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Family Violence Workforce Health, Safety and Wellbeing

Evidence-based and proactive tools to support workforce wellbeing.


Organisational health, safety and wellbeing initiatives help to foster healthier, safer and more sustainable workplaces. The World Health Organisation defines a safe and well workplace as being 'one where workers and managers work collaboratively to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace'. In its simplest form, wellbeing is the ability to thrive, to feel good and effectively function physically, mentally, and socially while navigating the highs and lows that everyone experiences at work and in life. Every organisation has a duty under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Act 2004 to have policies and practices in place to keep the workforces safe, reduce risk and prevent injury.

This online guide supports the health, safety and wellbeing of the family violence, sexual assault, and prevention workforces. Having a collective health, safety and wellbeing focus enables workers to take a person-centered approach that keeps victim survivors safe and supports perpetrator accountability. It also allows organisations to support staff retention, reduce absenteeism, boost engagement and address the risks of mental or psychological injury.

In the context of family violence, sexual assault, and prevention services, best practice organisational health, safety and wellbeing approaches include access to regular supervision, communities of practice, Employee Assistance Programs or other external support and collective advocacy.

The Government acknowledges the strength, professionalism and commitment of the family violence, sexual assault and prevention workforces. They are highly motivated to use their skills and expertise to advocate for systemic change towards a more inclusive, safe and equitable society. Supporting the wellbeing of your workforce ensures that the sector can continue to do this essential work.

Organisations, teams and individuals must work collaboratively to care for workforce health, safety and wellbeing, it cannot be done alone. It starts with leaders prioritising their own wellbeing and acting as role models within their organisations. It also requires a commitment to having organisational systems, processes and cultures that promote and protect the health, safety and wellbeing of employees.

The following workplace factors when present, contribute to positive health, safety and wellbeing. They can be grouped into levels, which are mutually reinforcing. Workplace wellbeing initiatives should ideally target activities across all these levels:

  • organisation – shared vision, ethics and standards, clear policies and procedures, a focus on organisational change and climate and compliance with relevant legislation
  • leadership – proactively support and encourage workplace health, safety and wellbeing and leaders receive training about workplace wellbeing
  • job design – role clarity, up-to-date work plans, manageable workloads and consideration of impacts of ongoing exposure to family violence and sexual assault
  • team and work group – collective care and psychological safety within teams, collaborative team work and access to professional development
  • individual – collective focus on workers feeling valued and that they belong, access to formal and informal support and supervision.

The organisational capacity and commitment to align to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) Framework is a critical enabler for supporting sustainable health, safety and wellbeing of its workforce. MARAM provides guidance on individual and agency responsibilities and inputs to achieving consistent, collaborative and coordinated system wide practice. Responsibility and role clarity, alongside strong processes for multi-agency practice, can provide a more supportive and rewarding working environment. Embedding MARAM internally to working practices also provides support for the workforce health, safety and wellbeing where a staff member is experiencing or using family violence.

The MARAM organisational embedding guide supports organisational leaders in the process of aligning to MARAM. It outlines the responsibility of organisations to have robust policies and procedures, which in-turn will support the mutually reinforcing categories listed above.

An Organisational health, safety and wellbeing (HSW) self-assessment toolExternal Link has been developed by Safe and Equal to support workplaces to assess structural factors that impact on health, safety and wellbeing and determine priority actions. It can be used in tandem with the Family Violence Workforce Health, Safety and Wellbeing Guide (the Guide).

This tool is complementary but different to:

  • the MARAM alignment organisational self-audit tool which helps organisations identify key areas of alignment and the steps needed to achieve alignment with the MARAM framework
  • the Code of Practice: Principles and Standards for Specialist Family Violence Services for Victim Survivors audit tool which assists family violence services to evidence and rate their performance against the standards and high-level indicators of the Code. Indicator 9.2 – The service is committed to supporting staff health and wellbeing being especially relevant.

The Organisational HSW self-assessment tool therefore provides evidence against the Code of Practice indicators and the Human Services Standards.

The Guide is a validated method to measure health, safety and wellbeing, while the Organisational HSW self-assessment tool and tool handbook is a precursor activity that provides foundational information about the organisation wide context.

Further resources and initiatives will be co-developed with the sector, over time to promote workforce health, safety, and wellbeing across all organisational wellbeing categories.

The Family Violence Workforce Health, Safety and Wellbeing Guide

The Family Violence Workforce Health, Safety and Wellbeing Guide (the Guide) aims to support and promote the health, safety and wellbeing of the sexual assault and family violence response and prevention sectors. It will provide evidence-based tools and guidance that recognise the health, safety and wellbeing impacts that are experienced by those working in the sector. It supports the creation of inclusive, equitable and safe workplaces and enables practitioners and organisations to become proactive participants in caring for workplace health, safety and wellbeing.

