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…

Well-being programs have their place 10

Many Australian newspapers include articles about workplace health in their job ad or professionals sections.  On May 3 2014 the Weekend Australia included an article called “Working harder for health“.  The article touches on most of the usual elements of such articles

  • individual responsibility;
  • increased productivity;
  • medical screenings; and
  • vaccinations and fruit bowls.

But (finally) the interviewee acknowledges the importance of looking beyond corporate well-being programs to  larger organisational issues. More…

Self-employment should not be seen as a work/life solution Reply

Work/life balance is a close cousin to occupational health and safety (OHS), particularly health.  It is often the gateway people use to reduce occupational health risks such as stress and other psychosocial issues.  Moving to self-employment can be a successful strategy but it is not as easy as simply relocating one’s individual workplace or teleworking, the expected control on work hours may not eventuate and it may be very difficult to maintain a livable wage.  In The Saturday Age on April 26 2014 (not locatable on-line), Dr Natalie Skinner of the Australian Centre for Work + Life, provided a useful perspective.

Skinner writes that her annual surveys over the last six years have indicated that:

“self-employment is neither better nor worse for work-life conflict than being an employee.”

Skinner acknowledges that this seems odd because there has been so much debate about the win-win of workplace flexibility. More…

OHS needs more comedies like Safety First 3

a54c5e_887371bdbda842de8bfb875829197d4f‘s latest comedy show, Safety First, is a dig at the absurdity of some of the training and concepts behind occupational health and safety.  Safety First, showing as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, does not ridicule OHS as a concept but focuses on the idiotic, semi-informed trainers who talk about safety whilst also, often, talking shit.  The humour is effective and occasionally generates discomfort for its proximity to reality. More…

New Zealand trumps Australia on workplace bullying advice 3

Cover of workplace-bullying NZWorkSafe NZ has released “best practice guidelines” on workplace bullying.  Best practice is a nonsense term but this guide is a major step above similar guides in Australia, in particular.

Definitions

Guides always begin with definitions and the definition New Zealand has applied is the same as that in the recently released Australian workplace bullying guide but with a couple of odd semantic differences.  These variations should not have any effect on organisational changes required to prevent bullying but the variations are curious. Australia describes “unreasonable behaviour” the actions that generate the bullying as:

“…  behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.”

New Zealand’s definition is:

“…. actions that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. It includes victimising,  humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person.”

Is there a difference between actions and behaviours?   More…

Workplace mental health deserves more attention 2

Mental health needs in the workplace has been an evolving area of study and application and has been followed by the SafetyAtWorkBlog since its inception.  Several recent statements and reports in Australia have shown that the subject continues to be discussed but not by those who can make the substantial social change, the Government, partly due to a lack of the type of evidence needed by Government to justify the change.

Mental Health is the core element of almost all the contemporary workplace hazards that are categorised as psychosocial.  This includes stress, bullying, fatigue, suicide, work/life balance, and many more.  Each of these categories are important but most reporting and a lot of the health promotion initiatives in the workplace focus on the manifestation of mental health instead of the source.

On February 21 2014 the chair of the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA),  Jennifer Westacott, spoke about mental health and the workplace.  Westacott is authoritative in her presentation but approaches workplace mental health from the same perspective as many others in this sector – the integration of mental health into the workplace rather than looking at the mental ill-health that workplaces can create.   More…

Fair Work Commission girds its loins for workplace bullying complaints Reply

Official statistics on workplace bullying in Australia are notoriously unreliable.  The Productivity Commission estimated the cost of workplace bullying with a huge margin of variation, between A$6 billion and A$36 billion annually.  WorkSafe Victoria has indicated in the past that the number of interventions on workplace bullying is way below the number of workplace bullying complaints.  On 29 October 2103, in a long discussion on workplace bullying the Australian Capital Territory’s Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher stated:

“According to reports from the Commissioner for Public Administration, reports of bullying and harassment have totalled 68 cases in 2010-11, 71 in 2011-12, and 118 cases in the financial year that has just passed, 2012-13. Proven cases of bullying have numbered four, eight 11 and 19 respectively. This amounts to complaints being made by 0.5 per cent of staff, and substantiated in relation to 0.08 per cent of staff.” (Hansard, page P3930, emphasis added)

These latest statistics, in conjunction with those previously reported, indicate that the perception of workplace bullying is much higher than the reality in Australia.   More…

Always look for the evidence on workplace bullying and make sure it’s local 3

Boss is BullyOn September 9 2013, the Canberra Times published an article by Bill Eddy, entitled “Bullying a practice for the whole workplace to solve“.  (The article has been tweeted and referenced several times in the past week in Australia.)  Bill Eddy is due in Australia soon to conduct a workshop on workplace bullying. The article has some sound advice on workplace bullying but what caught my attention was the opening line:

“Research indicates that workplace bullying has a more negative effect on employees than sexual harassment, perhaps because there are more procedures in place for dealing with sexual harassment.”

What research? More…