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Employee wellbeing is now a ‘positive legal obligation’ — and one that needs to be met

By Lauren Croft | |8 minute read

Ninety per cent of the Australian workforce is reportedly overwhelmed and despite new WHS regulations coming into play in recent years, many employees are still at an increased risk of burnout and poor mental health.

A recent poll undertaken by Select Wellness of 200 employees from a diverse range of industries showed that 90 per cent of respondents were feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the future.

This followed a June 2022 analysis of over 1,000 mental health and wellbeing interviews that measured the severity of stress employees reported as experiencing. In the first half of 2022, 60 per cent of employees reported their stress as being “overwhelming”, “severe”, and “extreme” compared to 5 per cent in the 12 months prior to that.


This, according to Select Wellness, contributes significantly to burnout — something the legal profession is all too familiar with.

In fact, a recent poll conducted by HR Leader's sister brand Lawyers Weekly found that lawyers are “very exhausted”, with exhaustion and burnout in the profession being an issue flagged by a recent panel discussion held by the Law Society of NSW.

This is a notion that a number of legal recruiters and legal professionals have agreed with; in July last year, Travis Schultz & Partners associate James Leggo said that “modern Australian work culture is not something to be envied” and that he has already seen many practitioners leave the legal sphere entirely, in search of greater work/life balance. Burnout was also revealed to be of top concern to in-house legal teams, too.

Select Wellness co-founder Martine Beaumont said that during, and following, the pandemic, a vast combination of things caused a spike in burnout, including an increase in virtual, back-to-back meetings, working-from-home boundaries being “obliterated” and leaders in particular being called on to manage more mental wellbeing in the workplace, which is emotionally taxing. 

“Continual disappointments, climate despair, global unrest and economic uncertainty have led to a collective feeling of hopelessness and negativity. Women’s rates of burnout are increasing at a faster rate than men[’s]. This is thought to be due to women often carrying a heavier emotional load both at work and at home,” she said. 

“But over the last 30 years, ensuring and supporting employee wellbeing has gone from a taboo topic to an informal responsibility to an expectation and is now a positive legal obligation.”

New definitions of concepts like psychosocial hazards have come into play within the profession in recent years, along with new legislative changes around mental health in the workplace.

Australian employers now have a legal obligation to identify individuals and cohorts more at risk and eliminate or minimise these risks. Examples of psychosocial hazards identified by Safe Work Australia include job demands, poor support, inadequate reward and recognition, bullying and harassment, and remote working.

And despite recent concerns around Victoria’s “fundamentally broken” WorkCover program (and the potential for it to no longer cover bullying and harassment), organisations are now under legal requirement to implement a systemic process to manage health and safety risks, including mental health, according to Henry William Lawyers director and partner Lisa Berton — who said, “we are now dealing with criminal jurisdiction”.

“The work, health and safety legislation across Australia requires persons, conducting business or undertakings to ensure the health and safety of their workers, so far as is reasonably practicable.  




An employee is a person who has signed a contract with a company to provide services in exchange for pay or benefits. Employees vary from other employees like contractors in that their employer has the legal authority to set their working conditions, hours, and working practises.