What the next generation of graduates wants 1

A survey of graduates by GradConnection released on 15 July 2009 has important information for Australian companies and provides some optimism for the OHS profession and regulators.

A dominant element of modern employment is work/life balance. In some disciplines this is taken as workplace flexibility. In terms of workplace safety, work/life balance is a euphemism for psychosocial hazards of stress, bullying, fatigue, and workload amongst others. From this position, the survey findings showed that, when asked “What are the most important extra benefits?”, work/life balance scored the most support at almost 39%.

Companies that want to recruit graduates, often those companies which are looking to refresh their staff and workplace culture but also need to build sustainability and longevity, need to review their existing working conditions to match the desires of job seekers. This could be an enormous task for corporations that will take years but smaller companies can afford to be more reactive and flexible and may get the edge on attracting graduates.

It must be acknowledged that over 60% identified high salaries as the most important element in their salary packages. But the work/life balance indicates a growing reality that graduates are less likely to trade off wellbeing for dollars.

This is supported in terms of extra benefits where flexitime and flexible working arrangements gained around 24% and 22% support, respectively. Companies must operate within the time constraints of their industry, suppliers and customers but they should also identify those work processes that allow for flexibility. It may be useful to formalize start and finish times so that there remains a core set of hours within the working day where interaction of staff and clients can be maximised. Some of the social structures are already pushing in this direction with issues of public transport, schooling and childcare already accommodating this flexibility.

David Jenkins, the director of GradConnection, told SafetyAtWorkBlog that

The data we have extracted is drawn from contributions by about 10,500 graduates currently looking at their career options. It gives employers clear indicators as to what grads are looking for in their careers and helps potential employers adjust or increase their messaging about careers on offer at their companies.

Hope for OHS professionals and regulators comes from the fact that of the values that graduates wanted an employer to embrace, health and safety ranked third, behind equal opportunities and environmental sustainability.

This survey is the first generated through the website of GradConnections so the next survey should be able to provide some trend data.

Kevin Jones

More workplace stressors, email and upwards bullying 7

According to a paper presented at the latest Industrial & Organisational Psychology Conference organised by the Australian Psychological Society, poor quality emails are causing almost as much stress in the workplace as the number received.

New Zealand provisional (?) psychologist, Rowena Brown, was presenting findings from her PhD studies and said

“Email is a double-edged sword. We know that email can help employees to feel engaged with and connected to their work colleagues, however the impact of a poor quality email, combined with the expectation to respond immediately, can create unnecessary stress.  Our research raises important issues for employers, who have a responsibility to train their staff in appropriate email etiquette.”

This type of research really doesn’t help business and managers to deal with the stress of their employees because it doesn’t  provide any useful control measures.  There are more significant causes of stress that demand the attention of OHS professionals and managers.

The same conference illustrates one of those other stressors.  Sara Branch, a psychologist Griffith University was quoted on the matter of employees bullying their bosses.

“Upwards bullying, like other forms of workplace bullying, is often more subtle and less obvious to other staff. However, it can also include more aggressive behaviours such as yelling, verbal threats, and confrontational phone conversations.”

“Workplaces need to understand that bullying can occur at any level in an organisation. Although managers clearly have formal authority, they can also be victims of bullying and need just as much support as other staff.”

The study also found, according to a media release about the conference, that one of the main triggers for upwards bullying is organisational change.

“If an employee is disgruntled by change, such as new working conditions, management, or processes, they may blame their manager and respond by bullying them.”

With the increased attention to psychosocial hazards in the occupational health and safety profession, it is necessary to pay attention to these sorts of studies but they are simply new perspectives on established issues that should already be monitored and changed.

These studies may illustrate the issue that OHS professionals can use to gain that managerial or client attention but they should be handled carefully so that these specific issues do not dominate the understanding on the manager or client.

SafetyAtWorkBlog advocates looking outside the OHS discipline for new evidence and understandings of workplace issues be it sociology or psychology but one must avoid reacting to hype.

