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Unmasking the impacts of COVID-19 on workplace mental health

Published: 29 April 2021
Released by: Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation, Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women

The full extent of the toll COVID-19 has taken on workplace mental health in NSW has been revealed with the release today of the results of a landmark study into the psychological impacts of the pandemic.

Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson and Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor today announced the findings of the SafeWork NSW study of more than 4000 employers and 8000 employees across the State.

Among the key findings of the study were that 38 per cent of supervisors and 27 per cent of workers reported feeling mentally unwell in the last 12 months. Of those, 53 per cent and 45 per cent respectively said the negative change in their mental health was directly brought on by COVID-19.

Mr Anderson said the COVID-19 pandemic instantly changed the way we work and brought unprecedented disruption into the lives of millions of workers in NSW.

“Almost overnight we were confronted with a level of upheaval and workplace disruption that we have never had to face before,” Mr Anderson said.

“Anecdotally, we all heard how factors such as mandatory lockdowns and isolation, the anxiety of getting sick, potential loss of income and fear of what the future may hold, were having a big impact on workers’ mental health.

“The study, commissioned to understand the mid-point performance of the NSW Government’s Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy 2018-2022, included questions to determine the extent to what we were hearing was accurate and how the NSW Government could use these findings to refresh our approach to improving mental health in the workplace.”

Minister Taylor said the study underlined the importance of employers putting the mental health and wellbeing of staff at the top of their agendas.

“We’re building a safer, stronger NSW and this means a renewed focus on what we can do to support workers and employers, especially as they adapt to new ways of working,” Mrs Taylor said.

“While the NSW Government has delivered an $80 million investment in mental health services and programs to address the impact of COVID-19, these findings reinforce the need to ensure everyone in the workplace knows what supports are available and has the confidence to access them.”

The study also concluded that over the past 12 months 27 per cent of employers felt isolated, 32 per cent of supervisors reported being stressed or constantly under pressure and 27 per cent of workers were being given too much work.

According to the study, although many businesses are affected by COVID-19, there has been an improvement in workplace mental health overall. Since 2017 an additional 12.5 per cent of NSW businesses reported to have taken effective action to create mentally healthy workplaces.

Insights from this study, along with evaluation and independent expert advice, have informed a refreshed NSW Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy, set to be released next month.

Access the Worker mental health during COVID-19 report  (PDF 635kb) 

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