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Subject:                          Inside OHS 97: How work heals us; Work-life balance - an under-recognised public health issue; & When bullying cases fail: a round-up of overreaches in a new jurisdiction


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Thomson Reuters Australia

Issue 97 , Monday 12 September 2016

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In this issue

How work heals us


Work-life balance – an under-recognised public health issue


When bullying cases fail: a round-up of overreaches in a new jurisdiction


Editorial Team



How work heals us

By Niki Ellis

Adjunct Professor,

Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research and Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University


According to Safe Work Australia the cost of work-related injury and illness was $61.8 billion in 2012-13, which is 4.4% of GDP. We know work harms us, but how does it heal us?

The Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine's Realising the Health Benefits of Work statement says 'worklessness' is associated with increased death rates, including suicide, poorer physical and mental health and greater disability.

On the other hand, re-employment is associated with improvement to self-esteem, self-rated health, self-satisfaction and physical health. Although most policy statements now recognise that for recovery at work you need to return to good work.

At face value you might think that work improves our health by giving us a sense of purpose and relationships. We know a lot now about socio-organisational factors that are important for health in the workplace.

The UK Health and Safety Executive Stress Management Standards addresses six stressors: job demands, job control, support (encouragement and resources), relationships at work, role clarity and change management.

Is good, healing work simply the other side of the coin for these factors? You can make sense of that.

That means for healing work you would be looking for jobs that:

·         Demand not too little and not too much of you;

·         Give you discretion over the use of your skills in the job;

·         Provide you with adequate support in terms of resources, training and help;

·         Bring healthy relationships, and deal with conflict and unacceptable behaviours promptly;

·         Have a clear understanding of your role, how it contributes to the organisational achievements and where there are no conflicts with other roles; and

·         Exist in an environment where change is well managed and communicated.

But to me it doesn't really answer the question how does good work heal you?

Health not merely the absence of disease: WHO

For that I turned to positive psychology.

Martin Seligman is usually considered the Father of this new discipline. In 1998, when he was the President of the American Psychology Association he proposed that the discipline of psychology needed to do more than address the 'misery of mental illness'.

This echoes the World Health Organisation's definition of health as physical, mental and social well-being, not just the absence of disease.

The discipline of health promotion has been trying to put flesh on the bones of that definition since the 1980s. The Ottawa Charter emerged from the first international conference on health promotion in 1986.

It stated that health promotion "creates living and working conditions that are safe, satisfying, stimulating and enjoyable". Health promotion has always recognised that work plays an important role in health and wellbeing.

Sir Michael Marmot emphasised this in his leadership of the Social Determinants of Health Commission. In the Commission's models the value of work, work that is fair as well as safe, is highlighted.

Something worth considering as we watch what has been going on with the 7 Eleven scandal.

On the ABC's Q&A panel on poverty that aired on August 30, starring Sir Michael, it seemed to be a given that work was good for health and wellbeing.

Applying positive psychology to workplace health

Professor Anthony LaMontagne has proposed a model for mentally health workplaces which is based on the integrated approach.

By that I mean a holistic approach – considering the health of the worker as a whole – that combines occupational health and safety, workplace health promotion and human resources management.

I find this approach very useful and am using it to guide advice I give on mentally healthy workplaces.

There are three domains in this model: preventing harm; positive psychology and managing illness. La Montagne says it is early days in the application of positive psychology to workplace health, and I agree.

Seligman's model of positive psychology, or as Keyes puts it what it takes to move people along the spectrum from mental illness to languishing to moderate mental health to flourishing, has seven elements:

1.     Relationships;

2.     Caring for others;

3.     Exercise;

4.     'Flow' – tackling challenges confidently knowing you have the skills and resources to do so and then feeling the 'flow';

5.     Spiritual engagement and meaning;

6.     Knowledge of your strengths and virtues; and

7.     Positive mind set – optimism, mindfulness and gratitude.

Thinking about how work might contribute to these factors I can see that work is a great place to form relationships and performance management systems, when working properly, would help you to understand your strengths and virtues. Good work should be all about creating opportunities for 'flow', and be meaningful.

Optimistic nuns aiming for heaven

I was speaking on this recently at The Womens' Club in Sydney. It was a fantastic audience. When we got to optimism I was telling them about some of the early work on optimism and pessimism that was done on nuns.

Nuns were considered a good study population as, in the 1930s, they lived in stable communities with very similar exposures, for most of their lives. The nuns were assessed for optimism and pessimism and then decades later work was done to analyse differences in longevity.

