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The Latest from the Blog

The Depressed Worker: Lesser-Known Aspects of Mental Illness

Harriet Witchell - Monday, October 17, 2016

We understand that for busy employers, time and energy are definitely limited resources. Regularly spread thin by the demands of customers, suppliers and employees, it can certainly be difficult to notice the finer goings-on of the everyday workplace. 

For this reason, human resource issues such as depression and other mental illnesses in the workplace can sometimes be difficult to spot. Add to this the clichés that attach to how depression ‘looks’ and employers could find themselves left with a staff problem that snowballs over time. After dispelling some of the myths about employee depression, we examine some lesser-known features of this and other challenging illnesses

‘Always sad’ and other misconceptions of depression

One of the key problems with the word ‘depression’ is that it has been co-opted into describing a range of non-medical human experiences. From bored to grieving to heart-broken, people often describe themselves and others as being “so depressed!” 

This is not to say that being sad, crying or appearing forlorn are not cause for concern to an employer. And if the worker who is ‘always sad’ begins to show other signs of depression – or appears unable to shake the melancholy - then employers might do well to privately and sensitively check in with the worker. 
But generally - it’s just not a simple matter of ‘sadness’.
Lesser-known aspects of depression
One group of depressive symptoms reflects the deeply physiological nature of this unforgiving illness. Unlike emotions, these symptoms are tied to the way the clinically-depressed brain begins to alter physical and mental functioning. Outward signs can include a disturbed appetite, concentration difficulties, fatigue, loss of interest in activities, a slowing or speeding of physical movement and/or sleep disturbance. Thus, a clinically depressed worker might exhibit any number of uncharacteristic behaviours. Window-gazing, forgetting crucial meetings or technical details, dozing at lunch, talking faster and louder than usual and/ or rapidly losing weight in a short period of time are just some of the many and varied manifestations of true depression.
What is uncharacteristic?
It is well-known that employers need to look out for persisting illness across at least two weeks to be sure that depression is a likely reality for the worker in question. But how many of us simply look for typical sadness? As we can already see, the physiological changes wrought by the illness are such that employers might well be missing key information about their workforce. One key observation is unusual change. 

When your usually ‘gun’ salesperson continuously forgets to take crucial projections with them or can’t find the words to explain to customers the benefits of a core product – then depression’s feature of lost concentration might be an insidious cause. If your usual early bird is not only unable to catch the worm, but in fact has spent weeks slumping into their chair at 10am each morning, then physiological sleep disturbance and fatigue might be flowing from a typical clinical depression.
Other unforgiving illnesses
There is so much crucial information to get our heads around when it comes to supporting workers with mental illness. Another huge thief of health and productivity in Australia is clinical anxiety. This too comes with its fair share of clichés around simply being ‘worried’ or ‘nervous’. Once more, deeper physiological factors can be at play with anxiety than might first meet the eyes. Fast speech, irritability, bolting from rooms and failing to meet deadlines are just some of the troubling symptoms facing those with one of the clinical anxiety disorders.
Knowledge is power
Becoming a workplace knowledge-base and champion of mental health is a proven way for employers to engage and retain loyal workers. And by understanding that troubling behaviours are stemming from a diagnosable illness, employers are much less likely to blame laziness or selfishness for a worker’s underperformance. 

Without this crucial knowledge, the danger of harassment or discrimination claims being made by the mentally ill worker can loom on the horizon. Before things escalate, contact a professional in these areas to help you investigate the mental health ‘climate’ of your workplace.

In getting to know the more subtle and damaging aspects of depression, anxiety and other employee illnesses, employers can identify and help their workers before a small health challenge grows into a complex workplace difficulty.

You can also speak with a professional confidentially on the new Whistleblower Hotline service.

Can Workplace Corruption be Stopped?

Harriet Witchell - Tuesday, October 11, 2016

By Andrew Hedges

Can workplace corruption be halted?
Is there a way to stop workplace corruption from mushrooming or thriving? It obviously has to trickle from the top down, so managers and supervisors need to be made aware of their role in changing the culture. 

If there is a real desire to tackle workplace corruption, the culture of silence needs to be openly addressed, broken and re-set – and instead management needs to encourage and reward individuals who say something when it needs to be said. 

This is especially relevant in relation to singling out unhealthy practices which would widely be regarded as inappropriate in workplace cultures where open, honest, upfront and productive collaboration between the existing “in” group and other workers, including newcomers, is welcomed and encouraged. 

Introducing preventative measures

As there is a fine line between bullying and corrupt conduct, it is vital that companies wanting change introduce a number of preventative measures to deal with both problems. Studies have shown that workplaces which have positive measures, where there is open communication, workers work well together and respect each other, it is harder for a bully to ensconce themselves and intimidate others. 

Also workplaces that encourage an “examining the foundations” approach by supporting employees to participate in systemic workplace improvements which are clearly defined and well understood by the staff, have often developed an effective means of preventing and detecting corruption. 

So what else can be done? Employers can step up and put in place practices that work towards identifying and limiting, if not eliminating, corrupt conduct in the workplace. 

Breaking down entrenched systems

Steps that would help breakdown entrenched illegal workplace systems include:
  • Knowing what exactly workplace corruption is; 
  • Having appropriate and clear workplace complaint systems which are promoted or known to employees; 
  • Ensuring that there are structured levels of accountability within the organisation so that no one person or group is made responsible for critical tasks;
  • Having sound internal reporting systems; 
  • Putting in place complaint and grievance procedures that are correctly followed; 
  • Having more than one person in charge of tasks where corruption can easily occur (such as procurement supplier) and make sure the management team is in the same building as its employees. If that is not possible, introduce a system of regular random visits and checks. 