Kevin Jones

Relocation is always an option for an improved work/life balance Reply

A couple of years ago there was a campaign in Australia to increase the number of general practitioners in rural areas due to a doctor shortage.  One doctor, Nicole Anderson, chose to relocate from tropical Queensland to temperate Tasmania.  She did so for several reasons including improving her work/life balance.

During the campaign in November 2007 I had the chance to talk with Nicole about her experience and her life choices for a SafetyAtWork podcast

As part of the Rural Health Workforce Australia campaign, short videos were produced of which Nicole’s story was one.  Click HERE to see the wonderful countryside Nicole has chosen to practice in.

Kevin Jones

Panic in disaster planning Reply

Three years ago I had the privilege of arranging for Dr Lee Clarke of Rutgers University to attend the Safety in Action Conference in Australia.  Lee had a book out at the time, Worst Cases, and spoke about the reality of panic.  Lee’s studies have continued and are, sadly, becoming more relevant.

Recently, Rutgers University posted a video interview with Lee on Youtube.

Shortly after the World Trade Center collapse in 2001, I asked Lee to write something about the event from his experience and perspective.  He wrote a piece for a special edition of Safety At Work magazine.  The article has been available through his website for some time and is now available through here by clicking on the image below.

I strongly recommend Lee’s books.  As he says in the video, they’re quite fun, in a sad sort of way.

Kevin Jones

Sept11

Resilience, stress and safety management Reply

The July 25 2007 SafetyAtWork podcast is now available for download.  It includes an interview with Michael Licenblat where we discuss the psychological approach to individuals taking control of their own safety, the benefits of wellbeing programs and the changing workplace.

On listening back to the podcast today, I was struck by several issues he raises:

  • Michael is one of the few wellbeing gurus who directly link the management of stress to the productivity of the worker.  He displays more awareness than many others of the “proactive” OHS context of this approach to human capital.
  • He discusses why it is difficult for all of us to say no to some work tasks, even if  the task is high risk and may injure ourselves and others.
  • He states two core elements of workplace cultures that seem to revolve around the established OHS obligation of consultation.  Perhaps OHS managers can become real agents of change by cranking up consultation.

Kevin Jones

Environmental tobacco smoke, workplace stress – podcast 2006 Reply

In 2006, one of the earliest editions of the SafetyAtWork podcast featured several speakers on issues that remain topical.  The podcast is available for download

Anne Mainsbridge, currently a Solicitor with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre talks about her report on environmental tobacco smoke.

This is followed by Associate Professor Tony LaMontagne of the University of Melbourne talking about a systematic approach to managing workplace stress.  This was a report that was published by the Victorian Health Department and, as such, slipped by many OHS professionals.  The report is now available for download

The audio production is rough for such an early podcast, and I apologise, but I think you will find the content of interest.

Kevin Jones

Decency at work Reply

In 2001 the House of Lords was presented with a Dignity At Work Bill.  This seemed a great idea for unifying different elements of the workplace that can contribute to psychosocial hazards.  This would be a similar approach to using “impairment” to cover drugs, alcohol, fatigue and distraction.  However, it never progressed.

Regular readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog would note an undercurrent of humanism in many of the articles but it is heartening to see this in other articles and blogs.  Maud Purcell of Greenwich Times provides an article from early May 2009 on dignity in the workplace in a time of economic turmoil that you may find of interest and use.

Kevin Jones

Workplace bullying possibly increasing 3

A United States report draws a parallel between increasingly difficult economic situations and an increase in workplace bullying.   This video report is lightweight but is a recent airing of the issue with a different approach.

The angle taken in the story is that of a “pink elephant” that women are just as likely to bully their workmates as men are.  Some of the speakers in the video try to relate female bullying to issues of female empowerment but bullying is more often a reflection of personal nastiness than a social movement.

Bullying received increased focus when workplace culture emerged but rather than a gender issue, our increasing intolerance for bullying is coming from a broader cultural movement than just through the workplace.

The video report originated through research undertaken by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an organisation that has existed for sometime and has very recently upgraded its website.

Kevin Jones

Fatigue is the biggest threat to a person’s safety Reply

Not so long ago, it was considered a legitimate criticism to blame the individual for “doing the wrong thing” at work.  Depending on the type of worksite, this was considered “human error” or “bloody stupid”.