The Guide is intended to complement existing health, safety and wellbeing efforts in workplaces and encourages ongoing collaboration, experimentation, and learning. It can be used alongside the Organisational HSW self-assessment tool and any organisation-wide strategies designed to promote the healthy, safety and wellbeing of workforces.

The Guide will assist organisations to foster workplace cultures where it is safe and acceptable to talk about struggles and receive support without stigma.

The Guide takes a trauma and violence-informed lens to reduce harmful stress and the impacts of vicarious, direct and collective trauma that can be experienced in the family violence, sexual assault and prevention workforces. Trauma and violence-informed practices consider ‘the intersecting impacts of systemic and interpersonal violence and structural inequities on a person’s life.1

The gendered nature of the family violence and sexual assault workforces and the prevalence of violence against women and children means that many practitioners in these sectors will have their own lived experience of violence.

These experiences may raise unique wellbeing issues for professionals in the course of their work and may require tailored support. Organisations will need to consider this in the context of their organisational policies and support services.

This Guide is based on the PERMAH model of wellbeing. The efficacy of the PERMAH approach was demonstrated in Australia's largest workplace wellbeing study (2018-2021), led by the Wellbeing Lab and the University of Melbourne. The approach was endorsed by the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), which sets the industry standard for HR practitioners in Australia.

Although the PERMAH model is not the only evidence-based approach to wellbeing practices, it was chosen because it uses a strengths-based approach. The pillars provide a simplified way to understand, measure and implement practical evidence-based health and wellbeing practices that can be incorporated into existing ways of working.

Who can use this Guide

  • Family violence response and the sexual assault organisations
  • Family violence primary prevention organisations
  • Workers who support family violence programs such as administrative roles, human resources and trainers
  • Workers in the Orange Door network.

How to use this Guide

The Guide is built around five steps that organisations, teams and individuals can undertake to improve workforce health, safety and wellbeing. These steps are outlined in the diagram below. The process is often experimental, involving trial and error. Just as going for one short run won’t suddenly make you fit, one-off health and wellbeing activities are unlikely to help you to thrive for very long. Caring for wellbeing requires a commitment to learning what works best for your organisation, team and individual wellbeing. As organisations use the Guide, it is important to continually support one another, learn from experience, and adjust for continual improvement.

The Department of Families, Fairness and Housing is providing the PERMAH survey for organisations to use. The survey was developed by the University of Melbourne to better understand the factors that support and undermine workplace wellbeing. One of its strengths is it can generate individual, team and organisational wellbeing reports.

Organisations may set up a working group to consider the aggregated and de-identified wellbeing survey results, go through the Organisational HSW self-assessment tool and to help inform an organisational health, safety and wellbeing plan. The working group may also be able to support teams and individuals while they implement their plans and experiment with the 'fit-for-purpose' health, safety and wellbeing resources, which will be co-developed with the sector, building a useful evidence base over time.

The working group could comprise representatives from across the organisation, including:

  • leadership staff
  • practitioners/workers
  • administrative staff
  • corporate staff including education and training, policy, communications, or advocacy roles.

The 5 steps

The 5 steps
Download The 5 steps
  1. Caring for wellbeing begins with measuring wellbeing.2 The data collected in this process assists organisations to determine their strengths and areas that require further support.

    To measure wellbeing, we recommend that the PERMAH Wellbeing Survey is used twice yearly. Access the PERMAH Wellbeing SurveyExternal Link and follow the instructions provided to measure wellbeing.

    The survey:

    • is completely confidential – everyone’s results are de-identified
    • takes less than five minutes for people to complete and their personal results are immediately available to them
    • can be used to create organisational and team, as well as individual, wellbeing plans that include more than 200 evidence-based health and wellbeing practices
    • can generate organisational and team reports, providing a system's approach to caring for wellbeing.

    The PERMAH Wellbeing Survey is not the only method to measure health, safety and wellbeing. Organisations and teams might already have a range of mechanisms that they use to measure wellbeing in their workplace. Organisations should choose the method that works best for their organisational context.

    The following steps outline the process for organisations who wish to use the PERMAH Wellbeing Survey to measure the health, safety and wellbeing of their workforce. These steps will also be useful for organisations that choose alternative methods as they provide tips and insights that could be adapted for your organisational context.

    If a working group has been established in your organisation to lead this process, members can play an advocacy and communications role to ensure that there is organisational support at all levels to measure health, safety and wellbeing.

  2. After completing the PERMAH Wellbeing Survey, you will receive a summary of your results, and the organisation and team will receive de-identified and aggregated results allowing exploration of current levels of wellbeing. It’s important to spend time reflecting on and discussing the results, rather than immediately jumping to action. This process can occur within supervision (individual results) or team meetings (team results). The organisation wide results can be discussed at the working group who may gather key insights from the broader staffing group and lead organisational discussions.

