Former Olympic gold medallist, small business owner and psychological health champion Hayley Lewis hosted a thought-provoking discussion about the changing legislative landscape for psychological health and what this means for building the drive for change.
She was joined by Dr Peta Miller, Dr Kirsten Way, Senior Lecturer and Program Director at UQ and Sam Popple, Director of the Psychological Health Unit at Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.
A must watch for work health and safety professionals!
Hi everyone and welcome to a special presentation from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland talking about the changing landscape of psychological health and safety.
I'm Hayley Lewis, and I'm thrilled to be here today, chatting with three very interesting and lovely ladies who together bring a collective 90 plus years of experience working in the psychological safety space.
Firstly, I'd like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to the Elders past, present and emerging. I'd like to extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples watching today.
Well, during your career, it is highly likely you will work with or manage someone with a mental health condition whether you know it or not. In fact, one in five Australians experience a mental health condition in any year and one in two Australians will experience a mental health condition in a lifetime.
The importance of mental health and wellbeing, mentally healthy workplaces, and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness can not be overstated. And it's something I'm extremely passionate about.
In today's presentation, we will discuss the changing legislative landscape and consider the retrospective now and future perspectives as well as draw on each of our speakers industry experiences to talk about their regulatory past experiences and what has led them to where we are now. So, let me introduce our speakers for today. Joining us from Canberra, we welcome Dr. Peta Miller.
Peta has over 30 years experience across the public and private sectors in work health and safety, and workers compensation. She has worked as a senior manager of policy and research teams developing major national initiatives as a consulting ergonomist, researcher and academic. She is passionate about working collaboratively to improve the work health and safety of all Australians and using evidence to inform the development of robust national policy and practice. Welcome, Peta.
Dr. Kirsten Way, Senior Lecturer and Program Director at the Center for Business and Organisational Psychology at UQ where she conducts research on safety, the role of supervisors in conflict, psychosocial hazards, occupational stress, fatigue, injury management, and occupational health and wellbeing. Phew.
She has provided expertise to the Australian and UK governments to assist in the development of both the New South Wales Mentally Healthy Workplaces benchmarking tool and the New South Wales Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy 2018 to 2022, and has also contributed to writing both the Workplace Harassment Code of Practice for Queensland and the national guidance on work-related psychological health and safety. Welcome to Kirsten.
Sam Popple, Director of the Psychological Health Unit at Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, a registered psychologist and registered nurse. Sam commenced with WHSQ in 2019 following research into the regulation of psychosocial hazards, in particular how psychosocial hazards are prioritized and managed compared to other hazards.
The Psychological Health Unit implements employer strategies to reduce the risk of work-related injuries associated with psychosocial hazards, including work-related stress, bullying, violence and aggression, and fatigue. Welcome also to Sam.
Well you've all worked in the area of psychological health and safety during your careers. Can you, and we might start with you, Sam, can you share with us an insight into your background and maybe what it's like to work in the area of psychological health and safety at the beginning of your careers?
Thanks, Hayley. Well, I'm a relatively new convert to psychological health and work health and safety because I come with a background career in nursing and intensive care nursing. So, I retrained as a psychologist and chose to go down the organisational psychology pathway and then transferred over to work health and safety actually in my thesis year where I did my thesis with Kirsten, and Kirsten was introducing me to all this area here.
As a career in intensive care, it became really apparent to me that the way that people work together is just vitally important. At the time, I was thinking of it in terms of patient safety and thinking about how people treat each other with respect or disrespect can actually make a difference on patient outcomes.
But actually it affects everybody. It affects workers, patients, the whole organisation, and we know that organisations suffer as a result. So, I find that this area is an area that we can just make such a huge difference in, and knowing that psychological health and this greater understanding of psychological health is going to make a huge impact on society more broadly.
And Kirsten to you as well, can you share with us an insight into your background and what it was like to work in the area of psychological health at the beginning of your career?
Yeah, so I started in about '95 as a graduate for the health and safety regulator. And while I was working in a human factors and ergonomics role as an inspector there, we were starting to get complaints in from industry about these hazards. And I remember going and speaking to one of the regional directors saying, "What do we do with these complaints?" And they said, "It's not within the scope of the Health and Safety Legislation." They didn't say, "Throw them in the bin," but they said , "We can't... No further action. It's just not within scope." So that's where we started.
That's only what 25 years ago that they were saying, "It's not a workplace issue, it's a personal health issue. It's something that's the responsibility of workers and nothing to do with work." Well, how far we've come. Thank goodness. And so there was no resources at all for work-related psychological injury and probably in about 2000 was when I was appointed, 'cause I was one of the few people in the regulator at that point that had psych training as a psychologist. And so they appointed me as a project officer, one person, to try and solve this problem of psychological injury in workplaces across Queensland. And from there it just grew.
So from about 2004, we started writing, we were the first regulator to have a Code Of Practice for Harassment, and then, yeah, it's just grown and grown from there. We built a program of work where we wanted to help industry understand the hazards and understand the risks before we then... At that stage, we were having a staged approach to being able to enforce it with industry. And we recognised early on that one of the things that was missing was an ability to measure psychosocial hazards.
And that's where many people out there may be familiar with the People at Work risk assessment tool, psychological risk assessment tool. And that's the genesis of that work where very early on we thought, "Well, we can't ask industry to manage this risk if they can't measure the severity and likelihood of harm occurring." So that was a piece of work that came out of that as well. And it's just very different now. I think in those early days, it was very much a research push.
