Employee Wellbeing: What’s Their Employer’s Duty Of Care

Mar 19, 2019
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Written by Kimberly La
Mental health in the workplace has been a hot topic in recent years, with the government spending 9 billion dollars in 2015-2016 to address the issue. Mental health can be influenced by a number of factors, and workplaces, in particular, are a significant one. Employees spend a significant portion of their time at work, so work environment and culture can play a big part in mental wellbeing. Consequently, there are laws that aim to protect employees from verbal abuse and bullying, which may lead to mental illness. These protections come under the Work Health and Safety Act, which outline the duty of care expected of an employer. However, note that they differ between each jurisdiction.

Case Study

In 2017, a woman was awarded $625,000 in the Supreme Court of Victoria for psychiatric injury. The court found that inappropriate supervision worsened her pre-existing mental illness. She claimed her employer verbally abused her, was not supportive and gave harsh feedback. This led to a series of breakdowns and she eventually quit her job. The court placed an emphasis on the employer’s failure in the ‘duty to take reasonable care to avoid risk of injury.’

Care for Your Employees’ Wellbeing

Stigma towards mental health is gradually fading thanks to education and workshops. However, in a workplace there is generally a mix of people from all generations. The older generation for example, may still have a stigma attached to mental health. Therefore, it’s important to create an inclusive environment that ensures everyone is on the same page. This can be conducted through the methods below:

Raise Awareness

It’s important for your workplace to acknowledge its acceptance of people from all backgrounds. People from different backgrounds have different experiences, so it’s important to provide support if necessary. By doing this, you are also improving the corporate social responsibility of your company. The stigma towards mental health has decreased largely due to an increasing awareness of how prevalent it is in society. Like most issues, raising awareness helps to shed light on the issue, and consequently solutions can be developed. Awareness can be raised through workplace events. A workshop, guest speaker or group activity can help to increase excitement and involvement. It’s also important to address the key message of the day, so there is a known purpose behind the event. Additionally, make counselling services known, so employees know where to go if they require help.

Inclusive Environment

The workplace should be an open and safe space where people are happy to go. Encourage open discussions, group work and even create a more relaxed and warm atmosphere. Many companies have introduced:
  • An office dog
  • Sleeping pods
  • Ping pong table
  • Bean bags
By creating a more fun atmosphere, employees can take a recreational break when needed. Having such props also encourages greater interaction between employees, which can boost group projects.

Mentoring program

Being new to a company can be daunting, especially if you’re thrown in the deep end. To make the transition smoother, consider providing a mentoring program. With age comes wisdom, and this knowledge is invaluable when transferred to newcomers. By buddying up employees, they have someone they can direct their questions towards. Consequently, this offloads the numerous enquiries that would have gone to you. As an employer, it may be difficult keeping tabs on everyone. However, by creating a support system, individual needs can be catered for and you lessen the weight on your shoulders. Further, more attention can be paid towards an individual’s progress and specialised assistance can be provided for them.

Win/Win Situation

If employees feel valued, their morale will increase. Consequently, the work they produce will be of higher quality, because greater effort and care will be taken. Ultimately, fostering a healthy workplace culture and environment is essential for productivity as well as happiness. The duty of care an employer owes towards an employee is outlined in the Work Health and Safety Act. This includes ensuring the workplace is safe, which means avoiding workplace bullying which can affect mental health. If you would like further advice, we recommend speaking to an employment lawyer.
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