Psychiatrists provided evidence that her mental injury rendered her unable to return to work. The woman worked in a NSW State government agency and experienced the bullying five years ago from two supervisors.
For every high profile case such as this there many more who suffer because of the inappropriate behaviour of work colleagues. I have presented Bullying and Harassment awareness for many years and have investigated many claims. I have lost count of the number of staff who ask me what to do when they doubt that the organisation will either help them or more troubling disbelieve their claim. Many also fear that if they speak up they will be penalised in some way for ‘rocking the boat’.
A recent publication jointly sponsored by University of NSW, Black Dog Institute and the Australian School of Business, titled Developing a mentally healthy workplace: A review of the literature (November 2014). The authors made a clear distinction between flourishing mental well-being and poor mental well-being on one axis and no mental disorder and mental disorder on the other axis. They noted that there was an overlap and challenged business to address their workplace process to ensure a mentally healthy workplace. Their study found that:
One-sixth of the working age population is suffering from symptom of mental illness
A further one-sixth of the population will be suffering from symptom associated with mental ill health.
This is costing Australian businesses between $11 and $12 billion dollars each yearthrough absenteeism, reduced work performance, increased turnover and compensation claims
They offered six strategies to ensure a mentally healthy workplace:
Smarter work design – including flexibility around working hours; individuals and teams involved in decisions about their work
Build resilience – provide resilience training; opportunities for physical activity; provide mentoring and coaching
Support recovery – training leaders and supervisors on how to offer support; return to work programs; modify job/schedules/duties where appropriate
Build better work cultures– training for leaders and supervisors; ensure senior staff are engaged in mental health promotion; develop, implement and monitor appropriate policies;
Early intervention – support staff who seek help; conduct well-being checks of staff; provide mental health training to all staff; provide peer support programs
Increase awareness– provide access to mental health information; regular mental health awareness programs; include information in induction programs
The above summary sets the scene for organisation to commence or expand their current approach. HOWEVER nothing will change unless all organisations consider it a necessary part of their employment conditions that all staff work in a mentally healthy workplace. No organisation would tolerate a physically unsafe workplace. It is time to address the psychological safety of our workplaces.
In recent months several NSW councils have asked me to present a different style of program about workplace behaviour. Instead of the usual Bullying Awareness they have asked me to focus on the more positive side of Respectful Behaviour. We call it Dignity and Respect at Work. It is now being presented to all staff at a number of progressive and concerned councils.
The idea came from a session I presented to Councillors who were wanting assistance with how they might work more productively together. As I listened to their stories of inappropriate behaviour being directed towards each other, it occurred to me that they did not have a clear definition or set of behaviours about how to ‘DO’ respect.
My team and I, and with their input, developed a set of behaviour descriptors appropriate for them, and sought agreement about how they would behave in the future. This exercise highlighted that many of us use the term ‘respectful behaviour’ but do not clearly define how we want our colleagues to behave. Not everyone does respect the same. There are different expectations about how people want to be treated. Not everyone is the same.
Why not try the exercise with your immediate team using a whiteboard or chart paper and write at the top of the page “How do we want to ‘Do’ respect?” See what comes up. Allow the discussion to be open and frank, and respectful. You may be surprised at the result.
I am happy to discuss this idea with you further and offer many examples from the sessions I have been conducting which contribute to a more mentally healthy workplace.