It is time to change the “more jobs” narrative to “better jobs”.

Like most people, I was pleased to hear the Government’s commitment to creating more jobs announced in last year’s Budget. There is no doubt we need more opportunities for people, especially young Australians. But in order for our economy to recover sustainably, we need the jobs of tomorrow to enable both Australian businesses and workers to thrive.

If we continue doing what we’ve been doing, I believe we will be setting Australians up for worsening mental health and workplace experiences that detrimentally impact productivity, retention, stigma and stress.

As the old saying goes, if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

The safe work movements over the last 20 years have radically transformed our physical ways of working. Thanks to those efforts, most of us enjoy physically safer working environments and have low risk of being physically injured at work. It’s time to pour that same energy into making our jobs and workplaces psychologically safe.

As we rebuild Australia’s economy, we have a golden opportunity to avoid repeating actions that harm workers and lead to poorer performing businesses.

In the latest edition of Australia’s largest workplace mental health study, Indicators of a Thriving Workplace, SuperFriend quantified the positive and negative impacts of 2020s radically changed ways of working. Many are counter-intuitive to what you might expect during a global pandemic and economic recession. These results provide Governments and industry with a clear path forward to create the ‘better’ jobs and workplaces of the future that deliver increased economic and social outcomes.

In 2020, we know that worker wellbeing was far higher for those who worked remotely for at least a month (since March), those in full-time secure employment, people whose leaders were more accessible and listened, and those in workplaces that implemented practical actions to improve mental health and wellbeing.

It’s been said that 2020 has been the biggest psychological experiment of all time, and I agree. This applies not only to our personal mental wellbeing experiences, but also our experiences at work.

Workplace mental health is a construct of interconnected factors including leadership, connectedness, policies and practices in action, capability and culture. Yet despite the known health benefits of good work, not all work is created equal.

Year on year, we have seen a growing proportion of Australia’s workforce be nudged towards insecure, casualised work and the rise of the gig economy. Flexibility for both the worker and employer has some benefits, but this can have enormously damaging impacts to both workers and business outcomes if we don’t consider worker wellbeing.

Even before the pandemic, casual workers were doing it tough. They have consistently been one of Australia’s most vulnerable and impacted groups of workers and are the furthest from thriving. Worryingly, the year-on-year survey results show this gap is continuing to widen.

This is particularly noticeable in workplace culture where full and part-time workers experienced strong improvements over the last year, while casual workers reported disturbingly low outcomes. Across organisations of all sizes, casual workers report that fewer actions are being taken in their current workplace to support and improve workplace mental health, and many can’t even access these services, unlike their permanently employed colleagues. A higher proportion of casual workers have also experienced a decline in their mental health since the pandemic emerged. The stats show that casual workers are being treated with less respect and courtesy and feel less connected and part of a team.

If we continue to take a myopic, economically focused lens to designing and creating jobs, we are ignoring what people need and want from a job. We need to recognise fundamental psychological and wellbeing needs and design jobs and workplaces accordingly. People need security, positive connections, good work and they need to be kept safe.

After a decade of working with businesses of all shapes and sizes, helping them to create mentally healthy, sustainable workplaces, we have quantified evidence of the actions that make the biggest positive difference. Many are free or low cost, and take little time to implement.

Regularly educating leaders about mental health and wellbeing, providing all workers with access to mental health information, having effective and visible policies and practices in place against workplace bullying and harassment, and recognising and rewarding people who do good work are just some of the actions that work.

So yes, this year let’s create more jobs. But let’s create good, healthy, secure jobs in mentally healthy workplaces and activate Australia’s secret weapon for achieving economic and social prosperity.

Learn more about SuperFriend’s Indicators of a Thriving Workplace study here.