How is Job Strain Linked To Mental Health?


It’s not rocket science. When we are stressed at work, our mental health is put under significant strain.

New research published today and led by the Black Dog Institute confirms workplaces that reduce job strain could prevent up to 14% of new cases of common mental illness from occurring.

Published in The Lancet Psychiatry, the results from the study confirm that high job strain is associated with an increased risk of developing common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety amongst middle-aged workers.

Job strain is a term used to describe the combination of high work pace, intensity, and conflicting demands, coupled with low control or decision-making capacity.

Lead author, Associate Professor Samuel Harvey from the Black Dog Institute explains that “Mental illness is the leading cause of sick leave/ absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia, equating to $11 billion lost to Australian businesses each year”.

“Our modelling used detailed data collected over 50 years to examine the various ways in which particular work conditions may impact an employee’s mental health.”

“These findings serve as a wake-up call for the role workplace initiatives should play in our efforts to curb the rising costs of mental disorders.

“It’s important to remember that for most people, being in work is a good thing for their mental health."

"But this research provides strong evidence that organisations can improve employee wellbeing by modifying their workplaces to make them more mentally healthy.” 

Examining 6870 participants, the international research team investigated whether people experiencing job strain at age 45 were at an increased risk of developing mental illness by age 50.

To determine levels of job strain, participants completed questionnaires at age 45 testing for factors including decision authority (the ability to make decisions about work), skill discretion (the opportunity to use skills during work) and questions about job pace, intensity and conflicting demands.

Was it really any surprise that the final assessment suggests that those experiencing higher job demands, lower job control and higher job strain were at greater odds of developing mental illness by age 50, regardless of sex or occupational class.

The researchers concluded by indicating that if we were able to eliminate job strain situations in the workplace, up to 14 percent of cases of common mental illness could be avoided.

I recognise that we are currently in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) landscape. But…. organisations can still take significant steps to manage job strain for staff despite this.

So, what can workplaces do to assist their staff manage job strain?

1)   Increase control.

Workplaces can find ways to increase workers’ perceived control of their work. This can be achieved through initiatives that involve workers in as many decisions as possible, reduce micromanagement and increase autonomy and responsibility.

2)   Utilise a Strengths Based approach.

It is actually in a workplaces best interests to ensure that staff are placed into work where they can use their strengths rather than be forced to perform tasks where they have neither skill nor will.

Studies quite clearly show the impact of formal performance review when a strengths based approach is used. Performance increases by over 36% when a strengths approach is utilised as compared to a decrease in performance of over 26% when there is an emphasis on performance weakness.

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3)   Be Proactive.

When workplaces are proactive, they can work with staff to prevent many workplace stressors from ever becoming an issue. Workplace and job strain can come from many different directions. Be proactive with staff to address workplace stressors, manage the physical and psychosocial work environment and manage change more productively. Consider changes in work pacing and job redesign, look at actually listening to your health and safety committees, consider stress prevention and developing the resilience of your teams.

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Want to know more about managing job strain and maximising mental health in your organisation? Send me an email at to enquire about coaching, training and wellbeing strategy.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Wellbeing Strategist, Leadership and Wellbeing Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness Practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or


5 Ways To Stop Making Excuses


What’s Your Excuse?

Every single day, I catch myself making excuses. These can range from pretty small excuses like; “I can’t take the dog for a walk, I’m too busy” right through to some pretty big ones, such as “I don’t have the skills to do that”.

Do you catch yourself making excuses?

Do you often fail to take action because of an excuse that you keep telling yourself?

But Remember:

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Do you often try and explain away why you didn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t or just wouldn’t do something?

If you catch your self-talk in making an excuse, you are not alone. We all engage in subtle (and not so subtle) excuses. But it is these excuses which often prevent us from living our life to its full potential.

Excuses are simply rationalisations we make to ourselves about people, events and circumstances. They are often created to defend our behaviour or to postpone taking action.

When we make an excuse, we are basically placing the blame of an internal problem on an external situation.

We continue to make excuses for a number of reasons, including:

·         Fear of failure

·         Fear of embarrassment

·         Fear of success

·         Fear of change

·         Fear of uncertainty

·         Fear of responsibility

·         Fear of making mistakes

·         Lack of confidence

There is certainly a recurring theme in that list – it’s fear. So, if we are going to eliminate excuses we need to address our fears.

