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Building mental resilience in the workplace

Posted by Nikky Lee - 28 September, 2021

There’s more than one type of well-being and while physical well-being is important, it’s not the be-all and end-all. Emotional/mental well-being along with social, financial and career well-being all play a role in the overall state of health of your employees. Moreover, while your staff might be thriving in one area, they could be struggling in another.

A 2018 national inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction found that 50 to 80 per cent of New Zealanders experience mental distress and/or addiction in their lives. At any given time, one in five people are experiencing mental health and addiction challenges.[1]


Related content: The Managers Guide to Workplace Well-being


In our own Omnibus survey of 977 New Zealanders in May 2021, we found that nearly half of our respondents had experienced depression or anxiety in the workplace. More alarmingly, were the results from our LGBTQ+, neurodivergent and disabled respondents which found 67 per cent, 75 per cent and 75 per cent respectively had experienced depression or anxiety while at work.



Mental well-being is particularly susceptible to change with internal and external factors pushing and pulling our mental load. Push too far and we get burnout, mental illness, emotional outbursts (anger, frustration, hostility, tearfulness) and high absenteeism and presenteeism.

The good news is there are ways you can help reduce work-related mental distress and build mental resilience among your staff to improve their mental and emotional well-being while they’re at work.


What causes poor mental well-being in the workplace?

There can be a variety of work-related factors in play that can lead to poor mental/emotional well-being, such as:

  • heavy workload
  • extreme time pressures, e.g. tight deadlines
  • long working hours
  • blurred boundaries between work and home
  • organisational changes/restructuring
  • role conflict—includes conflict of interest within a role, having multiple roles with conflicting priorities (e.g. professional role and a parenting role), and conflicting ideas among staff about the responsibilities of a certain role.
  • role changes
  • job insecurity
  • bullying and harassment
  • discrimination
  • inadequate resources or equipment
  • unfulfilling work
  • poor physical workspace set up.

In some instances, the cause for mental distress may come from an employee’s personal life. In most cases, this is beyond your control, however, providing a mentally safe and supported environment can go a long way. If you know an employee is struggling at home, consider pointing them towards an Employee Assistance Programme or one of the services below.

New Zealand Australia

Lifeline - 0800 543 354

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865

See a full list here

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636

Blue Knot Foundation – 1300 657 380

Butterfly Foundation – 1800 33 4673

Lifeline – 13 11 14

See a full list here



5 ways to support positive mental well-being in the workplace


1. Keep job demands reasonable

Regularly check in with your staff to see how they are managing their tasks, particularly new employees who are still learning and gaining proficiency. Also keep watch on overtime hours. If they are consistently working overtime or not managing to meet their deadlines, it could be a sign that their workload is too high. Also examine their work patterns, such as repetitive tasks that require periods of excessive workload or tight turnarounds, work together to come up with strategies to help ease the load.


2. Give autonomy

From what work to prioritise to freedom to make decisions, autonomy can encourage ownership and motivation—and develop leadership skills. However, too much of a good thing can cause problems too. Too much freedom can leave staff feeling directionless and studies have shown it can reduce employee happiness and lead to burnout and unethical behaviour[2].

Instead, gear the amount of autonomy you give to employees by the job(s) they perform. Procedural and operational orientated tasks actually benefit from less autonomy while employees who have tasks that require creativity or market-orientated work tend to perform best with more autonomy.[3] Autonomy isn’t a one size fits all—tailor it to individual circumstances for the best results.


3. Provide support

Micromanaging is the enemy of employee well-being. Contrary to popular belief, micromanagers are not hovering over their employees’ shoulders to ensure everything is done exactly to their vision. Instead, it’s quite the opposite: they abandon their staff.

“Today’s micromanager is likely someone who wants it done exactly their way but provides little context, support, help or advice,” write Ben Wiget and Ryan Pendell from Gallup and go on to explain that when an employee produces said task, it never meets the micromanagers expectations, and they spend a lot of time and energy fixing the employee’s “mistakes”—which creates stress and friction in the relationship.

Good communication is the backbone of supporting employees. Ensure they have all the information, resources and equipment they need, encourage them to ask questions and make yourself available to answer questions if they have them.


4. Foster positive working relationships

Simply giving praise and celebrating the wins can do a lot for building positive working relationships. If you need to provide critical feedback, do it in a way that is constructive; offer solutions rather than a list of problems.

Consider the working relationships your colleagues have with each other too. Do they encourage each other or put each other down? Are there toxic personalities that are dragging down your whole workplace culture?

Take into consideration the leadership style you are using and whether it is appropriate for the workplace, team and/or employee. Transformational leadership is considered the best for encouraging workplace well-being and uses a coaching style to encourage growth in their team.


Read more: Which leadership style is best for employee well-being?


5. Set clear expectations

Whether it’s role expectations, performance targets or a project deadline, make it clear. Communicating your expectations not only gives your employees direction and a means to measure success, but it also helps remove potential confusion and role conflict and builds better working relationships.

Much like the support point from earlier, setting clear expectations hinges on communication, from well thought out job descriptions and project briefs to simply being willing and able to answer follow up questions. Without clarity, everything crumbles— reasonable workloads, autonomy, working relationships, workplace culture, and ultimately, mental well-being.


Employees are stressed, overloaded and struggling to balance work and life demands. But it doesn't have to be this way. Help your employees thrive in the new normal with our Manager's Guide to Workplace Well-being.

Download the Manager's Guide to Workplace Well-being

[1] Leading Safety / The Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum, 2021. Protecting Mental Wellbeing at Work. Available at forum.org.nz.

[2] Enxi Zhou. “The “Too-Much-of-a-Good-Thing” Effect of Job Autonomy and Its Explanation Mechanism”, Psychology, Vol. 11 No. 2, February 2020, scrip.org

[3] Ibid.

Topics: Employee Experience

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