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WorkLife: Why is work making us sick? (Audio)

WorkLife: Why is work making us sick? (Audio)

Worker compensation claims have been decreasing over time but this masks all kinds of problems with our wellbeing at work.

Making our workplaces healthier and safer means we have to confront all those things causing us stress at work. And that’s not going to be solved by standing desks, complimentary massage or lunchtime yoga.

LISTEN NOW > to the ABC RadioNational podcast of ‘WorkLife: Why is work making us sick?”

These are the characteristics of people most likely to cut corners at work

These are the characteristics of people most likely to cut corners at work


Peter O’Connor, Queensland University of Technology and Peter Karl Jonason, Western Sydney University

In a newly published study, we found that employees who “cut corners” tend to be morally compromised, low in conscientiousness, self-focused and impulsive. This in addition to the potential for corner-cutting to increase risks.

Surveying more than 1,000 Australians and Americans, we found approximately one in four employees regularly cut corners. Men are slightly more likely to cut corners than women.

Cutting corners at work

Cutting corners is a workplace behaviour characterised by skipping or avoiding steps important to a task, in order to complete the task sooner. Corner-cutting is generally considered an undesirable behaviour, with research linking it to a range of negative outcomes such as low job performance, safety violations and serious injuries.

Although corner-cutting comes with a set of risks, it also comes with a clear possible benefit – cutting corners can possibly lead to greater productivity. Consistent with this, studies have shown that corner-cutting is more likely in jobs characterised by high demands and few resources. It is also more likely in organisations that prioritise efficiency over risks.

However, even in such organisations, corner-cutting is openly discouraged. Mistakes caused by employees cutting corners are typically met with harsh consequences.

To investigate whether corner-cutters can be identified, we surveyed employees from a range of industries including health care, education, hospitality, retail and construction. We looked at several demographic variables and personality traits to determine who is more or less likely to cut corners at work. We focused on both common personality traits (e.g., extraversion, conscientiousness) as well as “darker” personality traits (e.g., Machiavellianism, narcissism).

We didn’t just stop at a questionnaire. We also exposed employees to a hypothetical scenario where they could choose to cut corners or not. We conducted two variations of the study across Australia and the US.

The personality traits of corner-cutters

Across both studies, we found that both common and darker personality traits were associated with corner-cutting. Most significantly, corner-cutters were likely to be low in conscientiousness, low in honesty and high in psychopathy (i.e., impulsive, callous social attitudes). Corner-cutters also scored high in Machiavellianism (i.e., manipulation, self-interest) and narcissism (i.e., grandiosity, pride).

Age and gender were also factors in corner-cutting, such that employees who cut corners at work tended to be younger and male.

But there are also various contexts that play into the decision to cut corners. While a third of employees cut corners when it would likely save them time, they were less likely to do so if they could be reprimanded (only one in six employees cut corners in this situation), or if there was the potential for a poor-quality outcome (only one in four cut corners then).

These results paint a seemingly negative picture of workplace corner-cutters as individuals who are generally self-interested and low in conscientiousness. However, it is plausible that employees sometimes cut corners with noble intentions. For example, the related concept of “workarounds” refers to the more accepted behaviour of “clever methods for getting done what the system does not let you do easily”.

To explore this possibility, we investigated whether corner-cutters were more proactive than those who tend not to cut corners. Our results strongly suggested that this was generally not the case.

Proactive employees were not more likely to achieve their goals by cutting corners at work, even when their goal was to save time. In fact, we found that proactive individuals were slightly less likely to cut corners at work than non-proactive individuals.

We also found little relation between corner-cutting and career success. There was no relationship between corner-cutting and income. However, it was associated with higher income for those who scored high in psychopathy.

This indicates that while corner-cutting generally does not relate to career success, it can result in career benefits for impulsive, self-focused individuals. These individuals are likely to cut corners as a strategy to be more productive, despite possible costs to the organisation or co-workers.

