On 30 March 2016, Melbourne hosted a Workplace Wellness conference organised by Informa. (SafetyAtWorkBlog attended as a guest.) The reason for attending was to see how occupational health and safety (OHS) is growing, or needs to grow, to accommodate workplace wellness issues and how the wellness sector looks on OHS.
The opening speaker spoke almost entirely about the wellness of women. I understand that our institutions remain almost entirely based on patriarchy but Donna de Zwart did not even acknowledge the men in the wellness sector or the men in the audience.
This raised the important issue about the demographics of the healthcare and wellness sectors. How does the strong female presence in these sectors affect the strategic priorities of workplace wellness and the provision of wellness services? How does this affect the communication of the wellness messages?
David Ninnes of Westpac, (pictured right) spoke energetically about the wellness approach applied at Westpac bank. Ninnes’s presentation was peppered with buzzwords such as “flourish”, “agile”, “empowerment”, “dis-stress” and others. He emphasised the effects of the technological revolution on the workplace and how people are struggling to cope with the pace of change. These effects are fairly obvious to those of us working in the West but Ninnes’ presentation could have benefited from more specific examples of change, coping and impacts rather than such abroad presentation.
Ninnes also said that we need to deal with people as individuals rather than a collective. It is important to accept that workers are not a homogeneous mass that responds uniformly, however our legislative, social and organisational remain structured to address collectives as the most effective means to assist and manage a large number of people. It is necessary to work with, and from, this reality but Ninnes seems to downplay this. Perhaps he was simply more enthusiastic about the future rather than reflective on the past; perhaps he was talking to the wellbeing audience and not the OHS delegates.
Janice Batt (pictured right) spoke of Safe Work Australia’s publications, advice and research into workplace wellness. Her presentation was very traditional but also promoted the OHS research being undertaken by others, such as Tony LaMontagne, Helen De Cieri and others. This reassured the audience that Safe Work Australia is aware of the latest safety and wellness research and thinking as well as provided many in the audience with new sources of information. Significantly half of the audience were unaware of Safe Work Australia, clearly not an OHS audience.
Mindfulness was a feature of the conference sponsors even though serious doubts have been raised about the workplace relevance of the concept by people like Dr Chris Stevens of Communicorp. The criticisms seem to be that there is too much focus on the individual rather than the organisational and that mindful strategies are unlikely to be sustainable.
The conference is about to hear about the newly announced WorkHealth Improvement Network, that has WorkSafe Victoria’s involvement but is being represented by speaker from the Department of Health and Human Services.