Mental Health

Are you across the Safe Work report?

Emily Lawson
April 26, 2024
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In light of the recent Safe Work Australia Data report on 'Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace', it's more crucial than ever for HR managers and leaders to grasp the impactful statistics shaping their workforces.

As mental health awareness grows, employees increasingly seek claims for issues like extreme pressure, workplace harassment, and the need for external resolution. It's not only about legal compliance; it's about creating a workplace that's inclusive, comfortable, and free from harassment.

Workplace mental health

The report highlights a 36.9% increase in mental health claims since 2017, partly due to greater recognition of mental health conditions and increased workplace harassment.

Although mental health claims aren't as frequent as physical health claims, the return-to-work process is often prolonged, with 44.5% of claims requiring additional time off and posing a significant impact on the claimant. Workers with mental health claims report poorer return-to-work outcomes and are more likely to face stigma from colleagues and employers.

Without changes in attitude and workplace policies, employees may opt for additional leave to avoid returning to an unsafe workplace or even consider resignation.

Workplaces most impacted by mental health-related claims include:
  • The healthcare and social assistance industry had the highest number of serious claims for work-related mental health conditions compared to other industries over the last five years.
  • Public administration and safety sectors, including police and fire services, experienced the greatest percentage increase in claim numbers between 2017-18 and 2021-2022
  • Workers in the education and training industry accounted for 18.8% of all serious claims for work pressure.
  • Professionals represented 22% of mental health-related claims, while clerical and administrative workers accounted for 10.9%.

The median time lost and compensation paid for mental health conditions were more than four times greater than that of all injuries and illnesses, highlighting the importance of addressing mental health with the same care as physical health.

Proactive measures allow for intervention and treatment when employees require additional support.

The Fair Work Act  

As mental health advocacy gains momentum, Parliament has taken steps to support employees by enacting amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009. These changes, effective in 2023, prohibit employers from contacting employees outside of work hours and ensure that employees are not obligated to monitor or respond to work-related communications during their personal time. In alignment with this legislation, workplace attitudes have shifted, with increased emphasis placed on cultural aspects alongside monetary compensation.

Employees now feel empowered to report workplace issues and seek alternative employment if their needs are not met. Prioritising mental health in the workplace not only fosters a healthier environment but also mitigates issues such as high turnover rates, absenteeism, and compensation claims.

1. How to foster a safe work environment:  

Beyond the basic requirements of businesses' psychosocial responsibilities, such as celebrating RUOK Day, Movember, and International Women's Day, lies the opportunity to cultivate a truly supportive and mentally healthy workplace. This begins with implementing tailored mental health programs, conducting regular check-ins, and nurturing a culture of recognition and community.

2. Mental Health Programs:

Enrolling in a mental health program offers ongoing education and support for your workplace. This may involve webinars or in-person classes to educate leaders and employees on supporting each other, understanding mental health, and seeking assistance when needed. By investing in such programs, workplaces can foster an environment that promotes understanding and destigmatisation of mental health, similar to the approach taken with physical labour training and safety plans.

3. Regular Check-ins:

Acknowledging good performance and addressing concerns through regular check-ins is essential for maintaining employee satisfaction and retention. Recognition, whether through praise or appreciation, is a cost-effective way to reward employees and boost morale. These check-ins also provide an opportunity to gauge employees' mental health, allowing them to express any pressures they may be feeling and identify areas where additional support is needed.

4. Cultural Improvement:

Conducting anonymous workplace surveys can provide valuable insights into the state of your workplace culture. Targeted questions, such as whether employees feel comfortable reporting workplace harassment or feel supported by their managers, can help identify areas for improvement. Combined with regular in-person check-ins, this proactive approach ensures that the workplace culture is continuously monitored and addressed.

5. Normalisation:

Normalising mental health recognition in the workplace is key to destigmatising the issue and encouraging employees to open up. Simple initiatives, such as displaying educational posters in common areas or sending monthly newsletters with mental health resources, can help create a more open and supportive environment. By embracing these initiatives, workplaces can foster a culture where mental health conversations are encouraged and valued.

Workplace harassment

Among the roughly 10,000 serious mental stress claims in 2021-2022, the highest proportion was attributed to work-related harassment and/or workplace bullying (27.5%), work pressure (25.2%), and exposure to workplace or occupational violence (16.4%).

Workplace bullying encompasses verbal, physical, social, or psychological abuse inflicted by an employer, manager, coworker, or group of individuals at work. Such behaviour profoundly impacts the employee, leading to decreased productivity, diminished confidence, fear, and a loss of trust in their workplace.

What does workplace harassment and bullying entail?
  • Repeated hurtful remarks or attacks targeting the employee and their work, including aspects such as family, sex, sexuality, gender identity, race or culture, education, or economic background.
  • Instances of sexual harassment, such as unwelcome touching and sexually explicit comments.
  • Exclusion from work activities or conversations related to work.
  • Engaging in mind games, ganging up on the employee, or perpetrating other forms of psychological harassment.
  • Intimidation tactics aimed at instilling fear or coercion.
  • Assigning pointless tasks unrelated to the employee's job responsibilities.
  • Setting impossible tasks that cannot be completed within the provided timeframe or with the available resources.
  • Deliberate alterations to work hours or schedules to create difficulty for the employee.
  • Physical acts such as pushing, shoving, or tripping within the workplace.

Preventing Workplace Bullying and Harassment

Establishing values and standards, effective leadership, implementing policies and procedures, and encouraging reporting are essential steps in preventing workplace harassment and bullying. Recognising the signs of workplace harassment and bullying is crucial for creating a safe and healthy workplace environment. By taking proactive measures, businesses can mitigate financial risks and safeguard the well-being of their employees.

While the statistics from the Safe Work Australia Data report on 'Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace' may reveal concerning trends, they also present an opportunity for positive change. By prioritising mental health initiatives, fostering supportive workplace cultures, and implementing robust policies to prevent harassment and bullying, HR managers can create environments where employees feel valued, respected, and supported. It's essential for HR managers to delve into the specifics of the report to gain insights tailored to their workplace and use this information to guide meaningful improvements.

Together, we can work towards building healthier, safer, and more inclusive workplaces for all.
Are you across the Safe Work report?
Emily Lawson