Psychosocial harm in the workplace on the rise

Tuesday, 20 June, 2023 – 12:30
Industry news
New South Wales

There are increasingly high levels of psychosocial harm in the workplace, according to a recent survey that found that more than two-thirds of respondents had experienced bullying at work in the past year.

Furthermore, 16 per cent of respondents were working in roles considered to be of poor psychosocial quality and almost two-thirds reported feeling drained by their work, according to the Australian WHS Survey(link is external), which was conducted by the NSW Government’s Centre for Work Health and Safety.

The increasing normalisation of chronic understaffing across organisations, along with the limited acknowledgement and limited action taken against bullying and/or harassment in the workplace, were cited as the main drivers for this increase in psychosocial harm.

“The recent explosion of home and flexible working arrangements was also discussed as an important contributing factor, especially due to the increase of workers operating in isolated environments,” said the survey, which engaged 1017 Australian workers who provided their observations of current, new and emerging WHS issues.

“If you are in business in NSW there is no excuse for cutting safety for the sake of productivity or profit,” said SafeWork NSW executive director of community engagement, Andrew Gavrielatos.

“We are seeing continued economic pressures, such as inflation and supply chain disruption, challenging the attitudes and the priority business place on health, safety and worker wellbeing.”

The survey also found healthcare workers felt more exposed to hazards, including harassment and bullying, as almost one out of two healthcare workers experienced a form of harassment or bullying every month.

Healthcare workers also felt less aware of their and their employer’s WHS rights and responsibilities and were less empowered to participate in WHS discussions than their colleagues in other industries.

Healthcare workplaces were not perceived as great places to work from a WHS perspective, being viewed as less prepared to manage WHS and less committed to it than workplaces in other sectors.

The survey also found there were more frequent instances of harassment and bullying in small businesses compared to large organisations, with seven out of ten workers experiencing a form of harassment in the last twelve months.

In contrast, workers from large organisations were found to experience a higher level of burnout associated with higher job demand.

While workers from small businesses also feel less aware of WHS rights and responsibilities and less empowered to participate in WHS than workers from large organisations, they report a higher level of commitment to WHS from their workplace.

The survey also found the main barriers to good WHS practice vary depending on the size of the organisation.

“On the one hand, workers from large organisations pointed out the lack of time and resources and also the de-prioritisation of WHS in favour of other objectives as the main barriers to good WHS,” the survey said.

“On the other hand, workers from small businesses identified the limited understanding of the WHS obligations and the limited knowledge of WHS risks and hazards as key issues and flagged that WHS could be best reprioritised if it was more financially rewarding or more valued by customers and investors.”