Enough’s enough – I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore

Enoughs Enough

(from movie Network 1975 – video below explains the context)

I’m mad about the shortcomings of our home and work tribe cultures.

Over the Christmas break, I was contacted by more people seeking to help a distressed loved one than ever before. I have written previously about why this time of year can be challenging for many people, but it seemed to have jumped up a notch this year. Both our home and work tribe can be a source of important emotional support, but only if we have quality time to nurture a supportive environment and resolve that this is a top priority.

Whilst our homelife environment is incredibly important, today I want to focus on our workplaces.

As we rush into the digital revolution, workplaces can see less human, and yet we all yearn to be accepted for who we are. We want to be part of a supportive team, have a purpose that excites us, and have the opportunity to grow.

Despite many workplaces espousing that ‘our employees are our most important asset’ – company risk measures and leadership behaviour often contradict this.

Boards and senior leadership teams are informed by CSIRO research that rising work stress and mental health issues will be one of the top 6 megatrends in the next 20 years – but it seems to fall on deaf ears.

In the battle to be an employer of choice many seem to ignore that 91% of employees desire to work in a mentally healthy culture a, but only 54% believe they do (beyondblue 2017). Evidence also shows that workplace stress leads to 50% higher voluntary turnover and that employees prefer wellbeing to material benefits (Seppala, HBR 2015).

So, is there reason for optimism in 2019? Last week Allianz launched the AWARENESS TO ACTION: a holistic approach to cultivating a mentally healthy workplace report. It was a good contribution to the topic and combined academic research, a review of world’s best practice, their own workers compensation claims data, and a survey of Australian employees. Some lowlights include:

  • Despite 77% of employees saying that their employer is taking some action to address mental health in the workplace, 91% say they are not doing it well,
  • 88% of employees want more dialogue in the workplace about mental health,
  • 70% think their employer does not understand the impact of mental health issues in the workplace,
  • 78% were concerned they would lose their job altogether if they disclosed mental ill-health to their employer and 78% think they would not be offered future career opportunities,
  • the most frequently experienced mental ill-health symptoms were stress (67%), lack of sleep (59%), and loss of motivation or interest in work (58%).
  • Mental health conditions and symptoms now account for nearly 40 per cent of all Allianz Australia’s workers compensation claims. Within that group, primary psychological claims have increased over the last decade, but so have secondary psychological injury claims – and at a much faster rate.

I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore! (This line comes from the classic 1975 movie Network – this short video provides context – it’s quite a scene)

They also share some highlights, and the great example set by Steve McCann, Group CEO of Lendlease, and his team are shared.

Lendlease have acknowledged that in the construction sector, employees were more likely to experience higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression. With this in mind, Lendlease set out to develop a holistic framework and initiatives to promote health and wellbeing among its employees (around 13,000 employees operating across 8 countries worldwide) by:

  • Supporting healthier minds
  • Developing healthier bodies
  • Building healthier places
  • Creating healthier cultures

Lendlease has committed to continually improving its workplace and has made significant progress since 2013:

Whilst it is great to celebrate good corporate role models, is it the norm?

In my observation, less than 1% of workplaces have real time indicators of employee wellbeing. With all the hype regarding the benefits of big data, the reality is gobsmackingly archaic. One ASX100 company we visited to did not even have one employee database. They had only just found out that the average age of their employees is 48. This is hardly an Artificial Intelligence revolution.

Whilst this is an extreme example the vast majority of private and public enterprises don’t have real-time employee insights – they have spent all their money on technology trying to understand their customers. In most cases, they are forced to hire consultants to work out how they are performing. Hardly finger on the pulse stuff!

Ask most senior leaders about absenteeism & employee turnover costs by division or by company and they look blank. Ask them about Employee Assistance Program utilization and trends, direct and indirect workers compensation premiums and trends, stress leave costs and trends, and they shrug.

Ask them the total cost of employee stress & distress, and they don’t have a clue. Most do an engagement survey once a year (if you’re lucky) but very few ever do a companywide wellbeing assessment.

At least Houston knew they had a problem (to borrow from Apollo 13). So, what do we do?

The majority of Work Health Safety (WHS) professionals are truly committed to improving wellbeing but they are often frustrated by the lack of buy-in and funding they receive. By way of example, a large firm we spoke to with 5000+ employees and a $600,000,000+ payroll had an employee wellbeing budget of $60,000 (0.0001% invested for employee sustainability). What do you think they invest in IT cyber security and resilience?

But this isn’t a WHS or HR problem – it is Board, leadership and culture problem.

The majority of leaders, managers, and employees I know want to build more caring and mentally healthy tribes – but we often mistake busyness and hours worked for effectiveness!

I’m old enough to remember when we were told by futurists that we would have to learn to cope with excessive leisure time when computers were first introduced. What happened to that prediction?

Creating more mentally healthy, and caring organisations is complex and I’m not saying it is easy – but I am saying it should be the #1 focus of Boards.

What is the first step for Boards?

Boards must demand to know the cost of stress & mental ill health to their organisation & monitor results. They should immediately be seeking a real-time measure of employee mental wellbeing.

Senior leaders need to ask their employees why 91% think they are not doing a good job addressing mental health. They need to link employee mood to the vision and values of the organisation, and its future success in everything they do and say.

Managers must also have the insight, will and skill, to build more caring, mentally healthy and growth-oriented teams.

What are we going to be doing differently?

We’re going to be putting every ounce of our work energy into providing insights and resources to help improve work cultures. Work can be a fabulous contributor to our wellbeing if we believe in the purpose of what we do, use our strengths each day, and have the opportunity to work in a supportive group.

In the coming weeks the FactorC team and I will be creating and sharing a:

  • CARE CREDO – principles for a good life and career
  • A CARE TRIBE Manifesto – evidence-based guidelines for building more caring, mentally healthy and growth-oriented tribes
  • Digital solutions that can help us scale this work
  • An invitation for you to join the CARE revolution

It feels good to get this rant off my chest. I’m not really as mad as Peter Finch in Network – just quite frustrated and determined to be part of the solution 😊 I had a wonderful Christmas break and I feel rejuvenated – and I hope you did too.

Are you with us? I welcome any questions, comments, or suggestions below.

Be caring. Be helpful. Go for the GREEN ZONE

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