It turns out optimistic nuns live ten years longer than pessimistic nuns. Caroline Baum, who was interviewing me in front of this audience, pulled me up, "But why would nuns be pessimistic, they all believe that heaven is awaiting them?". I channelled a pessimistic nun's response, "Heaven isn't what it used to be".

In trying to understand the healing powers of work, can the conceptual frameworks from the HSE stress management standards and the positive psychology approach be reconciled? Perhaps the very old definition of ergonomics helps here; our aim is to match work to man and each man to his job.



Work-life balance – an under-recognised public health issue

Amanda Cooklin, PhD, Research Fellow;

Jan Nicholson, PhD, Inaugural Roberta Holmes Professor

Transition to Contemporary Parenthood Program, La Trobe University

In our world, discussion of work-life balance is common, but usually in the context of the impact on employees and employers. This team at Latrobe University has a focus on the impact on children and the intergenerational effects of work-life conflicted parents. 

Employers are investing in the reduction of work-life conflict, but is their money well spent? This team say there is little evidence on what works. Perhaps there are employers out there willing to work with this team to trial interventions soundly based on the research evidence we do have? 

Introduction by Professor Niki Ellis

National data: work-family conflict produces poorer mental health for workers

"Work-Life Balance" has become a bit of a buzzword phrase, a catch-all term for a variety of workplace health promotion and 'family friendly' initiatives.

This catch-all term may have lost its power to describe a real and significant risk to the health and well-being of families and children.

For the past 5-6 years, our program of work has assessed the effects of poor work-life balance on parents' mental health. We examine work-family conflict: the stresses and strains that arise when demands in one role like work, are incompatible with responsibilities in another, such as family.

We use national cohort data, from over 10,000 Australian families of diverse backgrounds, incomes and occupational types. Our findings confirm evidence that is emerging internationally. Parents who have work-family conflict even in the short term have functionally poorer mental health. The consequences of persistent work-family conflict over the longer-term are even more marked.

High conflict leads to less affection

Parents of children aged from 4-5 years to 12-13 years with persistent work-family conflict have the worst mental health of all parents in this cohort, even when other factors that usually predict mental health are considered.

This has a flow on effects to the health and development of the next generation.

One of the striking findings in our recent research is that parents' work-family conflict influences the way that parents behave with their children. Parents who are experiencing high work-family conflict are less warm and affectionate with their children.

They are also more likely to set inconsistent boundaries and expectations for their children, and to respond to their children with more irritability and frustration.

These types of parenting behaviours all have negative effects on the social and emotional wellbeing and development of young children.

Not just a problem for mums

This is not about parents 'not coping' at home and at work. We show that even for parents with 'good' mental health, work-family conflict undermines family relationships.

Over time, this contributes to the transmission of poor mental health from this generation (parents) to the next generation (their children).

Notably, our findings about the mental health effects of work-family conflict are equally true for male and female employees.

Work-life issues and work-family conflict have typically been regarded as a problem for mothers. Our evidence shows that fathers too experience similar rates – and similar consequences - of work-family conflict.

Work-family conflict can lead to workplace burn-out & occupational stress

Alongside the personal cost to employees, there is a cost to workplaces if this health concern goes under-recognised and under-treated.

The international evidence shows that work-family conflict contributes to employee burnout, low job satisfaction, low productivity, absenteeism, occupational stress and higher turnover intentions.

How widespread is the problem? From ABS data, we estimate that one in two employees is a parent. One-third of all Australian parents - men and women – report high work-family conflict.

So, in an organisation of 100 employees, high work-family conflict and its negative health effects will affect about 15 employees.

Work-family conflict is not limited to certain types of jobs: those in low-paid jobs, or to those in very high-demand, intensive professional roles for example. Rather, it is distributed almost evenly across the spectrum of occupations, roles and salaries – making it a key public health issue relevant to the general Australian population of working parents.

In general, work-life imbalance arises from the type and quality of the job, as well as from demands in parents' home environments. Parents are most at risk who work very long hours, in inflexible jobs where they have low control over their schedule or workload.

The good news is that when work family conflict is 'relieved' or reduced for parents, their mental health improves.

Our research shows that for mothers and fathers with high work-family conflict, if this conflict was reduced, their mental health improved by two years later. This provides a strong impetus for workplaces to tackle work-family conflict as a central part of employee mental health and wellbeing.

Australia can fill research void on effective workplace interventions

Reducing work-family conflict improves employee mental health, but there is little-to-no evidence in the field about what works in workplaces to reduce work-family conflict for parents.

