Organisations are not responding to growing exposure to psychosocial risks in the workplace
11 December 2023
11 December 2023
Some of the largest companies and government departments in Australia and the UK are yet to respond to the increasing regulator focus on workplace psychosocial risks, a survey by global law firm Ashurst shows.
Ashurst's inaugural global survey, "Psychosocial and Psychological Risks in the Workplace 2023", reveals eight findings on how organisations are managing psychosocial risks in the workplace. The report found that while there is a rising awareness of how psychological health can impact workers, many employers are still struggling to manage the issue. It also found considerable sector and regional differences in departmental responsibility and definitions as well as differing approaches to addressing psychosocial/psychological risks. Few organisations have taken a wholistic systems-based approach to this area of emerging focus for safety regulators and legislators.
The report compiles the views of senior business leaders from across the FTSE 100, Australia's Top 200 ASX-listed companies, and large government agencies and departments on psychological and psychosocial risks in the workplace.
Early detection of psychosocial risks in the workplace is crucial to managing these risks. Yet nearly 30 per cent of respondents indicated that their organisation does not report in any way to their senior management or board about psychosocial risk. This rate rose to 60 per cent of respondents in Professional Services.
The vast majority of respondents with operations in Australia (80 per cent) considered psychosocial and psychological issues to be a safety issue. By contrast, only 26 per cent of respondents with operations in the UK considered these a safety issue, with the majority considering them an HR issue. Nearly 56 per cent of respondents with primary operations in Australia indicated that their HR and Safety teams work together to manage psychosocial risk, compared to not even 21 per cent of respondents with primary operations in the UK. Results also varied between industries, with more respondents in Professional Services (60 per cent) and Mining/Natural Resources (58 per cent) stating their HR and Safety teams worked together on this issue, compared to 20 per cent of respondents in the Financial Services sector.
The research also identified a heavy reliance on workers to manage their own psychosocial risk in workplace investigations, with 32 per cent of respondents indicating that they rely on staff training in resilient work practices. Furthermore, over 50 per cent of respondents indicated their organisation has taken no steps or "don’t know" what steps have been taken to eliminate or mitigate psychosocial risks associated with misconduct and safety investigations. In addition, only 12 per cent of respondents indicated that they use data analytics and technology to manage psychosocial risk, suggesting most organisations are not getting maximum value and insights from their available data that would help them mitigate these risks.
Meanwhile, 30 per cent of organisations already have a designated Mental Health Officer, Well-Being Officer, or similar role, despite this not being required by legislation or codes of practice in Australia or the UK. This indicates some organisations are choosing to proactively introduce such roles as a control measure to manage psychosocial risks in the workplace.
These findings highlight the significant scope for organisations to better manage workplace psychosocial risks and implement risk assessments for mental health outcomes as part of their workplace health and safety, investigations, and appropriate workplace behaviour policies.
Tony Morris, Risk Advisory partner, said:
"Psychosocial risk is the new frontier of work, health, and safety (WHS) globally, and it's arguably the most challenging area of WHS to manage proactively. While some organisations have completed risk assessments in consultation with their workforce, many challenges remain. This is a change management journey for WHS, not only for organisations but for safety regulators charged with enforcing the law. It will be important for all organisations and industries to get ahead of the change and minimise the risks of psychosocial hazards."
Trent Sebbens, Employment partner, commented:
"Psychosocial risk is not just a WHS issue. HR and WHS teams in all industries globally need to collaborate to effectively manage psychosocial risk in the workplace as a systemic issue. In Australia, psychosocial risk has captured the attention of Governments and regulators, with both safety regulators and discrimination agencies putting efforts into education and enforcement. To meet their duties, employers must be far more proactive about addressing psychosocial risk in workplace investigations and other traditional "HR" areas and place a safety lens on those issues."
Eleanor Reeves, UK Environment and Safety practice lead and partner, added:
"Risk assessments are a cornerstone of effective health and safety risk management, yet many organisations have not assessed psychosocial hazards, leaving the organisations exposed. A key takeaway of this report is the need for greater collaboration and communication between HR and Safety teams in most organisations to support leadership and drive the proactive management of these issues."
This publication is a joint publication from Ashurst Australia and Ashurst Risk Advisory Pty Ltd, which are part of the Ashurst Group.
The Ashurst Group comprises Ashurst LLP, Ashurst Australia and their respective affiliates (including independent local partnerships, companies or other entities) which are authorised to use the name "Ashurst" or describe themselves as being affiliated with Ashurst. Some members of the Ashurst Group are limited liability entities.
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This material is current as at 11 December 2023 but does not take into account any developments to the law after that date. It is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and in practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to, and does not constitute legal advice. The information provided is general in nature, and does not take into account and is not intended to apply to any specific issues or circumstances. Readers should take independent legal advice. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from Ashurst. While we use reasonable skill and care in the preparation of this material, we accept no liability for use of and reliance upon it by any person.