Businesses failing to act on psychosocial regs -beware.
Surge in complaints around psychosocial hazards
The surge in awareness surrounding psychosocial hazards in the workplace is fueled by a growing number of disgruntled, disengaged, and burnt-out employees who feel their concerns have fallen on deaf ears within internal channels. Many individuals, frustrated by the lack of responsiveness from HR, Operations, and even CEOs and Boards, are now leveraging external avenues, such as Workplace Health & Safety, the Fair Work Commission and The Anti-Discrimination Commission to bring attention to pervasive issues affecting their mental well-being at work and the negative environments pervasive in workplaces.
Whilst social media platforms, anonymous reporting mechanisms, and industry forums have become powerful tools for employees to share their experiences and shed light on workplace environments that contribute to burnout and disengagement in the past, the Code of Practice for psychosocial hazards in each state provide an alternative and stronger platform than ever before.
This wave of externalised complaints reflects a collective demand for change, urging organisations to listen and respond to the psychosocial hazards that, if left unaddressed, not only harm individual employees but also compromise overall workplace productivity and satisfaction. The increasing visibility of these concerns underscores the imperative for organisations to foster open communication and prioritise cultural lead indicators such as psychological safety in their internal processes.
“Everyone in an organisation has a role to play in creating a health and safe environment, but the development of a positive culture and appropriate risk control measure depends on leadership from the top”. Dr Narelle Beer – WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety
“Leaders need to create various “listening posts” throughout the organisation including external ones. When past issues have gone unresolved, trust in the processes and the people erodes and escalation becomes the only option”. Carolyn Grant, People Plus Science
The intensifying focus on psychosocial hazards in the workplace is driven by the escalating costs associated with mental health issues among employees. Research consistently demonstrates a direct correlation between poor mental health and increased costs for employers, ranging from reduced productivity and higher absenteeism to elevated healthcare expenses. According to recent studies, the global economic impact of mental health conditions is projected to exceed $6 trillion annually by 2030. In Australia alone, the cost of mental health-related productivity loss is estimated to be around $220 billion per year. Smart employers are recognising that addressing psychosocial hazards, such as workplace stress, harassment, and inadequate mental health support, is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic investment in the overall well-being of their workforce. By proactively tackling these issues, organisations can mitigate the financial burden associated with mental health challenges and create environments that foster employee resilience and productivity.
Psychosocial hazards encompass a broad range of factors in the workplace that can adversely affect the mental health and well-being of employees and customers. These hazards include but are not limited to excessive workload and unrealistic job demands, which can lead to chronic stress and burnout.
Workplace bullying and harassment, whether verbal, physical, or online, are also significant psychosocial hazards that can create a hostile and emotionally harmful environment.
Poorly managed organisational change, such as restructuring or downsizing, can contribute to uncertainty and job insecurity, amplifying stress levels. Insufficient support from management, inadequate communication, and a lack of clear organisational policies on mental health can further exacerbate psychosocial hazards.
Additionally, the absence of work-life balance, discrimination, and stigma surrounding mental health issues contribute to a challenging and potentially harmful workplace atmosphere. Recognising and addressing these diverse psychosocial hazards is crucial for creating a supportive and mentally healthy work environment.
Complaints to Workplace Health and Safety, Fair Work or the Anti-Discrimination commissioner can come from anyone – an employee, a consumer, a contractor, volunteer or partner.
With new Codes of Practice in force across each state, complaints are being taken seriously with Notice for Improvements being issued for failure to engage employees to assess psychosocial risks, failure to document and employ strategies to reduce risks and failure to maintain risk controls, and failure to train and educate staff on psychosocial hazards. With respect@work laws being enforced in December 2023, this will include employers duties to foster positive workplace environments. A sharp move from reactive to proactive workplace practices.
Filing a complaint about psychosocial hazards in the workplace has become increasingly accessible, empowering employees and customers to voice their concerns. Most regulatory bodies and workplace health and safety authorities have established user-friendly channels for submitting complaints, ensuring a streamlined process. Typically, individuals can file complaints through online platforms, dedicated hotlines, or in-person visits to relevant regulatory offices. These channels are designed to maintain confidentiality and protect whistleblowers from retaliation.
Psychosocial Hazards and Consumers
Leaders do not just have an obligation to employees. The same psychosocial hazard assessments need to apply to consumers. In the health and aged care community the high rate of churn of carers and nurses creates a psychosocial hazard with consumers as continuity of care becomes a risk.
Untrained staff and the provision of care or the environment provides a great hazard especially in terms of those of the Forgotten Generation who suffered institutional abuse in younger years.
Financial stress as a result of poor and incompetent billing systems for those on budgets also creates a hazard to actual abuse from employees that are suffering from burnout and exhaustion due to poor staff rostering.
What do you need to do as an employer?
To prevent work-related mental health injuries, employers should:
- Promote a positive workplace culture that encourages trust, respectful behaviours and quality communication.
- Consult with employees, customers, suppliers, contractors when identifying and assessing any risks to their psychological health and determining the appropriate control measures.
- Implement policies and procedures for reporting and responding to psychosocial hazards such as workplace trauma, bullying, interpersonal conflict, violence and aggression; and reviewing and updating risk controls following any incidents.
- Regularly ask employees how they are, encourage them to discuss any work-related concerns and, where required, implement suitable support and controls.
- Have systems in place for workforce planning and workload management to ensure that employees have sufficient resources and a realistic workload.
- Develop skills for leaders through coaching, mentoring and training to improve the support of employees.
- Seek and act on feedback from employees during any organisational change process.
- Inform workers about their entitlements if they become unwell or unfit for work.
- Provide appropriate and confidential channels to support workplace mental health and wellbeing, such as Employee Assistance Programs.
- Evaluate the success of programs implemented to see if they have any impact.
What do we do as a board, oversight committee?
If you are a board, an oversight committee, an advisory board then you have a large responsibility.
1. Accept accountability – how many boards have done a psychosocial hazard assessment. How many have viewed that of their organisation. How many can identify high risk teams? Or identify the high risk, high frequency hazards? How many can say that their employees (at all levels) feel safe to report bad news?
2. Understand the legal and regulatory frameworks.
3. Get independent reviews of the psychological safety and psychosocial hazards within the organisation.
4. Look at ensuring that you are looking “lead” indicators within your organisation and not lagging indicators.
5.Culture is not a lead indicator – it is a lag indicator. Engagement is not a lead indicator it is a lag indicator.
6. What psychosocial risks are your customers exposed to as a result of your employee’s behaviour? Your inadequate processes and systems? Your lack of training.
7. What “essential” skills training have your leadership team being exposed to in the last 12months? What essential skills have you identified as being critical.
8. Have you tried and tested the processes and policies you say will “stand up”?
The good news is that if you can get the “people stuff” right, your reliance on governance, risk management and policies and procedures reduces.
If as a board you think that cyber security, environment, financial risk, fraud, physical safety or innovation is the biggest concern – think again – all of these risks are driven by people. Performance is reliant on your people. Start there.
” There is a real opportunity for organisations who embrace this new law. Whilst looking from a compliance view it can be hard to find the silver lining. If you take a “people first approach to performance – the rewards are great – business growth is accelerated whilst risk is reduced. Even the numbers support a change”. Carolyn Grant
Interested in Learning More?
Book a briefing on psychological safety today. Mitigate your greatest risk and drive high performing, thriving teams.