training, Access Psych offers tailored workplace mental health training programs for organisations of all sizes, including mental health first aid certification.

Red flags

Employers should include a list of mental health indicators that employees should look out for that may require attention, including a list of physical signs that something isn’t quite right, whilst also listing behaviours of concern and negative emotions to watch out for.

Support systems

Any methods or systems of support in operation within an organisation should be included in a workplace mental health policy.

For example, some workplaces employ a traffic light system. This works by asking employees to think of their mental health as a traffic light.

Good days can be represented in green, difficult days can be amber, and bad or difficult days red. You can ask your employees to contact you if they move from green to amber, offering your support to help switch their light back to green.


One-to-one meetings between employees and management play an important role in monitoring performance and discussing areas for improvement.

Many organisations now facilitate meetings to give employees the opportunity to discuss any concerns in their private life.

The scope and frequency of these meetings should be outlined to employees, along with the

Need a hand creating a workplace mental health policy?

Creating a workplace policy can be an arduous task, let alone creating a policy filled with mental health practices and procedures that may be new to the company.

Thankfully, there are plenty of great, free resources out there to help guide organisations through the policy creation process.

The Heads Up initiative by Beyond Blue has shared their “Developing a workplace mental health strategy” packed with tips on workplace mental health.

Beyond Blue also has a downloadable mental health and wellbeing policy template for employers who need a helping hand or don’t have time to make their own.

Meanwhile, Queensland Government’s “Mentally healthy workplace toolkit” aims to help employers, managers and leaders eliminate and minimise risks to psychological health and create workplace environments that are mentally healthy.

The toolkit is full of guidance material and practical resources to help organisations facilitate positive steps towards a mentally healthy workplace.

For urgent support

If there’s an immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please call 000.

If you need someone to talk with now, call:

When it comes to employee mental health, it can be good practice for organisations to include these emergency contacts in your workplace’s emergency contacts list.

Need to talk to someone?

If you want talk to one of the Access Psych team, whether about employee mental health or any other mental health concerns, you don’t need to look far to find a registered or provisional psychologist near you.

Alternatively, if you have any questions about Access Psych and what else we can do for you, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.

When you’re ready, you can book an appointment online, speak to one of our friendly team on 1800 277 924 or email

The information provided in this document is general in nature and is intended to be used for information purposes only. While we have tried to ensure the accuracy of the information published, no guarantee can be given that the information is free from error or omission or that it is accurate, current or complete.

The information published is not, and should not be relied on as, health or treatment advice. The diagnosis and treatment of any mental illness requires the attention of a physician or other properly qualified mental health professional. If you are seeking diagnosis or treatment of any other mental illness, you should consult a physician or mental health professional. You should not delay in seeking, or disregard, professional health advice because of something you have read in this document.