Providing 'good work' to all employees for better health

27 February 2018

Research has shown working is good for mental health. In fact, the average mental health of people who are unemployed can be four times poorer than people in employment. If you have a mental illness, staying at work or returning to work can often be vital in management and recovery – as long as the work you are doing is ‘good work’.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ Realising the Health Benefits of Work Position Statement states that ‘good work’ is “engaging, fair, respectful and balances job demands, autonomy and job security. Good work accepts the importance of culture and traditional beliefs. It is characterised by safe and healthy work practices and it strikes a balance between the interests of individuals, employers and society. It requires effective change management, clear and realistic performance indicators, matches the work to the individual and uses transparent productivity metrics.”

The position statement shows that working is good for optimising people’s health and wellbeing, and work absence due to illness or injury is not. It also shows a lack of ‘good work’ can have an adverse effect on mental health, highlighting the need to promote recovery at work practices.

Therefore, Return to Work and Stay at Work plans are a vital part of ensuring both employer and employee come together to create a positive and practical framework to return the employee back to work or help them stay at work.

Clinical and organisational psychologist Dr Peter Cotton says creating a good work environment involves good processes in place across the board, not just when someone is returning from an illness or dealing with a mental health problem.

“Good work is communicating well with staff and having an environment where staff can have a say,” Dr Cotton says. “It’s a collegiate environment with a range of managers, some task-focused leaders and other people-focused leaders.The people-focused leaders should be concentrating on building work relationships and communicating well. A lot of organisations now are carrying out surveys to check the pulse of the team – and making sure they are following up on them.This is a strategy that can yield great interventions to help the team environment. Larger organisations are generating values and their leaders’ role model ways to live by them.They have a great values framework that they use across the organisation.”

However, Dr Cotton said it was also important that proper guidelines were created early when people were returning to work or wanting to stay at work when they have a mental illness.

According to Dr Cotton, Return to Work or Stay at Work plans need to include clarification from both parties on what is required from both sides.

“Every individual is different, and every issue is different,” Dr Cotton says. “With mental health, for Return to Work or Stay at Work plans to work better, you need to engage all the relevant parties. Even get tips from their treater on what to do if certain behaviours arrive or what time they will need off for appointments.It’s all about clarity and expectations.”

SuperFriend has just released a guide for insurers on how to engage and support employers in Stay at Work/Return to Work practices for their employees. Although this is primarily a resource for insurers, it also includes useful elements for employers such as:

  • Links to current research and evidence to support successful strategies for employers to keep employees in work or support them to Return to Work
  • A step by step guide to creating a mentally healthy workplace (page 55) and
  • Links to stories about how insurance organisations in Australia are supporting employers in this area (Appendix 1).

Read more here.


This article was featured in our monthly e-Newsletter SuperFriend News which provides practical advice for employers to guide them in creating positive, cohesive and productive environments for all employees.