The speakers from the Healthy Work Design forum share further insights in an extended Q&A session following the breakfast event.
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Alright, well welcome back everyone to Part 2 of the Healthy Work Design forum panel conversation or discussion that we are having today. Before I kick things off, I’d just like to respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands in which we are presenting from today, the lands of the Jagera and Turrbal people. But also pay our respects to elders past present and extend that respect to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Just for those that haven’t actually tuned into our previous sessions, our full panel guests here today.
Sam Popple our Director for Psychological Health Unit within Work Health and Safety Queensland.
I’ve got Ben Saul, the General Manager of Health, Safety and Environment from Powerlink Queensland.
We have Professor Sharon Parker, who is an ARC Laureate Fellow, and John Curtin, Distinguished Professor from the Centre of Transformative Work Design, Future of Work, Institute for the Curtin Business School, and
Dr Elizabeth Pritchard who is also a Research Fellow for the Driving Health Project, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. Welcome panel members.
The reason we’re doing our follow up session, as you know we had about 40 or 50 responses from the audience at the Healthy Work Design forum and we had a range of themes and questions that came through today. So, we’ve grouped some of those questions into seven questions and we’ll just run through those. At the end of the panel session as well, we’ve got a couple of slides for any of the audience members. If you have any follow up questions from the Healthy Work team, we'll have an email there for you if you want to follow up with us.
So, with no further ado. The first question will probably throw this to you Sam, and it came through as a couple of, well, quite a few questions with which is no real surprise regarding the managing the psychosocial risk at work around, so what should organisations expect to happen if a Work Health and Safety Queensland officer turns up to the workplace regarding a psychological hazard?
Yeah, thanks Carl and thanks for inviting us back. Before I just answer that question, I just want to say you know, welcome to everybody again. When we left and we were all in person, it was such a buzz from that event and I think it was, you know, really so, so wonderful to hear. Although you know the people from the audience knew we could feel that there were more questions. So, I think this is a really fabulous opportunity for us to get together again and just go through these things. It is no surprise that people are asking what happens when an inspector calls.
I think it, you know, we do, we are seeing that, you know we're now paying attention to this because there is, we've clarified what these legal obligations are and you know you're likely now to have, you know, inspectors come round and be asking to say you know, what are you doing in terms of psychosocial hazards or psychosocial risks in your workplace. So when we find that a complaint actually falls within our remit and that's in Work Health and Safety Queensland in Queensland, but I'm sure it'll be the same across any other jurisdictions.
And there's a risk of injury or illness from a psychosocial hazard. An inspector is actually going to be assigned to that complaint. And then that purpose of the inspector’s assessment then is to determine if the duties under the Work Health and Safety Act are being met. So as that organisation or as the PCBU as the person conducting a business or an undertaking, are they actually preventing and managing the risk of exposure to the psychosocial hazards at work?
And this could include the inspector verifying that the workplace has consulted with workers. This is a critical part of the work health and safety legislation. You cannot understand what psychosocial risks are, unless you speak to your workers and you don't know if those controls work or not without speaking to them.
They might ask you about, what's been provided, you know, in that work environment, you know, in ways to actually manage those risks to health and safety. What is the safe system of work? Whether they've identified the appropriate information and the instruction, training or supervision to workers at the workplace, and really whether they're following that, that risk assessment process. And so if you go to the first step, are you identifying what your psychosocial hazards are in your workplace. So you might have remote and isolated workers. For instance, are you are considering their needs? Are you considering maybe apprentices’ needs? Those younger workers that may have some different issues. Are you then actually looking at the risks associated with those hazards? Which is that second step. Are you going back and having a look and seeing what that degree of risk is? Is it, is it uncontrolled? You know, is it? Is there something that you should be doing about it?
And then thirdly, it's around putting some controls in place, that will actually reasonably practically manage those risks for your workers. So to make sure that you're removing their risk to their injury and illness for, you know, either psychological or physical health. And where an inspector may, where we may find, that a PCBU or an organisation is failing to meet those duties, then the inspector will then use the range of compliance and enforcement options that they’ve got available to them. That could be, you know, around advice and verbal directions, or it could actually extend to improvement and infringement notices. And, you know, worst case scenario, it would then progress through to other sanctions such as prosecutions or enforceable undertakings.
