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Report: Data and tech can be used to manage psychosocial workplace risks

Despite psychosocial and psychological risks being ongoing safety issues in the workplace, just 12 per cent of companies use data analytics and technology to manage these risks, according to a global workplace survey.

user iconLauren Croft 12 December 2023 Big Law
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The vast majority (80 per cent) of organisations with operations in Australia consider psychosocial and psychological issues to be a safety (rather than HR) issue, a new report from Ashurst has revealed.

The inaugural global workplace survey, Psychosocial and Psychological Risks in the Workplace 2023, compiles the views of senior business leaders from across Australia’s Top 200 ASX-listed companies, the FTSE 100, and large government agencies and departments on how organisations are managing psychosocial risks in the workplace.

The report found that while there is a rising awareness of how psychological health can impact workers, many employers are still struggling to manage the issue. It also found considerable sector and regional differences in departmental responsibility and definitions as well as differing approaches to addressing psychosocial/psychological risks. Few organisations have taken a holistic systems-based approach to this area of emerging focus for safety regulators and legislators.

 
 

Nearly 30 per cent of respondents confirmed their organisation does not report to senior management or the board about psychosocial risks – and over 50 per cent said their organisation had taken little or no steps to eliminate or mitigate psychosocial risks associated with misconduct and safety investigations. This rate rose to 60 per cent of respondents in professional services, including law.

However, 30 per cent of respondent organisations have a designated mental health officer, wellbeing officer, or similar role, despite not being required by legislation or codes of practice in Australia or the UK.

Early detection of psychosocial risks in the workplace is crucial to managing these risks, and Ashurst risk advisory partner Tony Morris said that it should become more commonplace in global WHS standards.

“Psychosocial risk is the new frontier of work, health, and safety (WHS) globally, and it’s arguably the most challenging area of WHS to manage proactively. While some organisations have completed risk assessments in consultation with their workforce, many challenges remain,” he said.

“This is a change management journey for WHS, not only for organisations but for safety regulators charged with enforcing the law. It will be important for all organisations and industries to get ahead of the change and minimise the risks of psychosocial hazards.”

Nearly 56 per cent of respondents with primary operations in Australia indicated that their HR and safety teams work together to manage psychosocial risk, compared to less than 21 per cent of respondents with primary operations in the UK.

Ashurst employment partner Trent Sebbens said this teamwork would be crucial to address these risks.

“Psychosocial risk is not just a WHS issue. HR and WHS teams in all industries globally need to collaborate to effectively manage psychosocial risk in the workplace as a systemic issue. In Australia, psychosocial risk has captured the attention of governments and regulators, with both safety regulators and discrimination agencies putting efforts into education and enforcement,” he said.

“To meet their duties, employers must be far more proactive about addressing psychosocial risk in workplace investigations and other traditional ‘HR’ areas and place a safety lens on those issues.”

Data to help manage psychosocial risks

The report also identified a heavy reliance on workers to manage their own psychosocial risk in workplace investigations, with 32 per cent of respondents indicating that they rely on staff training in resilient work practices. In addition, only 12 per cent of respondents indicated that they use data analytics and technology to manage psychosocial risk.

Despite this, 30 per cent ranked psychosocial risk in their top 10 organisation risks. This rate was as low as 11 per cent for respondents in the finance sector, but reached a high of 57 per cent for respondents in the APS and 40 per cent for respondents in professional services.

“These findings suggest that many organisations are falling at the first hurdle of risk management: risk identification and reporting to those in positions with the capacity and accountability to drive effective organisational change,” the report stated.

“Traditional workspaces are no longer the norm, with workers often performing their jobs remotely and in different jurisdictions. This means that businesses are required to continually evaluate the impact of psychosocial risks in often novel working conditions and that traditional information gathering methods, such as surveys, may no longer be the gold standard in efficient data collection.”

Despite these findings, the report showed that only 22 per cent of respondents measure the impact of psychosocial risk, and surveys are the primary measurement tool used. Other measurement tools used by some respondents include exit interviews, analysis of workers’ compensation data, focus groups, employee assistance program reporting, risk assessments, and leave absences.

This, the report noted, suggests that “most organisations are not getting maximum value and insights from their available data and are not aggregating data to identify trends and patterns”.

UK environment and safety practice lead and partner Eleanor Reeves added that greater collaboration between teams is needed in 2024.

“Risk assessments are a cornerstone of effective health and safety risk management, yet many organisations have not assessed psychosocial hazards, leaving the organisations exposed,” she said.

“A key takeaway of this report is the need for greater collaboration and communication between HR and safety teams in most organisations to support leadership and drive the proactive management of these issues.”