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Despite The Legal Ramifications, A New Study Reveals That Nearly Half Of All Kiwis Disagree Mental Health Is A Priority

A new Mental Safety At Work report has revealed that almost half [47.4%] of Kiwi employees disagree that their workplace prioritises the psychological well-being of staff and over a quarter think they need to stay silent about problems and tough issues.

Conducted by Umbrella Wellbeing, this first-of-its-kind study into psychosocial and psychological safety in workplaces analysed responses from over 7,000 survey participants.

Dr Dougal Sutherland, Umbrella CEO, said the findings are really concerning because they indicate that a substantial number of employees are working in fear and there are legal consequences for organisations who fail to keep employees mentally safe.

“It can’t be good for business if you have employees who are constantly looking over their shoulder worried about what might happen if they raise an issue, or they are getting so anxious about being bullied that they’re not able to do their jobs.

“In simple terms, a mentally unsafe workplace isn’t good for anyone. Businesses with workers in less psychologically safe teams are twice as likely to report lower than usual performance, and the odds of employees leaving are almost 6 times higher than workplaces considered mentally safe.

“The good news is that more than half the workers we surveyed said they feel good about their work environment. But for people who work in organisations that view mental safety as ‘just another thing on this list,’ where employees feel they can’t take a risk, make mistakes, raise problems or issues, where they believe others would deliberately act in a way that undermines them, and think they are more likely to be bullied, it can be really tough.

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The survey results showed that compared to those who work in psychologically safe teams, workers in less mentally safe environments have 8.3 times higher odds of reporting bullying and 5.8 times higher odds of intending to leave their jobs. 44.1% of workers don’t agree that it’s safe to take a risk in their team, and 29.1% said if they made a mistake, it would likely be held against them.

“The impact of not prioritising employees' mental safety is massive. Aside from the missed opportunity for employers to create high-performing teams, the legal and financial consequences should be a catalyst to drive change in our workplaces,” said Dr Sutherland.

Blackdoor Law director Caroline Rieger adds “In the same way that an employer is responsible for the physical health of their employees, mental health is an integral piece of workplace safety.

“The Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 recognises that a ‘safe’ workplace includes mental and physical health. Employers who don’t take mental health seriously are leaving themselves open to legal action that comes with significant financial implications and reputational consequences.

“In the last 6 months alone, a growing number of businesses have been in the spotlight for failing to safeguard their employees' general mental well-being at work. Employers should expect the scrutiny over organisations’ efforts to actively manage the mental health of their employees to keep increasing.

Dr Sutherland adds, “Facilitating a mentally safe workplace has significant benefits for everyone but it takes commitment. Google’s own Project Aristotle, a 4-year research project, confirmed that the number one most important factor of a high-performing team was psychological safety. Of note, organisations that focus on strengthening mental health at work are reported to have a return on investment of $5 for every $1 spent.

“Building mental safety can be gritty work. It’s a challenging process, but it’s too important to get wrong, whatever way you look at it,” said Dr Sutherland.

Umbrella Wellbeing’s report can be downloaded here: Umbrella Wellbeing Report

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