Fantastic, thank you Sam. And obviously it's as the Code of Practice itself has highlighted probably something that's been in place or it's been in legislation since it was introduced and I think that having that in place now helps to highlight what some of the requirements now are for the PCBU. Another question that came up, and there are a few questions around this, is, you know, we understand the stigma of mental health issues in the workplace. But a few of the people, the concerns that were raised or questions that were raised about how to reduce the stigma of employing people that may have had a mental existing mental health issue within the workplace. Any thoughts on that, Sam?
Yeah, this is a really, this is probably quite a sad question in a way I think because I think you know, where we have the legitimacy for some kind of visual, you know, physical issues, if you kind of, you know, bend over and hurt your back at work or whatever, you'll get the appropriate sympathy for that. But it's kind of like, you know, when something happens that you have a psychological effect or a psychological injury that for some reason is not considered as severe. And you know, and I find that really striking. We know that stigma is a huge issue, mental health more broadly and there is, you know, lots of efforts at the national level now to in the National Stigma and Discrimination Reduction Strategy, because we know that people think that this is a personal or an individual thing. Whereas the reality is, is that, you know, you know, most people are going to have a mental health issue at some point in their lifetime or they're going to have some struggles along the way. So I think, you know, we need to focus on the fact that, you know, the more that we have these open conversations around mental health, the more that people are likely to be able to open up and share about their experiences that they might be having. This might not necessarily be related to just what we might call work related, you know, psychological injury might be something that’s pre-existing that they have. But I think raising the comfort level across all workplaces and across the community that, you know, mental health is really important. It's a really important part of somebody's health and wellbeing and a really important part of their identity. And making sure that they live a happy and fruitful and you know good life is really critical. I think when I think about the things that can be done really on a local level I think if you're if you're somebody,
And you're willing to share some of your experiences. You can model, you know, model some of the issues that you may be sharing or you may be able to talk about some past experiences potentially of when you might have had some issues. You may be able to sort of like have some open conversations and just model that a bit more. I think it's also really important to call out bad behaviour when you see it as well, you know, if you see that somebody's, you know, actually being disrespectful or prejudicial, you know or you know a little bit disrespectful about somebody who may have some struggles with their mental health. Call it, call it out if you can and just say you know, we don't know what we don't know what these what those that person may be suffering or what they're dealing with in their life. And I think really importantly for stigma is manage the psychosocial risks at work. You know I think if we have this environment where we are talking about organisational justice. We’re talking about, you know, you know, resolving workplace conflicts. We’re making sure that there’s supervisor support. I think you’re going to create that environment, that culture, where people are going to be prepared to actually speak out a little bit, even progress to help seeking behaviours and recognise that some people are not going to have those help seeking behaviours. You might have to just you might have to reach your hand out to them as well and just say you know, are you OK? And even extending, do you need something from me or can I help in any way?
And for those that are, thank you Sam. You know, for those that are listening to this presentation and haven't seen some of the previous presentations from the forum Sam touched on, you know, a little, a lovely fish bowl analogy around the work, say you know, having a healthy environment, you know, so it shouldn't make any difference whether someone's coming into the organisation or the already existing organisation. It's a physical or psychological issue. Creating a healthy environment goes a long way to actually dealing and addressing the hazards that we're talking about.
Another one, and this might be across to you Ben. There are a few conversations around the journey of integrating health, safety and wellbeing and about bringing people along on the journey and what you think about how it's important to reward and recognise either the individuals or the organisations of the good work that's been done around designing a healthy and safe workplace. Any insights or tips or ideas that you've had from your journey?
Yeah, sure thing. Thanks Carl, I think you need a bag of tricks for this because not everyone's going to respond the same way to sort of different motivations for integrating. So I certainly took an approach in Powerlink where we leveraged off research and existing literature and some of the commentary around that to sort of get people thinking about where change might be needed, supporting that with practical examples. So you've got people that are sort of ‘oh thanks for the theory’ but you know, tell me how it's actually going to work. So making sure we draw upon some practical examples of because chances are you've got people in your organisation that are already doing it. And so if you can draw attention to those things, people see that it's real. It's not just words on paper.
