Presenteeism in the new world of work

Presenteeism has largely been analysed through the principles and managed through the actions of the Human Resources profession. The COVID19 pandemic has changed the presenteeism conversation. There seems to be more enforcement of occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations on employees to not present a hazard to their work colleagues and customers and, therefore, to remain home.

On May 5 2021, in Darwin, the Australian Labor Party’s Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, Tony Burke, spoke about presenteeism at a Transport Workers Union meeting. He said that the COVID19 pandemic showed that “a third of the workforce in Australia didn’t have sick leave” and:

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Wage theft and work health and safety

Many large and small Australian businesses have been exposed as underpaying staff.  This exploitation is gradually being addressed in law firms, according to a report this morning in the Australian Financial Review (paywalled). In the context of occupational health and safety (OHS) though, the description in the first paragraph of “crippling workloads” is an important mention of relevance.

Reporter Hannah Wootton and David Marin-Guzman do not focus on the OHS and mental health aspects of these workloads in this article as underpayment is the focus, but they touch on OHS matters later when mentioning the Hayne royal commission:

“The royal commission sparked reports, including to workplace safety regulators, of crippling work hours that put lawyers’ health at risk and resulted in many sleeping at work.”

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“Soldier On” should be “F### Off”

Many workers continue to work when sick. This is called presenteeism and in a time of infection pandemic, is a major problem. Many countries have addressed the COVID19 risks of presenteeism by requiring people to work from home if they can. In Australia, the message is not totally working with people ignoring the rules for various reasons.

However, presenteeism also has a deeper cultural and institutional origin that has been exploited by some and downplayed or ignored by others.

Continue reading ““Soldier On” should be “F### Off””

Australian government reopening strategy

On the afternoon of May 8 2020 the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, revealed the decisions of the National Cabinet. This is a national plan developed with the agreement of State Premiers and Chief Ministers who will be largely responsible for how this plan is implemented in their local jurisdictions. Many of the occupational health and safety (OHS) challenges have been anticipated by business owners as discussed in this morning’s blog article but it is worth looking at the infographics of the plan revealed by Morrison and Murphy but also the transcript of the press conference as that provides an important context to what the government expects to happen.

The government released two infographics, one was four pages of the broad plan, the other is that plan split into industry sectors.

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Reopening challenges are more like manageable inconveniences

Many Australian workplaces will be reopening in the next few weeks.  Their productivity capacity will change, their workplaces, will change and their approach to, and understanding of, occupational health and safety (OHS) will need to change.  But there are signs that some business owners and employers are embracing risk and safety in this new operating climate but there are others who are either denying the changes needed, are struggling to think creatively, are ill-informed or are stupid.  Most of these realities were on display in a single edition of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on May 8, 2020 (paywalled) – the primary source for this article.

The timing of the newspaper edition is important as it was published on the morning before the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, revealed the decisions of the National Cabinet. A further blog article will be produced on those decisions shortly.

Lifts and Whinging

The AFR front page carried a short story called “Elevated risks in office lifts” that shows the deficiencies of several thought processes mentioned above.

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Mental health and “workplace disability”

Deutsche Welle‘s regular program “World in Progress” reported on Work in its December 18 2019 edition. It includes discussions of exploitation and trafficking of Nigerian women and South Korean workers being pressured to reluctantly attend work functions. Of particular relevance to the theme of this blog is the last report in the program when workplace psychological health is discussed.

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Good, but very limited, advice on workplace mental health

Member magazines, those magazines included in a professional’s membership, are an important source of information. Members of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, for instance, receive the RoyalAuto magazine which is really the primary source of information on changes to road rules. Most occupational health and safety (OHS) associations have internal magazines for a similarly targeted audience. Australian accountants have the In The Black magazine.

Recently In The Black published an article about mental health at work titled “Get smart with mental health”. No background to the author, Helen Hawkes, was provided and no references were included for the data used to support statements about the importance of the mental health. Context and sources are important to all articles but arguably moreso for member magazines and, especially, for professionals like accountants who can have a major impact on how OHS is managed.

Much of the information in the article would be familiar to OHS professionals – Return on Investment, the cost of Presenteeism as a percentage of payroll…. What is almost entirely missing is advice on how to prevent mental ill-health from occurring in the first place, and there is no mention of any of the OHS guidance in this area published by Safe Work Australia.

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