Promote, protect, and prevent:
Mental health in the workplace takes two big steps forward this Mental Health Month
The business case for investing in wellbeing and mental health at work has become even stronger this month, with two major guideline and regulatory changes occurring that are designed to promote and protect mental health in the workplace.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) released the Global Guidelines for Mental Health at Work, while the New South Wales government enacted NSW Work Health and Safety Amendment Regulation 2022 to explicitly include the management of psychosocial hazards and risks as a legal requirement from 1st October 2022. Other state governments will follow with legislative change later this year, based on the Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) national model regulations updated by Safe Work in April this year.
"Mental health is an incredible asset that we all have, and we bring with us to work each day. When we are not mentally well, or we experience psychological harm, it can have a serious negative impact on the individual, team and workplace involved. Furthermore, mental ill health costs our economy billions of dollars, largely due to lost productivity," explains Nicole Rogerson, Chief Executive Officer of The Oranges Toolkit.
"Unlike physical injury and illness, mental health conditions can be less visible, particularly in the workplace. The new World Health Organisation guidelines and our local Safe Work legislative changes are fantastic as they elevate the focus on mental health promotion and prevention in the workplace," she continues.
"Beyond productivity improvements from investing in employee wellbeing, there is now a stronger legal requirement for organisations to actively support the mental health of their workforces.
In this tight labour market, employees are going to choose employers who invest in systems and programs that promote and protect their mental health and wellbeing. This is no longer a nice-to-have - it's a must," says Nicole.
What do people and safety leaders need to know?
For people and culture, wellbeing, health and safety leaders, these positive sector-wide changes will help them to elevate awareness, attention, and action in the areas of employee wellbeing and mental health.
Like to know more? See below for a snapshot summary of key points, useful links and five practical tips to support organisations to take necessary action.
A snapshot of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Mental Health at Work guidelines:
Globally, 15-20% of people are experiencing mental ill health. This is a serious concern and priority for governments and businesses to address.
- The WHO suggests that all workers have a right to the highest attainable standard of mental health at work, regardless of their type of employment.
- People experiencing mental ill health, with the right workplace systems and support, are able to thrive and contribute productively to workplaces and the economy.
- The guidelines are evidence-based and organisations are encouraged to prevent, protect and promote the mental health of their workers.
- Recommendations include organisational interventions, manager training (supporting mental health at work) and worker training (mental health literacy and awareness), individual interventions, return to work programs, and supporting people with mental health conditions to gain employment.
Managers and workers must be trained and equipped with tools and systems that open dialogue about mental health, offer compassion and support, with flexibility to allow people to actively manage their mental health and wellbeing at work.
A snapshot of the legislation changes around Work Health and Safety:
Safe Work Australia released new Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) national model regulations in April this year, relating to psychosocial health and safety.
- Psychosocial hazards or risks include anything in the workplace that can potentially cause psychological harm. It includes the way we work, the tools we use, the culture of the organisation. Watch this short video to learn more about psychosocial risks and hazards.
- Previously, psychological health was incorporated in general health and safety, now it is explicitly defined.
- Organisations have a primary duty of care requiring persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the health and safety of workers and others who may be affected by the carrying out of work. This includes managing psychosocial hazards.
- NSW is the first state to enact the legislation on 1st October 2022 and other states will follow soon.
- Safe Work Australia published a comprehensive Model Code of Practice: Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work in July to support organisations to follow the regulations and make necessary changes.
For decades, health (including psychological health) has been included in the workplace health and safety (WHS) regulations, however these changes will provide clearer guidance to employers on how to identify and control risks, to protect workers from mental injury. Importantly, the changes recognise that psychosocial risks and hazards are just as important to employee health and safety as physical hazards.
Together, these two big steps forward will elevate the focus on mental health, reduce stigma, and improve outcomes in workplaces.
What should safety and wellbeing leaders be doing?
To ensure compliance and support of employee health, safety and wellbeing, People and Culture (P&C) and Work Health and Safety (WHS) leaders need to work closer than ever before and ensuring that they adequately consult with employees across their organisation. If you don't already have a cross-functional wellbeing and mental health committee established already, now is the time to set one up!
In case you're not sure where to start from here, below are five practical steps you may wish to consider taking.
Five steps to promote and protect mental health at work:
- Be informed and build awareness of the current guidelines and regulations around psychological health and safety in your state. Actively communicate how this affects your organisation, particularly to senior leadership to ensure they're aware of any significant opportunities or risks you may identify.
- Assess the risks to mental health and wellbeing in your organisation. Alongside reviewing employee data and feedback from your engagement and wellbeing surveys, you may wish to consider conducting a psychosocial risk assessment of your workforce. We recommend the free, validated and benchmarked People at Work survey.
- Update your business case for investing in wellbeing and mental health at work. If you don’t have adequate funding for your programs and people, create a case that demonstrates the positive impact of investment, and the risk of not complying or preparing for the legislative changes around managing psychosocial hazards. We’ve updated our business case template to make this easier - simply complete the form below to download the document.
- Regularly report the findings and outcomes as you monitor and make progress against your plan. Ensure your executive and board members are reviewing psychosocial risk indicators (such as turnover, bullying reports, workers compensation claims) and employee engagement and culture data on at least a quarterly basis.
- Train your people to build their mental health and wellbeing literacy. Emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned and is a particularly important skill for managers. The Oranges Toolkit's Leading Mentally Healthy Teams program could be a great place to start.
If you'd like further support to promote positive wellbeing and mental health in your workplace, please get in touch. The Oranges Toolkit offers a range of science-based workplace wellbeing programs to build mental and emotional agility, with practical tools that can be used immediately to boost wellbeing.
Seek help when it's needed
Remember there is help all around. If you or someone you know needs extra support, we recommend contacting your workplace Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a qualified health practitioner, or:
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
- Visit Head to Health for a directory of mental health care providers and COVID-19 support.