Some people needed the comfort from a legal perspective that we're going in the right direction. Does this mean meet my diligence requirements, those sort of things and making sure you sort of meet that need? So basically looking at a range of different things to sort of bring people along depending on what motivates them?
There's, you know, there's an element of training, involved as well. So certainly getting people to be a little bit more aware, a little bit more knowledgeable about what good integration of health, safety and wellbeing looks like.
And then really getting to work and making sure that you've got some things that you can pilot and some quick wins up your sleeve so that people see progress at while you might be working on some sort of broader or longer term changes. On the reward side of things are definitely important I think that's pretty well known, that reward and recognition is something that really is a contributor to people's engagement.
We are conscious of not having it just as a flash in the pan though. So sort of once a year there's an award and that's it. We are really working on making it something that so improvements to the work design is something that is recognised in a genuine way, and often because you want to create it as that as a norm, really effectively you want you want good improvement to controls to be something that's quite normal, not just once a year.
You know, walk across the stage style of recognition, so genuine and often and then looking at some of the incentive schemes that you might have in your organisation and do they incentivise the right thing. So one of the main things we look to do was removing your sort of lagging indicators, injury rates and those sort of things from our incentive schemes and bringing in basically incentivising control improvement. So you know our new KPIs look at what are you learning, that needs to improve and what have you done about it to improve your controls and start incentivising the right thing with your organisation, KPIs and that sort of thing?
I think the lead and lag indicators has been a conversation for quite some time and how we can reinforce the positive elements that are going on in an organisation. Elizabeth, did you have any thoughts around bringing health into the safety conversation from the Driver Health Study?
Dr Elizabeth Pritchard
Yes, I think so. I think one of the things that came out very, very strongly from the interviews is around the importance of listening and then respect and recognition and being mentioned recognition along linked with rewards as well. Rewards wasn't something specifically that came up in relation to the driving health study. However, that whole thing of recognising the persons importance of their role and the part they play within the organisation or within the processes that occur within the industry is hugely important and that was one of the things that was very much so. One of the barriers for the drivers around their health and wellbeing was that they felt they weren't respected or recognised from within their organisations, from the public, from the policymakers. And so that was that was a really sticky thing. So I think if we're looking at improving health and wellbeing going forward, we really need to listen to people like Ben was saying in that point of time and give credence to those conversations, those things that come up, even if we don't agree with them, even if we weren't expecting them, that's the important thing of recognising them, listening to those. Because those things are as Sam was saying we will actually help to decrease the stigmatisation of mental illness on the way through.
Yeah, fantastic and that's a lovely segway into, you know some of the elements of mastery and agency that that were discussed in a lot of the SMART model that Sharon was talking about. But we had a few questions Sharon around is there any order to which better implement the SMART model?
Professor Sharon Parker
Thank you so much, Carl, and thank you for inviting me to come back to answer the questions. In terms of order, look it comes back to the diagnosis, you know, because you shouldn't be embarking on a work design without understanding what are the key issues. So is it, for example, role clarity which is part of mastery. Is that first of all low and second of all, is it a risk? I mean it might be an environment of academics who love not having role clarity, you know whereas it might be a context where people really desperately need that role clarity. So the order should be, you know, what's most important from that managing risk perspective. So that's the first thing. The second thing I would just say though is it's important to recognise that there are interrelationships between the elements of the SMART model. So if for example, you're giving people more agency, which is about more autonomy, which is a really important way of reducing that psychosocial risk of low control.
Then you know if you're giving people more autonomy and agency in their work, it's really important that they've got more feedback and information so that they can exercise their autonomy in a wise way. So you’ve got to make sure you've also got the mastery as well and so on. I think I talked before about if demands is what you're addressing actually what we know from research that making demands more tolerable, sometimes it's about reducing or preventing the demands, but sometimes it's actually about increasing your agency over demands, or the support which is the relational aspect. So that's the other thing to recognise is even though you might target one thing to start, you might actually want to look at the model holistically in order to address that particular element.
It's so important isn't it? You know where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts sometimes and looking at all of that as a collective. And again for those that are watching this presentation having gone through the other presentations through the forum, you'll have a great insight into the SMART model that Sharon presented along with all the details of the other presenters here today as well.
