Employers play crucial role in supporting employee mental health

An alarming number of suicides in New Zealand are work related and a recent report by WorkSafe highlights the crucial role that employers play in creating safe working environments.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, employers must provide a safe working environment for their employees – including when it comes to their mental health and wellbeing.

The WorkSafe report highlights the importance of employers understanding and complying with these obligations. Employers should take proactive steps to manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace and take care of their employees’ mental health and wellbeing. If you have any queries in relation to this, please reach out to our specialist employment team.

The detail

The report looked at deaths by suicide in New Zealand between 2017 and 2021. Of the 1,678 deaths examined, WorkSafe found that 12% were work related. Of those, 86% involved stressors related to work.

The report breaks down organisational, social, and environmental factors that are psychosocial hazards.

The following work-related stressors appeared in work-related suicides:

  • Job demands – for example having too much work to complete within given time/resource constraints and unrealistic expectations of a worker’s competence or responsibilities.
  • Interpersonal relationships, such as conflict with colleagues.
  • Workload and work pace.
  • Working hours and schedule.
  • Bullying and victimisation.
  • Performance and management processes.

What do employers need to do to fulfil their obligations?

Employers should be mindful of their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of persons at work is not put at risk. They also have a duty to be a fair and reasonable employer and to act in good faith under the Employment Relations Act 2000.

WorkSafe’s report identifies that more could be done to help those experiencing suicidality feel better able to communicate their distress, including ways of doing it safely in the workplace. The same applies for people experiencing any sort of mental health struggle. Creating a workplace culture where mental health is talked about openly can assist with this.

Where an employee raises a mental health issue, an employer should work with the employee to obtain medical advice to properly understand the nature of the issues and what support needs to be provided to the employee (especially if issues are raised during a disciplinary or performance management process). Changes to accommodate for employees with mental health issues might include modifying the employee’s working environment, enabling a flexible work schedule, and providing training to managers and/or co-workers.

Where issues like bullying or harassment are raised by an employee, these should be taken seriously.

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