So like I was aware of the evidence and many people in academia were aware of the evidence of the risk of harm, but industry wasn't. So it was very much trying to push the awareness out. And I feel like now we're happily in a place where there's a lot of industry pull. Industry is saying, "We recognize this as something we need to do something about, and please, can you help us understand how best to do that?" So that's a nice place to be 25 years later. It's been a quick change relatively, I think. Yeah.
And do you put that down to the awareness of mental health, obviously, that has come about since, or compared to when you first started to now? We can obviously see in the media and that push for mental health related issues to be at the forefront of society's mind. Do you think that has a lot to do with businesses and corporations needing to get on board?
Yeah, I think it's a combination of things. I think that evidence is stronger and stronger and more and more difficult to refute, which is a good thing. I think many businesses, many individual line managers have lived experiences of the challenges of either having challenges themselves with anxiety or depression or managing a staff member or managing return to work contexts or a team conflict associated with some of these hazards, performance management associated with some of these hazards. So I think the challenge of doing this well is something that's driven industry to want to know more and wanna be better at it.
And Peta, we might go to you. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and where you started and how you think things are going now?
Well, I'm the old lady in the room because I started, I hate, maybe in the late 70s, which was what? And I'm gonna talk a little bit about this later. I think about Hale and Hovden call the third age of safety and kind of tapping into what Kirsten said. I wanted to share an incident that happened 20 years ago when I was working for the then National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, which was the predecessor of Safe Work Australia, which kind of draws on the attitudes that Kirsten was talking about. I was actually charged, I was a senior researcher in the Research and Evaluation team, with running what was then the first National Symposium on Work-related Stress. Now, as Kirsten said, the literature has been around on work-related stress since forever.
In fact, you know the Whitehall study in a 1980s, but it was so appalled some of the employer groups that they actually wrote to the minister and asked for it to be cancelled because there was no such thing as stress. It was just weak workers not kinda wanting to pull their weight and flinging it on. But fortunately, we went ahead anyway, and it was all a bit of a shock to me as a bright-eyed new public servant when one of the employer representatives grabbed the mic off the facilitator and said, "Stress is a myth" and staged a walkout.
So that was pretty alarming for me. Fortunately, the rest of the participants, including some of the leading academics and industry stakeholders and union stayed in the room, stayed the course and developed what was to become a really important NOS document, which in fact laid the ground work for work-related stress and mental disorders to be included in the first National Strategy. And then the subsequent National Strategy. And roll along nearly 20 years later, I had the pleasure of working with some wonderful employer representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Australia Industry Group and the Union Movement to actually create the national guidance on work-related psychological health and safety, a systematic guide to meeting your duties, which laid the ground work for in fact, the New South Wales Model Code, which was released fantastically this year. I had the pleasure of working on that and of course so is laying the groundwork for a lot of the national and in Queensland discussions on Model Codes. So how far we've come.
Yeah, absolutely, Peta. Thank you for that. And back to you, Sam. If you could look back to where you've come from, when you first started to where you are now, if you had to pinpoint one thing that was a big, has been a big challenge over that time, what would you suggest that might be for you?
I think for me coming into this as a second career, it feels very much like I'm building off the shoulders of giants. There's a whole raft of people and academics, professionals who have been really passionate about this area. And I think Kirsten and Peta both spoke to being taken seriously in this space, understanding that this is a real effect. This is a real thing.
And I am fortunate to really be at a stage now where there is a general understanding that this is an issue, and this is something that we should do, we should do something about. And so for me, it's the expectation now of people understanding that there is something that needs to be done, but what is it that they need to do? How does that look day to day? What does compliance look like for them?
And Kirsten, do you feel the same way? Do you think people are starting to take notice that they need to put things into place in the workplace?
Yeah, absolutely. I think there's probably been too... Just thinking about this now, there's probably been two major shifts. Like one was the almost like industry and community tsunami of interest and commitment to wanting to do something about mental health generally. Almost like an understanding of the base level prevalence of mental health disorders and how that can spill over into the workplace. And with that came almost like an individual focus where lots of the efforts by employers were around Employee Assistance Programs, resilience programs, all those kinds of things focusing on bolstering worker coping.
So that created a real challenge for a long part of my career, a long part of careers of people like Peta and others who've worked in the space where they've been trying to help workplaces understand the work design implications and the higher order controls and trying to lift their gaze above this focus on individual worker coping.
So there was that massive mental health is a problem. And that brought a whole crowd of people into the space that we're all very much focused on individuals. And I think we've had a second wave that's happening right now that's associated with all these developments around better defining the work contribution to mental health. And we've been trying to do that for a long time, but it seems to be coming to a fruition finally now with a whole heap of things around the national workplace initiative, the People at Work risk assessment tool, the Australian Institute of Health & Safety have a position statement that defines things.
I think even simply the fact that lots of the national guides and codes of practices are talking about psychosocial hazards versus mental health automatically changes the focus to the work characteristics that are creating the harm. So to me, they're probably the two biggest changes. Yeah. So that's a good thing, I think. It's kind of scooped it back to be a bit more balanced.
Yeah, that's good. And Peta, to you. Can you add to anything that the ladies here have talked about in terms of challenges? What do you see as, if you had to pinpoint one, what would you suggest?