Touching on probably some of the research there, both maybe for you Elizabeth and yourself, Sharon, there's some, obviously the research is a really powerful tool for industry, for us as regulators and also to help develop the policies I suppose that we are driving especially in some of these emerging issues that are happening in the health space and those long latency issues. But a lot of questions around industry specific research, whether it's current or future research happening across other industry sectors or that you're currently working on. Are you aware, I mean there are people looking at aged care, looking obviously transport, the great stuff that you've done and your team has done there, Elizabeth in the transport sector and the biggest probably research that's been done in Australia, lots been done I think through the US and Europe, but very little here. Do you think, one, we need to be doing more research across other industry sectors? And two, is there any other research or other add-ons that you are either of you are currently working on in this space?
Dr Elizabeth Pritchard
Absolutely. So to start with, a couple of questions there. So something that we're working on as well is we're also working with Oz Help in relation to their trucking tune up programme. So they go into the sites out in the field, they go into distribution centres and on the side of the roads where the Truckie stops, so truck stops and they do the physical health trucking tune up. But within that there's also a psychosocial component where they identify their mental health, they give them little short chunks of information and referral options to other services to help support their health and wellbeing across physical, mind, health and body. So that that's something great that is happening. So it's interventions sort of side of things and we're helping them to evaluate that programme going forward. There's also the Healthy Heads in Trucks and Sheds that we've been involved with in a collaborative way where they're raising the awareness around mental health for people out on the road.
And looking at different options for, again, for interventions of how can we support people in a different way, how can we reduce stigmatisation around mental ill health and mental health, how can we raise awareness and connect people in a different way. So I know there's some things that are going on in small pockets, we're part of some of that work. There's also some other studies that are going on in Queensland around the Shift program, So specific program of education, motivational interviewing and support and other things as well that happen as part of an intervention and I know that that's for us and our team is where the next stage is. We now know what the global picture is of health and wellbeing for truckies and the driving industry in Australia. And now it's like so what can we do to make a huge difference and how can we show the lasting sustainable changes in people's health and wellbeing going forward. So that's where we're sort of predominantly looking at what comes next.
Again, it always comes down to funding. So we're looking at building collaborations with other people and other universities to look at how could we potentially take that side of the research forward in the next three to five years.
Professor Sharon Parker
Just to, yeah, just to jump in there, we're doing research in lots of different sectors. I think some of our bigger projects are, we have a project called Design for Care, which is where we are introducing interventions into their healthcare and social assistance sector in New South Wales. And that's a that's a big project, very much focused on intervention. Of course it starts with diagnosis. So we always start with trying to understand what the issues are but then we're really trying to work on change and I would say that is the big research gap actually in all of the sectors is that we know a lot about what causes poor mental health or poor physical health. What we know much, much less about is what can actually be done to really shift the dial. So we need those intervention studies. We have another big project right at the moment actually also in the mining sector where we're looking at some of the issues around sexual harassment and other sorts of pressures that are somewhat prevalent in that sector, but lots happening basically.
That’s good to see you know, and obviously there's I think some of the recent studies both in work design that you've been working on Sharon and what Elizabeth has done in the trucking sector. It's highlighted that there's a real need for further research probably in this space across industry sectors and seeing what we can actually start doing at the front end. It's been fantastic.
Another question. This is probably goes across the board, is around ensuring that controls and particularly those psychosocial controls have been implemented correctly and I think with the advent of a lot more people working either from home or alone or fly in fly out options that exist. So you know how can we ensure those controls have been implemented in this hybrid working environment that we seem to be working more in? I don’t know who wants to kick this one off, Ben?
Yeah, sure. So I think one thing here that is important to call out is not is definitely not waiting till something's gone wrong to decide to look at how your controls are performing. I think there's a propensity in organisations to spend a lot of their time post event and a lot of the effort post event and sort of it's still an important part of it to look at how it controls are performing after something's happened. But I do question the balance of time that's spent on that as opposed to being proactive. So if we go sort of upstream, then from that you know it's really about being deliberate in getting feedback and insights from your people on what you think is working and their feedback on how it is working. The remote and working from home environment may mean that you need to be a little bit more deliberate about this in terms of reaching out to people that are working remotely or working from home. But doesn't really change the crux of it which is which is getting that genuine feedback on how those controls are performing. And when they're not and feedback as to when they're not, why not so that you can sort of get to work on improving that.
