New Zealand’s awareness and desire to address mental health challenges is increasing. WorkSafe will support businesses and organisations to address and support mental health in the workplace.
This includes what can be done to support and maintain good mental health as well as how to avoid work which is harmful to mental health.
Mental health is an important part of the working environment, and organisations have a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to ensure they are providing a workplace which looks after the mental health of staff. Because everyone experiences mental health, every workplace should support mentally healthy work.
WorkSafe has a responsibility to monitor and help improve mental health in the workplace.
WorkSafe has established a Mentally Healthy Work team which will help WorkSafe evolve our capability and capacity and enhance the understanding of employers and workers.
WorkSafe also refers to good mental health practices in the workplace as mentally healthy work. When a business or organisation has committed to and is supporting mentally healthy work, its people thrive.
The way to create a mentally healthy and safe work environment is by being evidence-informed and promoting positive workplace cultures. Mentally healthy work has also been shown to reduce harm to workers – be it mental harm, pain or discomfort, injuries, diseases and illnesses – there are many benefits to mentally healthy work.
Just like establishing and following practices around good safety, each business is likely to have their own unique challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health and wellbeing.
When mental health in the workplace arises as a topic of discussion, people may focus on areas like reducing bullying and harassment, making work fun and enjoyable or having workers learn about resilience and manage their own mental health.
While these are all good actions to take, mentally healthy work as a concept is far broader. Focusing almost entirely on preventing bullying and harassment is more of a reflection of a safety-based approach to mentally healthy work than a work-related health approach.
WorkSafe has identified three key concepts to help businesses and organisations begin to understand this broader reach of mentally healthy work.
Work design is one element of mentally healthy work. Workers who don’t feel they have any input in how their job is created, what their role is, or if they are often working alone or remotely and disconnected, often have poorer mental health than those who fit into the opposite.
Businesses and organisations should consider how they design work to reduce or remove the potential for mental harm.
Work environment is another area to consider. How dangerous are the tasks being carried out and is there a potential for these to cause mental harm? Are there other factors such as poor air quality, high levels of noise, extreme temperatures either high or low?
Relationships are the third concept within this three-step approach. This is often the area where most people are able to readily identify and talk about the potential impact on mental health.
Relationships are about the culture of the organisation as a whole, whether leaders have clear expectations of workers (rather than ambiguous or changing goals and requirements), if there is recognition and reward; not only for a job well done, but for a job done. Is there an appropriate work/life balance where workers can choose themselves whether to do work out of hours – instead of feeling a stress to do so.
There are many ways to improve one or a combination of these aspects of mentally healthy work – whatever type of work is being done. New Zealand’s businesses and organisation can achieve mentally healthy work.