Burnout, self-advocacy and more

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SafetyAtWorkBlog’s initial approach to Justine Alter, Psychologist and co-director of Transitioning Well. on the prevention of Burnout illicited the following response. It deserved further exploration so Alter was sent a further set of questions leading to useful answers.

“Prevention strategies are considered to be the most effective approach for addressing workplace burnout, and there are a number of things that workers can do to minimise the risk:   

– Recognise the importance of a work-life balance ensuring that you get some recovery time
– Prioritise your time. Identify what is important, what can wait, and what can be delegated to others
– Self-advocacy. This can be difficult, however thinking about the importance of your mental and emotional health may help you advocate better for yourself
– Lead by example: utilise any flexible leave policies and opportunities that your company may provide
– Remain aware of resources that are available through your workplace – EAP, counselling, etc.  Consider making these resources available if they aren’t already.”

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OHS largely overlooked in National Outlook Report

The National Australia Bank and the CSIRO have released their National Outlook Report for 2019. It should be no surprise that the only mention of occupational health and safety (OHS) in this report is in relation to “employee wellbeing” – reflecting the current corporate approach to OHS in Australia. The discussion on employee wellbeing in this report is selective and could have been stronger in its recommendations for change.

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Doubts raised over the value of workplace wellness programs

In some Australian workplaces, wellness programs seem to be a dominant interpretation of occupational health and safety (OHS). This is being encouraged through the support of the OHS regulatory agencies. According to one expert, the benefits of workplace wellness programs remain under-researched and what research there is requires validation. Recently Zrui Song of Harvard Medical School said this to the ABC’s Norman Swan:

“There has been a couple of decades of evidence, largely observational in nature, studies that are from single institution or single workplace interventions focused on workplace wellness. And by and large this body of evidence has suggested that the return on investment for workplace wellness programs can be quite large. However, this body of evidence has been limited. They have been limited by the ability to show causal effects of workplace wellness programs…”

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Submission to the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces

Australian research into occupational health and safety (OHS) is a lot less than research into other areas of business and management, especially in relation to the psychological wellbeing of workers at all levels of the corporate structure.  As such, it has become common for experts, advocates and researchers from the social, non-work, public health areas to overlay general and broad research findings on to workplaces – they are, in effect, filling a vacuum.  But just because the OHS research into psychological harm is thin or immature does not mean that work does not have its own characteristics.

Over many years OHS has produced research and guidelines that include the psychological effect of sexual harassment, but it has been ineffectual or ignored for may reasons.  This submission is an attempt to illustrate the potential already in existence in Australia that could be used to prevent sexual harassment-related psychological harm.

This submission has drawn almost exclusively on Australian-based documentation and research to better satisfy the title and aim of this Inquiry.  This is not saying that actions and data from overseas are not relevant: there is some excellent information on the matter from the European Union[1], for instance. But quite often people seem to look overseas for evidence and solutions when Australia already has good research and advice, if one looks.

Summary of key points

  • Sexual harassment often results in psychological harm to workers, and employers and PCBUs already have a legislative obligation under OHS/WHS law to eliminate (prevent) risks to health and safety, including psychological risks.
  • By accepting that sexual harassment is a form of workplace violence, new prevention options may be available.
  • Australia has a range of general and specific guidance on the systematic prevention of the psychological harm generated by sexual harassment, produced by Federal and State or Territorial health and safety regulators.
  • Prevention of sexual harassment may be extremely disruptive to workplaces even though it remains the most effective control measure.
  • Any strategy to prevent sexual harassment must have a multidisciplinary and cross-agency approach.
  • Independent assessment of sexual harassment risks can be determined to internationally-recognised Standards
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Workplace sexual harassment inquiry releases submissions

The National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces has started to release some of its public submissions. The Inquiry has received a lot of submissions but this blog will continue its search for strategies to prevent sexual harassment and the related psychological harm, as indicated in the Inquiry’s terms of reference and reiterated repeatedly by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

One submission by Anita McKay is very detailed and titled “Recent Developments in Sexual Harassment Law: Towards a New Model”.

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