Female worker suffering from stress

Depressing statistics stimulate a strategy to create less stress in the workplace

Figures show that untreated depression and anxiety costs Australian businesses $10.9 billion per year in reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and WorkCover claims.

The issue was brought into focus after UniSA ran a four-year study of 4,000 workers.

UniSA’s concept of workplace psychosocial safety has shaped national and international surveillance frameworks and framed an aspect of UniSA’s World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborative Centre’s work plan.

The study, published by Safe Work Australia, then led to UniSA researchers devising a ‘psychosocial safety climate’ (PSC) concept to help organisations determine risk and then intervene to improve their employees’ psychological health.

To measure that risk, the UniSA team created the Australian Workplace Barometer and the Psychosocial Safety Climate-12 tool, both of which have now been adopted by a number of prominent public sector bodies and organisations. The project was commissioned by SafeWork SA and provided comprehensive information and benchmarks on psychosocial risks at work in Australia for the first time.

The barometer puts a spotlight on the factors that impact emotional wellbeing. Research that correlated the barometer’s data to workers’ compensation claims in South Australia revealed that workplaces with a poor psychosocial safety climate had double the number of claims than those with a good climate, and their workers took six times longer to return to work.

UniSA has also helped the Australian Public Service (APS) tackle workplace bullying, using the PSC tools to monitor the wellbeing of over 400,000 public servants – critical for maintaining employee comfort as well as productive and high-performing workplaces.

UniSA’s approach has now been adopted internationally by occupational health and safety organisations in Germany and Norway, as well as by the Canadian Department of National Defence.