Emotions at work feature heavily in the new Psychosocial Safety Legislation adding hard to manage legal responsibilities to Directors

Behaviours that arise in a business: violence and aggression, bullying, harassment including sexual harassment due to power imbalances, conflict, or poor workplace relationships as well as lower level (but still harmful) interactions and behaviours like name-calling, spreading rumours, rudeness, teasing, sexual or gendered jokes, swearing and crude language all pose psychosocial hazards covered by new laws. Directors are now responsible for any worker’s claims arising from unacceptable behaviours and traumatic events in the workplace.

A recent Victorian case illustrates the key issues that can arise in such matters. In this case, Court Services Victoria was convicted and fined nearly $380,000 for its failure to properly identify and assess risks in relation to the psychological wellbeing of employees, contributing to a toxic workplace culture that led to the suicide of a lawyer and the stress leave of several other workers. The fine issued was the maximum penalty the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria could impose, with the Magistrate stating he would have issued a harsher penalty if possible.

It’s not hard to understand the rising focus on psychosocial safety. South Australia introduced the Work Health and Safety (Psychosocial Risks) Amendment Regulations 2023, on Christmas Day.

Workplace mental health conditions are one of the costliest forms of workplace injury, at an average cost more than $55,000 per claim and over 30 weeks median time lost. In 2020-21, there were 12,155 mental health claims, increasing to 9.3% of all claims. In the same year, there were 130,000 physical injuries, averaging around $15,000 in costs and 7 weeks median lost time.

Managing the risks associated with psychosocial hazards, building interpersonal relationships across the teams, not only protects workers, but it also decreases the disruption associated with staff turnover and absenteeism, and may improve broader organisational performance and productivity. The costs of absenteeism and presenteeism is currently estimated to cost the Australian economy $39billlion per annum. And, it is estimated that for every $1 spent on mental health training the return on investment is $2.30.

Zone Culture’s behaviour change programs help protect a business against key psychosocial hazards highlighted in Safework Australia’s 54-page Code of Practice. Some examples where emotion management training would help lower risk include:

  • Poor worker support – for tasks or jobs where workers have inadequate support including practical assistance and emotional support from managers and colleagues, or inadequate training, tools, and resources for a task. Workplaces dealing with high levels of competition between employees, lack of security, cooperation or collaboration also have greater risk
  • Inadequate reward and recognition – jobs with low positive feedback or imbalances between effort and recognition or a high level of negative feedback from managers or customers

Inexperienced workers may be at greater risk because they may not identify the hazards or have the confidence to report them; so, providing training, support and supervision is vital. Another example is job demands which require de-escalating an aggressive situation and managing other’s emotions or dealing with as frequent disagreements, disparaging or rude comments, either from one person or multiple people, including customers.

Managers and Supervisors who have a role in implementing workplace policies on addressing harmful behaviours must be provided with the training to ensure safety – should they witness, experience, or have a worker approach them about violence or aggression, bullying or sexual harassment etc at work.

According to leading work health and safety consultants, none of the many psychosocial hazards covered in the 54-page Code of Practice, published by Safework Australia are standalone, and nothing is going to change without a focus on developing culture and leadership. A focus on culture will translate into improving the back-end operations, giving rise to invaluable upside benefits when employees are emotionally accountable.

Follow Zone Culture on LinkedIn to stay up to date: https://www.linkedin.com/company/6644425/