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Joe Moore, conflict resolution expert from Kimber Moore and Associates, speaks with Helen Borger.

Your latest workplace dispute may appear to have the plot line of a short lived soap opera—but if you fail to intervene you could find yourself playing in a long-running drama.

Some managers appear not to worry about the harmful behaviours of others. For them, it seems a relief to hear themselves or others say, “It’s just a personality clash” or “He/she is a bit of a princess” or “It’s just a bit of drama.”

But is this the case? “Surprisingly, one of the ways we start to show some interest in dealing with [harmful behaviour] is by saying things like, ‘Well, you know, it’s just a bit of drama,’” says conflict resolution expert Joe Moore.

So rather than viewing these comments as a cue to ‘exit stage left’, he says they should be seen as a signal to start conversing, to find out what’s going on. “Maybe it’s a bit of an office drama, mate—but what are the pros and cons of doing something about it?”

To those involved, the ‘drama’ is time consuming and anxiety-provoking, Moore says. It can also be a sign of worse to come.

He says managers must ask questions to find out: What behaviours led to someone saying, “This is a bit of a drama”? Who is taking responsibility for it? Is it safe to ignore the drama or is action required? If action is required, start getting the people involved to talk it through with each other.

It is also crucial for a manager to be clear about his or her role in helping to solve the problem. “You’re not taking responsibility for solving what’s going on. You’re taking responsibility for helping people figure it out,” Moore says.

But are managers capable of fulfilling this role? “It is a huge challenge. Most managers get promoted ‘off the tools’ because of their problem-solving ability. But it rarely means problem-solving ability is an expression of how they work with the team to solve problems …”

What tends to happen is that managers rush to find the cause of the issue rather than helping others to solve the problem, Moore says.

“Part of the solution lies in having serious conversations with managers about their roles—‘While you’re busy walking around solving other people’s problems, there are some key things you are not doing as a manager. A manager solving day-to-day operational problems is not being strategic’—and as soon as you make that point, you start to get them to understand,” says Moore.

But what happens when management strategy fuels less-than-optimal behaviour? Climbing the corporate ladder can be competitive, and behaviours such as lobbying and building alliances to get ideas accepted can intensify. “Lobbying and cajoling to get an idea over the line [is a red] flag for a company that has problems with the way decisions are made,” Moore says.

Companies should think about how they transact business within their organisations and ask themselves the following questions: How do we make this decision? What data do we need to make this decision? How will we know if what we decide will get us what we want? What is the review of this going to be?

If the responses to these questions lack clarity and substance, “then the only answer left is politics, in the negative sense, which is the cajoling, wheedling, and running around influencing”, Moore explains. “To dry up that behaviour, the  answer lies in devoting time to getting clear responses.

“Organisations that excel at making decisions understand the important decisions affecting performance. They make the way material decisions are made routine by removing the guesswork from knowing who recommends, who needs to agree, who has the veto power, who should have input, who provides the data, which data is required to help make a decision, and who is accountable for follow-through,” Moore says.

Generally, when it comes to managing harmful behaviour, Moore suggests keeping in mind that such behaviour can take many forms. “You can’t [possibly] have a protocol for [managing] every kind of difficult behaviour,” he says.

Rather, use examples of good behaviour, reward and praise people for doing the right thing, and penalise poor behaviour. “Then you start to create an expectation at work that, when push comes to shove, we want to be able to get along with one another.”

Also address specific behaviour in conversations, Moore says. Avoid giving lectures; build conversations around what happened, the effects, and why getting along is important; and ask for the person’s thoughts. “It’s about what is important, why it is important, and how we can [encourage] healthy relationships,” he says.

Tackling harmful behaviours early is critical, otherwise they can escalate. “It would be very rare for someone to come to work one day and, with no prior warning, [start] to bully,” Moore says, adding, “Minimise the chances of people getting away with behaving [badly] and taking that as an invitation to behave [worse].”

This won’t eradicate all of the worst kinds of behaviours, Moore warns, but you will experience a reduction of them.

