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

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Engagement with purpose

Often the toughest task for managers is helping their employees to adapt and respond positively to change. This includes constructively working with people’s resistance to change, which is a normal part of the change process.

Managers have an important job in communicating organisational purpose and connecting an individual’s work with this purpose. This includes communicating and providing employees with timely information to enable them to understand the reason for the proposed change.8

Research shows that 70 per cent of failed organisational change processes are attributed to poor organisational health, such as lack of adequate investment in leadership and the quality of team environments.9


A risk management approach to change is needed. Managers need to assess and manage risks to the physical and mental health of their employees and team. There are a range of tools in the ‘Useful Tools’ Section to help you do this. Engaging employees in the process is crucial.

Changes in work practices should be made in consultation with employees. The United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Management Standards on Change recommend that employees are made aware of the probable impact on any changes to their jobs, are given training to support any changes to their jobs, and are aware of timetables for changes.10 Most successful and cost-effective solutions are developed from within an organisation, in partnership with employees. Remember, you should also consult with any employee who has taken leave to manage a health condition.

Recognise when employees are struggling to adapt to change and intervene early

Tune in frequently to understand how your team is tracking. Use human resources data (e.g. absenteeism) and support, and recognise early warning signs of distress to identify employees at risk. This will help you to intervene early and support employees who are not coping with change.11

Manage the rate of change

To achieve change without harming employees, manage the pace at which new practices are introduced. This includes letting employees have constructive and respectful conversations about change, ensuring adequate employee consultation on the changes and providing opportunities for employees to influence proposals.

Provide support

Ensure employees have access to relevant supports during change. When an employee has a mental health condition, it is particularly important to communicate the change and provide necessary support. Employees on leave also need to be consulted during times of change.12

If employees’ resilience is low, they will be less likely to cope with change. Ensure employees are aware of support and assistance available, such as Employee Assistance Programs.

Risks to mental health

Change can be difficult, but poorly managed change can increase the risk of an employee becoming depressed, anxious or unwell. An employee may be eligible to claim compensation under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act) if employment caused, contributed to, or aggravated their illness. Poorly managed change may constitute a contributing factor.
Meeting adaptive challenges:13

1. Step back to get perspective

2. Spot the emerging problems

3. Pace changes and adaptive work

4. Engage with employees

5. Provide support

Useful tools

  • Looking after your employees during times of change <>.

  • HSE Management Standards for Stress <>.

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

  • John Kotter—The Heart of Change and Leading Change <>.

  • Harvard Business Review—The work of leadership <>.

  • The principles of effective risk management <>.

  • Workers’ compensation: How Comcare determines claims made under the SRC Act – Edition 2 <>.

Other relevant information sheets:

Managing risks

Workers’ compensation claims


1 Heifetz, R & Laurie, D 2001, ‘The Work of Leadership’, Harvard Business Review, December, <>.

2 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. ix, <>.

3 Australian Public Service Commission, Agency Health: Monitoring Agency Health and Improving Performance, viewed 9 April 2013, <>.

4 Heifetz & Laurie, op. cit.

5 Leach, L, Butterworth, P, Strazdins, L, Rodgers, B, Broom, D & Olesen, S 2010, ‘The limitations of employment as a tool for social inclusion’, BMC Public Health, vol. 10 p. 621.

6 Australian Public Service Commission 2011, State of the Service Report, 2010–11, APSC, Canberra, ch. 10.

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 Comcare 2010, Keeping Health and Safety First in Mind: Looking after your employees during times of change, Comcare, Canberra, p. 2, .

9 Keller, S & Price, C 2011, Beyond Performance, Wiley, New Jersey, p. 22.

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

11 ibid.

12 HSE, op. cit.

13 Heifetz & Laurie, op. cit.

11 Role clarity for good mental health
Clear understanding of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities, and regular conversations is part of meaningful work and contributes to mental health outcomes in the workplace.

Why it matters

Employees who are not clear about their role can experience disengagement and a decline in performance, and can become frustrated. Role ambiguity is a significant risk factor to mental ill health and may lead to psychological injury. On the other hand, having role clarity leads to engagement, job satisfaction, commitment and productivity, all of which are good for mental health.

Role clarity is also important from a whole of APS perspective. The APS Blueprint for Reform outlines the benchmark for a high performing public service, including strong leadership and strategic direction.1 Clarifying the roles of APS employees and addressing gaps in capability contribute to a high performing public service.
Employees need to know what is expected of them in order to feel effective and productive in the workplace.’

Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace2

How it’s done

Clearly outline the role and inherent requirements of the position in the recruitment process. This will help you to match the skills of the individual to the job. Avoid situations where an employee takes on dual roles which may lead to conflicts of interest and potential role conflict.

Be clear with the employee about what they are responsible for and what the desired outcomes are. This achieves greater overall role clarity rather than simply providing a list of tasks to complete. Having strong role clarity will significantly help employees in managing the demands of their role.

Provide clarity about the links between organisational objectives and the employee’s role. Discuss the organisational structure, strategic plans and any relevant business or team plans. Use team meetings to discuss how each role contributes to the goals of the team.

Regularly review roles and modify where necessary in consultation with the employee. Consider the health and safety risks of particular roles on employees, especially any health and safety risks that could arise from a change in role or for an employee with a mental health condition.
Ensure employees have the appropriate skills and training to perform their position effectively. Consider how the employee’s unique set of skills and training shape the role.

Use the APS Integrated Leadership System (ILS)3 to map the capabilities required for the position to the specific role of the employee. When an employee is transitioning to a higher position, use the ILS to explain how the role changes in response to increasing complexity. Refer to your agency’s Work Level Standards for the ‘whole of job’ requirements and expectations of employees at each classification level.

Provide regular feedback to employees about their performance in the role and address any role concerns early.

Clearly communicate with employees about organisational objectives and roles during times of change.

Useful tools

  • Australian Public Service Integrated Leadership System <>

  • Work Level Standards—<>

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

  • Comcare tool on ‘How to have a role conversation’ <>

  • Comcare, Supporting Employees During Times of Change <>

  • HSE Management Standards— Role <>

Other relevant information sheets:

Supporting and managing performance

Balancing demands and control

Managing change

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