Look, roll on legal clarity and I'm sure that Sam as representing the regulator will talk about that, but I'm gonna put a challenge out there too. Sorry, Sam, to put you in this, but once we have that legal... Of course the duty already exists under the law. Most people didn't get that. So there was already a duty to protect psychological health, but employers were repeatedly saying, "Look, we're not really clear on how to do it. Those codes and potentially a regulation and the great guides and the People at Work resources will make that clearer."
But I'm gonna say, until there's some prosecutions, we won't get employers' attention, until there's some really serious drives taken to actually prosecute people for breaches in maintaining people's health and safety. But I think there's some positives that are happening too. And one of the things that I'm really mindful of and aware of is the push by investors and supply chain participants, sometimes driven by fear of potential future legal litigation around liability or shared responsibilities, duty of care.
But yeah also positively around wanting to demonstrate corporate responsibility, saying, "Look, the community expects we will be doing something about this and they're gonna be making choices about where they invest, where they work." So I think that'll drive some changes, but unfortunately as much as there are pushes towards positive behaviour, we can also see a whole lot of things that are pulling us back, and that's fear by employers that, "This is gonna send me broke." Or even members of the public doing, behaving appallingly, and despite saying they don't want their own wife or husband or themselves harmed at work, being prepared to abuse first responders or people answering call centers. So, we've got some good news, but we've also got some real challenges still.
Well, it does sound like we've got some work to do. And Sam, we might go to you. Can you talk about the role of the regulator based on what Peta has just added?
Yeah thanks, Haley. That's an interesting part. We're all swimming in the same pond of trying to mitigate the risks for psychological harm, but there's a very clear role for the regulator in this. I think psychological harm or the ways that industry and organisations manage psychological harm. We know that there's a lot of organisations doing very, very good jobs, really doing the best practice and showing the way forward and how this can be managed, not just for the health and safety of their workers, but also that there are actually a productivity gains in that as well. But then we've got the whole spectrum of organisations who there are some who are not able or not willing to be able to think about psychological health and safety.
And really that's about the role of the regulator in trying to promote what that industry standard looks like, what that minimum standard looks like to be able to comply with the legislation that Peta talked about. I think it's also important to remember that psychological health and safety is applicable to every industry and every organisation. And the harm profile for that can look different. It can look different in healthcare, for instance, and it can to retail.
And so I think it's part of the role of the regulator to actually try and demonstrate what that harm, psychological harm, can look like. And then what are the things that people can do to be able to manage that? And what are the tools that they can use? Kirsten talked about the People at Work tool earlier, which is just such a fantastic game changer in this space for any organisation to be able to go onto the digital platform and be able to use a validated and evidence-based psychosocial risk assessment tool to really understand what their issues look like, because it's really important that they build controls around what they think or what they find is happening in their organisation at the time.
So for us as a regulator, it's about making these tools available to industry, describing what the harm looks like and then also, as Peta said, making sure that people are complying with their duties in ensuring that workplaces are psychologically health and safe. And Kirsten mentioned before that we've got the second wave, really, of understanding that the role that organisations have in providing a workplace that's healthy and safe from a psychological perspective. But we have a number of like movements both at the national and at the state level that are really driving that as well.
So the Productivity Commission released a report, a mental health inquiry last year, where they really described how financially devastating it is to society when we don't pay attention to mental health more broadly, but mental health at work as well. And they actually described that the cost of this is in the billions. So we have a huge opportunity here to be able to enhance the way Australian society works and functions. And the productivity commission have been a big driver for that. So Marie Boland was instrumental a couple of years ago in actually looking at the Work Health and Safety model laws and really defining that psychological health is actually a priority.
And in that she actually stated that it was important that we elevate the legislative tools to be able to build psychological health and safety regulations, so the industries and organisations understand what they need to do to be able to comply with the law. And of course, they've had the recent Respect at Work report that Kate Jenkins has brought out that's really highlighted the prevalence in nature of sexual harassment at work and the need to do something in this space and providing healthy and safe workplaces for women and men at work.
On a more local level, we have the Queensland Mental Health Commission that is really driving the importance of mental health and the shifting mind strategy that they have and underpinning that the Every life suicide prevention plan which is highlighting the need to be able to address suicide both at a Queensland level and at a national level. This is something that the Productivity Commission has also highlighted.
And Peta and Kirsten, we might also get your perspectives. What do you think the current drivers for change are? Kirsten?
Well, I think happily the evidence is really starting to be strong. So just this year, for example, there's a big meta-review. So you might be familiar with the term meta-analysis where they get a whole heap of individual articles and statistically put them together to give a pooled estimate of effect sizes. And so in this instance, between work-related hazards and a whole heap of health outcomes. Well, this study was a meta-review.
So what they did, and I think it's for a long time gonna be the go-to because it really tries to collate all the evidence in this space in one paper. So they collected 72, I think, it was meta-analyses and then combined them together. And in this one paper, they look at a range of work-related psychosocial hazards and a whole heap of health outcomes and provide a meta-review of those. So they look at cardiovascular health strokes, a whole range of mental health conditions, obesity, smoking, alcohol, pregnancy effects, a whole range of cancers, sleep disorders. And that's not even, I'm not even covering them all. But what they found was that the significant effect on many of those things, across many, many studies.
So I think 72 studies and each of those studies on average looked at 20 studies. So you're looking at 1400 studies across these things. So they found a strongest significant effect for mental health disorders followed by cardiovascular disease and strokes, with the biggest impacts of exposure to work-related psychosocial hazards and these health outcomes. But a whole heap of those other health outcomes as well.