This gap provides a great window of opportunity for Australia to lead this work internationally. Our future research is focussed on partnering with enterprising organisations that are interested in solving this problem - using strong-evidence and feasible approaches.

The job market is becoming increasingly insecure, competitive and intense. Australian workers work among the longest hours of all OECD countries.

At the same time, changing gender roles and expectations mean that both mothers and fathers want, and are expected to be hands-on involved parents.

Supporting both work and family roles has substantial positive benefits for parents and their children's health and wellbeing. Work-family conflict is an important public health concern, but one that can be remedied from within the workplaces and organisations where parents are working.



When bullying cases fail: a round-up of overreaches in a new jurisdiction

By Stephanie D'Souza

More and more, courts are navigating the relatively new territory of what constitutes workplace bullying as claims come through the Fair Work Commission (FWC) and other courts or tribunals.

Settlement & withdrawal 'relatively high'

Associate news service Workforce Daily reported FWC anti-bullying panel head Commissioner Peter Hampton told Melbourne Law School many disputes in the area (above) were resolved before they got to court as a result of a "relatively high settlement and withdrawal rate". The FWC cited a number of reasons cases weren't making it all the way to court proceedings and only seven anti-bullying orders had been issued.

They included applicants:

·         Leaving the workplace and not returning;

·         Not being "comfortable" having to serve the bullying application on the employer or individual named;

·         Misunderstanding FWC's powers; or

·         Being satisfied with being "taken seriously" after the employer responded with an investigation.

Federal statutory agency Safe Work Australia (SWA) recently updated its guidance in the area emphasising that bullying behaviour must be both unreasonable and repeated behaviour.

It also published clear directions on what did not constitute bullying despite similarities in abusive behaviour. Examples included:

·         Reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way. "A manager exercising their legitimate authority at work may result in some discomfort for a worker. The question of whether management action is conducted in a reasonable way is determined by considering the actual management action rather than a worker's perception of it."

·         Workplace conflict. "Differences of opinion and disagreements are generally not workplace bullying. People can have differences and disagreements in the workplace without engaging in repeated, unreasonable behaviour that creates a risk to health and safety."

·         Unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment. "Unreasonable behaviour may involve unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment which, by itself, is not bullying."

IOHS examines recent cases which made it to the court-room but failed to prove a need for the full strength of the jurisdiction's powers and secure a stop-bullying order, despite the perceptions of the alleged victims.

May 5: Suspicious stare not bullying

A receptionist at the Western Australian Yura Yungi Aboriginal Medical Service (YYAMS) was not bullied by three colleagues, said FWC's Commissioner Danny Cloghan. The cmr said Miranda Gore's allegations were "over estimated and insubstantial" with "no repetition of unreasonable" behaviour.

Gore alleged she was subjected to teasing, practical jokes, aggressive behaviour and being ignored by staff. She said a senior colleague bullied her with a "suspicious stare" on December 2, 2015. The colleague denied this saying it could not have happened as she was attending her own wedding that day.

Gore also cited an irritable exchange with a doctor at the practice after she'd attempted to enlist his help with a patient. Cmr Cloghan said while Gore's technique of "managing upwards" was common in the workplace, if it's met with resistance by a superior a worker should not consider that "disrespectful". Cmr Cloghan said: "Having a preference about how things should be done, like Gore, and suggestions not being agreed to by a supervisor, is not bullying." 

(s.789FC - Application for an order to stop bullying Miranda Jane Gore [2016], FWC 2559, 24/05/2016)

Jun 7: Major depressive disease not linked to alleged bullying

The Administrative Appeal Tribunal (AAT) found a Telstra employment service officer's major depressive disease was more likely caused by her separation from her husband who had been in Pakistan for six years and experienced difficulty returning to Australia. Marilyn Cantwell-Zeb had sought a review of Comcare's decision to not pay her compensation under s14 of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (SRC) Act 1988. She alleged her team leader bullied and harassed her by asking for an explanation for a 25 minute absence and on another occasion yelling and making her feel threatened. AAT Deputy President Dr Peter McDermott found those incidents were neither bullying nor harassment and relied on medical evidence from a consulting psychiatrist which linked Cantwell-Zeb's depression to her husband's absence. DP McDermott found the team leader's action was "reasonable administrative action".

(Cantwell-Zeb v Comcare [Compensation], AAT 379, 07/06/2016)

Aug 1: Worker accuses mgr of being a 'slave master'

The FWC found there were "elements" of unreasonable behaviour towards Northern Territory health department cleaner Luis Perez but not enough evidence for a bullying order, owing to Perez's tendency to exaggerate circumstances. Perez alleged his manager ordered him in an abusive manner to "narrate" the tasks he did for the day and treated him like a "slave master driving her slave" by verbally harassing and intimidating him.

