As well as featuring in a workplace psychology podcast Professor Tony LaMontagne spoke at the current Senate Select Committee on Job Security in Australia and made a submission that provides evidence of the connection between job insecurity and poor mental health. This strengthens the argument that the prevention of mental health at work (and maybe elsewhere) could be more sustainably achieved by structural and economic policies and practices outside of the direct control of employers.
Many employers are rattling around floors of empty offices while their employees are working remotely or at home and almost entirely due to modern telecommunications. This has not been at the request of employers but due to government lockdown requirements. The push to have workers return to multi-storey offices is reflective of the desire to return to normal rather than accepting that established business structures have been rendered impractical or unfeasible for the coronavirus future.
A recent article in the New York Times illustrates this new circumstance well. The article, titled “New surveys show how pandemic workplace policies are shifting“, says that the major information technology companies in the United States that every business seems to want to emulate even though their practices are very questionable are continuing to postpone the return of workers to bricks and mortar (or glass and stainless steel) offices. The NYTimes article is the first to discuss this phenomenon and its relation to mandatory vaccinations.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to promise a return to normal but it is impossible to return to a previous point in time without denying the changes that have occurred since then. Morrison speaks of this normality in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and may offer some understanding of his reticence to act on global warming as climate change will never allow a return to normal.
One of the workplace changes exacerbated by the pandemic is the working from home (WFH) option. Recently businesses are starting to accept this new normal, sometimes backed by research. Many businesses are in a state of (I would argue, permanent) transition. On July 2, 2021, Benjamin Clark offered a useful summary of the WFH state of play for Crikey (possibly paywalled) with some overlap to a November 2020 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on Working From Anywhere (WFA).
Too much weight is given to occupational health and safety (OHS) surveys and research that rely on self-reported data. Such data is subject to social and personal biases. It has its role in the state of knowledge, but its authority and worth is frequently overstated.
A recent research project into the OHS effects of working in open-plan offices removed this level of subjectivity by using a simulated office environment. The researchers’ findings provide a useful context to office design (not a new issue) and work-related mental health, especially when workers are being encouraged to return to the office.
One of the best ways to maintain one’s own work-related mental health is to adhere to working hours and keep work communication to the hours you are contracted for. This is not rejecting the workload but is establishing boundaries that will offer a more sustainable job, career and mental health.
However, disconnecting is not as easy as that, and there are potential job or career impacts. These were recently discussed in an article in The Guardian written by Elle Hunt.
Last week Australia’s Attorney-General, Christian Porter (Liberal Party), spoke of the occupational health and safety (OHS) of gig workers in the food delivery sector and illustrated a perspective that is less helpful than it could be.
Australia’s heavy vehicle transport industry has been involved in arguing about workplace health and safety for decades. It is also one of those issues that have been largely dominated by anecdotal evidence, as shown by the recent Australian Senate Committee hearings into the “Importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry“, much to the detriment of the occupational health and safety (OHS) of the drivers, the public safety of other road users and the families of those who die in road incidents.