So evidence is getting harder and harder for anyone to refute or go back to those historical things that we used to say that this is not a work-related, but we used to hear that this is not a work-related hazard and it gives some real targeted areas for intervention as well. The other big change and big impetus for change has been some evolution in the design of work that has been happening anyway, but has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
So issues like work intensification, psychological contract breach, the importance of autonomy and the importance of connectedness in the workplace have all been highlighted by the pandemic. And I'd like to talk about that in a bit more detail. So when I'm talking about psychological contract breach, I think what the pandemic has done has thrown this situation at the world where employers have been asked to almost provide and care and show their concern for their workers in a way that's never been expected of them before. And some employers have had the capacity and will to be able to step up and provide that support and others haven't.
So whether it's part of the actual written employment contract or not and it isn't, it's certainly something that is part of the psychological contract. So employees have an expectation that if they provide their labor and their hard work over many, many years, that in return, their employer will look after them. And the pandemic has created challenges about whether that has been able to happen or not. There's been a recent Gallup poll... No, sorry, it was the Deloitte Human Capital report that's looking at the employee/employer relationship. And one of the titles is, "If we're not family, what are we?" And what they found and what they reported was a number of things that have happened during the pandemic.
So they call on a Harvard Business Review paper that found that 89% of workers said that their work life has gotten worse. 85% said that their wellbeing has gotten worse. And 56% said that their job demands had gotten stronger. So this real work intensification that's highlighted by the pandemic combined with in many workplaces employees feeling like their employer has let them down or not being there to have their back, and that's not a judgment. Many of them have been in challenging situations, anyway, that have meant they haven't been able to, but it's created this situation in the world where there's data suggesting that up to 40% of world employees are considering leaving their job in this year.
So whether or not there's... There's clearly a wellbeing impact, but there's also real impacts on the employer/employee relationship and how that may be playing out into the future. So the short-term decisions that are happening now around work intensification, psychological contract breach, the lack of real authentic connectedness that we lose in the cardboard Zoom world that we live in and the lack of the incidental interactions and the liminal spaces after meetings, where we can say, "Oh, Sam, what did you think about that? What did you think about what so-and-so said? And did what I say then makes sense?" You lose all of that authentic connectedness.
All of those things have combined to mean that a number of the psychosocial hazards that we've traditionally understood have been exacerbated, and then there's these wellbeing and burnout outcomes. So another particular study, and this one was by the, this one was the Gallup World Poll. And it found this really interesting, they called it the Wellbeing-Burnout Paradox. So again, it's something unique to the pandemic. Traditionally burnout and engagement or wellbeing and engagement have been reciprocal, right? Like as wellbeing increases, engagement increases. As engagement increases, they're additive and they feed off each other to create thriving work environments. Well, during the pandemic, there's been this schism between those, which is interesting. It's never been observed before. Gallup's been collecting data since 1938.
And so these trends that they've been observing, they measure different things every year, but they've got long-term trends on these things. And what they found was people who worked from home had less wellbeing than people who worked in the office, but more engagement. So this burnout creep that many are arguing is that a very large proportion of the workforce are at this tipping point where the burnout could become so extreme that it's difficult to recover from.
So it means employers are at this crunch time now where they need to be doing things to actively be measuring burnout in their workforce now, and then levering the things that we know are good about working from home and using what we know about psychological theory around the importance of basic psychological needs of competence, relatedness and mastery, and how they can design the work to create those work environments, whether it's working from home or the office, or ideally a combination of both.
Yeah, no, that's very interesting. And speaking on COVID from a personal point of view, my son who's 23, he got a job in while COVID was probably six months down the track from COVID being a thing. And we thought this is great, he's got a job during COVID, he's gonna be well supported, but as it turned out... We're talking about a very capable, extroverted, happy, steady-minded young man getting quite a good job in one of the big banks.
And within three months of him starting, just the absolute decline in his mental state was scary, to say the least. There wasn't much support for him at all in terms of support from the company. They were pretty much told to work from home. So as a new grad, that was very hard because you're sort of just starting off fresh in a new job so it's not really also the burnout that you were talking about.
It's for these young grads that are just starting off in their working environment that haven't had any mental health related issues in their lifetime, that are sort of being put into this working situation where workplaces aren't set up for these situations. And as a result, he finished there and went on to another corporation and it's like night and day because they obviously had something set in place that they put their employees' health and wellbeing first.
And the implementation of wellbeing programs with this corporation is just incredible. So to see a change in him, just how he feels about... Well, I guess we all know that if we are excited about the job that we're doing and we feel well-supported, it can change how we feel about going to work. But I think the biggest thing which you'll probably touch on soon is that the importance of the leaderships within workplaces are so important.
And I think what he has appreciated, what he has said that from management downwards, the wellbeing of everyone is outmost importance. It's not just his mentor or the mentor of his grad team. It's also the managers and leaders of the company that are really pushing for change with supporting mental health. So that's just from a personal perspective.
Yeah, and it really highlights the things that lots of industry and business are telling us, which is one of the unique challenges is around onboarding when workers are remote and also in particular occupations where there's a master and apprentice way of learning the system. If people can't physically be there to see all the little incidental things that are happening around, then how can they really develop the skills, but also the relationships that come with that?
And as well, the Australia Talks survey that the ABC has been running, has shown very much those kinds of things as well. So although not as much change in depression and loneliness, a very big increase in anxiety and particularly in young people. And they think it is partly to do with lots of these kinds of issues. So, yeah.
