How Can Work Impact Employee Mental Health?

mental health first aid training

We spend most of our waking hours at work each week but the question that arises is: Can work have a negative effect on employee mental health? You may think that some categories of work certainly would have an impact on employee mental health. First responders, for example, are at risk of developing an underlying mental health issue often related to traumatic stress. There is enough evidence to suggest that many first responders avoid seeking mental healthcare due to the stigma associated with accessing mental health care.

Mental disorders have now replaced physical workplace injuries as the leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in most developed countries. These disorders generally stem from high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. In a recent meta review of existing research the results showed that high job demands, low job control, high effort-reward imbalance, low relational justice, low procedural justice, role stress, bullying and low social support in the workplace are associated with a greater risk of developing common mental health problems.

We look at these results, to show that certain work conditions are affecting our mental health. That is not to say we should immediately put down tools and join the unemployment line, but rather employers need to think about strategies to mitigate psychological workplace risks that have an impact on employee mental health.

Job Demand and Support

The job demand–control–support (JDCS) model has for decades argued that jobs where high demands of increased workloads, coupled with time pressures, and combined with low control over decisions about how and when we work, creates the greatest risk of mental illness and reduced wellbeing. However, if there is a high level of social support for people in these roles, the effects may be moderated. The analysis showed an increase in depression symptoms for workers with high psychologically demanding work and low social support.

High job demand + Low job control + Low social support = Poorer employee mental health

Effort and Reward

It’s not enough just to believe that an employee should be happy just because they have a job. There needs to be a balance between the effort made at work and the rewards received. Research is suggesting that the most stressful work environment is where work reward does not match the effort made. When this occurs, there is a high risk of mental health disorders including increased anxiety and depression.

Reward that does not match the effort made = Higher anxiety and depression levels

Organisational Justice

Rules and social norms where we work are important in affecting the way how fairly we are treated. This includes the respect employees are shown by management and the presence or absence about workplace procedures. A lack of respect and clearly outlined procedures has been shown to increase stress-related mental disorders.

Low respect + Lack of procedures = Higher levels of stress

Change and Job Insecurity

Organisational change – downsizing, relocation, mergers and the ultimate increase in workload are linked to mental health decline. Organisational change has also been shown to lead to a perception of job insecurity and has been linked to depression. Employees are increasingly experiencing high levels of organisational change including swift advances in technology, downsizing, and restructuring.

Technology changes + Downsizing + Restructuring = Increased depression

Temporary and Casual Roles and Varied Working Hours

Temporary, casual and part-time roles are increasing. Studies have shown that these types of working arrangements may have an impact on employee mental health. Furthermore, there is a link between employees with mental health problems and the likelihood of them being only offered positions with these types of working arrangements.  Employees who work extended and longer working hours, shift work, alternating between night and day shifts and extended swings, have an increased chance of declining mental health and increased anxiety and depression levels.

Temporary and casual roles + Atypical work hours = Increased anxiety and depression

Workplace Bullying and Role Stress

There is a link between workplace bullying and depression. There is also a link between workplace conflict among supervisors and coworkers and depression. Role stress is a further factor impacting on declining employee mental health. This is when an employee lacks information about their responsibilities and conflicting expectations.  High role stress has been linked to higher levels of depression.

Workplace bullying or conflict + Role stress = Higher levels of depression


Three main conclusions were drawn from the study:

  1. There is consistent evidence that certain work situations are associated with an increased risk of employee mental illness. High job demands, low job control, high effort and reward imbalances, low relational justice, low procedural justice, role stress, bullying and low social support in the workplace are associated with a greater risk of employees developing depression and anxiety;
  2. There are a range of other work-related factors, including low distributive and informational justice, organisational change, job insecurity, temporary employment status and atypical working hours which appear likely to be an important risk to employee mental health; and,
  3. Work-related risk factors interact with individual personality characteristics, attitudes and coping styles to produce specific strains on employee mental health.


The workplace is an obvious environment to support improved mental health and many organisations engage in training and preventative strategies. Any intervention programme should include known risk factors that have an impact on employee mental health. Based on the findings of the review, the authors developed a unified model of the psychosocial workplace that could be used to help categorise the known risk factors. In the paper they identified three overlapping clusters of workplace risk factors:

  • Imbalanced job design (job demands, job control, effort and reward, and occupational social support),
  • Occupational uncertainty (job control, procedural justice, organisational change, job insecurity, and temporary employment status), and
  • A lack of value and respect within the workplace (effort and reward, procedural justice, relational justice, temporary employment status, occupational social support).

Digital Mental Health Tool

Tap into Safety’s mental health solution accessible online or on smart devices has training modules that teach coping strategies on topics such as workplace bullying, change and burnout, conflict, and more.

For businesses investing in workplace mental health,  Tap into Safety helps by intervening early to improve support for worker mental health by providing relevant and interactive workplace wellbeing training. The solution offers information of where to reach out for support (on average only 5% access their Employment Assistance Provider when 20% have an issue right now – stigma plays a huge role here).

Clients have experienced a 100% increase in help-seeking activities when using our solution, as part of their wellbeing programme. By attacking stigma head on and encouraging help-seeking early, we reduce the escalation of serious stress claims. This supports employees to reach out to seek help when they are not feeling as good as they should.

Why not try a free demo?


Social Media

Contact Information

Phone: 1300 901 849

Opening Hours

Monday – Friday
8:00am – 5:00pm (AWST)
Saturday – Sunday / Public Holidays

Scroll to Top