We know how to prevent burnout but we have little desire to change

Probono Australia is reporting that employee burnout is on the rise. Burnout is increasingly being used as an alternative term for mental ill-health or stress at work. The report on which the writer based their article is not surprising, but the recommendations are. The subheading for the article is:

““Structural and cultural shifts, not wellness initiatives, are needed to address the chronic workplace stress of burnout.”

But the article also pulls together other workplace mental health factors:

“The rise of digitisation has brought with it a need to  ‘always be on’ and, with that, employee work-life balance has become harder to maintain. It was this type of ‘24/7 access to employees’ thinking, the study found, that led to burnout.”

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A good job is also a safe job

At the moment, “The Great Resignation” remains a United States phenomenon, but part of that movement involves a reassessment of one’s job. Is it a good job? Is it meaningful work? Is it a good job now but likely not in the future? I would include my occupational health and safety perspective (OHS) and ask if it is a safe job, but I accept that my perspective is far from universal.

Recently Sarah O’Connor wrote in the Financial Times about the importance of having a decent boss. She wrote that

“Economists are increasingly of the opinion that the quality of jobs matter as much as their quantity”

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Ethical Socialism and OHS

Every political leader on the progressive side, or Left, of politics, must address their relationship to Socialism. Recently The Guardian discussed this concerning the UK Labour leader Keir Starmer but the topic has relevance to Australia as several elections are scheduled for 2022. It is also important in understanding the ideological base of these prospective leaders as it is from this that progress on occupational health and safety (OHS) will emerge.

In a recent book “Sedated: How Modern Capitalism Created Our Mental Health Crisis“, UK academic Dr James Davies provides a valuable first-hand experience of the denial, or avoidance, of social obligations and the transference of responsibility to individuals in the context of Mental Health First Aid.

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Danger Money corrupts OHS

The traditional manner for employers to get unsavoury or hazardous work tasks done is to offer more money. This is referred to as Danger Money in some countries and Hazard Pay in others. There has been a resurgence in Danger Money during the COVID-19 pandemic, offered by some employers and requested by some workers and unions. This negotiation is a collaborative avoidance of both groups’ occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations and should be opposed vigorously by OHS associations and advocates.

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Bad work “habits” are part of the problem

The headline immediately caught my attention:

“Five bad habits to dump before resuming work”

Australian Financial Review, January 4, 2022

Such is the power of the click-bait headline.

This article is aimed at middle managers and those working from home. It is in the Australian financial/business newspaper so articles about individual empowerment and entrepreneurship rather than structural change are expected. The article above is a classic example of the Australian Financial Review’s approach to workplace health and safety matters: a newspaper with significant influence on business leaders and executives but one that rarely quotes or approaches occupational health and safety (OHS) experts.

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Banyan Health Group responds

Earlier this week, I paused an article on corporate burnout which used a media release from the Banyan Health Group as the catalyst. The group chose not to respond to some challenging questions but later reversed their position. Below are the responses of Ruth Limkin – CEO of The Banyans Healthcare Group to those questions. I thank Ruth and her team for their support

SAWB: The media release mentions chronic stress risk factors of “increased absenteeism, disconnected employee relationships, heavy workload and tight deadlines” and “longer hours”.  The World Health Organisation has written that “Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life”. What can an executive manager do to reduce or eliminate these factors and thereby reduce the need for personal psychological interventions? Should the businesses change the way they do business and change the expectations that they place on executives?

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Corporate burnout and expecting too much

The Banyan Health Group issued a media release about company executives experiencing burnout in support of Psychology Week. I put some questions to the Group’s media contact from the occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective. The contact said that the Banyan Health Group members did not think they were best placed to answer the questions. [They have since chosen to respond and that supplementary article is available HERE]

That’s perhaps understandable, but we know that work-related mental health problems require a multi-disciplinary response involving personal and structural interventions as individual, social, and organisation factors contribute to poor mental health, of which burnout is part. Organisations that put themselves out there as subject matter experts and corporate workplace service providers to business should be able to respond to challenging questions. Below are statements from Banyan’s media pack and my questions.

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