Exactly. And Peta, we might go to you on that question. How about drivers for change? What can you add to that?
Well, I think there, some of the stuff is that we've been talking about already, which is those community attitudes, but I want to draw on sort of the... We said we weren't gonna do pandemics, but we have, is that work's changing. The drivers are pandemics will come and they will go and they will come back again. And the technology change, business models will change. You were reflecting on your son's change of employment arrangements. And so they're gonna have to drive how we change and respond.
And organisations want employees and their businesses to be able to adapt. So there's a couple of things there I wanted to note is that the first is it's really important that leaders and managers and those who are actually designing work take into account how work is really done, versus how they imagined in an idealized world it might be. It's the real, really the normal work, but also those unexpected.
And they build in and create adaptive approaches so that organisations are resilient. And here I just want to touch on it and say, we're not talking about individual resilience here, which is often misunderstood where you tell the first responder, "Well, you just need to suck it up," but we're talking about how organisations can build adaptive and resilient workplaces that can deal with the unexpected that will be coming our way.
And so that people... So how do they do that? Well they design and manage work for diverse workplaces. And they allow workers to have increased job control, which as Kirsten and Sam will tell you is an incredible moderator of stress. So in a changing unpredictable world, we give people as much information as possible, but you also allow them to make appropriate decisions on how they do their work, so they can make dynamic adjustments. People's stress will go down.
So I think we need to create organisations that are highly adaptive and trust workers. Create organisations where there's trust and respect for workers. And we give them the support and infrastructure to be able to be adaptive and create organisational resilience.
And Peta, just what you were saying about, "Suck it up," I did say to, , I did say to my son at his initial job, "Why don't you go and speak to someone?" And he said-
Very dangerous. Well he said he only had been there for three months. And he said the last thing he wanted to do is appear that he couldn't cope.
So do you think, there's still that stigma attached to mental health that, not only young people but everyone feels like they can't go to their mentor or leader in the workplace and tell them they're not coping because they might be seen as they need, told to toughen up or suck it up?
Look, I'm sure it's still there. And Kirsten will give you the empirical evidence. But I was in my professional space in this, I, and my involvement with some of the Union Movement, ran a workers' voice session a couple of weeks ago. Those young workers in precarious work and gig economies were saying they didn't get shifts if they were in a retail sector and said, "I don't like my ass being grabbed by male customers. I don't like what the chef is saying to me." They weren't given shifts.
So the reality is if they complain about psychosocial hazards or they're feeling vulnerable, there is still, it can be psychologically unsafe to report. And I know that this is something that the regulators are very keen and will be monitoring in the future to ensure that it is safe to report and that workers, we want to encourage them to report, but employers also have to not deny them shifts if they do so. And I'll let Sam talk about that more in the future, but practically, unless workers, till, the thing is that they know what the hazards and the stresses are and they also know the solutions.
So if employers are not creating psychologically healthy and safe workplaces, where workers can report when things, when the stress is building and people aren't coping, they won't know what's going on and they won't be able to snip the problems in the bud.
Sam, do you want to add anything to that?
Yeah. I think this is a really good time to introduce what Queensland is doing in terms of our Code of Practice that we're developing at the moment, which is managing the risks of work-related psychosocial hazards. Because I think this picks up on Peta's point around the needing to undertake a risk assessment to understand what the psychosocial hazards are in your workplace or in your organisation or in your business. And that you need to do that in a variety of ways.
We know that sometimes leaders don't always know what's going on. And I think that speaks to needing to have things like People at Work psychosocial risk assessment tools to be able to actually find out what's going on.
And if you're a smaller business using those consultation mechanisms to actually identify what those hazards are and identify what the risk is. We know that the risks can present differently in different industries.
So for instance, in first responders, we know that they, violence and aggression is something that they often have to deal with from their clients. But if we look across at maybe the transport industry that they're looking at different psychosocial hazards, like fatigue and how they're trying to manage those.
So it's having a look at what those psychosocial hazards are and then having a look at the risks that they present, and then going beyond that and asking your workers as well, "What do they do about those risks?" 'Cause they, as you said, Peta, they often know the answers. They often know how to address this. And that's really key, a really important part of implementing those controls and implementing the reviews of whether those controls are working.
So really undertaking that risk assessment process to actually have a look and see what risks are there, and then how you manage them is really key. In the Queensland's Code of Practice, managing the risks for work-related psychosocial hazards, we actually outline that process in a little bit more detail. And we actually talk about what we know to be the general psychosocial hazards and how they might look in different industries and different organisations. We also want to talk about, there are a large number of psychosocial hazards, as Kirsten and Peta have both spoken about. There are a variety of different types of hazards as well. Some of which can be cumulative and can evolve over time and build on top of each other.
And we can talk about things like stress or fatigue as examples of those. And we could talk about those event-based hazards. So those ones that occur maybe as a result of violence or aggression, or as a result of sexual harassment, where something particular happens at one time. And as we can see those event-based ones can possibly be a little bit easier to address than those cumulative, but those cumulative ones are no less important and they actually can have like a deeper and a longer effect. And it's really important that when you're undertaking a risk assessment, that you actually address the whole suite of psychosocial hazards and also how they interrelate for each other as well.
Because I'm a small business owner, but I only have five staff. So should I be implementing some type of mental health and wellbeing program to my business, even though I've only got five staff?
