Purposeful or lazy discussion of Right-To-Disconnect and Working-From-Home?

There is a curious development in the current discussion in Australia about the newly introduced Right-To-Disconnect (RTD). Many are conflating RTD with Working From Home (WFH) – two separate but slightly overlapping changes to the world of work – which is impeding valid and necessary discussion.

Working From Home largely emerged as a response to the coronavirus pandemic and used flimsy work structures to provide business continuity. The WFH arrangements would have been unlikely to have been so widespread without the federal government’s investment in the National Broadband Network and the commercial growth in mobile phone communication infrastructure. However, that same infrastructure and investment have contributed to the problem that Right-To-Disconnect is intended to address.

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Reflect on failures before jumping into change

Gabrielle Carlton, Director & Principal Consultant at Resylience, recently published an interesting article about her experience with a former Australian soldier who was struggling with work-related mental ill-health. The mental health of defence personnel is a hugely important and complex situation that questions the core function of defence and our expectations of defence personnel. However, some of her comments on psychosocial health in the article’s conclusion caught most of my attention.

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What to do about workplace mental health? Talk, Listen, Examine

Seminars on workplace mental health must always offer solutions and not only (always) the solution that the host wants to promote. Occupational health and safety (OHS) needs to be more altruistic (Yes, it may be hypocrisy from a subscription blog). Recently I spoke on the issue of psychosocial hazards at work and offered this slide on “What can be done?” [Note: This article discusses suicide]

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Chalk and Cheese – legal seminars on mental health at work

Over the last few months, various seminars from law firms and others have focussed on how to comply with new and impending occupational health and safety regulations related to psychosocial hazards at work. Over the last fortnight, I attended two such seminars; they were as different as chalk and cheese, even though both had strong voices from lawyers, illustrating the sources of some of the confusion over the issue felt by some employers.

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OHS and management courses

Research findings that a sample of business and management courses have little to no OHS content are not surprising and match what has now become fashionable to call “lived experience”. Part of the reason for the findings is that the number of undergraduate courses in OHS has declined, and those that did exist were not often recognised as “management” courses, although OHS can be little else.  They were certainly not “integrated” with other traditional management approaches.

Part of the reason, I like to think, is because OHS principles challenge the ethics underpinning business management courses and concepts.  OHS would say that workers are people and not “units of labour”.  If workers are people for whom we are supposed to apply dignity, respect and care, how can Business exploit the worker’s labour, loyalty and goodwill in order to maximise profits or shareholders’ returns, which are supposed to be the main purposes of modern business?

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Stress reenters the research vocabulary and we are all better for it

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.

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The next stage of OHS analysis?

“One of our key roles as the regulator is to understand why workplace injuries happen” –

Dr Natassia Goode. Worksafe Victoria, February 9, 2023.

Dr Goode made this statement at a research seminar for the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research. She went on to explain those “widely acknowledged” causes in an expansive discussion about “systems thinking“.

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