- the mind is now the core of every workplace
- work-related stress is no longer restricted to a physical workplace but to any situation at any time and location where the worker applies his/her mind to carrying out duties for his/her employer
- the implications this has for the employer’s legal responsibility to be seen to manage work-related stress risks
- the individual is the only person, finally, who can manage their mental fitness and stress resilience
- legislation and related compliance requirements cannot, of themselves, effectively maintain workers’ mental fitness and wellbeing, and
- the nature, role and benefits of passionate leisure experiences in:
- developing and sustaining strong mental fitness, and thereby
- minimizing the risk of stress-related problems and claims.
Prolonged, excessive, negative stress is becoming a deeply entrenched problem in the costs of every aspect of business today.
- This 21st century era of dramatic social change is causing a rapid rise in the number of stress-related WHS claims. Such claims are costly and complex to resolve. WHS legislation – even the new legislation - is of itself inadequate for managing stress-related risks
- Stress-related claims under WHS are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the effects on the workplace of the modern era of constant excessive pressure and change
- The more insidious effects and costs of ongoing excessive stress come in the form of the unproductive time, effort and cost spent on resolving interpersonal tension and conflicts – and their outcomes - within the work environment. This includes what might be called the opportunity costs of that time not being spent on optimum levels of profit-making work productivity.
For effective proactive safety of workers’ mental fitness, there is a need for effective human service programs supplementing the legal requirements of WHS legislation.
A resilient lifestyle is one in which the person builds and sustains a harmonious mix of the two, effectively sustaining a constant flow of energy out and energy in..
Risk management is basically about proactively avoiding problems before they occur. This Position Statement focuses on how to stay mentally fit and strong in spite of the constant pressures and stresses of life, and what to do when stress is starting to take over. My one rider is that my approach, while naturally powerful, is not necessarily a panacea for all mental ills.
The Mind Has Become the Workplace
- Once you only worked in an identified physical workplace, be it the office, the factory, the shop or wherever. You arrived for duty, did your job and went home.
- Now we have flexible working conditions, locations (home, coffee shop, you name it), mobile technology, emails and social media – all of which have a role to play in helping achieve the goals of your employer. And all of which are available – and frequently used – to meet working responsibilities.
- Also, in western society particularly, the manufacturing industry is being replaced with knowledge industries. Workers are being paid for what the mind can think, more than what the hands can produce.
The human mind is now
- the core of every workplace.
- the ultimate flexible workplace – able to be tapped at any time, any place and for any business purpose.
- a mental, emotional workplace, requiring a different set of rules to those of physical health and safety and compliance with physically-oriented requirements. It raises many questions about where and when employer responsibilities – and liability – for managing work-related stress start and end.
The mind has now smashed the wall dividing work and leisure. Any creative expression of your natural talents that you enjoy generates the benefits needed for a mentally safe and resilient workplace.
Worker Health and Safety Legislation (Australia)
Relevant legal facts in relation to stress risk management include:
- WHS legislation does include stress-related health and wellbeing as an area of risk management
- the concept of leading and lagging factors:
- leading factors are proactive measures for minimizing the risk of stress-related injuries or illnesses. It is essential that stress risk management programs be seen as a leading factor;
- lagging factors are the process of reacting after an accident happens, including steps to prevent it’s recurrence. Mental illness claims are extremely difficult to resolve satisfactorily to all parties.
- due diligence in practices to observe and comply with WHS requirements, including the fact that every individual has a responsibility to ensure safety procedures and practices. This I believe is significant in relation to mental fitness, which is finally a self-management responsibility
- due diligence in safeguarding others from mental injuries/illnesses – the RUOK program is valuable in this regard, even though it is outside the realm of legal WHS requirements.
- Diversity and individualism of staff – accentuated by the fact of a growing diversity of cultures and backgrounds of workers. This has implications in setting up programs for individual care of personal mental fitness and wellbeing
- The increasingly popular business term ‘staff engagement’- encouraging staff to share a sense of ownership in corporate goals – applies no less in an effective WHS program.
Issue of when a decision to carry out a work task is generated by:
- The worker at his/her own discretion (e.g. take work home at the end of each day)
- The employer (e.g. directing a staff member outside of working hours to have a report completed by 9 the next morning).
Emotion, Stress and Compliance
Laws are designed for compli ance, with the threat of penalty (punishment) if the laws are broken. A punishment-based framework may be appropriate for lagging processes (dealing with a stress/emotional/mental claim) but is foreign to the concept of sustaining emotional fitness.
This Statement recognizes – but does not address – employer-generated undue stress problems arising from, for example:
- poor leadership
- poor management practices
- poor employer/employee communication
- fear / poor understanding of management directives
- lack of control over decisions affecting one’s job
- bullying or harassment
Indeed very little of what I advocate in this Position Statement will work unless management generally and the chief executive specifically, accept and believe in the principle that “the buck starts (not stops) at the top” when it comes to regarding all staff first as human beings and not purely work robots.
There is little we can do to reduce the extent of stress in today’s society. The best we can aim to do is to find the energy/resilience to thrive and progress in a continuing stressful environment – at work and in personal life.
This heavily emphasizes the “leading” or preventive approach – helping workers to stay mentally fit.
My background is over 40 years of professional experience in recreation and leisure planning and development. This experience has given me extensive insight into positive human behavior and the benefits of such behavior to all facets of life, including stress.
Positive Human Behaviour
From my experiences, I have elicited five features of positive human behavior:
- The mind is working with purpose and enthusiasm
- There is mental energy driving the mind’s process (my special area of expertise)
- Self-esteem, self-confidence, self-belief and the sense of self-worth have been recharged
- It's life-expanding, developing talents, passions and potential
- It’s infectious to people around them
Any experiences – at work or in personal life – that reflect all of these features provide, of course, a wonderful basis for sustaining mental and emotional energy and strong mental fitness.
