Legal code stresses good management

Are you a bullying boss? Do you drive your employees to reach unrealistic deadlines, and demand greater productivity with less resourcing in these competitively tough times?

Not in England in the near future, you won’t. According to a 13 June Sunday Independent (London) item by Rachel Sylvester – as forwarded on the net by Kiwi Ian Ritchie – bullying bosses, unrealistic deadlines and excessive working hours are creating a health hazard and will be outlawed under a new legally binding code being planned by the British government.

Apparently a government study found that almost a quarter of the 4000 workers surveyed, from cleaners to surgeons, claim to suffer ‘extreme stress’ in the office which has led to physical or mental ill-health.

Predictably, the trade unions are saying employers must take responsibility for stress in the workplace, and the Confederation of British Industry are saying companies should not be made to pay for stress brought into the office from elsewhere.

In perhaps a futile attempt – like nailing jelly to a tree – the British Government wants an “approved code of practice” to formally define stress and place it under the proposed legislation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

This would enable the courts to rule that an employer has broken the law if it is found to be operaing outside the guidelines.

The HSE draft code defines stress as being “the reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them. It arises when they worry that they can’t cope.”

The code suggests there are identifiable management practices which exacerbate stress, such as bullying, organisational style and working conditions which should be banned.

Employers would be expected to deal with these workplace matters at source. Managers would be trained to spot the signs of work-related stress in their staff.

Companies could be forced to shorten the hours worked by their staff and/or hire more people to relieve existing workers who are stressing out.

While our Occupational Safety and Health department – Worksafe WA – has very comprehensive legislation covering safety conditions in the workplace, stress is not included.

Regardless of whether it is possible or not to remove stress-inducing practices from the workplace, the message coming from the British government deserves checking for relevance to our workforce reality.

As WA continues to strive for excellence and innovation in the global marketplace by downsizing and cutting resources to increase our efficiency of production and service against the world norm, are we aware we might be pushing our workers too hard, pushing them over the competitive edge?

In our post-industrial Information Age, the most valuable resources for success in business are the knowledge and skills invested in our employees.

However, not only are they are being asked to do more with less, workers are operating in an environment of constant change requiring them to learn new technologies at an unprecedented rate.

Perhaps it is time to stop our own hectic treadmill for just a moment and ask if we are looking after the long term well-being of our most precious asset for future success: our people.

Or are we too stressed out ourselves to even ask?

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