Comcare As one Working Together: Promoting mental health and wellbeing at work

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Allow for individual differences

Different employees may respond differently to the same working environment and management style. It is important to acknowledge and respond to differences in employees rather than conclude that a problem is the individual’s.7

It is important to know your team, how they are coping with the work and what measures will help them to be safe and productive at work. Individual susceptibility will influence how people respond to work experiences and pressures. The personal resources that people have to manage work pressures are not static and vary over time depending on an individual’s life pressures, including circumstances outside of work.8

Develop solutions

Ensure solutions are developed in consultation with the employee and are specific to your organisation and the context of your team. Be guided by research, case studies and other information on the most effective approaches to prevent harm to mental health.
Useful Tools

  • People @ Work psychosocial risk assessment process

  • HSE Management Standards on Stress: .

  • HSE Risk Management >

  • Safe Work Australia Codes of Practice:

    • Managing the Work Environment and Facilities

    • How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risk

  • Comcare publication, Working Well: An organisational approach to preventing psychological injury: .

  • Leadership, health and safety culture: What part do managers play?

  • Mental Health Commission of Canada—Psychological Health and Safety—An action guide for employers

  • Comcare publication, Prevention and Management of Customer Aggression—A Guide for Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking .

  • Encourage Support Act,

  • Safe Work Australia Code of Practice:

- Work Health and Safety Consultation, Co-operation and Co-ordination.

- How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks.

Other relevant information sheets:

Balancing work demands
and control

Managing change

Role clarity for good mental health


1 Cotton, P & Hart, PM 2003, ‘Occupational Wellbeing and Performance: a Review of Organisational Health Research’, Australian Psychologist, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 118–127; and Cotton, P 2004, ‘Developing an Optimal Organisational Climate: Towards Australia’s Safest Workplaces II Conference Paper’, Canberra; cited in Comcare 2008, Working Well: An organisational approach to preventing psychological injury, Comcare, Canberra, p. 10.

2 Safe Work Australia, 2012, Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022

3 Giga, S, Noblet, A, Faragher, B, & Cooper, C 2003, ‘The UK Perspective: A Review of Research on Organisational Stress Management Interventions’, Australian Psychologist, vol. 38, no. 2, pp.158–164; cited in Comcare op. cit., p. 16.

4 Comcare op. cit., p. 20.

5 Safe Work Australia 2011, Code of Practice: Work Health and Safety Consultation, Co-operation and Co-ordination, SWA, Canberra, p. 5.

6 Health and Safety Executive, Management standards for work related stress, viewed 9 April 2013, <>.

7 Kendal,l E, Murphy, P, O’Neill, V, & Bursnall, S 2000, Occupational Stress: Factors that contribute to its occurrence and effective management: A report to the workers’ compensation and rehabilitation commission of Western Australia, Centre for Human Services, Griffith University, pp. 57–60; cited in Comcare op. cit., p. 15.

8 Comcare op. cit., p. 14.
9 Balancing work demands and control
Managers have an important and challenging role to help balance the demands of employees’ work with appropriate levels of control, support and resources to create healthy and productive teams.
Why it matters

The demands of an employee’s role, as well as how much control or say they have about the way they do their work, affects their mental health and performance.1 If an employee has work or task demands outside of their abilities or coping strategies, and has little say or control in how they do their work, it can lead to mental ill health.

The APS State of the Service Employee Survey shows that we can do better in this area.2 Workers’ compensation data for APS workplaces shows a significant number of psychological injury claims are attributed to work pressure, second only to those attributed to workplace harassment and bullying.3 On the other hand, if an employee does not have enough challenging work, or their work is boring or repetitive, they may become disengaged and their mental health might be at risk.

The APS is facing increasing pressure to deliver programs and services in tight timeframes.4 The drive for improved performance, competitiveness and greater efficiency means that terms like ‘operational demands’, ‘workforce capability’ and ‘efficiency dividends’ are now part of our everyday language. At the same time, there is a need to ensure that the workforce is engaged, safe

and healthy.
Employees in workgroups with high morale and supportive leaders are much less likely to perceive their workload as excessive, or to submit workers’ compensation claims.’5
How it’s done

Specify task and job requirements, allocate individual roles for employees and support them to achieve goals and successful outcomes.6

Match the demands of the role to the capability of each team member, in consultation with them. Having work goals and demands in balance with employee capabilities is a prerequisite for successful work teams.7

Support individual learning and development and provide opportunities for people to use their skills and knowledge in their work.

Use Individual Action Plans and performance conversations to have regular conversations with employees about their role, demands, control and balance.

When designing work and employee roles, consider whether:

  • employees have adequate and achievable demands

  • peoples’ skills and abilities are matched to the job

  • employee’s concerns about their work environment are adequately addressed.8

Consider the possibility of redesigning roles to reduce risks. For example, increase the variety of tasks or provide individuals with clearly defined scope on how much work should be completed.