That's a really good question, Hayley. And yes, the answer is most definitely, yes. You need to understand what the hazards and risks are for your organisation, whether you have just one employee or whether you have 5,000. And it's really important that you talk to your workers and you work out for them what their hazards are and what the risks are.
And how can the WHSQ assist someone like me on putting something together?
We have a number of different resources for all different business sizes on the WorkSafe Queensland site. And I'd recommend to anybody to go onto there to actually have a look and see what we have. We have a number of different resources that are around not just the hazards, but also around some industry-specific resources as well. So please go and have a look. And of course, if you need to do a risk assessment where you've got over 20 employees, please have a look at the People at Work digital platform.
And Kirsten, we might go to you. I spoke to you briefly off camera about wellbeing programs. And I might go to you as well, Peta, about wellbeing programs being implemented into organisations and corporations, businesses within Australia. And we talked about potentially some doing it for the look and implementing these yoga and meditation. What's your grasp on what a wellbeing program should look like?
Wow, that's a big question. I think the short answer is it needs to be bespoken. It needs to be based on evidence and data. So the first step is to get a good sense of where the risks are, where the work-related risks are. And you can only do that by talking to workers either through surveys like the People at Work survey or through focus groups for small businesses, where you actually ask them questions about their perceptions of the known psychosocial hazards and as well you would probably want to measure some wellbeing outcomes.
So maybe burnout, for example, to get a sense of how strong that is. And then you can see if that changes when you implement controls based on the hazards that have been identified through your risk assessment. So that's probably the most important thing that it's targeted to where the problems are, not an off the shelf program. I think the second thing is it needs to be multilevel.
So we need to think about interventions around the work design source of the problem in the first instance, and then supplement that with things like employee support systems or things that change health behaviours, which still absolutely have a place. And workers really appreciate things like lunchtime yoga and massage.
Yeah, something like that.
It makes them feel like their-
Employer cares about them.
Yeah, that's right. But it's not enough by itself without the targeted interventions at the work design level. And the other thing I think is really important is the role of the leaders. So leaders I really feel for you, Hayley, having a small business, it's tough, it's stressful. And so I think leaders need to look after themselves and model what good energy management and recovery looks like, and then create work environments where employees can manage their energy and have good recovery.
So there's a whole heap of really interesting new research in that space around best recovery strategy. So that goes from things like holidays, like what's the best length of a holiday? How frequently do you need it for recovery? What you can do at night for best recovery, in your work breaks, micro breaks.
So little tiny breaks that you can build into your workday and whether they allow people to psychologically detach, have a sense of mastery, have autonomy over their recovery strategy. So if leaders are good at modelling those things for themselves, they finish early, they take their breaks. They look after their health and wellbeing and they also create work design that allows their workers to do that, then that's something that can supplement changing the actual work design as well.
So I understand there are more changes on the horizon with respect to the regulation of psychosocial hazards in Queensland. Sam, can you share a little bit about this and what can we expect and what does this mean for workplaces across Australia?
So in response to those driving reports that I talked about earlier, the Office of Industrial Relations has actually been drafting the Queensland's first Code of Practice, managing the risks of work-related psychosocial hazards. And we started this in 2019.
And the Code of Practice will actually provide some practical guidance on how to achieve compliance for psychological health and safety. And this will apply to anyone who has a work health and safety duty of care in the circumstances that are gonna be described in the Code.
This is a really important document, and this has been drafted in consultation with workers, employers and academics. Within the Code of Practice, we describe the range of psychosocial hazards and those are anything that are in the design or management of work that increases the risk of psychological or physical harm. And there are a number of different hazards that can either be cumulative or event-based.
Cumulative hazards are those hazards that we know can build up over time and include examples such as high job demands or workloads specifically which is a common source of poor psychological health and safety. We also have those event-based hazards, such as violence and aggression and sexual harassment.
And Sam and Kirsten, you've been talking about work design. Peta, can I ask you, what are some of the challenges to doing this well from your perspective?
Look, I think there's some huge ones. The first is that we as experts, Sam and Kirsten and I understand what work design is. And I think a lot of people don't. And so just to clear the air, look, work design is designing the work so it's safer and healthier to do, and it means that eliminate those hazards at source, and then look down your hierarchy of control.
So substitute the work with a safer way of doing the work. And then look at those administrative controls like task rotation, so that, and increase support and training so that people aren't as stressed. But look, one of the big challenges, I think, around getting work designed right, is that we're not asking some of the difficult questions is that, "Who are the work designers?" Like we'll typically say, "Look, oh, it's the leader. He sets... The leader.
He or she sets the culture for the organisation." And that's true. They set the strategy and the governance decisions. And they decide a whole lot of things on how work is actually done, but I'm not convinced looking at the research or practical insights from workplaces that organisational leaders and managers always understand how the decisions they're making around resourcing, how many staff they recruit, workloads actually flow down to how the work is really, really done. And there's this disconnect.
And I also think we're not actually thinking about those hidden work designers. Who else is making decisions that impact how work is really done as first as imagined? And I think about everybody from the HR manager in terms of recruitment decisions, to procurement officers and contract officers, in terms of buildings they're designing, equipment they're providing. So unless we actually identify who are the hidden powerful designers of work and everybody understands how their decisions and actions can enhance or erode psychological and physical health and safety, it won't get any better.
So, yeah, I'd say that that's something that, as one of my take home messages I'd really like work health and safety professionals to be thinking about is identify who are the decision makers whose decisions and actions are really impacting on the work as it's really done on a day to day matter?
