The release of this article, along with the recent report commissioned by Local Government Professionals WA (LG Professionals WA), From workplace stress to workplace wellness: An assessment of the health and well-being of local government Chief Executives Officers in WA, provides an opportune time to remind local governments — and the council itself — of their responsibility to provide a safe work environment.
As the level of government closest to the community, it is understandable that council members have a very challenging role to manage not only community expectations, but the strategic direction of the local government. Nevertheless, as the body responsible for the employment of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), it is also vital that council members provide a safe workplace for their employee.
I was concerned to read the report commissioned by LG Professionals WA that highlighted that CEOs are facing unprecedented levels of work stress. As the employer, the council has a responsibility to ensure structures and processes are put in place to address this.
According to the recent Productivity Commission Draft Report into Mental Health, in any year, approximately one in five Australians experiences mental ill-health. The Report notes that “while most people manage their health themselves, many who do seek treatment are not receiving the level of care necessary. As a result, too many people suffer additional preventable physical and mental distress, relationship breakdown, stigma, and loss of life satisfaction and opportunities”. The Report also notes that mental health should be explicitly included in workplace health and safety with codes of practice for employers developed and implemented.
It is also important that council members are protecting their own health and well-being. I am encouraged by the current holistic approach demonstrated by local governments who are extending their Employee Assistance Program to council members.
While the Local Government Act Review Panel will be considering opportunities to provide added protections to council members and local government employees, it is up to all of us to protect the health and well-being of our colleagues. Bullying behaviour is not just physical actions, but includes attempts to undermine, spreading rumours, public humiliation and threats to a person’s professional status. Be aware of your actions, be aware of the action of others and take the necessary steps to work towards building a safe work environment.
Duncan Ord OAM