• Peter Bateman
    228
    H&S practice increasingly acknowledges the need to include psychological or mental harm alongside physical harm, but many practitioners struggle to put this into practice at their own workplaces or with their clients.

    In the second Forum live chat, well known consultant Hillary Bennett will put a couple of questions to the Forum on this topic and will respond to your own questions.

    Sign up now to receive a reminder.
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  • Peter Bateman
    228
    Here are some questions from Hillary to start you thinking ahead of Friday's session:
    • Can mental wellbeing at work be measured?
    • Is the threshold for the regulator to investigate mental health (ie a clinical diagnosis) too high?
    • Are we treating harm to mental health differently to physical harm?
    • Has the potential for psychological injury become a new focus of risk assessment?

    (Note that in these live chat sessions, all posts to this thread go to the moderator for consideration and possible release to the Forum. I'll release some responses to these questions in the hour before we kick off at 10.00am tomorrow just as a warm-up. Not all responses may appear, depending on numbers, repetitiveness etc)
  • Hillary Bennett
    27
    Morning – to start our conversation, I thought it may be helpful to share some of my concerns. My sense is that most organisations get that their duty of care extends beyond physical health to mental health. However, the response to deal with mental harm has largely been to build the wellness and resiliency of workers or provide them with EAP support if they are struggling. Although these are sound initiatives, they do not address the major known causes of poor mental health i.e. the many known wellbeing risk factors such as excessive workload, constant change, bullying. This puts the focus for improving mental health with the individual. If we want people to thrive, we need the courage to question the way which work is organised and managed i.e. we need to assess the extent to which work meets the principles of good work design.
    In short, while mental health awareness has risen significantly in recent years, too many employers are tinkering at the edges of change rather than making the fundamental differences that are really needed to improve their employees’ mental health. We treat mental health differently to physical health.
  • Peter Bateman
    228
    Agree that work design is a valuable focus for improving mental wellbeing.
    (So-called resilience training has always rung alarm bells with me - the physical safety analogy is that it's like training workers not to fall from height rather than redesigning work so it doesn't have to be done at height.)
    However I'm also aware that for many people working in H&S, dealing with mental wellbeing is a scary prospect outside their experience. (This also applies to WorkSafe and its inspectors).
    How to resolve this, so that mental health and wellbeing can be brought within the scope of H&S practice?
  • Admin
    24
    OK, it's nearing 10 so time to post your responses to the questions above, and to tell of your experience grappling with the mental health side of things.
  • Rachael
    98
    Mental health is such a massive subject!

    Although it is great to see business getting on board for a week or two each year and bullying reports starting to filter through to the HS teams, it is also frustrating to see the disconnect between people who are concerned about mental health and who also work as a lifestyle choice where 'busy' and 'stressed' are not just expectations but badges of honour for supervisors and managers.

    How do we even start to have the conversations and attempt to close that inter-generational gap where Gen X and older 'live to work' as they lambast Millenials and younger who actually have the right idea that work is only a part of the life equation?

    As an example; ten years ago the 60 hour-week was a BIG week. now it's an unwritten expectation for anyone who looks toward furthering their career.

    How do we market the idea that having the personnel capacity to allow for that balance in life is just as important as having the correct guards on our machines?
  • Craig Marriott
    203
    Hi Hillary
    We are often asked to demonstrate progress for the initiatives we put in place.
    How can we measure improvements (or not) in mental health?
  • Hillary Bennett
    27
    I agree that many people working in H&S find addressing mental wellbeing scary. However if one steps back and reflect on the work to be done, people are not being asked to be counsellors. To protect people's mental health at work we need to know what the risks are and then to ensure we have done what we can to eliminate and minimise. My concern is that we know what many of the risks are but take many of them as 'givens' rather than looking at ways to redesign or arrange the work. I see this so often in relation to workload. Research from the UK has shown that behind 44% of work related stress sits workload pressures and lack of manager support.
  • Maxine Giffen
    5
    Resilience training & weekly fruit bowls are nice however, as we know, we are required to pro-actively identify and assess risk.
    What advice would you offer PCBUs to pro-actively identify psycho-social hazards & assess associated risks?
    What is deemed reasonably practicable to do in this space?
  • Hillary Bennett
    27
    Hi Rachel,

    This a good point. Part of the good work design piece is to be clearer about work expectations and arrangements . In a recent wellbeing survey I conducted for a NZ organisation the key improvements to wellbeing identified were better management of workload and more flexibility on work arrangements. Interestingly this was across all age groups. Both of which are design issues
  • Hillary Bennett
    27
    Hi Craig my thoughts are that we to look beyond our normal ROI indicators.
    The Global Wellness Institute questions whether ROI is the appropriate measure for workplace wellness programmes given that the value of these programmes is often intangible and given the inherent limitations of a programmatic approach to employee wellness.
  • Peter Bateman
    228
    To take another tack, how have people found working with their HR colleagues in this area?
    So often, it seems, people who report to HR that they have been bullied or sexually harassed end up victims of the HR system too.
    HR too often seems to consider its duty to protect the organisation first rather than to protect its employees.
    H&S - ideally - has a relentless focus on protecting people.
    A clash of cultures?
  • Hillary Bennett
    27
    Hi MAxine.

