In light of the banking royal commission’s final report, businesses that consistently fail to meet community expectations, or don’t properly cater for their staff, should not be surprised when there are regulatory interventions.
That is the collective view of national workplace consultancy firm PsychSafe and Australian legal mental health advocacy group Minds Count.
PsychSafe principal consultant Dr Rebecca Michalak issued a “stern warning” to businesses that may be tempted to “engage in ill thought-out, knee-jerk reactions” to the final report of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, which was handed down by Commissioner Hayne last Friday and made public on Monday.
“In addition to having to comply with employment and industrial relations law regarding any changes in employment status and conditions that may arise from potential future business transformation and associated organisational restructuring (which may involve redeployment and or redundancies), businesses are legally obligated under OSH [occupational safety and health] law to prevent harm by not exposing their workers to known psychosocial hazards, including job insecurity and poorly-managed organisational change,” she explained.
“These specific hazards also foster destructive levels of internal competition and conflict, feeding micropolitical behaviours such as bullying and harassment; each in and of themselves psychosocial hazards.
“Businesses owe a duty of care to workers to conduct their undertakings in a manner that preserves worker psychological health and safety.”
National legal mental health advocacy group Minds Count agreed, saying one of the key take-outs from the royal commission is that all businesses need to stay focused on their social licence to operate, and what the community expects of them.
“If businesses consistently fail to meet the community’s expectations, they should not be surprised when there are regulatory interventions to give legal force to those community expectations,” the group said.
It urged business leaders to “pause to consider the learnings from the experience”.
“They should contemplate how they can approach similar challenges in the future in ways that deliver the necessary legal outcomes as efficiently as possible, while minimising unnecessary overwork, stress and suffering,” it said.
“They should also contemplate community expectations in relation to providing safe and healthy, legal workplaces, and the importance of reflecting those community expectations without the need for regulatory interventions.”
The possibility of changing employment status or conditions can be distressful, PsychSafe’s Dr Michalak continued, as is the uncertainty that often precedes such life events, and requires individuals to also take steps to protect their own wellbeing.
“It is important that those working in affiliated professions recognise the potential for their mental health to be impacted and take proactive steps to engage in self-care,” she said.
“A strong network of colleagues, friends and family, accessing available resources including EAPs [employee assistance programs] – which typically offer both career and financial counselling in addition to psychological support services – and maintaining healthy diet, exercise, and sleep habits will be beneficial.”
It is also vital to pause – to avoid unnecessary, premature and unhelpful catastrophising of the situation – especially in these very early stages post-release of the final report, she continued, when the nature and extent of any required change is not yet clearly defined.
“While industry change is afoot and it is wise to acknowledge this to be the case, these changes certainly won’t happen overnight – providing time to prepare, plan and pursue responses that best serve your individual and career interests,” she said.
“Businesses that fail to meet these OSH and employment law obligations not only face significant legal and financial consequences, which directly affect profitability, they stand to irrevocably damage their consumer and employer brands.”
The public and many workers have had enough with the unethical and illegal conduct of business – your best clients and your best talent will be the first to jump ship, Dr Michalak warned.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.