Yeah, absolutely. Well, we have heard today a bit about the academic side, but I might ask you, Kirsten, what practical advice do you have for workplaces?
I think three things. One, identify the main hazards, control it at the source, make sure you measure things so that you're not just doing it blindly, you're targeting it, and use experts. There's experts out there who have expertise in this space. Be really careful and critical in the expert that you pick, that they're an expert that actually does have the work design perspective, as opposed to the individual health perspective when you're trying to address psychosocial hazards.
So that's in terms of prevention. In terms of when something happens. So if you get a complaint, act early, take it seriously. We've been doing a recent study where we've been interviewing complainants who have raised issues to do with psychological health and safety with their employer and with a third party. And it's striking how many of them... First of all, how prolonged and profound the effect of the incident is, but more than that, how prolonged and profound the impact is for how badly the organisational response was managed.
So I think it's an area of great challenge and an area of great potential for employers to do a lot better when incidents are raised in the workplace. And the third thing is, I think in the current context. For workers who have the capacity, have a bit more of a long-term view about the potential consequences of decisions that you're making now in terms of worker support, work intensification, getting through the pandemic, what those longer term impacts might be and how you might change the way you're thinking about those basic psychological needs of mastery and relatedness, competence, I should say, relatedness and autonomy. And to you, Sam, what are your practical tips? Maybe just one for leaders of businesses across Australia.
Yeah, thanks, Hayley. And I think, Kirsten and Peta have both talked about the importance of leaders and them having those skills, that we have the Mentally Healthy Workplaces toolkit online, which actually gives you a really good example of different things that you can do as a leader and a manager in your workplace. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland also run some mentally healthy workshops as well, that can help guide you through this.
A mentally healthy workplace is obviously one that promotes workplace practices that support positive mental health, and minimizes this psychological health and safety risks through the identification and assessment of psychosocial hazards. But it's important that we also build the knowledge, skills and capabilities of workers to be resilient and thrive at work. The work that is free of stigma and discrimination, and actually supports the recovery of workers returning after a physical or psychological injury.
And Peta, to you. What can you add to what Sam's just said?
I encourage leaders to think deeply about how they can be designing and managing their work to be psychologically safe and physically safe, of course, and understand that you can't, there isn't an ideal worker. That in reality, we have to design for a diverse working workforce, that we have to accept people as they are, and be able to have work tolerable for a reasonably diverse range of people who turn up to do the work and that we also need to be realistic that work isn't static, workplace risks can change from day to day, from site to site, even from hour to hour.
So we need to allow our work health and safety systems to actually be able to be respond to those dynamic work situations. And back to my earlier point is to trust workers. Workers know where the hazards and the risks are, and use them as a resource because they can help you design your work so it is psychologically and healthy and safe.
Well, thanks very much, Peta. Well, thank you to all of you for sharing your insights with us today. What I've taken away from this discussion is that there is much greater understanding across business and industry that psychological health and safety is being taken seriously. There is more work to do, of course, but with the changing landscape, there are benefits for business and individuals to embed mentally healthy workplaces across your entire organisation, thinking about the whole system, not just ad hoc wellbeing programs. So for each of you, could you summarize potentially to the audience, just one take home key message?
From a regulator perspective, I mean, we talk about needing to do these things, needing to build in mentally healthy workplaces for the benefits of workers to make sure that they're safe, but it really is such a viable proposition for businesses. There's such a good business case there. Why wouldn't you do it? That's really important, I think, to be able to think when you have mentally healthy workplaces, you're not just having workers that are safe, you're having workers that are thriving and that's got to be good for business.
It's hard to do in one. . I think key reasons things typically go wrong and therefore things to avoid in terms of the key takeaway is failing to intervene when intervening is required, an intervening at the wrong level are the two most common failures that I see. So if employers can be more proactive and leaders, more proactive in terms of responding and designing work that has, allows workers to be competent, have good relationships and have autonomy in them.
Thank you. And to Peta?
As a WHS professional I'd like us all as advocates, when we're working with organisations to remind them that the duty already exists, it's not new, it's been around forever. And that a big tip will be when the inspector comes to visit, if they're just relying on policies and procedures and lower order controls, we can pretty well guarantee that they're not going to be received well. And we need to demystify work design. It's not that complicated. Eliminate those hazards at source and where you can't, substitute it with a safer way of working.
Hayley, thank you so much for coming here and actually leading this conversation, this really important conversation between all of us around mental health and psychological health and safety at work. I know that last year you were speaking quite candidly about your experience with mental health. I wondered if you wouldn't mind, just sort of like explaining a little bit more about why mental health is so important to you.
Well, I won't go into the long story that I did last year, 'cause I think that was an hour long, but I guess for me, I didn't speak up about mental health for a long, long time, because basically, I didn't know what it was. I didn't know that mentally you could be unwell. So it's not until years, I guess, after I finished swimming, did I realize I probably developed an anxiety disorder and it probably started as soon as I got home from the Commonwealth Games when I was 15.
And I was thrust into the limelight with no sort of mental health support. And I went from being a normal girl, living at Cannon Hill, going to Brisbane State High, living my life, dreaming of wearing the green and gold, to all of a sudden people camped outside my house. I remember one scary moment a year after the Commonwealth Games, when I was 17, I used to train at the Valley Pool in here. And there's obviously some suspect characters around the Valley at times, but across the road from the Valley Pool, there actually used to be a car park there, it's now apartments, but that's where all the swimmers obviously used to park their cars. And sort of around, I guess, the pinnacle of when I was swimming and really in the limelight, I was walking across to my car and there was a man standing next to my car.
