Updated: Feb 16, 2019
It can be a little daunting to consider that over a lifetime, up to 80,000 hours will be spent at work.
Because work plays such a significant role in our lives, it’s important to recognise its impact on mental health and wellbeing.
If your workplace isn’t your ‘happy place’, that’s a big chunk of life desperately waiting for 5pm – and Fridays – to roll around. And it’s a scenario that’s likely to make you feel trapped and miserable way beyond Monday morning.
Dr Amanda Allisey is a senior lecturer and researcher in Deakin Business School’s Department of Management and one of her key research areas is improving mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
With degrees in psychology and a PhD in organisational behaviour, she says that when we’re happy and healthy at work there’s spill-over benefits into other domains in life – and it also enables an organisation to thrive.
‘When employees enjoy a happy, healthy work environment, you start seeing exciting innovations in business. It’s the difference between an organisation that’s simply functioning and an organisation that’s capable of making huge leaps. It really comes down to the people who are working within it.’
Dr Allisey’s research in mental health has always been at the organisational level and she believes there are wide-ranging benefits from adapting workplace structures and systems to facilitate a healthy environment.
‘Employees are not just employees – they are also people in our communities. They are our siblings, our parents, our neighbours. So if we can make organisations healthy, then I believe we can help make communities healthy. And that leads to a healthy environment where everyone can flourish,’ she explains.
'When employees enjoy a happy, healthy work environment, you start seeing exciting innovations in business.'
- Dr Amanda Allisey, Deakin University
While most people juggle varying degrees of stress in their home and work lives, she says the tipping point – between mental health and mental illness – can occur when an individual’s protecting buffers start to crumble.
‘Generally it’s when someone’s resources – either personal or at work – are not adequate enough to deal with the demands that are being placed on them. Often, this is around the issue of finding the right balance or dealing with demands to do more with less.’
She adds that the prevalence of 21st century mobile technology can further skew the equilibrium.
‘For example, if the culture of your workplace encourages responses to late-night emails then you’re not going to turn up to work at 8am feeling refreshed. That’s when an organisation needs to look at how they can remove – or at least mitigate – risks to stress and mental health.’ Prevention strategies are also easier to implement when there is a stronger connection between employer and employees.
‘When managers take the time to get to know their staff, then they’re usually aware of what stresses they’re dealing with. And this makes the early adoption of risk-reduction strategies much easier. We’ve also found that a good primary prevention strategy is to making sure employees have strong knowledge of why their job is important.’
Thankfully, over the past 30 years, the importance of mental wellbeing in the work environment has slowly gained recognition and Dr Allisey says there’s been a shift in employment expectations.
‘If you ask someone today why they want a particular job, or want to work for a certain organisation, the answer isn’t just “because it pays well”. It’s more about the meaningfulness of the work, or having the opportunity to do something you really love. It’s about tapping into what people care about – and contributing to a sense of wellbeing.’ She explains that the groundswell of interest into workplace wellbeing stems from employers now recognising the impact it has on an organisation.
‘They realise that the organisation’s ability to be innovative relies on the people working for it. We’ve moved from the industrial era where progression was marked by technological or automated leaps. Now we’re looking at the value of knowledge-intensive workers and more than ever before, an organisation’s resources are its human resources – and that’s making a big difference to the way organisations think. It’s realising that they need to look after the people who work for them because the biggest rewards are when employees feel good about their job and are able to fulfil their highest potential.’