Professor Sharon Parker
Yes 100% agree if I can jump in and build off that Ben. In a sense to me, the proof is in the pudding in so far as you can measure what people’s work experiences are like wherever they work, through surveys, interviews, focus groups, all of those techniques you can still use even if people work from home. So to me, the proof is in the pudding, measure what their work experiences are like, what their mental health is like and use that for whether the controls are working or what additional controls you need.
Dr Elizabeth Pritchard
I think it’s really important too. I will build on that as well. I think it’s really important to then take the research that we know what is happening. And there's a lot of research out there that has been published in the last three years and some of it's very plain English. It's not just academic speak, it's that the importance of thinking about what is the support that is around each of the employees, what is the organisational support, what's their collegial support. Do they have social connectedness? Is there a lot of conflict that's happening and get to know these types of things with people as Ben and Sharon have said, you know, monitor, evaluate, ask, listen, those types of things. And within that I think there's another few things that are really important as well As we roll these out is like are we encouraging good work habits for all of our employees? Are we putting boundaries around our times and going, OK, I'm not going to answer something at midnight tonight on a Saturday.
I'm going to wait until Monday morning. Are we modelling that? Are we encouraging good work habits as well and allowing people within our workspaces to actually put those boundaries in place and for part timers to be part timers and those types of things really important? Are we encouraging really good workspaces even if they are at home? Do they have the right equipment? Just really basic stuff, but do they have the right equipment so that they can be their best, they can perform at their best physically as well as emotionally going forward?
Do we have those touch points that we actually set up either formally or informally to help connect our workers, whether they're in the next office, the next floor, the next state or working from home and those types of things. There's a lot of research out there that talks about how we can do this well. And I think integrating the SMART model, integrating the research that we've got and integrating the examples that were presented at the forum and briefly discussed today, I think we can bring those in and translate that research, translate that information into our workspaces going forward.
Another thing that is that's hugely valuable, and we know this from decades of research, is that the whole thing of appreciation and gratitude that we know that when we appreciate things and not just be grumpy and moan about things and point out what's wrong with the system and people and that side of things. When we actually shift our focus into appreciation and gratitude of what is going right, what is going good and celebrate those things within our teams, that is hugely impactful on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.
Fantastic. Thank you and Sam that probably highlighted a lot of the elements that you touched on around all the hazards, the psychosocial hazards. You know that looking at all of them in as a holistic point of view and not probably isolating the areas and taking that risk management approach. And again your fishbowl analogy around the environment and having a supportive environment and looking after that proactively.
Yeah I like I just want to you know also make the point from you know the importance of the diagnostic and looking a bit deeper sometimes as well. I think that you know there's a real tendency to just focus on human behaviour. You know we look at the work-related violence and aggression, sexual harassment and bullying potentially. But I think you know we know from the literature that there's often other psychosocial risks that underpin that and so it's just a case of looking a little bit deeper sometimes and that the controls maybe actually focusing at that deeper level. You know, people may have, just that little bit time to be a bit more respectful, a bit more able to converse with each other. Have that time for actual gratitude and looking at the things that are working, if they're not working so hard or they're out of control or you know, there's other things going on there, there's organisational change that's just rushing them along. Sometimes it's worthwhile just having a look underneath what you can see at the visible level to just you know probing a bit a bit further and could I think give you a lot more gains in the long-term.
Yeah, I think and resist the temptation to sort of oversimplify through sort of just providing awareness around certain things. So you know you might get feedback that you've got a particular problem so you roll out a bit of an awareness campaign and that's that and really challenge yourself on systemic controls. I mean the working outside of hours is a great example and I'm not suggesting that this isn’t something that we can all do, but there's a difference between you know, sending out an email saying we, you know, we don't expect you to work outside of hours and setting up email rules and things like that so that you're actually not working outside of hours or you can't work outside of hours. So how do you change your systems to help back you up with that as well rather than just relying on asking people to behave differently?
