Under the OHS Act, all employers have an obligation to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and free of risks to health, as far as is reasonably practicable. This includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and giving employees the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work safely.
What does this have to do with managing workload demands? First and foremost, workload pressures should be viewed through an OHS lens. As many of you will know from first-hand experience, the impacts of excessive workloads can be dire unless they are addressed. Not all workload demands can be removed or reduced, but measures can be put in place to ensure that workloads are more manageable.
DET recognises workload management as an important factor that contributes to mental health and wellbeing. Their Mental Health and Wellbeing Guide states says workload management is successful when assigned tasks and responsibilities can be accomplished successfully within the time available.
While employees may need challenging tasks to maintain their interest and motivation to develop new skills, it is important that these demands – time pressure, mental demands, physical demands, emotional demands – do not exceed their ability to cope.
“There is also a strong focus on the responsibilities of the employer, such as making sure staff leave is covered, rotating tasks and schedules equitably, and providing sufficient information for employees to perform tasks competently.”
The guide suggests a number of controls for managing workload, including ensuring that the amount of work expected of employees is reasonable for their positions, freedom from unnecessary interruptions, an appropriate level of control over prioritising tasks, the ability to determine the time and pace of their work, being able to negotiate realistic and achievable targets and deadlines, regular reviews of workload and assistance in developing work plans.
There is also a strong focus on the responsibilities of the employer, such as making sure staff leave is covered, rotating tasks and schedules equitably, providing sufficient information for employees to perform tasks competently, enabling employees to talk frankly to their supervisors about workload, providing adequate training and support, giving access to medical or psychological assistance for employees involved in trauma or emotionally demanding work and ensuring emotional demands of any role are captured in the position description provided during recruitment.
This risks and controls identified in the guide may be a useful starting point for discussions at your workplace, through your consultative committee, and during the long-term planning process. Don’t wait until you and your colleagues are on the edge of burnout. Take a proactive approach to identify the workload pressures and potential measures to mitigate the risks. Work with your elected health and safety representative to put workload on the agenda, audit current practices, ask your employer to help find solutions, and document and review this work.