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New study aims to understand workplace wellbeing 

Experts predict that by 2020 stress-related illnesses such as depression and cardio-vascular disease will be the leading causes of disease burden globally.

Massey University’s Healthy Work Group has launched a new research project to comprehensively measure the relationship between working conditions and stress-related illness in New Zealand.

Called the New Zealand Workplace Barometer, the longitudinal study will identify the psychosocial risk factors in New Zealand workplaces and how those risk factors impact employee wellbeing and organisational performance. The long-term aim is to develop evidence-based interventions for addressing stress-related illness.

“There is an urgent need for this research,” says co-director of the Healthy Work Group Professor Tim Bentley, “because we don’t understand the extent of these risks in New Zealand workplaces, or how to prevent them.

“Yet experts predict that, by 2020, stress-related illnesses such as depression and cardio-vascular disease will be the leading causes of disease burden globally.”

The first phase of data collection for the New Zealand Workplace Barometer is now underway, with some of the country’s largest employers and industry bodies participating. Employees are surveyed about their experience of their work environment, including their workloads, levels of inclusion and exposure to bullying and sexual harassment. The study will then determine how these factors affect individual outcomes, like mental health, and organisational outcomes, like absenteeism and engagement levels.

Healthy Work Group co-director Associate Professor Bevan Catley says workplace environment has a large impact on organisational performance.

“That’s not to say that individual factors are not important,” he says, “but the workplace environment is far more influential because making changes at the organisational level can have a very large impact on both staff wellbeing and the bottom line.

The NZ Workplace Barometer will measure the extent of pyschosocial risks in New Zealand workplaces.

How organisations can get involved

Organisations with 50 or more employers participating in the Workplace Barometer survey will receive a confidential summary report with a rating for their psychosocial climate and associated wellbeing and performance indicators. The organisation’s performance can also be benchmarked against sector or national averages.

The New Zealand Workplace Barometer has been two year’s in development, with input from world-leading experts in psychosocial risk, including two World Health Organisation collaborating centres in occupational health and the researchers behind the Australian Workplace Barometer.

Professor Bentley says while the New Zealand Workplace Barometer is based on the Australian research project, the New Zealand study includes some key innovations.

“We have introduced concerns around the future of work to our model,” he says, “including the potential technology, globalisation, demographic shifts and 24/7 casualised workplaces have on increasing psychological harm to workers.

“As jobs become more automated, less people are employed in jobs that are physically harzardous, but more people will be doing jobs that are psychologically hazardous.” 

Dr Catley agrees: “For the past couple of decades the focus has been on physical risks, for good reason as New Zealand has had some high profile incidents like Pike River and Cave Creek. 

“While psychosocial risks might not be as high profile, they are probably more insidious – just look at our mental health and suicide statistics. We have been focused on safety, so this research project is about putting the health back into health and safety.”

Sign up to participate

The New Zealand Workplace Barometer will be the first comprehensive look at pyschosocial risk in New Zealand workplaces. No previous project has collected data on such a wide range of factors using an internationally-validated methodology.

Organisations interested in participating in the research project should contact Zoe Port from the Massey Business School on

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