Implications for managers

Overall, we found that corner-cutting is not a desirable workplace behaviour. Those most likely to cut corners are likely to be poor performers aiming to meet minimimal standards in contrast to good performers looking to excel. The possible exception is individuals high in psychopathy looking for short-cuts to get ahead.

Clearly, it makes sense to minimise the number of employees with corner-cutting tendencies. This is particularly true for jobs in which mistakes caused by cutting corners can lead to serious injury (e.g., jobs in mining, construction). At the very least, we suggest employers take into account certain characteristics of applicants (e.g., conscientiousness, psychopathy) when selecting for such positions.The Conversation

Peter O’Connor, Senior Lecturer, Business and Management, Queensland University of Technology and Peter Karl Jonason, Senior Lecturer in Personality or Individual Differences, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lack of control over high-stress jobs can lead to early grave

Academic research has found that having greater control over your job can help you manage work-related stress. But it’s never suggested that it was a matter of life and death — until now.

New research from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in the US finds that those in high-stress jobs with little control over their workflow die younger or are less healthy than those who have more flexibility and discretion in their jobs and are able to set their own goals as part of their employment.

Using a longitudinal sample of 2,363 Wisconsin residents in their 60s over a seven-year period, they found that for individuals in low-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 15.4 percent increase in the likelihood of death, compared to low job demands. For those in high-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 34 percent decrease in the likelihood of death compared to low job demands.

“We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death,” said Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organisational behavior and human resources at the Kelley School and the paper’s lead author.

“These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making.”

The paper, “Worked to Death: The Relationships of Job Demands and Job Control With Mortality,” has been accepted for publication in the journal Personnel Psychology.

Studies exploring the work factors associated with death are largely absent from the organisational psychology and management literatures. The authors believe theirs is the first study in the management and applied psychology fields to examine the relationship between job characteristics and mortality.

Gonzalez-Mulé said the paper’s results do not suggest that employers necessarily need to cut back on what is expected from employees. Rather, they demonstrate the value in restructuring some jobs to provide employees with more say about how the work gets done.

“You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritize their decision-making and the like,” he said, also recommending that firms allow “employees to have a voice in the goal-setting process, so when you’re telling someone what they’re going to do … it’s more of a two-way conversation.”

Thus, micro-managing employees can have a public health impact. Among people in the study’s sample, the researchers also found that the same set of causal relationships applied to their body mass index. People in high-demand jobs with low control were heavier than those in high-demand jobs with high control.

“When you don’t have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you do this other stuff,” Gonzalez-Mulé said. “You might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it.”

Cancer research studies have found a correlation between eating poorly and developing the disease; at 55 percent, cancer was the leading cause of death of those in the paper’s sample. Other leading causes of death were circulatory system ailments, 22 percent; and respiratory system ailments, 8 percent.

The paper provides more reasons for those in stressful, dead-end jobs to refresh their resumes and look for other employment. Twenty-six percent of deaths occurred in people in frontline service jobs, and 32 percent of deaths occurred in people with manufacturing jobs who also reported high job demands and low control.

“What we found is that those people that are in entry-level service jobs and construction jobs have pretty high death rates, more so than people in professional jobs and office positions,” he said. “Interestingly, we found a really low rate of death among agricultural workers.”

Gonzalez-Mulé said the new study highlights the benefits of job crafting, a relatively new process that enables employees to mold and redesign their job to make it more meaningful. Other research suggests that workers who engage in job crafting are happier and are more productive than co-workers who don’t.

“In some settings, it will be difficult to do this. For a construction worker, it’s going to really hard to allow them autonomy; there’s usually just one right way to do things. In jobs like that, it’s more about just warning the employee of the risks that are here,” he said. “But with some blue-collar jobs, you can. Some people have experimented with this in factory settings, using things like flex-time and paying people based on piece-rate … showing employees what the outcome is of their work.

