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How Our Workplaces Are Making Us Sick

Alexandria Joy - Friday, December 26, 2014
It was during working on a campaign while I was Director at WorkCover that I had an epiphany that would stay with me into all my future work and businesses.

We ran a marketing campaign called “Homecomings” with the help of creative agency Shannon’s Way – it was all about the need for workers to come home safe from work every day to their family, friends and loved ones. The taglines for the campaign included:
“Your reason for workplace safety is not at work at all.”
“Work safe. Home safe.”


These taglines really struck a chord with our market research test audiences as well as our staff before we even launched the campaign. What really hit home for me how much we entrust the lives of our loved ones into the hands of their employers every day they go to work. The campaign footage showed a young boy waiting for his father to come home, two teenagers who barely acknowledge their dad but their dog getting excited to see him and other various 'coming home' scenes.

My powerful epiphany was how every worker in every workplace is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s mother or father, brother, sister, husband or wife, partner or best friend. Here in Western society we all believe that it’s our fundamental right to work in a safe and healthy workplace and that each day we should be able to go home from work as healthy – both physically and psychologically - as we did when we left in the morning.

Which means the leaders of every company and team are trusted to act like a pseudo parent in their employees extended work family. I believe it is imperative that leaders come from a place of love and genuine care about the wellbeing of the precious lives under their care and supervision, and not just because of some legislation. Those who take up this duty and choose to serve their workers as an extended family, not hired labour or resources to be used, will create stable innovative, high performing, loyal teams over the long term. Sadly few managers and leaders take it this seriously, or have really considered the entrusted role they hold.

What we need therefore, is to build more organisations that prioritise the physical, social, emotional and psychological wellbeing of their workers so we can build happy and healthy families and communities.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to become Expander Leaders, advancing our organisations to create more leaders who in turn grow, flourish and are more likely to serve and become Expander Leaders themselves.

Sadly, during the past few years of downturn and financial crisis and economic instability, a container management style has become more prevalent and it has brought cultures of fear, isolation, blame, threats and stress. As people contract, retract and retreat, they also resort to bullying, harassment, backstabbing and competition, rather than collaboration and cooperation.

Figures from WorkCover NSW between 2000 and 2014 show a marked increase in the number of bullying and harassment workers compensation cases. In 2012/13 the majority of occupational disease claims in NSW alone were mental health diseases accounting for 2235 claims. These mental diseases included such things as clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although “stress” itself is not a compensable condition, it is one of the many possible factors that may contribute to the contraction or aggravation o a compensable psychological condition. These mental health claims account for 34 per cent of al occupational disease claims and the total gross incurred cost was $49 million with an average cost of around $22,000 per claim. Plus the total time lost as a result of mental disease claims was 39,609 weeks with an average of 18 weeks per claim.

Anxiety/ stress disorder and anxiety/depression claims accounted for 59% of all claims. Industries where mental disease claims accounted for more than 50% of their occupational disease claims were education and training, public administration and safety, accommodation and food services, health care and social assistance – all industries that should be focused on care, love and service! Occupations which accounted for these claims included protective service workers, education professionals, carers and aides, human resources and marketing professionals, health professionals and health and welfare support workers.

This data is from just one state in Australia over the period of one year only! Our workplaces are indeed making us sick and our leaders must take their responsibility to create a positive, healthy culture seriously.

What are we doing wrong?

The raw truth is that an organisations’ success is based on leadership excellence not management acumen. Many organisations give lip service to the concept of their people being their most important resource. What is needed are more Expander Leaders who truly see their people for the unique individuals they are and truly care about those entrusted to their care.

When we become the architects of our company cultures rather than passive participants, we can create workplaces where people are grateful for the opportunity to volunteer their best work every day. To create this takes a series of small, incremental changes and conscious moves, not a single pill.

I believe that when we consciously, deliberately and intentionally choose to design our workplace cultures using the principles of Expander Leadership, love and recognising the UQ (unique strengths) in every individual we unleash human potential. I invite you to join the movement and #startwithU.

If you're ready to #startwithU and want more information on how to lead during a downturn, watch my videohttp://www.uqpower.com.au/_blog/uqtv/post/four-steps-to-leading-during-a-downturn/

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Comments

Mary Ellen Miller commented on 30-Dec-2014 02:47 AM
Heidi, I had no idea workplace bullying had grown at that alarming rate. I like the notion of care, love and service, particularly as we move into a new work year.
Heidi commented on 30-Dec-2014 05:24 PM
Sadly yes it is the case Mary Ellen - I believe the increasing use of email rather than human communication that builds empathy is partly responsible too. May 2015 see this trend reversed #startwithU
Sue Painter commented on 01-Jan-2015 06:16 AM
While I don't want to ever portray employers as parental figures I do agree that most talk like employees are ever so important and then their actions say the opposite. The pendulum will swing only when it hurts their bottom line significantly.
Tandy commented on 02-Jan-2015 03:17 PM
What an alarming and telling post. As leaders, it is our responsibility to maintain a safe environment on all levels. I think it's horrible when people hid behind their computer/monitor and create a bullying or negative environment. Leaders and HR must take swift action when things like this happen to ensure a positive environment... and an environment that contributes to the bottom line.
Jessica commented on 03-Jan-2015 03:28 AM
I experienced this first hand and it did in fact come from the leadership of the company. The great outcome was I chose to take my health and my future in my own hands and become my own boss. I now have multiple businesses that I LOVE! And I'm a fantastic boss... to myself.
Trudy Scott commented on 03-Jan-2015 01:31 PM
The percentages for anxiety/ stress disorder and anxiety/depression claims are so high. I had no idea but quite frankly I'm not surprised. We are seeing this increasing across the board.

I know companies will wake up and do something as it starts affect their bottom-line. I just hope they do the right thing and start with helping their people with practical tools like how to eat real whole food and simple stress reduction techniques.

And yes love!
Mira commented on 05-Jan-2015 02:23 AM
I know that many companies simply pay lip service to the idea of a balanced lifestyle for their employees but had no idea it was this skewed toward bullying. Thanks for bringing attention to this.
Mitch Tublin commented on 05-Jan-2015 01:37 PM
The companies who are taking action offer yoga, meditation and other quiet periods for all of
their employees. The proof is in reduced sick days and overall a less stressful work environment.
Katherine C. H. E. commented on 06-Jan-2015 02:10 AM
Sad stuff. It IS all about leadership... sets the tone for the entire culture. Thanks, Katherine.
Tiffany deSilva commented on 09-Jan-2015 06:40 AM
Those stats are quite concerning. I agree that a more bio-psycho-social approach to doing business is the way to go.

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