    Levels of wellbeing will be mapped on a matrix:

    Individuals who are consistently thriving (indicated in the blue quadrant above) and those who are living well despite struggles (indicated in the orange quadrant above) tend to show no statistical differences in their levels of job engagement, job performance, or job satisfaction. Researchers have suggested that workers who are living well despite struggles may be the most resilient.

    Those who are not feeling bad, but just getting by (indicated in the purple quadrant above) are generally doing okay, but they often report that their energy levels are sluggish and that it feels like their emotional and physical reserves are low. As a result, their levels of job engagement, job performance, and job satisfaction tend to be statistically lower than those who report higher levels of thriving and they often benefit most from health, safety and wellbeing support.

    Those who are really struggling (indicated in the red quadrant above) may be facing short-term or long-term physical, emotional, social, financial, or other challenges that are making it particularly hard for them to function as well as they can. As a result, their levels of job engagement, job performance and job satisfaction tend to be significantly lower than any other group and they may require additional organisational health, safety and wellbeing support.

    You will receive your PERMAH wellbeing scores (positive emotions; engagement; relationships; meaning; accomplishment; health). Here is an example of how your wellbeing levels across PERMAH will be mapped:

    The individual, team and organisational levels across the six PERMAH factors may vary and will draw attention to factors where there may be thriving, and those which need further attention. No single PERMAH factor defines wellbeing; rather, each contributes to it. For people to thrive in your workplace, you need to be cultivating all the PERMAH factors.

    As a guide:

    • A score above 70 on any of the PERMAH factors generally indicates good wellbeing in that area. However, what is ‘well’ depends on the person, for example, a score of 70 for relationships may be fantastic for an introvert, but for an extrovert who lives for their connections with others, it may suggest more attention and effort is needed on this element.
    • Don’t just focus on improving your team's or your organisations lowest scores. Some PERMAH factors will be more important to your workplace than others right now, and this is where you should put your attention, energy and effort. Which PERMAH factors matter most given the situations or contexts your workers are in and the outcomes your workplace wants to achieve?
    • Remember your goal is not to get perfect scores. It is healthy for your PERMAH wellbeing scores to 'ebb and flow' based on what is happening around your workplace.
  3. Organisations commit to developing a health, safety and wellbeing plan. It is recommended that someone within the team or an external facilitator leads this process and is supported by the working group, if one was established.

    Discussions will begin with the organisational PERMAH results and actions that are provided in the report. Discussions will also centre around approaches the organisation thinks would be most effective for their circumstances.

    It is the recommended organisations use The Organisational HSW self-assessment tool developed by Safe and Equal. This is designed to support organisations to assess structural factors that impact on health, safety and wellbeing and determine priority actions.

    Organisational efforts will only be successful if leaders and managers prioritise health, safety and wellbeing and address the issues that impact on wellbeing. It is also essential for leaders and managers to champion and role-model behaviour change and support evidence-based wellbeing initiatives. For cultural transformation to occur, we know it must be embedded in attitudes, behaviours, and practices and this will take time and an ongoing commitment.

    Historically, health, safety and wellbeing strategies have focused on individuals and what they can do to improve their resilience and wellbeing. Evidence now emphasises the importance of shared organisational responsibility and a focus on creating a psychologically safe culture. This requires buy-in and commitment from the entire workforce, particularly at the leadership or structural level.

    Promoting protective factors at an organisational level to maximise workforce resilience requires:

    • Positive emotions (effective management of change)
    • Engagement (promotion of team-based interventions)
    • Relationships (promotion of a psychologically safe climate)
    • Meaning (enhancement of organisational justice)
    • Accomplishment (provision of manager/leader coaching)
    • Health (implementation of anti-bullying policies)

    It contributes to your organisation meeting occupational health and safety requirements to provide an environment that is physically, emotionally and mentally safe and healthy.

  4. Developing a team wellbeing plan is a collaborative process. Rather than taking a top-down approach, with managers ‘telling’ their teams about the new approaches they will be taking, organisational leaders and managers must invite their teams to be a part of the solution.

    Like the previous step, it is recommended that someone within the team or an external facilitator leads this process. Depending on the organisational context, it may be useful for members of the working group to support teams in their efforts.

    Discussions will begin with the team PERMAH results and an overview of the selection of tools (to be developed with the sector) and actions that are provided in the report. Discussions will also centre around approaches the team wants to try. Other tools and approaches beyond those offered in the report can be added.

    Research shows that intervention at the team level can have the most impact on wellbeing. Rather than trying to then ‘control’ the actions that team members take, managers and organisational leaders may instead inquire about what every individual finds important and what they would like to prioritise. Taking this approach invites a sense of shared ownership and responsibility.

