New mental health regulations emphasize leadership and culture

13 June 2023 3 min. read
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New regulations that are expected to be implemented in 2023 will place increased emphasis on the role of effective leadership and positive culture in promoting mental health in the workplace. The regulations require all Victorian employers to take steps to identify and manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

Psychosocial hazards are factors in the workplace that can have a negative impact on mental health, such as bullying, harassment, excessive workload, and lack of control over work. The regulations, which were developed by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, require employers to identify and assess psychosocial hazards, develop and implement risk controls, and monitor the effectiveness of those controls.

“The new regulations send a clear message that employers have a responsibility to protect the mental health of their employees,” according to Kerrie Adaway, Chief Executive Officer at Lysander.

New mental health regulations emphasize leadership and culture

The regulations also require employers to provide employees with information and training about psychosocial hazards and how to manage them. In addition, employers are required to provide employees with access to confidential support services if they experience a mental health issue.

Having analysed the 13 different psychosocial safety measures employers in Victoria are required to implement (see below), Adaway said that 11 of these measures can be directly related to leadership behaviour and culture. “Effective leadership and a positive culture are essential to creating a workplace that is safe and supportive for everyone,” she said.

The 13 psychosocial safety measures for employers in Victoria

  1. Establish a workplace culture that is supportive of mental health.
  2. Provide employees with clear expectations about their work.
  3. Provide employees with the resources and support they need to do their jobs.
  4. Create a workplace that is free from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
  5. Provide employees with opportunities for development and growth.
  6. Encourage employees to take breaks and vacations.
  7. Provide employees with access to confidential support services.
  8. Monitor the effectiveness of psychosocial safety measures.
  9. Take action to address any psychosocial hazards that are identified.
  10. Provide training to employees about psychosocial hazards and how to manage them.
  11. Communicate with employees about psychosocial hazards and how to manage them.

The regulations are based on the recommendations of the Victorian Royal Commission into Mental Health, which found that mental health problems are a major issue in the workplace. The commission found that poor mental health costs the Victorian economy $22 billion each year in lost productivity and healthcare costs.

Melbourne-based Lysander is a consulting firm specialised in leadership and culture and an expert on building psychologically safe workplaces. The firm has a client portfolio including the likes of Acciona, John Holland, ANZ, Yarra Trams, Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre, Australia Post, and Suncorp.

In its work supporting a pilot programme by McConnell Dowell aimed at improving mental health among staffers, Lysander found that sustained focus on mental health can come with significant benefits. Those identified included: 46% improvement in depression, 34% improvement in stress and 41% improvement in burnout across 12 months.

By now institutionalising mental health as part of work routines, Adaway said that the new regulations are a positive step towards addressing the issue in the workplace.

However, “while they are a good first step, they are not a silver bullet,” she said. “Employers need to do more than just comply with the regulations. They need to create a workplace where employees feel truly safe and supported, and where they can thrive.”