Why is the mental wellbeing of workers our responsibility?

By NZISM Secretary


Kia ora koutou members and supporters of NZISM,
A common question asked by business owners and leaders, often from genuine curiosity, is ‘why is mental health and wellbeing of workers our responsibility?’
The short answer is, in New Zealand, workplace health and safety encompasses not only physical risks but also psychosocial risks. And that a person conducting a business or undertaking is required to ensure the safety of their employees, protect both their physical and mental health and manage risks arising from exposure to hazards at work. Hence the importance of considering psychosocial risks that can impact worker wellbeing.

Understanding the relationship between psychosocial hazards, their risks, and wellbeing is essential for creating a healthy and supportive work environment. Anyone talking to me knows I’m fond of a good standard and ISO 45003:2021 Occupational health and safety management — Psychological health and safety at work — Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks is a great resource when starting to look at psychosocial hazards and risks.

Last month, Umbrella released their wellbeing report, Navigating Workload and Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s a pragmatic read, borne out of a Wellbeing Assessment undertaken in 2022, which surveyed 7,000 working New Zealanders. The report noted that 43% of respondents have to neglect some of their work tasks because they have too much to do and 44% of respondents work very intensively to meet work deadlines. Unsurprisingly, they report that those with consistently high workloads are more likely to intend to leave their position in six months. Inconsistent or unpredictable workloads are a psychosocial risk factor that impact on workplace wellbeing, one which is challenging to address. Not to mention workplace stress, bullying, work-related violence, and poor work-life balance.

Employers in New Zealand have a vested interest in prioritising, identifying and addressing psychosocial hazards and their risks. By understanding and addressing them, leaders can create a safer and healthier work environment and as a result, support worker wellbeing, enhance productivity and performance, and importantly in these times, retain talent. This is an area of practice that is likely to grow - equipping employers and leaders with the knowledge and skills to recognise and address psychosocial hazards and their risks is essential.

Conducting regular risk assessments that consistently include consideration of psychosocial hazards and risks will integrate this into day-to-day practice. Allowing organisations to implement preventive measures and develop strategies (using the hierarchy of controls) to reduce the risk, rather than simply reacting to harm.

If you are interested in this area and looking for some tools to assist in risk assessment, NZISM and Umbrella are currently running a series of Psychosocial Risk workshops around the motu. We've got sales open (member and non-member tickets) for workshops in Manawatu, Waikato, Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, Northland, and Taranaki. Dates will be announced later in the year for Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, and Top of the South.

Ngā mihi,

Robyn Bennett

NZISM President