In addition, organisational, not just individual, responses are needed to help keep harmful behaviours at bay. This includes, for example, talking about these issues openly and often.

A good place to start is to think about the age-old question: How would you like to be treated?

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Published in National Safety magazine,  September-October 2014.

Many bosses think they are doing enough to create mentally healthy workplaces, but employees beg to differ, according to new research.

The findings are part of a TNS and beyondblue mental health report released this week, State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia.

While 71 per cent of leaders say they are committed to promoting the mental health of staff, only 37 per cent of staff agree.

A similar gulf exists for implementing processes and policies to support those who disclose a mental health condition. Seventy per cent of leaders say such processes and policies are in place, but only 44 per cent of staff agree.

In addition, only 52 per cent of employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy, compared to 76 per cent who believe their workplace is physically safe.

The report also notes that only 56 per cent of employees believe their most senior leader values mental health.

For more details, visit the report.

Published on 19 June 2014 in NSCA Safe-T-Bulletin.

If the federal Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb was 40 again he wouldn’t tell too many people he lived with a mental illness, because he couldn’t take the risk.

Robb was sharing his own experiences with depression at a gathering of workplace mental health stakeholders to launch a new Black Dog Institute workplace initiative last Friday.

He described how he had lived with mental illness for most of his life.

He said stigma was still an issue for the community to deal with, noting there were a lot of put-downs when people got half the chance.

Also, when his illness was diagnosed and he was trialling medications, he found he couldn’t handle the side effects and do his job at the same time, and some people assumed he would retire.

But now that the medication issues have been resolved, Robb says he has never felt better.

He said his boss, the Prime Minster Tony Abbott, treated him like everybody else and delegated work, but pulled him up when he had made mistakes.

Dr Samuel Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Workplace Mental Health at the University of New South Wales and Research Fellow at the Black Dog Institute, also speaking at the launch, said preventative not just reactive mental health measures were necessary at all workplaces.

Harvey said there were no simple answers, and evidence-based solutions that addressed mental health problems at organisation, team and individual levels were necessary.

Importantly, good leadership was key to the success of any mental health initiative, he said.

For more details visit the Black Dog Institute.

Published on 5 June 2014 in NSCA Safe-T-Bulletin.

Young workers in particular are no longer prepared to keep fronting up to workplaces that don’t look after mental health.

Forty-five per cent of workers left their jobs because their workplaces had poor mental health environments, says a new survey from Instinct and Reason.

A random sample of 1025 employees aged from 20 years to over 50 years was selected from a cross-section of industry to participate in the survey.

Significant proportions of all age groups said they left their jobs because of their workplaces’ poor mental health support, but it was a greater motivator for younger workers to leave. Fifty-three per cent of workers aged less than 30 years left, compared to 26 per cent of workers aged over 60 years.

“This means that while a mentally healthy workplace is important in attracting and retaining staff today, it will be even more important in the future as younger workers move through the workforce,” the survey says.

For more detail, visit the survey.

Published on 5 June 2014 in NSCA Safe-T-Bulletin.

For every $1 workplaces invest in effective mental health strategies they will receive a return of $2.30, according to a new PwC report.

The report says mental health conditions affected productivity, participation and compensation claims to the tune of $10.9 billion a year.

“One in five Australian workers are experiencing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety right now, but sadly too many workplaces still do not realise the importance of their employees’ mental health,” beyondblue Chairman The Hon. Jeff Kennett AC said in a media statement.

“This report shows that employers have a responsibility not only to their workers, but also to their businesses’ profitability, to tackle these conditions at work.”

PwC partner Jeremy Thorpe said small business often benefited the most from introducing mental health initiatives. “For example, small mining businesses that invest in effective mental health programs receive an average return on investment (ROI) of 15, meaning they get $15 out of every $1 they spend. Small essential service providers receive an average ROI of 14.5,” Thorpe said in a media statement.

For more detail, visit the report.

Published on 22 May 2014 in NSCA Safe-T-Bulletin.


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