Assessing the best places to work

On April 27 2022, a leading Australian business newspaper, the Australian Financial Review (AFR), included a supplement called the “Best Places to Work” (paywalled). I purchased a hard copy (yes, they are still available) to look for occupational health and safety (OHS) mentions.

“Best” is hard to define. It could mean safest, it could mean best paid, it could mean friendliest. Because the supplementary allocates awards for the best places to work, the judging consultants, Inventium, included its criteria. You can already guess some of the focus of the awards as Inventium is described as “Australia’s leading behavioural science consultancy”. The assessment of the applicants involves:

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Burnout causes are organisational. Who knew?

This blog has written frequently about “burnout” in workplaces, especially since the condition was defined by the World Health Organisation in 2019. I have seen it used many times as a shortcut, or synonym, for workplace mental health but usually only at the corporate, executive level. Workers have breakdowns, but executives seem to suffer burnout.

Recently a book was published in the United States called “The Burnout Epidemic, or The Risk of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It”, by journalist Jennifer Moss. What is most outstanding about this book is that the recommended fix is organisational. Usually, burnout books from the States focus on the individual worker or executive. This fresh US perspective makes the book essential reading for if the US recognises how to fix burnout and chronic stress, any country can.

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HR inching its way to an OHS epiphany

A new Human Resources (HR) article shows some promise in addressing the institutional factors that lead to poor mental health in workers.

The website for Human Resources Director asks, “Should HR be concerned about employee economic insecurity?” I would ask, “how can it not be?” given that Australian research over the last twenty years and international research since early last century has identified that job insecurity is one of several major factors in poor mental health for workers and other occupational health and safety (OHS) outcomes. HR should also be anticipating a renewed duty of care from the upcoming national OHS regulations on psychologically healthy workplaces.

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Political point-scoring misses the point

Last week the Australian Financial Review (AFR) caused a bit of a political stink by reporting that:

“….Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the share of casual employment was 22.8 per cent in February – 1.3 percentage points lower than in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit the economy.
The casualisation rate is 4.8 percentage points below the peak of 27.6 per cent in 2003.”

AFR, April 12 2022 – Albanese’s casual jobs claim is ‘wrong’, according to ABS data

The figures seem accurate but do not tell the whole story. How are employment statistics relevant to occupational health and safety (OHS)? Job insecurity is a significant factor in work-related mental health.

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We need a revolution in how we think about working hours

If there was only one way available to improve the health and safety of workers in Australia, it would be to limit and enforce working hours to those in the official Awards and job descriptions.

This situation which would really be simply a case of working-to-rule, would need to be supported by other not unreasonable changes, in no particular order:

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If the research is clear, why aren’t employers reacting?

Excessive working hours are harmful. This uncomfortable truth was recently spoken by the Harvard Business Review. The changes to prevent this harm is obvious to most of us involved with health and safety but remains uncomfortable to everyone else.

In an article called “The Research is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies, Sarah Green Carmichael posits three reasons for overwork:

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Working Hours and Leadership

The workplace issues of excessive hours, unpaid overtime and the negative mental health and social disruption effects are becoming more commonly discussed but not, necessarily, fixed.  A persistent example of these workplace hazards is the sitting of Parliament.

Parliamentarians are not always good examples of leadership and nor are they good managers of their workplace responsibilities, as shown by the response to sexual harassment and alleged assaults in the Federal Parliament House. A less controversial example of their management is the flexible hours applied to the passing of, usually contentious, legislation.

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