Abrupt mgr action was reasonable: FWC

FWC Commissioner Peter Hampton said though the manager was abrupt, it was reasonable and appropriate in her role as a leading hand to check what duties Perez had performed. Cmr Hampton noted an incident where Perez's manager called him a "pig" after he burped "potentially" unreasonable. 

(Luis Perez - Application for an order to stop bullying [2016], FWC 4097, 1/8/2016)

Aug 8: 'Robust' rock roadie culture fails to justify abuse

Dismissing a worker's stop-bullying application, the FWC said roadie Justin Simounds had submitted the application in order to "shine a light" on the black holes in human resources policies after Simounds' complaints were ignored by his employer.

Deputy President Karen Bartel dismissed Simounds' claim but told employer Event Personnel Australia Pty Ltd to review its policies given the serious issues he raised. These included Simounds claims he was denied shifts for raising safety issues like a manager refusing to conduct safety training for work eight metres above the stage at a Bon Jovi concert.

Simounds also alleged another crew chief had shouted in a belittling manner "everybody signed on? Good, now shut the f-ck up" as well as referring to the workers as "slaves". 

DP Bartel noted roadie work was carried out in a "robust" environment but found there was "no oversight or internal checking mechanisms and no process available to employees to raise issues beyond their immediate manager".

(Justin Simounds - Application for an order to stop bullying, [2016] FWC 5065, 8/8/2016)

Aug 19: Worker cautioned for lodging complaint

A welfare worker's "constant refusal to comply with reasonable directions" saw her bullying complaint against her manager tossed out.

Xiaoli Cao said her manager Rita Wilkinson at tenants advocate Metro Assist had engaged in unreasonable behaviour toward her since 2013. The behaviour included exhibiting aggressive, humiliating, intimidating, belittling and retaliatory behaviour, undue criticism about the quality of work, repeated rudeness and demeaning sarcasm.

Examples included Wilkinson changing Cao's hours after Cao complained about her workload.

FWC Deputy President Peter Sams found there was no evidence to support the claim Wilkinson had acted unreasonably and said her actions were "reasonable management actions". DP Sams said Metro Assist investigated Cao's complaints in a fair and transparent fashion.

He said also cautioned Cao against her repeating this conduct in the future. He said he believed her allegations sprung from her failure to get a promotion in 2013, leading to disappointment and resentment.

(Cummings v Visy Paper Pty Ltd & Anor [2016], QDC 208, 19/08/2016)

Aug 30: Bullying claim deligitimised if firm delists contractor

Exposing a limitation of the bullying jurisdiction, the FWC dismissed an anti-bullying order due to uncertain contractual arrangements. Vice President Graeme Watson dismissed Sami Yatmaz's application for orders against BSA Limited after finding Yatmaz had not filed supporting evidence and BSA had delisted the contracting company which employed him, Skylink Communications. Under s789FFof the Fair Work Act, the Commission can make stop-bullying orders if satisfied a worker had been bullied at work and there was a risk it would continue. VP Watson said he was unsure whether Skylink Communications had been reinstated to the list and, if so, whether Yatmaz continued to perform work in relation to that contract.

(Sami Yatmaz v BSA Limited and others [2016] FWC 5944, 30/08/16)

Additionally, navigating the intricacies of a sensitive workplace dispute as it developed saw the FWC made orders to protect the identities of alleged bullying victims so as to prevent an escalation of the problem.

Jul 7: Bullying claimants kept anonymous

The FWC will allow five Carlton United Breweries (CUB) workers to have their identities restricted during proceedings related to claims they have been bullied by workers at the CUB picket line. FWC Deputy President Val Gostencnik found "the interests of justice must give way to the desirability to mitigate the risk of escalating inappropriate conduct directed towards the applicants".

At the time, Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) members had been protesting at CUB's Abbotsford brewery for over three months after 55 workers' contracts were terminated and the workers were told to reapply for their jobs at rates 65% lower than the union agreement. DP Gostencnik acknowledged the restricted identities would limit the ability for the accused to defend themselves, so gave their lawyers access to the workers' names and addresses. He prevented them, or any other person, from disclosing the information.

(Worker A, Worker B, Worker C, Worker D and Worker E [2016],FWC 5707, 15/07/2016)



Editorial Team

Editor: Stephanie D'Souza. Email: Stephanie.D' Managing Editor: Peter Schwab.




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