“There’s a lot research that shows that people who have a social connection with the beneficiaries of their work are much more satisfied and have less stress in their jobs, with no change in the job itself.”

Their study also found that people with a higher degree of control over their work tend to find stress to be useful.

“Stressful jobs cause you to find ways to problem-solve and work through ways to get the work done. Having higher control gives you the resources you need to do that,” Gonzalez-Mulé said. “A stressful job then, instead of being something debilitating, can be something that’s energizing. You’re able to set your own goals, you’re able to prioritize work. You can go about deciding how you’re going to get it done. That stress then becomes something you enjoy.”

Data in the study was obtained from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which followed more than 10,000 people who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957. They were interviewed at various time intervals over their lives, through 2011, to provide data on educational, occupational and emotional experiences. All participants in the study were employed but near the end of their careers.

Gonzalez-Mulé and Cockburn only included those who were not retired in 2004 and who responded to questions about job demands and job control, and then followed up on their responses to questions in 2011. They employed rigorous controls for factors such as demographic characteristics, socioeconomic status and affect.

Gonzalez-Mulé wonders if younger workers are better able to cope with demanding jobs, regardless of the level of control, than workers at the end of their careers. Future research could follow people at an earlier point in their careers to see if the Job Demands-Control Model accurately predicts strain over time.

Story Source: Science Daily

Journal Reference:

  1. Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, Bethany Cockburn. Worked To Death: The Relationships of Job Demands and Job Control With Mortality. Personnel Psychology, 2016; DOI: 10.1111/peps.12206

Geelong builder fined for bullying teen apprentice

A Geelong builder who repeatedly bullied his teenage apprentice over a two-year period was last week convicted and fined $12,500 in the Geelong Magistrates’ Court.

Wayne Allan Dennert, of Bell Post Hill, pleaded guilty to one rolled-up charge under the 2004 OHS Act of failing to provide a safe system of work and the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision to employees in relation to workplace bullying. He was also ordered to pay costs of $757.71.

The court heard that Dennert ran a small carpentry business called Quality Carpentry and Building Maintenance, which employed two apprentice carpenters and two subcontractors.

The victim began working for Dennert in 2013 as a 16-year-old. Until he left in April, 2015, he suffered incidents of verbal, physical and psychological bullying and harassment.

The court heard that during that period Dennert not only encouraged employees to participate in bullying behaviour against the teenager, but actively participated. Some of the physical incidents included:

  • A live mouse being put down the back of his shirt by an employee.
  • Being drenched with water by an employee.
  • Being spat on by an employee.
  • Having ‘Liquid Nails’ squirted in his hair by an employee.
  • Dennert taking his mobile phone and posting an inappropriate sexual comment on his female friend’s profile page.
  • Dennert taking his mobile phone and making him believe Dennert had posted a comment on another female friend’s profile.
  • Dennert ripping his work shorts.
  • Dennert holding a rag doused in methylated spirits over his mouth.
  • Dennert holding hot drill saw bits and baton screws to his bare skin.
  • Dennert smearing plaster across his face and into his eye and ear.
  • Dennert slapping him on his leg with a piece of timber.
  • Dennert scraping sandpaper across his face.
  • Dennert grabbing him from behind and pinning his arms while another employee painted a strip of paint across his face.

The court also heard Dennert regularly called him derogatory names and questioned him about his sex life.

The teenager told the court that occasionally he would participate in the exchanges and retaliations, particularly when encouraged by Dennert, because if he complained or appeared upset it would give Dennert more reason to harass him.

In a victim impact statement read to the court, the apprentice said that he continues to suffer from anxiety, depression, nightmares and insomnia caused by the bullying. But it was the emotional trauma that was the hardest to bear.

“I would rather be burnt, bruised, assaulted, drenched in glue, water, paint, weeks’ old coffee and spat on all over again than to relive a week of the psychological torment I endured,” he told the court.