And fortunately another swimmer saw him and sort of told him to move on. But the following night I went back and my dad had made sure, had come to the pool at night as well just to make sure I was okay. And he was there. And we found out that he just got out of jail a few days before for sexual assaults on women. So that really, I guess, started, I guess it triggered something inside of me that I really just wanted to swim and not be a public figure. And I still remember going to someone, I won't say who it was, but telling them that I was struggling with, I guess, being known. I just wanted to swim. I wanted to be a normal Year 12 student.
So I went to that person and they said, "Well, you're expected to go to the Olympics next year. So how are you going to deal with that if you can't even deal with this? So you need to toughen up because weak people don't go to the Olympics." And I remember for me, I think that was the start of me having real anxiety about going out in public competing.
So it definitely, I guess, triggered something that I would find myself getting very nervous in social situations and, I guess, general performance in the pool. So obviously like a lot of people, what did I do? I started eating. And then of course, then it would be written in the paper about my weight. So then I had, obviously, body image objectified in the newspaper. And I had a boyfriend, so he was steering me away from my goals of... Anyway, we're getting very personal, but I guess that the main thing is, was I was made to feel like I couldn't be a normal person.
I had to be this perfect athlete who didn't have problems and didn't have issues. And that was really, really difficult for me. And I really only had a couple of people in my life who were very supportive.
And one was my eldest sister, Toni. And one was my boyfriend who went on to be my husband. So that's all good. He's served a good purpose. And then when I finally did retire from swimming at the age of 27, the following year, I went straight into owning a small business. And it's funny, 'cause you were talking about, the three of you, what leaders should do in terms of implementing something into the workplace.
But I had never had a job. So becoming an employer of 20 plus employees, I had no understanding of how to implement anything to do with, well, not that there was anything written or we didn't know back then much about mental health, but I had a lot of employees that had obviously had at the time mental health related issues and I didn't know how to deal with them. And two years into my small business, my sister, Toni, actually took her life. So I'd never even known of anyone who had suicided, so to have the sister in my life who was my biggest supporter, not be in my life anymore was very traumatic.
So I guess because of those two situations, my sort of my path with swimming with mental health and then also the loss of my sister really suddenly it wasn't as though she was someone that had even dealt with depression her whole life. It was just a very sudden thing. I had just had no understanding of how to look after myself. Mental health wasn't something that you spoke about. And I think because of who I was, I almost felt embarrassed to show some weakness. Now, when I think about it, it's so ridiculous to think that you can't talk about it because there's actual, from what I know now, there's strength in going and getting help.
So I think the loss of my sister really made me more aware about mental health and especially in mental health and wellbeing, myself, my family, my employees at work. So we would always, even though there was no wellbeing program per se, we would always have social get-togethers to make sure everyone felt like they were in a supported environment, which I felt... It was probably in the years that I owned the swim school, it was probably the most, I guess, proudest thing that I came out of having that. That I knew that my staff felt supported by me and they could come to me if they had any problems.
And like I've just spoken about my son, obviously very scary for me going to work and thinking about him working from home and I'd left him and he was crying. That's hard as a mom to leave your son at home, knowing that he's not supported by his employer. And obviously having a sister who has taken her life, if we're getting personal, I would go to work wondering what was happening at home. So I think based on my sister and what happened to her, that's why I got into studying psychology.
So, it's probably even above swimming, the proudest thing that I've done, is... I'm not a natural academic. I don't read meta-reviews and that, but I've enjoyed learning more about psychology and the mind and how powerful it can be for all of us, and how we are towards others can really change how they feel as people. And, vice versa, how people are to you can really make you change how you feel. Like I know how I interact with my customers can impact them greatly. So, yeah. So I guess that's my story. And having a young son who's 18 now going into swimming and having dreams and aspirations of wearing the green and gold, like I did, it's almost like a silver lining that I know now as a parent how he needs to be supported mentally.
And you know, we've made sure that he knows that. And he does know that there's only a small amount of people that get to wear the green and gold. So he's got to have a backup plan. So I think back in my day, there was no backup plan. Either you made it or you failed. That was how, the way it was. It was you wear the green and gold, or you're a failure. So we make sure there's obviously more now about mental health with sports people, that we've made sure that education first for him and then he can decide what he wants to do.
So he's actually just filled out his Q-Tech forms and he's going to study psychology next year. So that's what he wants to do with his life. So I think he's seen me benefit from doing the degree. So that's where he's going into as well. So I guess, while I'm not as educated as you three here, I guess my story, I've been on a journey and it's obviously a lot different to the journey other people have been on with their mental health. But I think I've been through a lot. So, I'm looking forward to potentially one day being a psychologist where I can help people.
And I think you raise a really good point about the way that psychology intersects with every part of life. It's in the way that we love, it's in the way that we work. It's in the way that we play. It's in everything. It's just fundamental to being human.
Well, thank you to our speakers today. And remember, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland have a range of tools and resources that can assist you in identifying and managing work-related mental health hazards, including stress, violence and fatigue. Visit worksafe.qld.gov.edu to check these out, including a number of existing webinar recordings, which may be of interest. If you or someone you know needs support, please reach out. A range of support services are on our screen. Lifeline are available 24/7.