In recent years, there has been extensive education around mental health, coupled with an increase in obligations on employers to protect their staff from these types of risks. Employers who fail to prioritise the mental health of their staff, expose themselves to legal and reputational consequences. For instance in a recent case, a government office in Victoria faced a $380,000 penalty for failing to protect its staff from a toxic workplace culture.
Identifying a workplace’s specific psychosocial risks is not easy. It not only requires research and evidence to inform decision making, but sometimes brave decisions by leaders when their managers are not acting on information they receive about risks, or in fact when that manager themselves is the problem. Creating a safe workplace requires vigilance, empathy, and action from its leaders.
Drawing on our experience in assisting employers, the risks that we most commonly observe include:
- Poor managerial behaviours – Managers play a pivotal role in shaping the work environment. So when they display behaviours such as micromanagement, aggression, or a lack of empathy (e.g. “gaslighting”), it can severely affect a team’s morale and an individual’s confidence.
- General toxic work environment – A toxic workplace culture is created when leaders turn a blind eye to poor managerial behaviour, don’t act on complaints, or don’t take action, even if they are on notice about problematic behaviours. Inaction can lead to stress, fear, and anxiety among staff. The consequence is a revolving door of people leaving the organisation, excessive leave and reputational damage.
- Unrealistic work expectations – This arises when an organisation is not clear on its strategy, or is subjected to under-resourcing or unmanageable external demands (commercial, regulatory or the like). The impact on staff can be excessive workloads and pressure to achieve ambitious/unrealistic goals without adequate support, and mixed messages about role expectations. All these pressures can lead to adverse impacts including psychological distress.
We remind our readers of some of the approaches and strategies to effectively safeguard your workforce from psychosocial risks:
- Culture: Cultivate a workplace culture built on trust, respect, and open communication. Encourage staff to support one another and prioritise mental well-being and escalate their concerns.
- Open communication: Regularly engage with staff to identify and address psychosocial risks. Create mechanisms for them to provide input on workplace improvements. By encouraging open communication, you can identify issues early and take appropriate action.
- Policies and procedures: Develop policies/procedures/guidelines for identifying, reporting and responding to psychosocial risks. Ensure that these policies are clear, accessible, and consistently enforced. These should also include avenues for making complaints, and strong anti-victimisation provisions.
- Workload management: Ensure that staff have realistic workloads and adequate resources to manage their responsibilities.
- Leadership skills: Provide training and support for managers to enhance their ability to support staff well-being.
- Training: Managers who have bullying or micromanagement tendencies should be identified early, so they can be supported with appropriate training and coaching. Where someone is not coachable or struggles to work in a way that is consistent with the organisation’s values/code/expectations, then this should lead to a broader conversation about whether they are suitable for their role or that organisation. Meanwhile, staff members should receive training about how to recognise and report negative behaviours and be reassured they can do so without fear of reprisal.
Employers in Australia have a positive duty to maintain a work environment free from psychological hazards. Safety regulators will prosecute workplaces where there is evidence of psychosocial risk. As a result, employers should be satisfied that they have robust controls and strategies in place to proactively prevent or mitigate these risks.
The table below outlines the principal obligations and guidelines for each jurisdiction:
| Legislation/guidance material
- Recent amendments to the Model Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 (Cth), which includes sections 55A, 55B, 55C and 55D on Psychosocial Risks.
- Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work.
|New South Wales
- Recent amendments to the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2022 (Tas), which includes sections 55A, 55B, 55C and 55D on Psychosocial Risks.
|Australia Capital Territory
- Recent amendments to the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Regulations 2011, which includes sections 55A, 55B, 55C and 55D on Psychosocial Risks.
How Justitia can help
If you are looking for guidance on identifying/addressing psychosocial risks in your organisation, training your staff, investigating a complaint, or conducting a workplace review, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.