    You can use the chart for your reflections or make it a team or workplace activity that is done together to map the motivation and ability levels for the different tools and approaches that have been short-listed. Feel free to incorporate other ideas not included in this report if you wish.

    When the chart is complete, it is suggested that you choose up to three workplace wellbeing actions from the top right-hand corner of your chart that your team most ‘want to’ try, and that would have the most impact for workforce wellbeing (rather than those you feel you ‘should do,’ ‘have to do,’ or are ‘expected of you’). The team’s three wellbeing actions can be reviewed and adjusted at any time but at a minimum it is recommended that they be reviewed following completion of the bi-annual PERMAH survey.

    The wellbeing actions you most 'want to' try are usually the ones that will make you feel proud of how you are choosing to care for yourself and one another, because they are aligned with your workplace values.

    When it comes to consistently caring for your team’s (and your own) health and wellbeing, researchers have found it is best to:

    • Start small - The most reliable way to improve your abilities and sustain your motivation is to experiment with small behaviours that you want to and can do consistently and be reasonably successful at immediately.2 For example, as a manager, you can start by remembering something personal (the person’s pet, sporting interest, children) about each team member and try to ‘check in’ regularly.
    • Create prompts - Be sure to avoid the “We’re too busy” trap that brings many of our good intentions unstuck.3 For example, setting an alarm on your phone which will remind you to stretch every hour or promoting regular team lunches by linking it to the day of the week (for example Friday feast).
    • Be reflective - Be sure to celebrate what’s working well, own where you’re struggling, reflect on what you’re learning and commit to what you’ll try next, to continuously improve your health and wellbeing abilities and sustain your motivation.4

    Additional resources and tools will available that will assist teams in developing their wellbeing knowledge and implementing sustainable wellbeing practices.

  5. Individuals should reflect on their own wellbeing scores and implement practices and tools (to be developed with the sector) that may be helpful for them.

    These self-care practices are proactive strategies or routines that can offset stress and help to promote wellbeing.5 As noted earlier, while self-care is important when it comes to our wellbeing it does not negate the importance of collective care and the crucial role workplaces must play in creating safe and healthy environments.6

    Practicing self-care does not imply that individuals are not coping or are solely responsible for dealing with the impacts of the work by themselves. Rather, caring for your own wellbeing has its place in this Guide as you know yourself better than anybody else and it’s important to know you have agency in improving your own health, safety and wellbeing.

    After completing the PERMAH Wellbeing Survey, you can create your own wellbeing plan from more than 200 different evidence-based actions. Like in the previous step, it’s important to take actions that are in the ‘sweet spot’.

What to do if you need immediate support

Caring for wellbeing and promoting good mental health is essential in all workplaces. The family violence, sexual assault and prevention sectors face unique challenges, which may take a mental, emotional, and physical toll on health.. Some challenges can be related to working in an area in which the workforce is deeply aware of broader social and gender-based inequalities.

Be aware of your own, your colleagues and your staffs’ wellbeing. It is essential that we take care of one another. Working in solidarity and fostering a supportive environment, helps to contribute to the sustainability of the family violence, sexual assault and prevention workforce and dismantle the oppressive structures that contribute to family violence. It’s important to reach out to someone when you’re struggling. This could be your manager, your supervisor, a friend or colleague, a counsellor or psychologist or another support person.

You can also access your employee assistance program (EAP), participate in supervision, or speak with colleagues in a community of practice. For after-hours support, the 1800RESPECT telephone and online counselling servicesExternal Link are available 24 hours a day for professionals to discuss the personal impact of working with people who have experienced violence or have used violence.

Support your staff and colleagues by ‘checking in’ regularly. Determine how they are coping and encourage them to seek assistance if needed.

Get in touch

We would like to hear your feedback on this Guide, as well as actions you are currently undertaking within your workplace that are working well. By sharing your resources on this website, we can share a variety of strategies that you can use in your organisation. Please get in touch with us by emailing the Family Safety Victoria Centre for Workforce Excellence.

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  1. Varcoe, C M, Wathen, C N, Ford-Gilboe, M, Smye, V and Browne, 2016, VEGA Briefing note on trauma- and violence-informed care, VEGA Project and PreVail Research Network, Ottawa, page 1.
  2. The Wellbeing Lab, (2020). The Wellbeing Lab 2020 Australian Workplace Report. Retrieved from:
  3. Fogg, B. J. (2019). Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  4. Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2009). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New York, NY: Penguin.
  5. Wasco, S. M., & Campbell, R. (2002). A multiple case study of rape victim advocates’ self-care routines: The influence of organizational context. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30(5), 731–760.
  6. Reynolds, V. (2019). The Zone of Fabulousness: Resisting vicarious trauma with connection, collective care and justice-doing in ways that centre the people we work alongside. Context. August 2019, Association for Family and Systemic Therapy, UK, 36-39.

Reviewed 23 January 2023

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