Our fears lock us into our comfort zone. But generally, our fears actually emerge due to a lack of understanding, information, resources, experience or perspective.

But if you succumb to making excuses regularly then the consequences include:

·         Lack of growth

·         Self-limiting beliefs

·         Regret

·         Lack of stickability to your goals

·         Paranoia preventing decision making

·         Mental blocks stifling action and creativity.

So, here are some opportunities for you to overcome your excuses.

1)      Admit to yourself the excuses you are making.

Easier said than done.

But ask yourself – What excuses do I tend to make? What am I settling for? Why am I making this excuse? What are the consequences of this excuse for me?

2)      Recognise your baggage.

We need to question what “baggage” we carry around with us on a daily basis.

•       Do you have self-doubt?

•       Are you carrying blame?

•       Are you worrying about all the things you can’t control?

•       Do you feel like an imposter?

•       Do you see challenges as threats?

•       Are your ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) crawling all over you?

Or does your luggage allow easy accessibility to your values, strengths, and skills?

3)      Recognise your emotional response.

“If you name it, you can tame it”. One of the best opportunities to manage our emotional responses, is to first identify what we are actually experiencing and why. Try considering what it is you are actually feeling and what is the thought you have that is fuelling that emotional response.

4)      Reframe the excuse

Often, we can fall “below the line” and engage in excuses.

Reframing is a powerful, yet simple technique to move ourselves from below the line to above the line in our thinking, our language, our attitude and our behaviour.

It involves taking a negative statement or excuse and reframing it in a positive question to self to prompt a change in thinking.

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5)      Adopt a growth mindset.

Staying in your comfort zone will never result in any personal growth. You have to push yourself to step into a state of complexity to ever have new experiences and new growth opportunities. This obviously takes effort. But remember…… what dictates the size of a goldfish? The answer?....... the size of the bowl!!

“Either I will find a way or I will create a way, BUT I will not make an excuse”

Want to know more about developing your mental toughness and reducing your engagement in excuses? Send me an email at to enquire about coaching and training.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Wellbeing Strategist, Leadership and Wellbeing Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness Practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or


What is Mental Health?

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Mental health is an expression we use almost every day, especially in our workplaces. However, it might surprise you that the term ‘mental health” is frequently misunderstood.

Often, it’s just so damn confusing working out what people are talking about when they discuss mental health issues in the workplace. We use so many terms in organisations these days to discuss issues around mental health and wellbeing. On many occasions, I hear many different terms used but often in the wrong context and with obvious poor understanding as to what the terms mean. Just consider, there’s mental health, positive mental health, wellbeing, poor mental health, mental illness, mental disorder, flourishing, thriving, languishing. You can see why it’s easy for people to get confused.

Mental Health and Mental Illness are often terms that are used interchangeably.

So, what is Mental Health?

Mental Health is defined by the World Health Organisation as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential , can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.

Unfortunately, Mental Health is often associated and used as a substitute for asking about mental health conditions like anxiety and depression etc. But actually, rather than asking the question “what’s the problem?’, it is really about asking the question “what’s going well?” So, in fact Mental Health is about wellness rather than illness.

Mental Health and Mental Illness are not the same thing; but they are also not mutually exclusive.

A fundamental difference between mental health and mental illness is that everyone has some level of mental health all of the time, just like physical health, whereas it is possible to be without mental illness.

Take a look at Keyes Mental Health Continuum. It helps make a lot more sense of all the relative terms.

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Poor mental health and mental illness has a significant impact within not only society, but within organisations. Just consider some of the statistics.

•         In 2014 – The Australian Psychological Society review indicated 44% of Australians identified work as a source of stress.

•         SafeWork SA has identified that Mental Health Claims are the most expensive WorkCover claims.

•         At any given time, 1 out of every 5 employees is likely to be experiencing poor mental health or mental illness.

•         Poor Mental Health costs Australian businesses 10 Billion dollars per year in lost productivity (4.7 billion due to absenteeism and 6.1 billion due to presenteeism)

The benefits of Mental Health and staying well

Research shows that high levels of mental health are associated with:

·        increased learning

·        increased creativity

·        increased productivity

·        more pro-social behaviour and positive social relationships

·        improved physical health and life expectancy.