WorkSafe’s Executive Director of Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said Dennert’s behaviour had been appalling.

“Not only did he use his position of power to encourage a bullying culture among his workers, he actively participated,” Ms Williams said.

“No employee should have to suffer such cruel, vicious and repeated behaviour at work, particularly a young man just starting his working life.

“Because of their inexperience, young workers are particularly vulnerable to psychological and physical risks in the workplace, which is why supervisors and employers must take a real interest in their health and safety.”

Ms Williams said that as an employer, as well as a manager and supervisor, Dennert had a legal obligation to proactively recognise and stop workplace bullying.

“Today’s conviction will be a permanent reminder to him, and the community in which he works, that he failed completely.”

Source: Work Safe News

Shifting Gears For Workplace Wellbeing – Mark Haley Interview

In Conversation With Mark Haley, National Organisational Development Manager at Border Express

Janet McCulloch, Managing Partner of Leadership Dimensions, chats with Mark Haley about learning and development, change and managing mental health in the high pressure transport industry.

Mark HaleyMark, tell me, what’s your role in Learning and Development, and, do you think the challenges in the transport industry similar or different to those in other industries?

I’m the National Organisational Development Manager (and now Safety), my role is a little eclectic but primary function is to provide the process, tools and opportunities to support the learning and development for our people. We are an enterprise Registered Training Organisation (RTO) which specialises in Transport and Logistics training. I’d suggest our challenges aren’t dissimilar to other industries balancing time, resources and commitment to our customers and ourselves to fulfil our Learning & Development requirements. Transport is a very transient industry (no pun intended) and  language, literacy and numeracy considerations do provide some challenges that may not be as prevalent in other industries. We are an aging industry and attracting young people is becoming an issue, how we engage and retain that group is an exciting opportunity for our organisational development team.

What’s your strategy for learning at Border Express and how did this come about?

Our vision is to be recognised as the industry leader for service delivery and value. Coming into the team I noted that a lot of what we did was simply to tick boxes, our training was bland, generic and loosely aligned to what we actually did, people were being accredited and happy for the certificate but our effort wasn’t being reflected in our results.

Our strategy is to understand our people, process, and importantly our strategic direction and align training and development to fit. We started with us.  “I’m just a workplace trainer” was common language and thinking now we see ourselves as change leaders and coaches and mentors, our change was the catalyst to change the way we design and deliver our training. We have now redesigned our training strategy, to our Engage, Nurture and Grow program, which provides a role specific training development plan from on boarding to ongoing career development.  It’s a very exciting time for the team and we are looking forward to rolling it out in the new year.

How do you think the focus of Learning and Development in organisations has changed over your career and what do you think is the key to good learning?

Change. I think good organisations understand that Learning & Development is not just a tick and flick exercise, it’s critical for success and building great places to work. The key to good learning is it needs to add value to the learner and organisation, it has to be purposeful, targeted to the learner and their needs and learning style and appealing.

Border Express ran a Certificate IV in Frontline Management for 25 of your middle management staff. What was your objective in doing that?

We have identified that frontline leadership is crucial to achieving our vision.  Historically our business has been great at providing opportunity for people but not so good at preparing them for that opportunity. For us, the program was initially simply a great way to recognise and reward some good people with good quality training and support them transitioning from operational roles into leadership. The flow on effects from this effort has been awesome for our Tullamarine Branch, the participants have not only utilised what they learnt but have been very proactive sharing the tools and techniques. We recognise it’s important to not only invest, but to invest in quality training with an organisation that understands our business with people tailoring and delivering content that meaningful and relevant to our workplace.