    I think this is the heart of the matter. I think we need to start putting more effort into identifying the risks to wellbeing in our specific organisation rather than relying on the many shopping lists of 'psychosocial hazards' that are found in any Google search. The looking for appropriate controls. However, when looking at controls we need to entertain the idea that the work as currently arranged may not be the best way to do it. It is also important that this work is done through a 'work-as-done' lens rather than a work-as-imagined lens. In other words, we need to understand the risks from the people doing the work, not those removed from the realities of the actual work
  • Rachael
    98
    Are many places tracking illness (from any cause) and relating that back to any workplace influences?

    I know it's ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff, but it'd be interesting to see what would happen if the absentee list was analysed from the 'have we had a part in this?' angle, rather than the usual 'they've got problems /need to eat better/lack resilience' angle
  • Hillary Bennett
    27
    Bullying is known risk factor to a person's mental wellbeing. As it is covered by several legislative acts - it can be viewed as both an HR and HS issue. The key issue for me is that we do not see bullying solely as an individual issue but look to support the people involved as well as assess the extent to which the workplace has recognised bullying as a risk factor and has appropriate processes to manage the risk
  • Alex
    15
    We struggle with recording psychosocial type events - they seem to stay with HR and locked down under privacy concerns
  • Hillary Bennett
    27
    Tracking illness usually invovles subjective reports of wellbeing/harm. Given that our mental health is subjective and dynamic and moves along the mental health continuum, my thinking in this space is that to track personal wellbeing we need to do regular pulse checks as to where people see themselves along the continuum from thriving to unwell. Measuring once a year as we tend to with engagement will not provide an adequate picture
  • Peter Bateman
    228
    Whoa! That's like HR hearing of an accident and not telling H&S. Perhaps a way forward would be for HR to always inform H&S of a mental distress report so that HR can deal with the issue on a personal level and H&S can consider if there are any system of work factors involved that could be improved?
  • Jessica Clout
    1
    do you have any advice or suggestions on successful ways that you have seen for tracking personal wellbeing in an organisation on a regular basis?
  • Hillary Bennett
    27
    Perhaps this is because some level of harm has already occurred and so it gets clouded with privacy conerns. If we shift our focus from the harm to the risks we may have more opportunity to reduce the potential for harm. Not that I am saying we should ignore the harm. This is an area where I think we tend to treat physical injury differently form mental injury. If the harm was hearing loss from excessive noise would we share this more freely?
  • Maxine Giffen
    5
    Hi all,
    The potential for psychological injury is an interesting topic not only for work related hazards but for issues external to the workplace brought into work. The HSWA is about hazards created by the workplace however, ISO 45001 asks us to consider external and internal issues that may impact on the effectiveness of the H&S management of the business and includes identifying situations/factors occurring in the vicinity of the workplace not controlled by the org that could impact on work. e.g. a family violence situation and the risk of a perpetrator visiting the complainant at work. Our current situation may also fit into this. The question is, "how far should we go"?
  • Alex
    15

    We're working on it including activating as 'sensitive event' function in our system so we can report on it without sharing the details with the wider group but its a slow process
  • Alex
    15
    Another question given the current climate and people working from home - we still have people working from home at level 2 and 3. How do we monitor mental health with people who are now working remotely and possibly feeling either isolated or overwhelmed?
  • Hillary Bennett
    27
    Hi Jessica - sadly no. I think there are two parts to this. One is having a good measure, this is the easier part. The second and more challenging part, is shifting the mindset of leaders from the SLT to frontline leaders that they need to be tracking the wellbeing of their people on a regular basis. So I think we need to provide leaders with a sound, easy way to pulse check where their people sit on the mental health continuum. Happy to talk to you about some ideas I have on this.
  • Peter Bateman
    228
    OK, time to wrap up this discussion. Hillary - many thanks for making yourself available! And to forum members who chipped in contributions - all good stuff.

    I'll contemplate doing another session in a week or two.
  • Maxine Giffen
    5
    Hi Hillary,
    Would you be willing to share your ideas on how to 'pulse check' as a method to identify & asses potential risk to workers & the business? The culture surveys available do not cover this topic well enough.
    Thank you
  • Rachael
    98
    So I think we need to provide leaders with a sound, easy way to pulse check were their people sit on the mental health continuum. Happy to talk to you about some ideas I have on this.Hillary Bennett

    Peter - I feel a webinar coming on - pleasepleasepleaseplease :)
  • Hillary Bennett
    27
    Not sure there is a definitive answer to this. I wonder whether we go back to assess why we protect our people in the first place - is it because we have to (obligation) or because we care. Most people would say because we care. If this is the case then do whatever we can to prevent the harm. I guess what you are asking is what is reasonably practical - again I think if our driver is we care, we may do more than less. Not a great answer Maxine - hope other have some thoughts for you.
  • Jessica Clout
    1
    Thanks Hillary! And thanks Peter for organising.
  • Rachael
    98
    Thanks Hillary and Peter - great stuff as always :)
  • Hillary Bennett
    27
    We still need to check in, and not just check in on how the work is going but how the person is tracking. This requires our people leaders to understand both their obligation in respect to tracking how their staff are working remotely, but the opportunity to support them to stay on the 'coping side' of the mental health continuum. As I said previously, our mental health is dynamic so the check-ins need to be quick but frequent.
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