Mind Set – Mental Health in Australian Workplaces Reply

[This article was written by Helen Borger and was first published in the May-June 2014 edition of National Safety - a magazine of the National Safety Council of Australia.  Reproduced with permission. (Links added by SafetyAtWorkBlog editor) ]

rsz_ns__mayjun_2014A quick online search reveals a plethora of advice and information about choosing the right mood-altering paint colours for office walls and selecting the best beanbags for worksite chill-out spaces. Not to mention the availability of on-site massages to ease employee tension and anxiety.

It’s tempting to make these interventions the centrepiece of workplace mental health and wellbeing programs because they are feel-good, visible signs of management action that are relatively easy to implement.

Although these interventions have their place, when jobs, work processes and workers come under pressure, staff are more likely to be driven up the moodaltering walls than calmed down by them; cobwebs, not workers, are more likely to come to rest on the beanbags in the chill-out spaces; and on-site massages are unlikely to singlehandedly resolve employee tension and anxiety.

The cost of work-related stress in Australia is enormous. Employers are spending an estimated $8 billion per annum on sickness absence and presenteeism due to depression; of this, $693 million per annum is incurred due to job strain and bullying, says Safe Work Australia’s report on psychosocial safety climate and worker health in Australia.

“Regardless of cause, the estimated cost of productivity loss for the most psychologically unhealthy 25 per cent of the Australian workforce was $17.84 billion,” the report adds.

No excuses

CommuniCorp Group* managing director and principal psychologist David Burroughs says while many organisations understand the complexities of workplace mental health, and are willing to ask the hard questions and genuinely fix problems in their organisations, he still sees many other organisations that rely on employee assistance programs (EAPs) or tertiary interventions, and are looking for quick fixes to very complex problems.

“The reality is there are very few quick-fix solutions when it comes to psychological health in the workplace. You can’t just run [a product] off the shelf and expect it’s going to address the various needs across all the different job roles, job levels and workplaces that are out there,” says Burroughs.

Despite the complexities, he rejects the concern that workplace mental health problems are hard to fix. “We’re asking [employers] to acknowledge what’s actually going on in their workplace. We’re not uncovering problems that aren’t there. We’re not taking a lid off a can of worms,” he says. “The excuse that it’s too hard, or it’s hard to actually spot, or it’s too problematic, is no longer valid … an employer has a responsibility and an obligation to the business and to [their workforce].”

Beyond the quick fix

To avoid tokenistic solutions, Kevin Jones, a work health and safety (WHS) consultant and the publisher of www.safetyatworkblog.com, says it’s necessary to remind workplace leaders that the aim of occupational health and safety (OHS) and its laws is to remove harm at the source. He says often things that bring symptomatic relief, such as massages at desks, have no impact on the cause. More…

The first Annual Statement on workplace bullying data gets a C+ Reply

Recently Safe Work Australia released  its first annual statement on “Psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australian workplaces“.  This is a terrific initiative but it has a significant flaw – it combines statistical data for harassment and bullying even though they are different hazards, have different remedies, are usually handled by different professions in many organisations, and have different external appeal options.

The Annual Statement itself quotes its origin:

 “The Committee recommends that Safe Work Australia issues an annual national statement which updates any emerging trends of its collated data from each of the state and territory regulators, and the Commonwealth, with respect to psychosocial health and safety generally and workplace bullying specifically“. (emphasis added)

Nowhere in the Annual Statement is there any data specifically addressing workplace bullying.  Bullying is always linked with harassment, contrary to the brief from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment’s workplace bullying report, as I read it.

More…

Beyondblue’s latest research report is too narrow 4

Beyondblue has just released a report into the cost of mental health in the workplace prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and called “Creating a mentally healthy workplace – Return on investment analysis“. The report is interesting but of limited use for those looking for ways to make their own workplaces safer and healthier with minimal cost.  The Beyondblue  media release claims

“… that Australian businesses will receive an average return of $2.30 for every $1 they invest in effective workplace mental health strategies.

The research, which looked at the impact of employees’ mental health conditions on productivity, participation and compensation claims, also found these conditions cost Australian employers at least $10.9 billion a year.”

The first claim looks attractive but achieving such a return is unlikely unless the company includes the following:

  • “commitment from organisational leaders,
  • employee participation,
  • development and implementation of policies,
  • provision of the necessary resources, and
  • a sustainable approach.” (page iv)

The best chance for the return on investment (ROI) will likely occur in a company that has an enlightened management, “necessary resources” and a leadership that is already likely to have mental health and a safe organisational culture on its agenda.  This is a rare combination which limits the application of the PwC report findings. More…

Very useful workplace mental health guidelines released 4

The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) has released a set of guidelines for the prevention of mental health problems at work. Such guidelines have been sorely required in Australia where workplace mental health problems have become an increasing problem for workers and organisations and workplace bullying dominates the policy landscape. It recommends the development of a mental health and wellbeing strategy that includes the following elements:

  • “the development of a positive work environment that supports and encourages mental health
  • balancing job demands with job control
  • appropriately rewarding employees efforts
  • creating a fair workplace
  • provision of workplace supports
  • effective management of performance issues
  • provision of training to develop management and leadership skills
  • supportive change management processes More…

Legal changes on workplace bullying are forgetting the workers 4

The lower house (thanks, Rex) of the Australian Parliament has passed amendments to its industrial relations laws, the Fair Work Act, to allow for matters concerning workplace bullying to be heard in its Commission, once the laws pass the Senate.. But recent media and parliamentary discussion on this action seems to forgotten the welfare of the bullied workers.

