Awake work is unhappy work


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The more we talk about work / life balance and diverse and inclusive workplaces, the more miserable we seem to be.

Over the past two decades, and particularly more recently, Australian businesses have taken a leap forward with numerous measures aimed at improving the culture of the workplace. New OHS practices, EAP phone lines, mental health initiatives, commemoration of so many days for various causes, LGTBIQ committees, millennial mentoring, teleworking modalities (amplified by COVID), empathy training for managers, bowls of fruit , internally yoga sessions, internal communication strategies …

At the same time, referrals for mental and emotional health reasons across the community are up very significantly, including the new peak of some 30 percent over the past year. There is every reason to believe that this trend is reflected in the workplaces themselves.

Here are some stories and experiences collected:

  • Friends have told me that they avoid the toilet at their own workplace because too often there is someone sobbing behind the door of a closed cubicle.
  • Mental health is ranked as the number one issue raised by staff in many employee surveys.
  • As CEO of Lifeline, I once asked a room of 800 business leaders in the “bunker” of the Wentworth Hotel who felt lonely at the time. I had my hands up 80% because of the Aussie suits – and no one seemed surprised.
  • I know of a psychopath who used a “Let’s Get to Know” liaison session with executive colleagues to glean damaging personal information about them.
  • We read from The great resignation professional roles in the United States; three major australian professional services companies tell me it has now started here.
  • According to Safe Work Australia, from 2000 to 2018 the number of workers’ compensation claims for mental health issues increased by 51%. In 2018, they accounted for 68% of all disease-related claims.
  • Safe Work Australia also notes that the average time off work for mental health claims increased 86% between 2000 and 2017. The costs of mental health claims also increased exponentially by 209%. .
  • Our modern obsession with managing risk combined with “keeping everyone in the know” is forcing corporate people to work harder than ever before. Every word and every sentence goes through extraordinary times of review, consultation and approval.

WTF? Does the demand for a mentally healthy workplace exceed the supply and effort? How is it possible that all of these initiatives and resources don’t seem to be working out much? Or, as the Black Dog Institute recently asked in a major report: “Does modern work make Australians mentally ill? ‘

They think the answer is ‘yes’ and cite evidence of the increased impacts of digitization and precarization in particular and in particular among young people.

I buy it. Less human contact in the workplace and less safety at work cannot help.

And, I think it’s something else that contributes to the $ 39 billion (according to the Productivity Commission) annual cost of poor mental health in our workplaces.

Namely, modern workplaces – especially corporate ones – are a terrible amalgamation that makes people stressed and sick.

On the one hand, there are constant messages and methods to better include and support people. There is an initiative, a program or a day for everything.

On the other hand, it seems to me that in the name of good and laudable intentions like keeping people engaged and safe, we may have overly sanitized workplaces and removed all traces of our messy humanity.

The norm seems to be that workplaces now lack individual expression, friendship and camaraderie, playfulness and personality, and other things that make them liveable. Awakened work is heartless and inauthentic work.

When are the Friday night drinks dead? Where is he buried?

Truth be told, just as Swinburne finds that 51% of us are concerned about automation, we actually don’t need to be replaced by robots. We have already started to act like them and it is hard for our well-being because we are made of more than circuit boards.

Young people look at me amazingly when I talk about playing hallway cricket with colleagues in a NSW premier’s office after a 14 hour day and a shared slab of Toohey’s New. They find me weird …

But I think what’s strange is the dissonance they face on a daily basis. The subtext of their professional life is: ‘We want you to feel good about yourself, safe and a sense of belonging here. But please don’t be yourself and say nothing that may be controversial.

Be empowered and conformist.

Eh? No wonder younger employees, in particular, can’t cope with this mixed message – this gap between set expectations and what they can actually say or do.

Polite facets and careful language can make some of us sick.

Is this a defense of the excesses that people of my generation saw in the 70s, 80s and 90s? Does it reflect my “old white man privilege”?

Not a snowflake chance in Darwin.

No one should be sentimental about these days of misogyny, harassment, abuse, bullying and inappropriate behavior fueled by alcohol. It was really bad and people got hurt; it is reprehensible and we must be better.

But it is also not fair that people are hurt now by perhaps overcompensating for past wrongs. If we want mentally and emotionally healthier – and more productive – workplaces we will need to find a new way of speaking and behaving with more respect and honesty towards one another – not just ‘waking performance’. .

It can be argued that we put form before function. A whole architecture developed to support the emotional life of the employees has been built. But what may be missing is its very foundation: emotional integrity.

The truth is, we are, in fact, disordered creatures. While we must of course mask much of our clutter for the common good, our own survival, and the social contract – or employee agreement – it is unrealistic to erase our humanity and individuality entirely.

Let’s not put more awakens to work; let’s put more heart into it.

Pete Shmigel writes, coaches, advocates for mental health and serves on boards of directors after surviving three CEO concerts and professional politics.

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