Do you fix the fish or the aquarium?

Guest post from Jason van Schie

We can all (hopefully!) agree that looking after workers makes sound business sense. Look after your workers, and they will look after you.

So what is the best way to care for employees? By responding to their symptoms of distress through provision of reactive services like EAP [Employee Assistance Program] and resilience apps (fixing the fish), or by improving the design, management and social interactions at work (the aquarium)?

Let’s park that question for a minute and consider two questions:
1) What happens when we fix the worker but not the work? and
2) If population health is the goal, which approach is more likely to achieve the desired result?

Continue reading “Do you fix the fish or the aquarium?”

You can lead an employer to the law, but you cannot make them comply

Recently WorkSafe Victoria distributed two strategy documents to one of its reference groups. (They are not yet publicly available.) SafetyAtWorkBlog has seen the “Strategic approach to occupational health 2023-2026” and “Transport Fatality Prevention Strategic Approach 2023-2026”. The first includes the following occupational health categories:

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Is the OHS role in ESG overstated?

The March 2023 edition of Professional Safety, the journal of the American Society of Safety Professionals, included a lead story about the safety professional’s role in ESG (Environment Safety and Corporate Governance) strategies.  Its perspective was a little unclear and was based on many assumptions.

One of the problems with the article is the assumption that the occupational health and safety (OHS) professional has a large influence over the decisions of the business.  That is rarely the case, and there are many instances of OHS being sidelined or compartmentalised by structural and reporting lines and the exclusion of OHS from key decision forums like Board Meetings. So does OHS have a role and to what extent?

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Return to Office demands miss the point

This week a colleague told me that the return to the workplace demands by companies is the most significant issue for 2023. Perhaps, but it is no longer a significant occupational health and safety (OHS) challenge. The directions of company executives are couched in terms of productivity and management comfort. A short while ago, the cause of pre-vaccine tension was masks, hygiene, “dirty” public transport and mandatory vaccinations.

The issues have shifted from the avoidance of infections to the anxieties of returning to the office, which coincidentally places the issue in the OHS contexts of psychosocial issues and worker welfare.

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Stress reenters the research vocabulary and we are all better for it

Work is making people sicker, according to a recently published research report from the University of Melbourne. The “2023 State of the Future Work – A Work Futures Hallmark Research Initiative Report” said:

“Critically, we find almost three-quarters of people with a chronic illness (73 percent) say that their health condition was caused or worsened by the stress associated with their job.”

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It is good to see the various incarnations of work-related mental health conditions being brought back to the collective and specific term of Stress.

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Confusing positions on mental health at work

On March 28 2023, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (the Chamber) issued an important media release called “Preparing for workplace psychological health reform”. As with most media releases related to occupational health and safety (OHS) matters, it received little attention.

Anton Zytnik a consultant for the Chamber, warned against “mental health washing”, but this media release also contains examples of avoidance and misdirection. And he’s not the only one.

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Hubris, thy name is HR

The Human Resources (HR) sector often feeds off itself, reinforcing what it has always done, rather than seriously looking at opportunities to improve from outside its own experience and discipline. Workplace mental health is a particular example.

Recently the Human Resources Director (HRD) website promoted a new well-being survey from AON with the headline:

“Want to boost company performance? Invest more in wellbeing – Higher wellbeing scores can enhance performance by up to 55%: Aon report”

My initial response was WTF?! But after giving up some of my identity data to the website and reading the AON Report. My surprise diminished as I realised the report was just another example of comforting a profession on a workplace issue about which it is losing control.

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