According to research by the World Economic Forum, the last two years have been the most stressful for over 70% of us.[1] Pandemic pressures have led to elevated mental and physical stress and burnout. Harvard Business Review affirms that months and months of higher workloads, hiring freezes, new ways of working, and other pressures have also caused many to rethink their work and life goals.[2] This was the catalyst for the ‘Great Resignation’, a tidal wave of people leaving their roles and pivoting into new jobs globally.

Australia is no exception. Peer-reviewed research has found that almost 80% of study participants reported that their mental health had worsened since the start of the pandemic, with over half saying it had worsened a little, while a quarter said it had deteriorated a great deal.[3] Insights from the 2020-2021 National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing by the Australian Bureau of Statistics supported this. It revealed that 15% of Australians aged 16-85 experienced high or extreme levels of psychological distress; women are more likely to experience these levels (19% compared to 12% of men), and a higher percentage (20%) of the younger age group (16-34 years) is more likely to experience this distress.[4]

In terms of employment, over 10% of the Australian workforce quit their jobs in 2021, which is roughly 1.3 million people, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.[5] This is the highest rate of job change since 2012.

So, what is the solution to these increased levels of stress and job dissatisfaction? A report by the United Nations Development Programme has emphasised that employers now consider the physical and health impacts of the pandemic when reimagining future work models.[6] It’s part of a global movement that emphasises employees’ mental health, and progressive governments and companies are leading the charge.

Your employees’ mental health is a priority for workplace safety

This context provides the motivation for these new Chapter 5A OHS regulations. According to Engage Victoria, these proposed regulations will strengthen occupational health and safety frameworks and will recognise that hazards that pose a risk to psychological health are no less harmful to workers’ safety and wellbeing than physical hazards.[7] They also provide more precise employer guidance on their obligations to protect workers from mental injury. These regulations focus on psychosocial hazards, which are the factors in the design or management of work that increase the risk of work-related stress and can lead to psychological or physical harm.

Currently, WorkSafe Victoria is revising the comments on the proposed amendments, and it’s planned to be released in July. It’s no longer a matter of if but when these new regulations will become official.

How will these new regulations affect your business?

The two most crucial questions here are: how will these new rules affect your business, and what should you do to prepare? All employers will have an enforceable duty to identify and control risks associated with psychosocial hazards. This includes having a written prevention plan and providing regular reports and assessments. It will also require employers to report any complaints of bullying, sexual harassment, unreasonable job demands, aggression, or violence. For all the details of the Chapter 5A OHS regulations, read this story that shares the second exposure draft.

What can you learn from our previous successes?

Productivity Matters has recently helped three large employers in Victoria successfully prepare and adapt to these new regulations. Here are several lessons we learned in future-proofing their companies against these new proposed laws:

  1. There are psychosocial hazards in your business that you’re not aware of.
    We obtained valuable insights across all three projects, and this covered the hazards we predicted along with new ones that we identified for the clients. If companies don’t undergo a rigorous analysis, these hazards will be missed or will only be identified once complaints are made. Here are some examples of critical psychosocial hazards that most companies miss:
  • ineffective systems of work,
  • poor change management,
  • unreasonable job demands,
  • faulty work design,
  • poor supervisor support,
  • a lack of job clarity.

Here is an extended list of possible psychosocial hazards.

  1. You need bespoke risk controls with input from all employees.
    One of the biggest mistakes is when companies only focus on contributions from higher management. It also can’t rely solely on the input of the Workplace Health & Safety teams. By surveying and interviewing a broad cross-section of employees, you’ll uncover more psychosocial risks and create a more thorough prevention plan.
  2. Success relies on higher awareness across the company.
    Like the previous lesson, this process can’t be left solely to the WHS teams; it requires workshops that include representation from all departments and management levels, including the C-suite and executives. The more aware your workforce is, the more likely you are to minimise psychosocial risks.
  3. These processes will provide a return on investment.
    All three clients have reduced the human and financial costs of psychosocial harm or injury and earned the peace of mind that they’re ahead of the curve.

What are the benefits of making your employee mental health a priority?
Having healthier, happier employees will always be the greatest motivation, but there are other potential benefits in supporting the mental health of your workers.[8] Here’s a breakdown of some data collected from SafeWork Australia and WorkSafe Victoria, along with other sources:

  1. It can improve workplace productivity.
    Research shows that nearly 86% of employees treated for depression report improved work performance. Treatment of depression has also been shown to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism by 40 to 60%.[9] According to the World Health Organisation, depression and anxiety are estimated to cost the global economy US $1trillion in lost p