It is also worth noting that corruption is not a fixed thing, it is constantly changing and evolving. Therefore it is necessary to put systems in place that check workplace safeguards regularly and determine they are continuing to be effective. This is one of the only ways to try and eliminate “in” groups and a culture of silence. 
Why training is important
Incorporating training in the workplace can be a powerful tool for change.The Certificate IV in Government Fraud Control course is a national qualification tailored to workplace investigators who want to work in government and employees who want to be promoted within their departments. The course covers areas such as: 
  • identifying fraud and corruption; 
  • carrying out risk assessments; 
  • how to conduct investigations in such matters

While it is not often spoken about, worker corruption and dishonest conduct in the public sector is a common and widespread problem though it is hard to pinpoint, identify and report on. While many employees may see conduct they know is not legal or appropriate they may keep quiet for fear of retribution or being shut out by their co-workers. 
Breaking that cycle is hard. Managers need to be trained to present themselves as role models to their staff. Regular training of all employees on bullying issues also reminds everyone about what conduct is acceptable, and reinforces the message that bullying is not tolerated. 

The role of the whistle blower remains important. An employee wanting to expose corruption may end up being the last resort to trying to getting it stopped or changing the culture, especially if it is ingrained within the workplace.

While there is legislation in place in Australia that allows employees to report corruption via a whistleblowing hotline without fear of retaliation or reprisal, there are recent reports that suggest it is still very difficult for whistleblowers to come forward without there being a backlash. 

Some politicians are now calling for stronger whistle blowing laws to encourage reporting of corporate corruption while ensuring that individuals are protected and not victimised for speaking out.  As the corrupt workplace culture is addressed, reviewed, disassembled and new, open and constructive systems put in place, workplace corruption can be stopped though it is unlikely to happen overnight. 

Find out more about workplace corruption in this free Whitepaper download

Corruption and misconduct are often hard to detect without the assistance of employees. A well supported confidential hotline is an essential component of your risk management strategy. Research how our hotline service can assist.

How Bullying Operates in the Corrupt Workplace

Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, October 05, 2016

By Andrew Hedges

Wanting to belong
How does bullying operate in the corrupt workplace? If there is anything a new employee in a workplace does not want to feel is it’s being an outsider. Just as a new student in an established class at school wants to fit in and be a part of the peer group as quickly as possible, the same applies to when we join the workforce as adults. If the worker is seen as a troublemaker (let alone a whistle blower) and not accepting of the existing culture, particularly in relation to corruption, bullying can be introduced as a way to try to keep them in line.

When an employee speaks out against corruption or even says they will expose what is going on, bullying can make that person’s life extremely difficult. They may begin to not enjoy their job, they could also start to feel extremely uncomfortable, depressed or anxious, and even if they complain about the bullying to management it may be that very little change occurs.  This could lead to feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Ultimately, the lack of support could mean they decide to resign or ask for a transfer. If a long-standing culture of corruption exists, once the whistle blower has gone, it could well mean a return to the status quo.

Hopes for change
Can investigations into bullying work? It is a complex area. While formal processes do exist to comply with existing laws involved for a formal investigation to take place, it can be difficult to proceed. How do you resolve the issue of the person making a bullying complaint having to potentially face the bully? There are ways of getting around it, such as involving an independent mediator to talk to both parties separately, giving both sides the chance to say what has been going on for them, though there is also the danger of “he says”, “she says”. More workers would need to backup each person’s version of events.

A practical way of breaking a bullying culture is to formulate a code of conduct which clearly states what is and is not acceptable in the workplace. If this code of conduct is established, getting both individuals to adhere to it may be a part of that more informal process. 

Halting real progress or change
So what happens if an individual in the workplace decides to address it? Although systems may exist to deal with such an issue, there are ways to block any real progress being made into fully dealing with the situation particularly if there is a desire to blank out any questions or probing.

The whistle blower may be transferred to another section or department, their job title, role or work given to them may suddenly change, they may be made redundant, their shifts changed or working hours diminished. To their colleagues, it may just seem like a case of bad luck or that the person is not performing or is somehow unpopular. Their co-workers may wonder what is going on but are too hesitant to discuss it in case they are perceived in the same light or feel worried they will be put in the spotlight and will suffer the consequences. Secrecy, sticking to the rules and silence may prevail.

When corruption has been raised and management become aware of it, the dysfunctional group members who support and assist each other in the unacceptable practices can join forces to present a united front and collude to present themselves as “honest Joes” with a false story, covering their tracks or making sure they all say the same thing.  This kind of conduct makes it very hard for management or workplace investigators to uncover what is really going on.

Employees can be scared of risking speaking up. This could be because they are concerned that their suggestions for change or a new way of doing things will be unfavourably viewed by their immediate boss or management.  The “agitator” may be viewed as not being helpful and their comments seen as disloyal or unfavourable to the boss or manager. The consequences of saying something could result in demotion or poor career prospects.  Various studies have found that employees being forced to keep their mouth shut can result in anxiety, depression, stress and poor performance and a lack of desire or motivation to be at work. Bullying in the corrupt workplace is hardly an optimal situation.

Download this FREE Whitepaper to know the signals to look for regarding corruption in the workplace and bullying.

Corruption and misconduct are often hard to detect without the assistance of employees. A well supported confidential hotline is an essential component of your risk management strategy. Research how our hotline service can assist.


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