Maintain instead of repair

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Every country has its share of high-fliers who “burn out”.  Many fade away from the public eye with their careers over.  Frequently this path to wealth and prominence is not perceived as a workplace health or safety matter.  Some people decide that the health trade-off of multi-million dollar salaries is worth it.

Sadly the psychological reality of this personal decision is often masked by clichés.  Frequently, executives say that a major motivation for their decision is “to spend more time with my family”.  Many executives may believe this to be a major part of their decision, but regrettably, this worthy sentiment has become a cliché – the equivalent of a beauty pageant winner working toward “world peace”.

The family-time phrase/reason/excuse signifies an important element of the executive’s personality.  They were willing to sacrifice decades of their relationship with their partner and to be absent from the development of their children for money.

If any of these departing executives use the family-time phrase in the same departure speech or media exit-interview  as regaining “control of their lives” to “re-engage with the most important people in my life”, ask the executives, or politicians, “how do you justify ignoring your family over your career?”.

In some cases one could be more specific.  “Do you think that your multi-million career was related to your daughter’s persistent attempts to kill herself?”  “After being absent so frequently and for so long, are you still justified in describing your marriage as a loving relationship, or your partner as your ‘soulmate’?”  “Was your million-dollar salary really worth it?”

Int he wake of the self-generated corporate financial crisis, some corporate executives are re-examining their ethics and morality.  Not enough are going through this but it’s a start.  Most say they operate for the benefit of shareholders but they cannot deny the reality of massive remuneration for their efforts.  What they are ignoring is the individual cost to their loved ones of these efforts.

Should we look up to the billionaires who sacrifice the wellbeing of others they say they love to chase the dollar?  Are these the paragons of our society?

People are trying to maintain or establish a work/life balance.  (There are several articles at SafetyAtWorkBlog that report on this movement.)  But the reality is that to achieve a work/life balance, one must be prepared to sacrifice income.  This may involve the necessity of achieving a certain stage in one’s career that is not the top, but still a position of value in the company and, equally important, of value to one’s family and even one’s own psychological well-being.  If one’s colleagues fail to understand this decision, the workplace culture is faulty, and probably irreparable.

If the ultimate ideal is to have a happy, functional, and sustainable community, one must examine one’s own motivations, and one’s own personal priorities.  Everyone must consider whether we want to emulate those who sacrifice their family’s welfare for money or whether we support those who rebut the “glory of the high-achiever” and emulate those who love their family enough to spend time with them through their career.  Maintenance is easier than repair in life as in safety management.

Kevin Jones

What the next generation of graduates wants

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A survey of graduates by GradConnection released on 15 July 2009 has important information for Australian companies and provides some optimism for the OHS profession and regulators.

A dominant element of modern employment is work/life balance. In some disciplines this is taken as workplace flexibility. In terms of workplace safety, work/life balance is a euphemism for psychosocial hazards of stress, bullying, fatigue, and workload amongst others. From this position, the survey findings showed that, when asked “What are the most important extra benefits?”, work/life balance scored the most support at almost 39%.

Companies that want to recruit graduates, often those companies which are looking to refresh their staff and workplace culture but also need to build sustainability and longevity, need to review their existing working conditions to match the desires of job seekers. This could be an enormous task for corporations that will take years but smaller companies can afford to be more reactive and flexible and may get the edge on attracting graduates.

It must be acknowledged that over 60% identified high salaries as the most important element in their salary packages. But the work/life balance indicates a growing reality that graduates are less likely to trade off wellbeing for dollars.

This is supported in terms of extra benefits where flexitime and flexible working arrangements gained around 24% and 22% support, respectively. Companies must operate within the time constraints of their industry, suppliers and customers but they should also identify those work processes that allow for flexibility. It may be useful to formalize start and finish times so that there remains a core set of hours within the working day where interaction of staff and clients can be maximised. Some of the social structures are already pushing in this direction with issues of public transport, schooling and childcare already accommodating this flexibility.

David Jenkins, the director of GradConnection, told SafetyAtWorkBlog that

The data we have extracted is drawn from contributions by about 10,500 graduates currently looking at their career options. It gives employers clear indicators as to what grads are looking for in their careers and helps potential employers adjust or increase their messaging about careers on offer at their companies.

Hope for OHS professionals and regulators comes from the fact that of the values that graduates wanted an employer to embrace, health and safety ranked third, behind equal opportunities and environmental sustainability.

This survey is the first generated through the website of GradConnections so the next survey should be able to provide some trend data.

Kevin Jones

Relocation is always an option for an improved work/life balance

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A couple of years ago there was a campaign in Australia to increase the number of general practitioners in rural areas due to a doctor shortage.  One doctor, Nicole Anderson, chose to relocate from tropical Queensland to temperate Tasmania.  She did so for several reasons including improving her work/life balance.

During the campaign in November 2007 I had the chance to talk with Nicole about her experience and her life choices for a SafetyAtWork podcast

As part of the Rural Health Workforce Australia campaign, short videos were produced of which Nicole’s story was one.  Click HERE to see the wonderful countryside Nicole has chosen to practice in.

Kevin Jones

How many Australians work from home?

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SafetyAtWorkBlog is mostly produced from a home office.  This is principally because the type of work undertaken can be done in a domestic setting.  There are thousands of small – and micro-businesses in a similar situation.   Thousands of people choose to run their businesses from home.

 This has often been overlooked in the teleworking movement over the last decade or so. “Working from home” has more often than not been considered an addition to working in an office.  The home workplace is seen as a back-up to a principal place of work.

In early may 2009, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released statistics on working from home, both as a main and second job.  The media statement emphasises those who take work home and does have one paragraph on home-based businesses.

“People who were owner managers in their main job were much more likely to use their own home for their main location of work (27% of the 1.9 million owner managers) than employees(1.4% of the 8.2 million employees*). Women who were owner managers in their main job were more likely to use their own home for their main location of work than male owner managers (45% compared with 18%)”

The media statement went on :

“Around one in every 12 employed persons (764,700 persons or 8%) worked more hours at home than any other single location in their main or second job.  Of these people:

  • The majority (83%) were aged 35 years or older
  • 55% were women
  • 39% were in families that had children aged under 15 years old
  • The main reason for working from home was ‘wanting an office at home/no overheads/no rent’ (37%), followed by ‘operating a farm’ (21%) and ‘flexible working arrangements’ (15%)
  • 31% worked 35 hours or more at home in all jobs”

The OHS profession has never really been able to cope with a workplace that is also a domestic residence.  To help, OHS professionals advise to have a dedicated home office so that the workplace has a defined area.  This allows OHS obligations to fit the concept.

Working from a kitchen table with a dog, a hungry child and three baskets of washing to hang out, is not what the legislation anticipated but it can be the reality.

Another reality is that many media and professional people can work out of their car or local cafes almost 100% of their time.  How does the advice from an OHS professional match those scenarios?  Legislation based on the assumption of a fixed work location or site might not meet these particular working environments.

Another thing that is always annoying is the assumption that it is office workers who work from home, so the tasks are necessarily technologically based.  Any OHS advice should apply to the issue of working from home in a broad sense and not just to specific work tasks.

As many professions become portable, OHS laws and legislation need to accommodate the flexibility.  If not more so, so do company policies, job descriptions, claims assessments, workplace safety assessments and others.

Kevin Jones