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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Cost of poor management

Cost of poor management
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New Zealand

“Science shows that, from shop floor to top floor, the person most likely to cause you damage at work is your line manager. In fact you should have warnings on office doorways like you do on cigarette packets: ‘Your manager is potentially dangerous to your health.’”

That was the slightly tongue-in-cheek advice from international keynote speaker Professor Sir Cary Cooper at the second annual HealthyWork conference, hosted by Safeguard and Employment Today in Auckland.

Sir Cary, professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, joined the conference by video link to explain how a lack of wellbeing was costing both workplaces and workers dearly.

Despite strong evidence linking good workplace wellbeing to significant financial benefits, both work conditions and morale have deteriorated since the global economic crisis, he told the conference. One of the critical areas where many workplaces fall short is in the appointment of line managers.

“Line managers are probably the fundamental building block for doing something about wellbeing in the workplace because they have a big impact on other important factors –workload, worker autonomy and control, job engagement and security, career opportunities and training.

“The line manager relationship is critical. The better they manage, the more people get up in the morning wanting to go to work – and that is better for everyone. Unfortunately we don’t select the right people to be managers, because most aren’t recruited on the basis of their social and interpersonal skills.”

This has become a serious concern in recent years, he said, with studies now showing that depression, stress and anxiety are the leading causes of sickness absence across all industry groups, and that presenteeism – those who are at work but not productive because of poor health or job dissatisfaction – is both more prevalent and more costly than absenteeism.

Sir Cary said his own research had revealed major issues with diminishing job satisfaction, which was seriously impacting worker wellbeing and productivity. The problem originated during the GFC, he said, but had not improved as the economy recovered.

“In 2007, just before the recession, I did a quality of working life survey with a representative cohort of 10,000 managers. I repeated it during the recession in 2012 and, in the questions about ill health, found significant increases in every indicator – from stress and musculoskeletal disorders to the common cold and sight or hearing problems.”

Negative psychological indicators, such as loss of sense of humour, avoiding others, mood swings, and feeling unable to cope, were also more prevalent. The bad news didn’t stop there however, with managers in the 2012 survey also feeling more negative about their employers.

“There were declines across the board – in feeling that their organisation was a good employer, that they were treated fairly, and that senior managers had trust and confidence in them. Belief that senior managers were committed to employee wellbeing dropped from 55% to 39%, while overall job satisfaction went down from 62% to 55%.”

Another survey, when the UK economy was picking up in 2015, found lingering deterioration in conditions and morale.

“The duration, volume and pace of work had increased, while loyalty, motivation, morale and job security had declined. The hours of work were pretty penal. Seventy-two percent were working more than their contracted hours every week, with 12% doing 60 hours of more, and nearly 22% doing between 49 and 59 hours.”

Sir Cary said it is well understood that stress associated with workplace factors can adversely impact both company performance and worker health, and suggested three levels of intervention.

“At the tertiary level there is EAP assistance, while secondary level involves things like resilience training, annual reviews, personal development plans, and healthy living or wellbeing programmes. But the primary level is the most important, and that should be based around regular wellbeing audits, using proper psychometric tools.”

Many organisations use employee engagement surveys, but Sir Cary said they provide only part of the picture. “The Health and Safety Executive in the UK has said wellbeing audits are a really good idea and we are seeing them a lot in large organisations, in both the public and private sectors.”

Other primary interventions include dealing with stressors during recruitment and induction, and good workflow planning. Such initiatives come at a cost, but Sir Cary said good wellbeing is very good for business. During a major project for British company Network Rail the financial benefits of improving workers’ psychological wellbeing was found to be around £1200 per employee.

“If you aggregate that up to the whole company – 34,000 workers – it’s £6.1 million, so it really is bottom line stuff.”



People Mentioned:
Cary Cooper
Organisations Mentioned:
Network Rail
Reference No:

From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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