Work can impact our mental wellbeing. This page provides an introduction to the difference between mentally healthy work and unhealthy work, and their impacts.

Work can have a positive or negative impact on mental wellbeing. Mentally healthy work prevents harm to our wellbeing, and creates work conditions that support mental wellbeing.

The impact of healthy work 

Healthy work enables people to thrive.

When a person thrives, they are confident and have positive self-esteem, build and maintain good relationships, feel engaged with the world around them, live and work productively, cope with the ups and downs of daily life, and adapt and manage in times of change or uncertainty. These benefits can have a positive impact on the workplace.

By including protective factors such as flexible work schedules, acceptable workloads, and treating everyone with civility and respect, employers safeguard workers from harm and improve wellbeing.

The impact of harmful work

While healthy work can lead to improved wellbeing, harmful work can lead to a range of significant health issues. Harm may be caused by negative work conditions such as isolated work, unreasonable workloads, unclear expectations, and negative or hostile relationships. This harm can be worsened when there is no support or resources available.

Harm may be immediate, long-term, and come from single or repeated exposure. Poor mental health, illness, and/or physical injury such as anxiety, depression, musculoskeletal disorders, and impaired immune systems are all associated with unhealthy work and work environments. 

The impact on workers

  • One in three workers experienced work-related mental health or wellbeing issues in the previous 12 months. Almost 56% of those took time off work as a result[1].
  • One in five workers experienced work-related depression.
  • Nearly one in three workers experienced anxiety.
  • 60% of workers experienced stress
  • 15% of workers were exposed to bullying or harassment in the workplace[2].
  • One in seven workers reported always or often being too tired to enjoy life outside of work[3].

Signs of mentally unhealthy work can be seen in regular or ongoing absence from work, lower productivity, higher intentions to resign, and high employee turnover. While these aren’t definitive indicators of a problem, they should prompt a business to engage with workers to understand the nature of the problems and identify areas for improvement.

Further resources


[1] Segmentation and insights programme: Employers and workers 2021

[2] Segmentation and insights programme: Employers and workers 2020

[3] Survey of Working Life: 2018(external link) | Stats NZ