Another burnout book from the US that ignores OHS duties

Advisory books about how to manage Burnout continue to be published. Another one that, due to the format and publisher, could be influential is Burnout for Dummies by Eva Selhub. Sadly, Selhub consciously downplays the occupational health and safety (OHS) role in preventing Burnout. Her choice sidelines OHS, the organisational context and the employer’s duty of care, but that seems typical for Burnout authors from the United States.

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Is psychosocial harm always preventable?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) in healthcare is a unique experience. Patient care and patient safety seem to override the OHS duties for healthcare workers. This is understandable given the culture and purpose with which people work; however, it is short-sighted, especially on the issue of mental health at work.

A new book on burnout (yes, another, and there are even more) was published recently on the issue of preventing burnout for healthcare workers, written by John Halbesleben. This 2nd edition has a slightly revised title to reflect the changing emphasis on mental health at work.

Halbesleben writes that the first edition from 2009 tried to convince readers that burnout was an occupational risk. Since then, that fact is now accepted, and not just because of the coronavirus pandemic. He writes:

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Resilience training is not dead, but it is coughing up blood

[This article was submitted to The Age (and elsewhere) as a soft counter to so many workplace articles about health and safety that never include content from an occupational health and safety (OHS) specialist. It was never used, even though rewrites were requested.

So it gets used here and in support of this curious month of October where, in Australia, there are two separate monthly themes – Mental Health and Work Health and Safety. That these themes continue to be separate says heaps about the culture in each of these sectors]

Australian jurisdictions are amending their workplace health and safety (WHS) legislation to specify that the unavoidable duties and obligations of employers must now include the psychological health of their workers and not just physical health.  These reasonable and long overdue moves are manifesting in new laws, and new guidances supported by new International Management Standards. The kicker in these changes is that, at least in Victoria, employers will no longer be able to rely solely on awareness training or resilience training to manage workplace mental health.  This position could, and should, challenge traditional mental health trainers and lobbyists to recalibrate their workplace strategies.

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Workplace suicide at one of the “Big 4” consulting firms

Warning: this article discusses suicide

Discussions about workplace mental health are everywhere, including this blog, but workplace suicides are less discussed, even though there is a direct connection between the two themes. This is due to the continuing stigmatisation of suicide, legal caution, reputational preservation and other factors. It is difficult to write about but necessary to do so.

Recently an EY (formerly Ernst Young) employee died at work after a work function. Some media has reported on this tragic incident, but EY has been under media scrutiny for some time about its workplace culture.

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Plants, cake and mental health

On mental health, a clinical psychologist, Dr Sanah Ahsan wrote in The Guardian recently that:

“…. I’ve seen first hand how we are failing people by locating their problems within them as some kind of mental disorder or psychological issue, and thereby depoliticising their distress.”

The Guardian, 6 September 2022

This perspective, enlightened for psychologists, is an established position for the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) advocates. But OHS advocates have been traditionally weak and sometimes timid outside of the trade union movement. Most employers will pay more attention to the OHS position on mental health when it is spoken by one of their own or by a more respected professional.

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Traditional suicide prevention strategies struggle for relevance

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Many organisations are and will be, releasing information about suicides but not really the prevention of suicides, more the management of potential suicides. It is a curious international day as it is almost a warm-up to Mental Health Day (and, in some places, Month).

This week Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) released a report based on a survey of 283 responses, the majority from members of SPA. It’s not a representative survey, but it gained a fair bit of media attention. It also raises consideration of the meaning of a “whole-of-government” approach and the role of Regulations in preventing suicides.

Regardless of the peculiar survey sample, the media release accompanying offered a statement that should have all mental health and suicide prevention professionals reassessing their strategies.

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Lymph v Blood – OHS at the Jobs & Skills Summit

If Industrial Relations is the lifeblood of the economy and the nation, then Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is the lymphatic system, a less well-known supplementary system without which blood circulation fails and the body stops working.

Australia’s Job and Skills Summit that has just concluded focused on the blood. Media analysis offered mixed interpretations. The event was politically stage-managed with many agenda items pre-prepared for the Summit to confirm, but it was not a worthless gabfest, as some (who chose not to attend) have asserted. On the matter of occupational health and safety, there was one new initiative but most of the OHS change, if any, is now more likely to come through the (wellbeing) budget in October.

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