On December 29 2023, The Guardian newspaper’s cover story was about doctors in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service experiencing high rates of “moral distress”. It is common for hospitals and health care services to consider themselves as workplaces with unique hazards rather than suffering similar occupational health and safety (OHS) challenges to all other workplaces. What makes the OHS challenge so significant in the NHS is the size of the challenge rather than its nature or cause.
Many employers are continuing to pimp up their well-being programs and employer benefits with the intention of managing mental health pressures. This is often based on advice from multinational business advisory and consulting firms in the form of trend surveys and reports about business attitudes, fears and concerns. A recent report from Mercer was the basis for an article in the Australian Financial Review (AFR, paywalled) written by Euan Black. It is instructive to subject the article and the Mercer report to a little scrutiny to determine their usefulness.
Plain speaking is one of the greatest challenges of any profession. Many professionals struggle to communicate their excellent work and knowledge which has created the moves for Research-To-Practice and specialised communicators (as opposed to public relations advisers). Human Resources (HR) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) need communications specialists, or perhaps just interpreters, if a recent article on workers compensation and mental health is anything to go by.
If we are going to achieve a successful and effective change on workplace mental health, we need to start to understand each other.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) has released an important survey of their members about health and wellbeing at work. Amongst many of the findings is that “Stress continues to be one of the main causes of absence” and that “Heavy workloads remain by far the most common cause of stress-related absence…” So how are CIPD members reducing the heavy workloads? They’re not. 78% of respondents are using Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to “identify and reduce stress”. Options like hiring additional staff or reducing the workload do not even chart. OMG!
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) conference has endorsed the concept of the right-to-disconnect, according to an article in The Australian. Sadly, the reporting on the change has a dismissive tone on what is an attempt to address the increasing costs of mental health at work. Readily accessible and recent survey data on the right-to-disconnect could have been used for a fuller analysis.
Journalist Ewin Hannan wrote:
Work is making people sicker, according to a recently published research report from the University of Melbourne. The “2023 State of the Future Work – A Work Futures Hallmark Research Initiative Report” said:
“Critically, we find almost three-quarters of people with a chronic illness (73 percent) say that their health condition was caused or worsened by the stress associated with their job.”page 15
It is good to see the various incarnations of work-related mental health conditions being brought back to the collective and specific term of Stress.
On March 28 2023, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (the Chamber) issued an important media release called “Preparing for workplace psychological health reform”. As with most media releases related to occupational health and safety (OHS) matters, it received little attention.
Anton Zytnik a consultant for the Chamber, warned against “mental health washing”, but this media release also contains examples of avoidance and misdirection. And he’s not the only one.