Australia’s psychosocial barometer provides strong evidence for policy and corporate change
Posted on January 10, 2013
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.
Although 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.
The Barometer provides a strong pathway to government and corporate understandings of the link between psychosocial health, worker performance and productivity. It says:
“Understanding how workplace psychosocial risk factors interact and contribute to worker wellbeing and productivity can be obtained through systematic measurement and analysis at both the population and organisational level.” (page 6)
Business is often heard saying that if something cannot be measured, it cannot be managed Safe Work Australia is measuring and therefore Australian businesses have no excuse for not managing workplace health.
The entire report needs careful consideration but a noticeable finding involved bullying and harassment.
“There is a serious concern regarding levels of bullying and harassment. Results from the AWB show that levels of bullying are at 6.8 per cent, which are substantially higher than international rates. Using a similar definition international research usually shows levels of around 1 to 4 per cent (Einarsen, Hoel, & Vartia, 2003). The results are particularly alarming for women as they report significantly higher levels of bullying and for significantly longer periods of time. By international standards levels of harassment also appear high in the workplace. Nearly 42 per cent of males report that they have been sworn or yelled at in the workplace. Over 20 per cent of workers are humiliated in front of others and almost 20 per cent state experience discomfort due to sexual humour. In addition 6.9 per cent of women experience unwanted sexual advances and 14.8 per cent of females in this sample experience unfair treatment due to gender. Urgent attention is needed to address these harassment issues in Australian workplaces.” (pages 8-9, emphasis added)
For those who like monetary estimates of OHS the quote on sickness absence is concerning. On the matter of working hours:
“Results indicate that working hours are a major issue in the workplace with over 40 per cent of participants working more than the national standard of 38 hours and 18 per cent working longer than 48 hours per week. This is of particular importance as work-family conflict is one of the major contributors to poor health and wellbeing.” (page 9)
Several of these psychosocial issues were mentioned in the MBAonline.com video.
Research reports are important but often their recommendations for practical action are obtuse but almost always recommend more research into the area of study. The Barometer says that:
“The results also indicate that safe work strategies and workplace interventions will be most effective if directed at reducing emotional demands and work pressure, improving work-life balance, and proactively addressing bullying and harassment issues by promoting appropriate workplace behaviour. Organisations and employers will also benefit from addressing levels of organisational reward provided to employees by encouraging employers to consider the importance that respect, recognition, job security, and the opportunity for career development can have on improving employee productivity and wellbeing.” (page 69)
The economic benefits are clear also:
“A growing body of evidence suggests that building PSC [psychosocial safety climate] at an organisational level will assist in improving Australian working conditions for psychological health and productivity.” (page 70)
One of the additional difficulties facing Australian businesses is that safety professionals, and OHS regulators to a large extent, do not understand workplace health in the organisational or PSC context, and may even debate whether health and safety should be managed together. The model Work Health and Safety Bill does not define safety but defines health as “physical and psychological health”. It seems that “health” is the preferred unifying term and perhaps those traditional safety professionals who do not “get” the “soft” elements of safety management need to change their outlook.
The lack of integration of psychosocial hazards and health into the traditional concept of safety, and productivity, is becoming not only a missed opportunity nut an impediment to progress.