One in five Australian workers is currently experiencing a mental illness1. This means that the impact of mental illness in the workplace is going to be significant in terms of lost productivity, turnover of staff, absenteeism and the impact on other workers. Sane Australia conducted research which showed that 95% of respondents believed that employers and managers need more education and training about how to manage the effects of mental illness in the workplace. This makes it easy to understand why Safe Work Australia released a National Guidance on Work-related Psychological Health and Safety on the 14th June this year.
We all know and understand about the physical threats to workers and have probably spent a lot of time and money making sure that we minimise these sort of risks. However, how many of us can say that we equate wellbeing with safety? How many of us acknowledge that our workplaces are creating psychosocial (involving both psychological and social aspects) hazards as well as physical ones?
Psychosocial hazards lead to stress and that in turn is strongly linked to health conditions such as anxiety and depression. We need to start managing health and wellbeing safety and tackling stress. It makes sense to create a healthy work environment:
Safe Work Australia has published a new national guidance called “Work-related psychological health and safety – a systematic approach to meeting your duties” to help employers and workers understand and meet their duties concerning psychological health and safety in the workplace. It’s essential reading for anyone who wants to build a healthy and safe workplace.
It is important to note that “Work-related psychological health and safety – a systematic approach to meeting your duties” has been developed with the involvement and approval of all of Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) or work health and safety (WHS) regulatory bodies.
The detailed guidance describes a systematic and practical approach to managing work-related psychological health and safety across three key areas:
1. Preventing Harm
Identify, assess and eliminate or minimise work related hazards and risks. The guidance provides you with a comprehensive list of examples on how to do this, which includes consultation with workers, changes to the work environment or ensuring you have clear expectations around workplace bullying.
2. Intervening Early
Early identification and management of any risks can help minimise the potential severity of injuries and time lost from work. The earlier you identify a worker is experiencing stress, the better. You can then move to put appropriate supports in place. Depending on the circumstances, this could involve counselling, training or offering flexible and varied working arrangements.
3. Supporting Recovery
Supporting recovery and return to work begins with strong management commitment and good planning to support the injured worker throughout the process. This should include individualised Recover At Work, Return To Work and Employee Assistance Program plans. You can support recovery by providing access to treatment and rehabilitation services. You should also address any remaining work-related psychological hazards and review the effectiveness of control measures.
The focus on workplace psychological health and wellbeing is long overdue and has been steadily increasing over the past decade. beyondblue launched their Heads Up campaign in 2014 and this has been very successful and generated heightened awareness about workplace mental health issues, particularly in the corporate sector.
Here are some ideas from the Heads Up campaign:
We spend a lot of our lives at work and it plays a vital role in our emotional, social and physical wellbeing. Employers play an important role in helping support employees with mental health issues and those working with them. The new Safe Work Guidance will potentially change how mental health is managed and, most importantly, prevented in Australian workplaces.
Australian Human Rights Commission 2010 Workers with Mental Illness: A Practical Guide for Managers
Supporting the return to work of employers with depression or anxiety www.beyondblue.org.au
Mindful employers program www.sane.org
Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria www.arcvic.com.au
Anxiety Disorders Association of Vic Inc. www.adavic.org.au
Clinical research Unit for Anxiety and Depression – a joint facility of UNSW and St Vincent’s www.crufad.org
1 TNS (2014). State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia. Melbourne: beyondblue.
2 Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC) (2014) Creating a mentally healthy workplace: Return on investment analysis. Melbourne: beyondblue.
3 Instinct and Reason (2014) Heads up Intiative: Employer of Choice Study. Melbourne: beyondblue.