Employees should have an appropriate degree of control over the nature and pace of their work.9 Increasing employee control is a factor in creating resilience in times of high demand. You increase control and autonomy by giving employees scope to plan their work, make decisions about how their work should be completed and how the challenges should be overcome. Doing this will tap into the creativity and the diversity in your team.

Recognise and respond to warning signs of employees who are not coping with the requirements of the role, for example unplanned absences, decreased engagement or performance, and a rapid increase in hours worked. Decreased engagement is often a sign of low work demands where employees feel bored or do not have enough meaningful and challenging work.
If an employee is not coping with the demands of their role, you do not necessarily need to reduce the demands. Often, the demands of the role are important as they give meaning, sense of purpose, improved competency and can lead to high productivity. Instead, when an employee is experiencing high demand, look at how the work can be redesigned to support the employee. This includes:

  • increasing the level of control and autonomy over how the work is performed

  • providing the employee with additional resources to perform the role including performance feedback and high quality working relationships with others.10

It is important to keep checking in to see how employees are going and offer support and resources to help them to succeed in their role.

The Mental Health Capacity Building Training Package developed by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)

In July 2012, as part of the National Mental Health Reform package, DEEWR released an online Mental Health Capacity Building training package. The package is designed to assist Employment Services Providers and Department of Human Services front line staff to better identify and assist people with mental illness to gain employment and better connect them with the appropriate services. It consists of six e-learning modules:

  • Mental health awareness
    strategies for developing mental health literacy skills to identify job seekers with mental illness.

  • Communication and engagement
    strategies to engage job seekers with mental illness.

  • Identification and management of barriers
    skills to address barriers to employment and build employment related skills for job seekers with mental illness.

  • Engagement and marketing strategies for potential employers
    skills to engage with employers and market job seekers with mental illness.

  • Strategies to maintain job seekers’ employment
    highlight and address issues about maintaining employment for job seekers with mental illness, including employer issues.

  • Building partnerships
    strategies to connect and collaborate with services and programs relevant to the job seeker.

For further information about the training package please contact:

Useful tools

  • HSE Management Standards for Work Related Stress—Demand and Control and Support .

  • Comcare, Working Well: An organisational approach to preventing psychological injury <>.

  • The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Job Design <>.

Job design is the process of deciding on the contents of a job in terms of its duties and responsibilities, on the methods to be used in carrying out the job, in terms of techniques, systems and procedures, and on the relationships that should exist between the job holder and their superior, subordinates and colleagues.’

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development11
Other relevant information sheets:

Creating a respectful workplace

Supporting and managing performance

Role clarity for good mental health

Recognising and responding

Building resilience

Focusing on ability to work


1 Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Management Standards for work related stress, Viewed 9 April 2013, <>.

2 Australian Public Service Commission 2011, State of the Service Report, 2010–11, APSC, Canberra, ch. 2.

3 Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission 2011, Compendium of OHS and Workers’ Compensation Statistics, SRCC, Canberra. p. 24, .

4 Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration 2010, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, p. viii, .

5 Comcare 2008, Working Well—An organisational approach to preventing psychological injury, Comcare, Canberra, p. 11, .

6 HSE, Roles in Tackling Stress—Line Manager, viewed 10 April 2013, <>.

7 Sinisammal, J, Belt, P, Harkonen, J, Mottonen, M & Vayrynen, S 2012, ‘Managing Wellbeing at work during 2010s—Expert Viewpoints’, Open Journal of Safety Science and Technology, vol. 2, pp. 25–31.

8 HSE, Management Standards, op. cit.

9 HSE, Management Standards, op. cit.

10 Bakker, A, Van Veldhoven, M & Xanthopoulou, D 2010, ‘Beyond the Demand-Control Model: Thriving on high job demand and resources’, Journal of Personnel Psychology, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 3–16.

11 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Job Design, viewed 18 April 2013, <>.

10 Managing change
Change may require employees to take on new roles, relationships, behaviours, and new approaches to work, which can be stressful.1 On the other hand, when change is managed well it can promote mental health, facilitate innovation and increase productivity. Managers play an integral role in helping work teams adapt and respond positively to change.
Why it matters

Change is a key feature of modern workplaces. In a high performing public service, agencies are continually seeking better ways to do business.2 High performing agencies need to be flexible, adaptable and able to respond quickly to changes in Australian Government direction or in their operating environment so as to continue to deliver effective outcomes.3

Change may be distressing for some employees, especially if they are not informed about what the change means for them, if it is managed poorly4, or results in employees perceiving their job
as insecure.5

When APS agencies were asked to assess the maturity of their organisation against its capability to manage change, only 37 per cent of agencies said that change was managed well. This finding is reflected in employees’ experience of change as being poorly managed.6

Workers’ compensation claims for psychological injury are often the result of poorly managed change.

Continuous change, including uncertainty over the future and rapid shifts in the direction of work, is one of the central challenges for maintaining mental health and wellbeing at work.7

How it’s done

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