David Yamada, in his blog Minding the Workplace, states that
“the more we can get the concept of human dignity into our everyday discussions of work, the better.”
SafetyAtWorkBlog is a supporter of dignity at work and it is heartening to see that the concept is being discussed globally. Dignity, as an activator for change, seems to be a missing element in not only The Hedgehog Review but also very recently released reports, OHS guidances and Australia’s debate on productivity.
The Australian Human Rights Commission released a report last week about sexual discrimination called Working Without Fear. A quick word search for “dignity” shows no results, nor do searches for “bully” or “bullying”. This is disappointing but perhaps should not be a surprise as this report indicates again that the Australian Government considers sexual discrimination and workplace bullying to be separate issues although lawyers and the media often overlap the two.
The Working Without Fear report, based on a large telephone survey concludes that
“…. targets of sexual harassment are most likely to be women and less than 40 years of age. Consistent with previous surveys, the 2012 National Survey also shows that the harassers are most likely to be male co-workers, though women were at least five times more likely than men to have been harassed by a boss or employer. Men harassing women accounted for more than half (56%) of all sexual harassment, while male harassment of men accounted for nearly a quarter (23%) of sexual harassment.
It is also concerning that there has been a significant increase in the number of people who have experienced negative consequences (eg victimisation) as a result of making a formal report or complaint of sexual harassment. Furthermore, understanding and reporting of sexual harassment remain low.”
These results will provide an interesting contrast to the final report of Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying when it is released, probably, early next year.
WorkSafe Victoria’s new guidance on “Workplace bullying – prevention and response” also fails to mention “dignity” or “harassment”, again supporting separation of human needs and values into operational and policy silos. It is exactly this establishment of operational and policy demarcations that will impede efforts to reduce the consequences of harassment, bullying and stress in Australian workplaces.
WorkSafe’s bullying guidance has provided the clarity demanded by workers and businesses on what is and what is not, considered workplace bullying. It states that:
“Threats to harm someone, acts of violence, assault, property damage and stalking
are criminal matters that should be referred to the police. Responses at the
workplace should be appropriate to the seriousness of what has occurred.
This guide is not intended to cover dissatisfaction or grievances with organisational
and management practices or poor management practices on their own, as they are
not workplace bullying. At times people may feel that their working life is unpleasant
and that they are being inappropriately treated, but feeling upset or undervalued at
work does not mean an individual is being bullied at work.”
Clearly WorkSafe believes that some issues that are being mistakenly brought under workplace bullying should be reported to the police. It could be that WorkSafe Victoria is a victim of its own high public profile on workplace safety issues even though WorkSafe has always clearly defined occupational violence from workplace bullying.
The quote above also addresses the misinterpretation of “rough” or poorly handled performance management as workplace bullying. Performance management and the associated performance reviews can be an enormous waste of time and, SafetyAtWorkBlog suggests, may be a major contributory factor to why the Australian public service seems to have a high concern and higher rate of workplace bullying than non-governmental workplaces. Poorly handled performance reviews and personnel management can counter many of the positive workplace culture and work health and well-being initiatives and there are strong parallels between what OHS regulators promote, and enforce, as consultation and personnel management. The work of Australian psychologist Graham Winter discusses performance reviews in more detail.
The Australian Government has the opportunity to develop and apply a multi-disciplinary approach to workplace stress and mental health when the Parliamentary inquiry releases its workplace bullying report. There is likely to be a chance to apply positive control measures on “decent work” and “dignity at work” as complementary values to its “fair work” initiatives and laws. This could be achieved without being accused of “nanny state” policies but as recent ill-informed comments from business groups and conservative politicians have shown, such a strategy will require careful consideration if it is to achieve the cultural legacy it deserves.
Workplace safety is an integral part of the ongoing political discussion about productivity. But managing safety and reducing physical and mental harm is hard work. It requires companies to reassess the values they apply to their business and their workforce and a reassessment of personal and corporate values can be confronting. Some companies never get to the point of examining the human cost of production and their legacy of unjustifiable death will outlive any profits and honours gained.
Any genuine discussion about increasing productivity must include an analysis of the basis of production – the physical and mental welfare of the workforce. We work harder when we are happy. We work harder when we are not tired. We work harder when we know we are safer. We work harder when we know we are supported by our supervisors and valued by our executives. We work harder when we know we will not be harassed at work, or bullied or exploited.
Productivity is being discussed at the senior levels of Australian politics and corporations in the contexts of new markets, cost control, profits and taxes. Often one hears about the need to regain Australia’s productivity but perhaps the safety professionals, human resources experts and wellbeing advocates need to remind those policy decision makers that people produce the goods and services for companies to sell and for governments to provide. Perhaps we should be saying that to achieve a sustainable level of productivity, attention should be given to the mental and physical needs of the workers and the employees, and that harassment, bullying, stress, fatigue etc should be addressed through a unified theory of healthy productivity.