Fatigue is an interesting illustration of how occupational health and safety must cope with new perspectives on established hazards.  Australian OHS legislation operates on a responsibility to manage the systems of work in a workplace, of which only one element is the worker.

A good incident investigation goes beyond the incident to see what led up to a worker acting the way they did, the reasons behind the decision.  Instead of “tell me about your childhood”, OHS practitioners can legitimately ask “tell me about your sleep patterns”, or “tell me about your second job”, or “tell me about your relationship with your partner”, as these can be contributory factors to the decision made on the day or the work environment at the time of the incident.

Some recent AAP articles provide interesting examples of the different contexts in which fatigue as a workplace issue can manifest:

Ambulance Employees Australia (AEA) said weary paramedics had fallen asleep at the wheel and administered wrong drugs because they did not have enough time off between shifts.

They have called for a minimum 10-hour break between shifts, compared with eight hours under the current award.

But Ambulance Victoria has said the fatigue issue was one of 175 union claims, which it said sought $800 million from pay talks.”

Investigators examining the near-catastrophe at Melbourne Airport last month are exploring whether fatigue was a factor after being told the pilot had barely slept the day before the flight.

Emirates pilots are permitted to fly a maximum of 100 hours each 28 days and the pilot was also almost at the legal threshold of the number of hours he was able to fly.

Emirates has issued a statement saying safety was a top priority for the airline.”

A higher priority than a good night’s sleep apparently!  Clearly it is the spread of hours that is the issue not the total over a fixed period.

Both these examples relate to workers’ interactions with the public and reflect the complexity of OHS’s spread to public safety.  

It seems that every investigation now automatically assesses the fatigue level, or impairment, of the participants in incidents in the same way mobile phone records are checked in car accidents and blood-alcohol levels or drug testing in some industrial events.

If your OHS professional does not consider psychosocial issues in developing safety management plans or incident investigation, seek a second opinion, or better yet, make sure the first opinion is comprehensive.

Kevin Jones

Mental Illness and Workplace Safety Reply

Reports in the Australian media this week indicated that “nearly half the population has a common mental health problem at some point during their lives”.  Safety professionals and HR practitioners should take note of these statistics and hope that it does not manifest in their shift, even though it is likely.

The difficulty with trying to manage or anticipate mental health issues is that they seem to have evolved over time and multiplied.  There is the common phrase of “trying to herd cats” and it seems that mental health issues are the cats.  One could apply lateral thinking and propose the solution is to get a dog but will the dog herd a cat that doesn’t look like a cat, smell like a cat, or worst scenario of all, a cat that resembles a dog!

Because of the fluctuating psychiatric states of everyone everyday how does one recognise when a mood swing becomes a mental health issue.  Does one take everything as a mental health issue and waste time on frivolous matters?  Or is there no such thing as a frivolous matter?

In the one article there are these confusing and inconsistent terms for mental health:

  • “common mental health problem”
  • “mental condition”
  • “non psychotic psychiatric problems”
  • “mood disorder”
  • “anxiety disorder”
  • “mental health disorder”
  • “substance abuse or dependency”
  • “mental disorder”
  • “mental illness”
  • “psychiatric condition”

In this report it is unlikely that the synonyms have been generated by the journalist as the data quoted is from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, but it indicates the confusion that safety professionals can feel when they need to accommodate more recent workplace hazards – the psychosocial hazards.

The list above does not include the “established” hazards of bullying, occupational violence or stress.  The fact that there may be a clear differentiation between mental health symptoms and mental disorders but that needs to be clearly communicated to those who manage workplaces so that control resources can be allocated where best needed.

The article referred to above provides interesting statistics and there are gems of useful information in the ABS report but the article provides me with no clues about how to begin a coordinated program to address the mental health issues in the workplace.  It is an article without hope, without clues, without pathways on which the professional can act.

There is no doubt the psychosocial hazards at work are real but the advocates of intervention need to clarify the message.

Kevin Jones

(This blog posting does not discuss the recent changes to compensation for defence personnel and soldiers for mental health from combat, but mental health in that “industry” is a fascinating comparison to what occurs in the private sector.)