Thanks. Ben. We are onto probably the final theme that's come out of all this and it’s probably a big one and an ongoing one, about middle managers and their struggle in terms of implementing work design; they’re squeezed from the top, they’re squeezed from the bottom. You know and there's a whole lot of challenges that happen and probably Elizabeth you saw somewhere that maybe with the truck drivers and those sort of influencing factors from managers, and likewise Sharon you know the conversations around the SMART model. How do we get middle managers to embrace you know, one that probably such a pivotal point in an organisation in terms of that ripple effect that happens across the organisation? So how can we look at supporting middle managers in implementing healthy work design?
Professor Sharon Parker
Yes, if I can just jump in there. First of all, it's really important to recognise some things are outside the sphere of control of managers. And you know some of those bigger system factors that Ben has mentioned might be their shift structure or rosters or pay systems or the performance processes. Those are probably outside the sphere of most middle managers. That doesn't mean they can't be changed. It's just that middle managers themselves are not going to change them so recognising that is important and this is why, you know, ideally you've got senior leaders involved in this work design process so that you can address those systemic factors. But for middle managers themselves, recognising what is in their control and trying to encourage them to stretch their sense of what's in control. So just as an example, you know, one of the question people put forward was around customer aggression. OK, so if you're working in a department store and you've got aggressive customers, OK, yes, that's an external factor. You can't control that to some degree. But can you influence it? Can you? What is it that's making them aggressive? Is it that they're incredibly long queues, you know, in the department store? Is it that the staff were rude to them? Is it something completely outside their control? But, so what is possibly there that you can do to prevent customer aggression and then when customer aggression might occur are the staff trained in handling it? Have you got a system what you know to so that the staff feel safe and things so you know finding what is possible, what is within your sphere of control is important. And that's where I think the magic comes from involving your workers in that conversation and sometimes your clients as well. But involving people and consulting, as Sam said right at the start, is not just a legal expectation, it's actually a source of great ideas that that you may not have yourself as a manager, so I would also you know, recommend that managers (a) recognise something's are outside of their control, but (b) try and stretch their influence and (c) involve the workers because you may find that’s where the magic occurs.
Fantastic. Stretching the influence of middle managers. How great. Ben, any thoughts on the ground? I'm conscious of everyone's time but Ben you see this sort of stuff on the ground every day in your workplace.
I think one of the concepts to think about to around those external factors is that concept of being able to sort of fail safely so recognise when something does go wrong that's out of your control. What are the things that you can put in place that actually minimise the impact of that? You can't stop someone throwing something at you necessarily, but you can put a barrier in place that it hits instead of you. So what are the things that you can do sort of on the right hand side of the bow tie? If people understand that where if something goes wrong, you can still sort of have a bit of a safeguard to catch that and then I think on the stretching piece, I think the impact of immediate supervisors and middle managers on healthy work is quite significant. So don't sort of undersell how important those roles are in having an impact.
Dr Elizabeth Pritchard
And just one little example from the Driving Health study is that part of the intervention, we actually rolled that out to middle managers and through the words of many of the interviews, we created some scenarios, film scenarios that the managers watched and then did some pre and post questions. And what we saw was that that their level of understanding of the influence they could have in the workplace actually shifted on quite a few of the areas and they were like, ah, so I could actually have a conversation with this person about this. I could ask them about this. I could listen to this. I could maybe have this idea that what can I control around this is actually more than what I initially thought. So, there's all of these things that help increase their understanding of the influence they have going forward and of course it's multi-pronged approach. It's not just their fault or their fault, it's not just targeting this, this group or that group. We have to have a multi-pronged approach which we're looking at across all of the industries which would be fantastic, so that we actually are setting these things up like we've mentioned.
Some fantastic insights. I'd like to thank you all for your time and thank the people that were at the Forum providing their input to the questions. You know, we were there for three hours. We would have loved to have, we've had to have this Part 2 panel discussion because we just couldn't get all through all the questions. And I'm sure we could have spent another hour here with the experts such as you all here today. So, I'd just like to say thanks to Sam Popple, Ben Saal, Professor Sharon Parker and Dr Elizabeth Pritchard for your fantastic time and insights into Part 2 of the Healthy Work Design Forum.