But it’s when people are experiencing negative behavior arising from prolonged excessive stress that some interesting benefits can be sourced. In such cases it becomes necessary to go outside the stress-generating cycle to find the unique emotional release-valve that works for that individual. Usually such experiences are found in leisure interests totally remote from the working environment.
Creating enjoyable leisure experiences can, if experienced frequently enough, turn the ‘negativity ship’ around, eventually restoring the necessary energy to sustain resilience. Any freely-chosen mind-absorbing leisure interest can do it. The emphasis is not on whether the interest is physical or mental but on the degree to which it absorbs the mind and spirit (creating what some call “a state of flow”).
Leisure is Back in Business
A favourite leisure/recreation interest is nature’s way of managing stress. But it hasn’t always been seen this way.
- For too long now, leisure has had a bad press, perceived in business as time for ‘doing nothing important’ and even as a competitor to work. It is a perception that was created during the 19th Century industrial revolution which brought mass production in factories to the world . Historically, leisure had previously been recognized as the creative state of mind when much of the world’s cultural, artistic and developmental adv ancements were achieved.
- Those creative benefits are now in high demand in today’s knowledge-based business world.
- Experiencing a passionate leisure interest also generates many added benefits, including increased self esteem, self belief, self confidence, talent/skills identification and development, and the courage to think for oneself again.
- In this way, leisure changes its definition from ‘free time for self’ to one of re-creating a positive state of mind by creatively expressing one’s natural talents and abilities for the intrinsic enjoyment of the experience
- Favourite freely-chosen leisure experiences generate a ripple effect of renewed energy, self- esteem and self-confidence flowing through to work and other aspects of daily life
- Be aware there is still a perception that others might regard the enjoyment of a leisure pursuit as being irresponsible or slacking off. A sense of guilt about enjoying leisure can discourage such pursuits and this is an important issue to address in coping with today’s stressful lifestyle.
While all of these benefits can have be good for coping with daily short-term stress, the real benefits are in the sustained resilience to cope with stress over the long term and maintain a state of ongoing mental fitness and wellbeing.
Benefits of leisure pursuits to WHS stress-risk management
Officially encouraging all staff to enjoy their favourite leisure pursuit as often as possible when away from work is a powerful and cost-effective way of making a positive contribution to the WHS program particularly and the workplace culture generally (‘the way we do things here’).
Specific benefits include:
- sustaining, 24/7, the mental strength, energy and resilience workers need to stay mentally fit and remain ‘on top and on tap’ in their work commitments
- the direct links between:
- the uniqueness and unique benefits of leisure experiences to each person, and
- leisure pursuits and the mental fitness of each individual, and
- the ‘personal responsibility’ factor in managing stress-related risks under an WHS system works.
- promotes a staff sense of ownership of – and compli ance with - the WHS program
- recognizes staff as 24/7 human beings and not work robots
- effectively supports work life bal ance at no cost to the employer
- the work productivity value of encouraging staff to ‘get a life outside of work – you will work better ‘, encouraging staff to enjoy favourite leisure pursuits that enable them to:
- switch off and switch on – switch their mind off their stress-generating responsibilities and switch their mind on to the leisure pursuit. It’s important to recognize that simply stopping whatever is stressing them out is not enough in itself, any more than stopping a car without refueling would make it go further or longer.
- Each leisure experience doesn’t of itself change life but, practiced often, it starts to ‘turn the negative ship around’, re-energizing the above five positive behaviour factors
Contented workers work harder. By 'contented' I don't mean lazy. I mean workers who find the workplace conditions and culture:
- professionally and personally stimulating
- reasonably recognizes and supports basic personal and emotional needs of staff, their talentsw and professional development needs
- instils high self-esteem, self-confidence, respect and dignity of the individual
- becomes the organisation’s most effective advertisement in efforts to attract and retain the best people for that business.
Passionate interests in personal life develop talents that expand personal potential. Leaders today are no longer the drivers of business thinking but harvesters of the decentralized expertise of staff. The most productive organisations think expansively about the range and potential of all the talent they can find in their people, not just the skills set down in job specifications.
Over a period of time it can help reduce symptoms of burnout and the extent of unproductive time spent dealing with stress-generated staff conflicts, harassment, bullying, etc
Taking care of the mind has become a high priority for the worker and employer alike. The issue is more than just minimizing the risk of stress-related problems, illnesses and injuries. It’s a matter of keeping the mind strong and healthy, creative, purposeful, productive, passionate and alert.
It’s Not Just About Work
The mind has certainly become the centre of work. But more importantly it is the centre of everything in life – at home, with loved ones, health, life satisfaction, talents, passions, potential, every experience of life – positives, negatives, hope, despair, and happiness. The mind is nature’s most powerful, resourceful and creative tool. Used wisely and frequently on energizing interests will do much to ensure it remains strong and healthy, maximizing its potential for life to blossom.
The best workplace culture recognizes workers as 24/7 human beings for whom mental fitness and wellbeing is central to their desire to gain life satisfaction – at work, at home and at play. Employers who encourage their staff to ‘get a life’ when they are not in work mode will
- minimize stress risks, and
- enjoy an abundant productivity return on their human investment.
Please tell your employer's Safety Officer and Senior Managers about the positive comments below.
This is my view of the world in relation to WHS and Mental Fitness. I welcome your comments and discussion in the interests of improved human wellbeing in the workplace.
Peter Nicholls Australia’s People Gardener