Professor Andrew Stewart of the University of Adelaide is reported to have said that there is a risk that the Fair Work Commission will be “swamped” with bullying complaints and that a system of filtering should be applied. Such a mechanism is supported by Professor Ron McCallum who said in The Australian on 14 June 2013:

“I would agree with the Coalition that there should be some filtering mechanism because we don’t know how many complaints there are going to be,” he said. “There’s been wildly varying suggestions.

More…

New workplace bullying laws generate heated debate 1

Today Australia hosts a No2Bullying conference.  It is a timely conference as the debate on Australia’s changes to the Fair Work Act in relation to workplace bullying heats up.

Lawyer Josh Bornstein is particularly critical of the politicisation of the amendments and believes this increases the instability or remedies available to victims of workplace bullying by increasing pressure on under-resourced OHS regulators.

The amendments are unlikely to reduce the incidence of workplace bullying in Australia as they address post-incident circumstances.

As the new legislation is being passed through Parliament, the industrial relations, political and legal context will dominate the media, More…

OHS would benefit from a historical perspective on workplace bullying 2

Every year, around this time, the mainstream media reports on the findings of employee surveys of the Victorian public service. Each year the statistics on workplace bullying are featured.  (The Age newspaper reported on the latest survey on 31 March 2013.)  But the approach to an understanding of workplace bullying has changed over the last fifteen years or so.  A brief look at the March 2001 Issues Paper on workplace bullying, released by the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA), is useful to illustrate the degree of  change but also the origin of some of the contemporary hazard control themes.

Cover of Bullying Issues PaperThe VWA Issues Paper was always intended to lead to a formal Code of Practice but due to belligerence from various industry bodies, no code eventuated and Victoria had to make do with a guidance note.  This effectively banished workplace bullying to a nice-to-manage rather than an essential element of modern management.  Significantly, Safe Work Australia intends to release a model Code of Practice on workplace bullying shortly. Perhaps the employer associations’ attitudes have mellowed.  Perhaps it is the decline of trade union influence since 2001.

The Issues Paper roughly defines workplace bullying as:

“…aggressive behaviour that intimidates, humiliates and/or undermines a person or group.” More…

Where to for the “the expensive and failed WorkHealth scheme”? 2

The Victorian Workcover Authority’s (VWA) WorkHealth program is coming to the end of its five-year life. But what is the way forward?  Has the $A600 million program achieved its aims?

Aims and Results

VWA’s annual report for 2008 (page 33) stated the following aims for WorkHealth, reiterated in the WorkHealth Strategic Framework 2010-12 (page 1):

“Over the long term, the program aims to:

  • cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10%
  • cut workplace injuries and disease by 5%, putting downward pressure on premiums
  • cut absenteeism by 10%.

These goals aim to drive productivity and reduce health expenditure that is associated with chronic disease.”

None of VWA’s annual reports since 2008 have included any mention of these benchmarks. More…

Australian Government shifts workplace bullying into the industrial relations system 7

Politicians are sufficiently media-savvy to release policies and information to gain the maximum exposure in the media cycle.  For some reason, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, missed the opportunity to have his changes on workplace bullying in the newspapers for 12 February 2013.  The news cycle is also being dominated by the resignation of Pope Benedict.  However Shorten’s response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying deserves detailed analysis.

??????????????????????????????????Shorten is bringing the investigation of workplace bullying cases under the Fair Work Commission.  There are likely to be complex consequences of this decision, a decision that is clearly the Minister’s as the Parliamentary Inquiry made no clear recommendation on the location of the “new national service”.

“The Committee did not receive evidence on where such a service ["a single, national service to provide advice to employers and workers alike on how to prevent, and respond to workplace bullying" 5.51, page 136] should be located.  It might be best situated within an existing government agency or department such as Safe Work Australia, the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.  It may also be considered appropriate for the service to be an independent body that is funded by the Commonwealth. Consequently, the Committee does not have a clear recommendation as to where the new national service may sit.” (Section 5.58, page 138)

Clearly Shorten’s announcement could easily have been “Minister rejects independent body on workplace bullying”.  The Minister should be asked about his reasons for not establishing an independent body into this important issue. More…

Australia’s psychosocial barometer provides strong evidence for policy and corporate change 2

OnlineMBA.com recently uploaded a video about “The True Cost of a Bad Boss“.  It is a good summary of the spread of negative organisational and employee effects that can result from poor management  poor understanding and poor communication.  It is well worth remembering this spread when determining the best way to manage workplace safety and increase productivity.

Cover of The-Australian-Workplace-Barometer-reportAlthough the video is from the US, there is research evidence to support many of the points raised. In December 2012, Safe Work Australia released  The Australian Workplace Barometer Report On Psychosocial Safety Climate and Worker Health in Australia, a report that has been largely missed by the Australian media. The report says that:

“A standout finding here is that depression costs Australian employers approximately AUD$8 billion per annum as a result of sickness absence and presenteeism and AUD$693 million per annum of this is due to job strain and bullying.” (page 6)

This is a significant impact on Australian business costs and, if one takes the OnlineMBA information concerning bad bosses, Australian bosses may need to undertake a considerable amount of self-analysis when lobbying for red-tape reductions and calling for productivity increases. More…