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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ChatGPT article on psychosocial hazards at work

I am uncertain about using Artificial Intelligence (AI), like ChatGPT, to produce articles related to occupational health and safety (OHS), but thought I better familiarise myself with the process. So, I asked ChatGPT to

“Create a 400-word document discussing psychosocial hazards in the workplace and the most effective methods to prevent them happening.”

Below is the article and a discussion of its deficiencies:

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Organisational and self-help advice on burnout

One of the best books about burnout is Jennifer Moss‘ “The Burnout Epidemic“, which this blog wrote about in April last year. A recent book on burnout and self-help caused me to revisit Moss’ book, and one of the chapters that I missed last year seems to explain the popularity of the self-help approach.

Moss writes about the organisational and structural workplace factors that create and perpetuate workplace stress and related poor mental health. However, one of the last chapters is titled “Take Care of Yourself, Too”. Moss writes:

“Self-care won’t fix broken organizational systems, but it’s the part we can control in a world full of the uncontrollable.”

page 213
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Mental health book should be influential due to lack of bullshit

Some of the recent guidance on mental health at work from occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators is not scintillating or even engaging. Their purpose is to provide information with the hope it is presented in a workplace by someone super-communicative and influential. (C’mon, really? We’re talking about OHS here.)

Luckily there is a recent easy-to-read book of fewer than 150 pages that reads like a conversation over a single afternoon with the reader about Mental Health At Work.

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The two extremes of managing burnout

Two new books about burnout arrived on my doorstep this week. They could not be more different. They reflect the mess of approaches to this type of psychosocial injury. Only one provides valid, useful evidence and advice.

Bev Aisbett released a book that I found unreadable – partly because of the advice offered but mostly because of the atrocious formatting where she YELLS almost all the time in the most annoying social media way. Below is a random example.

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HR, welcome to the OHS world and start getting used to it

In an article on burnout in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on December 10 2022 (paywalled), there was a peculiar quote and some paraphrasing of Sarah McCann, chief executive of the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), indicating the size of the challenges facing human resources professionals in preventing psychosocial harm in Australian workplaces.

The article is a peculiar one. It states that burnout has been categorised as an occupational risk by the World Health Organisation but then reports on psychological support organisations who are applying the concept outside of work activities. The justification for this is that the work undertaken at home or in caring for a family is unpaid work but still work, so the occupational definition applies. That’s a stretch, but it’s possible.

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Stress dressed up as burnout

One of the impediments to a discussion about mental health at work is the discussion of burnout. There is little doubt that burnout is real, but often it is used as a synonym for mental illness, which is confusing workers and employers, making the prevention of psychosocial harm seem more complex than it is.

Recently a Sydney-based fintech company called Flare released a discussion paper or guide advising on how to manage burnout. It said:

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