But it’s important to remember that mental health is complex. The fact that someone is not experiencing a mental health condition doesn’t necessarily mean their mental health is flourishing. Likewise, it’s possible to be diagnosed with a mental health condition while feeling well in many aspects of life. 

Mental health is ultimately about being cognitively, emotionally and socially healthy – the way we think, feel and develop relationships - and not merely the absence of a mental health condition.

Try these 3 steps you could do to enhance your mental health starting right now.

1)Manage your stress proactively.

Consider what is causing you any unease at present. First recognise what you can and can’t control. Then consider one active step you could take to move even 1% forward on this issue. You are always in control of something, even if it is only your personal reaction.

2) Enhance your relationships

Who could you spend more time with today to enhance your relationship with that important person. Could you just sit and talk over a coffee, ask more questions about their day at the dinner table, or just make that phone call you’ve been putting off.

3) Be mindful

Consider what you are grateful for. What is currently going well in your life, even if it’s a small thing. How could you increase WWW (what’s working well.

If you would like to know more about enhancing your mental health you can contact me at to find out more.

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Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Leadership and Wellness Coach and Speaker / Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness Practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Health and Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or



Can Simple Job Design Changes Improve Wellbeing?

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I have just completed some training for a team who had been really floundering with recent changes and we spent a lot of time developing strategies for the team to build their resilience to manage these challenges. But soon after commencing the 2 day programme, it became obvious that there was some issues around the team’s job design and how their tasks were distributed and organised. Pivoting, the team was able to put some fantastic strategies together to feed back to their leadership team as to how their jobs could be better structured to allow for not only higher levels of productivity, but also improved staff engagement and wellbeing.

I found a great article exploring the fact that good job design can be very beneficial for employees’ mental health and wellbeing. It can also contribute to an organisation’s overall effectiveness by empowering employees and encouraging them to be creative and to develop more efficient work methods.

Good job design includes the way an employee’s tasks are organised, their access to adequate resources, the amount of autonomy they have over their work schedules, and the procedures they use to complete their job. It also ensures employees use a variety of skills within their job and encourages them to take on higher levels of responsibility.

Job crafting is also an important part of job design and involves employees individually customising their job by changing elements of their role that they don’t enjoy, improving their interactions with others or viewing their job – and their organisational contribution – in a more positive way.

An organisation can adopt a positive psychology framework to consider two levels – job design and job crafting. Job design is how an organisation determines the roles and who works best in each role. Job crafting is the physical and cognitive changes an individual can make to their task.

When job crafting occurs it allows employees to reshape their job so it’s more aligned to their skills and motivation.

Organisations and leaders need to recognise and understand what motivates people, and their individual interests and strengths.

Many characteristics found in positive work environments are linked to good job design, such as managers making sure employees have adequate resource access or holding regular reviews to ensure people are in the right roles for their capabilities and motivation.

By providing employees with autonomy, challenging, meaningful tasks and adequate support and access to resources, employers can ensure good job design leading to a positive and a productive workplace.

So how can an organisation consider job design and light a fire under your staff?

·         Look at the way your employees’ tasks are organised. Are they working to an effective schedule or do they have periods of being really busy and then times when they are looking for things to do? Can you implement a workflow that better suits individual employees? For example, consider that everyone has a different biological clock. If one employee is a morning person, help them prioritise their more complicated tasks first thing and leave easier jobs to later in the day. If another has more get up and go in the afternoon, suggest they save their harder work until after lunch.

·         Do they have access to the resources they need to do their job properly? It could be as simple as providing stationery, a software program, access to websites or suitable equipment.

·         Do your employees have some say over their role? Having some autonomy over their work environment can help make someone feel valued and involved. They can have input through either individual sessions with their leader and/or team meetings where everyone is encouraged to have their say about their workload and work tasks – both good and bad.

·         Look at the methods your employees use to complete their tasks. Is there any way they can be streamlined or done in a more effective way? For example, just using simple email folders can help someone be more organised.

·         Increasing the skills and capability of employees and people leaders is an easy and effective way to improve the mental health and wellbeing of your workforce.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.