Psychosocial Factors at Work conference - Asia Pacific Academy

Good morning,

I’ll begin by acknowledging how much has been said, both here and internationally, about Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s desire to foster a more compassionate and kinder style of politics.

This is a commitment that all of us in Government are striving toward.

I believe that we have an opportunity for generational change in New Zealand, and how we operate our society.

This means in politics that we put people at the heart of everything we do.

More broadly, we are wanting to foster a more collaborative and less adversarial relationship model between employers and workers.

In education, moving away from competitive rankings towards a system that celebrates and encourages the unique individual strengths in all of us.

And in health, recognising that positive mental health is absolutely crucial to building a better and more resilient society.

Looking at how work can support good mental health, and better managing psychosocial risks in the workplace, is a key priority for myself and the Government.

We know that work has a significant impact, both positive and negative, on mental health.

After all, most of us spend a lot of time at work, so we need to make sure that this experience is as positive as can be for all New Zealanders.

Having a job you enjoy, in a supportive workplace, can bolster a person’s mental health.

On the other hand, not having a job, or having a workplace where there is bullying or other unhealthy behaviours, can have a detrimental effect.

These behaviours, and broader mental health and psychosocial issues are an increasing area of focus globally. These issues arise from the culture of work environments.

The changing nature of work, greater job flexibility and different ways of working adds to the complexity of the task ahead.

It requires joined-up efforts across government agencies and sector representatives.

That’s why The Government’s Future of Work programme is so important. It really is a very broad look at the changing dynamics of how all of us interact with the economy

As both the Minister for Workplace Relations and the Chair of the Ministerial Group steering this programme, it is a topic that is very close to my heart.

What is really good to see is increasing awareness and discussion of this issue around the world, and in New Zealand.

This forum is an opportunity to continue this discussion.

Earlier this year, I asked WorkSafe New Zealand to include a focus on mental health risks in their harm prevention work, with a focus on workplace bullying and sexual harassment.

In 2015, the Health and Safety at Work Act made more explicit the requirement on businesses to maintain a work environment that manages risks to both physical and mental health.

As a regulator, WorkSafe can achieve its impact through system change – helping businesses to develop strong and safe working cultures.

WorkSafe tells me they have a number of initiatives in train, including:

  • tools and guides to help businesses and workers identify and take action on bullying and sexual harassment at work
  • building its strategic approach and capability in work-related psychosocial harm
  • looking at ways to strengthen worker engagement, participation and representation to create workplace cultures that support good health and safety.

A focus on drivers of psychosocial harm at work, such as work-related stress, poor job control and clarity – that can lead to sexual harassment and bullying – are key to improving work-related health.

Systems and policies to support safe and healthy working environments will positively impact on workers and the success of the business overall.

I am pleased to see industry representative organisations are increasingly mindful of how the working environment supports or harms worker health and wellbeing.

Managing psychosocial risks should be part of every businesses’ health and safety management.

Businesses are recognising the value of upstream protective factors to manage psychosocial risks, such as

  • role clarity
  • pace and workload
  • job control
  • managing organisational change, and
  • positive and supportive work relationships.

They must also recognise bullying and harassment as a risk and have clear processes in place to handle and prevent it

This includes creating a culture that identifies appropriate behaviour and values people speaking up, using a simple way for people to do so and on to a speedy resolution of the allegation.

This focus is part of the government’s message to businesses. 

Addressing all these factors can positively influence work health and safety.

A new Health and Safety at Work Strategy is also being finalised. It is aimed at lifting New Zealand’s work health and safety outcomes over the next 10 years.

The Strategy will provide a platform for businesses, sectors, workers, unions, communities and government to work towards a common set of goals and priorities, including lifting our game on work-related health, and mental health in particular.

Academics and researchers like yourselves have a key part to play to support the Strategy, by developing and sharing better data and insights to improve decision making.

Psychosocial risks and harms are complex, cover a wide spectrum, and there is still a need to build a greater evidence base to inform future policy decisions.

Organisations like your Academy have a key role to play, by providing well-researched, robust evidence about what works to improve workers’ mental health at work.

This conference is a forum to continue this discussion.

I hope that over the course of the next two days you all have the chance to consider how we can collectively reduce the numbers of New Zealand workers who are experiencing harm from psychosocial factors, and move towards developing work cultures that actively ensure worker’s health is protected.

I commend you for your interest and desire to make a difference in this area and wish you all the best for a positive and constructive conference.

I’m really keen to hear more about the progress you make both in this conference and in the work you are doing.

I commend you for your work, and I am proud to be part of a Government that supports you.