With the new psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice enshrined into law, now is the time for employers to reconsider their approach to psychosocial risk. Here’s how one organisation is approaching the issue with the mindset that prevention is better than cure.
With poor mental health estimated to cost the Australian economy around $70 billion annually, and workers comp claims related to mental health expected to triple by 2030, employers are being encouraged to see the positives in the new Code of Practice relating to psychosocial hazards in the workplace.
The new Code may seem like yet another change for HR to manage, following the slew of new industrial relations requirements, but for Mirvac it’s a catalyst for ongoing positive change.
The company’s Group Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Manager – Strategy and Wellbeing, Amanda Clements, suggests that “it’s an incredible opportunity to work collaboratively to address and prevent harm and improve people’s wellbeing.”
While psychological health has always been a component of workplace regulation, Clements says that, historically, some employers focused on dealing with events such as bullying, harassment, or aggression towards an employee, if and when a concern was raised.
But that’s about to change. With the recent regulations and supporting Codes, there is also now an emphasis on employers to not only show positive intent and seek out where such risks might manifest in the workplace, but also expand the organisational awareness of all workplace factors that can be hazardous to people’s mental health.
Common hazards include high job demands, low job control, poor support and lack of role clarity.
Read HRM’s article on the three types of burnout.
In response to these changes, and aligned with how Mirvac is responding, Clements says it’s imperative to continue to adopt a whole business approach.
“Leaders need to understand the potential impact of business decisions on employees and health and safety, and HR teams need to proactively support leaders and employees as they navigate these new paradigms,” she says.
A three-pronged approach
Mirvac has been preparing for the regulatory changes since the first Code of Practice in NSW came out in 2021. The Board was briefed by an external workplace psychologist, a wellbeing strategy was devised, and new resources were added to assist with implementation.
Clements says there are three elements underpinning Mirvac’s integrated strategy, based on the latest evidence on what creates a psychologically healthy and safe workplace:
- Mitigate stressors: identify and reduce workplace risk factors, as well as provide support when people have compromised mental health.
- Build organisational resilience: equip leaders to create positive team climates and upskill functional teams such as HR and H&S to support the organisation.
- Promote thriving: Increase the protective factors such as belonging, growth and development opportunities.
“Promote thriving is really interesting and there’s quite a bit of debate going on around that due to the legislation focusing on reducing harm,” she says. “It’s critical to understand that enhancing the protective factors can mitigate the effects of the risk factors, hence the importance of taking an integrated approach.
“Companies have done a lot of things over time that might sound and look good but aren’t actually improving people’s mental health.” – Amanda Clements, Group Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Manager – Strategy and Wellbeing, Mirvac
“Mirvac was already doing a lot of good things in that space, building connections and driving greater purpose in our work, so we’ve got a really good link between the work people do and the actual impact of that in the world.”
As an example, Clements points to Mirvac’s vision of reimagining urban life – not just building buildings but creating communities and focusing on social impact. For example, staff recently spent the day volunteering for local community groups and charities.
“In turn that has a positive impact on not only members of the community but our employees as well.”
Opportunities to strengthen the strategy
Opportunities to enhance wellbeing further are built into an employee’s journey at Mirvac, from face-to-face onboarding sessions where the vision and support structures are explained, through to a range of programs aimed at various levels, job categories and teams.
This includes a leadership program integrating foundational knowledge about psychological health and safety with the practicalities of what they can do to care for themselves and others.
Read HRM’s article on the importance of supporting leaders’ mental health.
There are also team-based workshops, facilitated by professional workplace psychologists, which aim to understand the highest risk each team is exposed to, and create an action plan to address it.
While the issues that arise are specific to each team, Clements hopes that key themes will emerge that can eventually be tackled at an organisational level.
“The teams are learning what protective factors are in place, or could be in place, to support them through work challenges. That includes leadership support and providing teams with the tools they need to redesign their work so it’s better for them,” she says.
Just as important as facilitating wellbeing programs is tracking their effectiveness. Mirvac takes a multi-dimensional approach. Qualitatively, it runs pilot programs and receives direct feedback from participants about whether they were able to make any improvements in their work as a result.
“Quantitatively, there are many data sources that can be used to assess how we are doing. By way of an example, a pilot the team is running allows real-time tracking of risk levels in a team. This includes a monthly wellbeing check-in and an annual risk assessment,” says Clements.
Seek expert advice
For companies that are newer to creating benchmarks to track the success of a wellbeing program, Clements says to assess your existing data to inform the areas to focus. Information such as engagement surveys and exit interviews can be assessed for insights and to pinpoint areas across the business where your energy is best spent addressing risks.
Companies ramping up their response to psychosocial hazards should also get expert advice, says Clements.
“It’s important to partner with the right external workplace psychologists otherwise you could find yourself going down an unintended path.
“Hand in hand with that is leveraging what the evidence says works, because companies have done a lot of things over time that might sound and look good but aren’t actually improving people’s mental health.”
Clements and Mirvac’s Group General Manager Health, Safety & Environment, and Brian Long, will share their approach to addressing workplace risks to psychological health during an AHRI webinar on May 3. Sign up now!