Mark, you’re a regular participant of Movember, why is that important to you?
(Movember is an organisation committed to changing the face of men’s health, best known for annual moustache growing fundraiser supporting mens cancer research and mental health issues)

I’ve supported Movember for over 10 years now, for me it’s personal. My family have lost two men – one to prostate cancer and another to depression, two great guys, good men and gone way to early.
Personally I miss them, I bounced off both in different ways however not a day goes by that their loss doesn’t manifest itself in those closest to them – it’s heartbreaking to watch a woman who dedicated her life to her partner dealing with the ensuing loneliness or teenagers grappling with why their dad isn’t around, I see and feel that every day.

Movember provides an opportunity to raise some funds to work with both causes and during the month I spend some time thinking about both of them and their impact on me.

It’s said that only 1 in 3 men are even prepared to admit they have a mental health challenge, and it’s probably fair to say that women working in a male dominated environment are less willing to speak up also.
Why do you think that is?

When you start to delve into mental health and its impacts, the stats become frightening. Through my personal experience I’ve become more aware and considered around my attitudes and approach, I listen and notice more and what I’ve see is that people are reluctant to admit that they are not ok – the reality is all of us at some point needs support. The real issue though is that when they do need support, people are not sure how to respond and that contributes to peoples reluctance.

In a transport and logistics business, what are your specific stress and wellbeing issues and how do you see these manifest in your workplace?

What a question, I think when it comes to wellbeing, our work and personal lives are intertwined and it’s virtually impossible to separate the two influences. Invariably people bring to workplace what’s happening in their personal life and what’s happening at work impacts them at home. So setting all the personal issues to one side, our industry is a competitive, time dependent, heavily regulated and diverse workplace, all of these requirement impose a level stress on all of us. For our drivers, customers service is key, meeting time slots is essential and when they get stuck in peak hour traffic, for them that’s a stressful situation. Our allocating team have hundreds of customers that rely on them to coordinate pick-ups and deliveries in real time day in day out, that for some people is stressful and our customer service people are often challenged by customers that are not happy with our service. Imagine taking those calls all day.

Then add concerns with family, mortgage, bills and all of sudden everything gets a little overwhelming.

The issues manifest in staff turnover, productivity, bullying and harassment, damage to freight or property etc. – I’d suggest not dissimilar to other industries. The effects are tangible, more often than not it doesn’t just affect an individual, it will grow and impact a team or a branch – from a leadership perspective stress and wellbeing issues can be contagious and impact a whole workplace.

What do you think is most critical in the management of these issues in a workplace?

Stay connected. In our industry a lot of our workforce work alone and spends hours driving with little to no interaction with anyone. Our drivers are the obvious ones however we have lots of good people that spend a lot of their work time immersed in their role or tasks operating in little silos. Find ways to connect people to each other through work, projects or community. Support campaigns that encourage self-help and self-awareness to build a caring workplace environment, and most importantly have very accessible, easy support processes that enable people to support someone when they need help or enable the individual to seek assistance when required.

What would you recommend for other organisations who are considering broader leadership programs or more targeted stress and wellbeing programs?

For broader leadership programs ensure the leadership program is aligned to your business, its values and strategic direction, ensuring it’s clear on its leadership expectations and the tools are broad enough that they can be applied across arrange of issues.

It’s important that the program is seen to be your program (not a generic “off shelf” program) and delivered consistently across your whole leadership team. Our ‘BE A Leader’ program not only provided tools and process for our leaders but a performance language that enabled our people to articulate themselves in a way that they weren’t able to previously. We don’t tell people to “pull their head in” we simply ask them to step above the line and call the behaviour in a non-confrontational way.

Equally important was partnering with Leadership Dimensions (a sister division of Safety Dimensions) to assist with design and implementation. In my experience nobody does it better from the program design through to implementation and ongoing support. Leadership Dimensions’ willingness to engage and partner makes all the difference, before you know it they’re part of your team working with you and along for the ride.

Janet McCullochJanet McCulloch is Managing Partner of Leadership Dimensions.
Safety Dimensions & Leadership Dimensions thanks Mark Haley for his time and insights.

Find out more about Border Express or Movember