Older man talking to mental health psychologist in brightly lit room

What employers can do to look after employees’ mental health

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.

There’s no doubt that COVID has disrupted traditional office work patterns and even initiated what’s been called the Great Resignation or Great Transition, with the resulting hyper focus on work-life balance, or health and wellbeing, fuelling organisational change as employers compete for new talent and seek to retain their best performers.

We all accept regular visits to our dentist helps maintain our oral health. The same goes for our physical health and why we schedule appointments with our GP, gynaecologist, physio, chiro, dermatologist, naturopath… the list is endless.

Why treat our mental health and wellbeing any differently?

Let’s talk about employee mental health

According to the Black Dog Institute, 45% of Australians will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime and, if they do, 54% will not seek treatment.

That means millions of Australians workers could be going to work while they’re experiencing a serious mental health concern.

As a responsible, conscientious employer, it’s in your best interests to foster a culture where mental health and wellbeing are central to both organisational and operational performance. The economic costs of inaction are significant, with mental health responsible for up to $4.7b of absenteeism and $146m in workers compensation claims, as well as up to $6.1b in lost productivity or ‘presenteeism’.

Add to this the organisational cost of a weakened culture, poor morale and high staff turnover, and you can see why smart businesses and compassionate leaders are – at a time of intense competition for skills – attracting (and retaining) the best talent.

So, what can you do to make sure your employees feel supported in the workplace?

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

One of the first ways you can make sure employees feel supported in the workplace is to sign up to an employee assistance program, or EAP.

An EAP 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 registered and provisionally registered psychologists to develop strategies to approach current and future mental health and wellbeing concerns.

When you partner up with an EAP provider, you can often tailor your package to suit your organisation, such as choosing the number of sessions employees are entitled to, and even extend the service to include their families should they wish to do so.

What’s more, most providers offer their services in person or via telehealth, which can be a convenient choice for employees who live in rural and regional areas, or who may not feel comfortable in a traditional clinical (face-to-face) setting.

Educational material

Making educational materials readily available for employees is a fantastic way to educate and prompt pro-active action, as well as to demonstrate your commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of your people.

Professional EAP providers will have an array of complementary resources that your people can access online and which help them understand mental health and the various therapeutic approaches that can be applied to support them through any work-related and personal difficulty they may be facing.

Lots of mental health charities also run high profile campaigns throughout the year where they promote mental health and release a host of great educational material to raise awareness and understanding in the workplace.

For example, the suicide prevention charity RUOK? runs a National Day of Action on the second Thursday of September every year.

A quick visit to their website and you’ll find tonnes of resources, including booklets, posters and presentations, that can be shared with employees.

Most of the RUOK? material educates people on how you can look for signs that someone is thinking of suicide, and how you – as an employer or colleague – can help drive the conversation around suicide prevention.

Manager training

Most managers do a great job at looking after their team in terms of workload, but looking after their team’s mental health can be more of a challenge.

Mental health issues can be complex and varied, and everyone is different, so it can be difficult to for a leader to identify when someone in their team is struggling and how to best support them.

There are a host of great courses out there that aim to better equip managers with the tools to recognise and deal with employees’ mental health.

Most courses focus on:

  • Understanding the importance of mental health in the workplace
  • Recognising early warning signs of poor mental health
  • How to have supportive conversations with employees
  • Dealing with a mental health crisis
  • Managing team impact
  • How to make reasonable adjustments
  • How to manage performance in relation to mental health

A certified mental health first aid training program is another option. These programs focus on providing employers with tools and techniques to support employees experiencing a mental health crises, down to specific techniques and even wording.

Employee mental health and wellbeing policies

Incorporating mental health policies into your workplace is a great way to support your employees, according to Work Safe Queensland.

Documented policies and procedures can help formalise your organisational position and demonstrate to workers the importance of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

They can also help to reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions, encouraging employees to speak up when they feel they need to.

For example, a policy that outlines the importance of taking regular breaks, turning off your work mobile phone after you finish and the process for voicing concerns to management is a great way to start.

Regular check-ins

Regular check-in appointments with employees are a great way to keep an eye on your employees’ mental health.

Weekly one-to-ones and fortnightly meetings are a great way to let your employees know they’re being supported, whilst giving them the chance to voice any concerns.

Some workplaces employee 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.

Helping employees with mental health issues: additional resources for employers

In recent years, there’s been a huge surge in the number of apps that support mental health. Many of these apps are free, or require a small subscription fee, and can be easily downloaded on mobile devices.

Apps like Headspace, a popular meditation and mindfulness app, are a great option for employees to have at their disposal whenever they feel stressed or anxious.

Lots of employers are purchasing subscriptions for their employees, offering them access to online resources and apps that they can access in their own time.

For example, in 2020 and in response to the COVID pandemic, the National Health Service in the UK signed a deal with Headspace to give 1.2 million healthcare workers access to the app free of charge.

In the same year, Unilever revealed it was offering its 62,000 global employees a 14-day mental wellbeing resilience program that would support them with things like how to deal with negative thoughts.

Greater flexibility

It’s difficult for businesses to be completely flexible and to accommodate individual circumstances as or when they arise. However, factoring in as much flexibility as possible into employees’ schedules is a good way to look out for their mental health, whilst also boosting productivity.

Employees may have to care for family members, whilst others might just feel like they need to take some time off when they need it, so being able to do so is important.

Encouraging employees to use their vacation time is another good measure to adopt. A good way of doing this is by limiting the amount of vacation that can be rolled over each year.

Need to talk to someone?

If you want talk to one of our psychologist, take a look at our team of registered and provisional psychologists 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 info@accesspsych.com.au.


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.