Australians have faced up to it - our workplaces can be very nasty places. The victims of workplace bullying are too often left jobless, angry, uncompensated, lonely, panic-stricken wrecks.
A new independent right to complain about workplace bullying announced by the Gillard Government is a major step in the way we contemplate workplace rights. But will it work?
The details are scant; Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten says the plan would allow the Fair Work Commission to try to solve disputes or refer matters back to state workplace safety authorities. The Commission may be able to issue civil penalty orders and fines as high $33,000.
Best case scenario - working life may well get better for hundreds of thousands of Australian workers.
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‘Tis the season to be … grumpy. You might be the kind of smiley manic Christmas lover who wears battery-operated Rudolph earrings and has a 24/7 festive smile on your dial.
If so, it might be best to keep away from my house until well after Boxing Day.
Every year it’s the same. We tell ourselves to stay calm, keep cool, and don’t get carried away.
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It’s shocking. Children are supposed to be lovingly guided through their education with kid gloves, never facing the prospect of getting anything less than a B+ and a gold star, thereby preparing them for a life of constant angst and confusion upon their entry to “the real world”.
Instead, we’re told, some of them are reporting symptoms of stress and anxiety before sitting their NAPLAN tests. To stave off this epidemic of totally normal behaviour, teachers are reportedly “teaching to the test”, spending extra time teaching what will be tested in the exam, and even making them sit dummy runs in the lead-up.
This means children are being made to learn things such as maths and reading and writing. Won’t someone think of the children!
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Most of us are a better version of ourselves on holiday. We dress better, eat better, cook better, sleep better, do more exercise and pay better attention to our loved ones. There’s always time to make the bed, recycle the garbage, invite friends around for dinner and have long phone conversations.
Lucky people spend their holidays in ideal environments; swanning around in kaftans by the beach or rugging up and hitting the ski fields, inhaling fresh country air or taking in the sites of somewhere exotic. No wonder holidays feel like the version of life that we wish we had, surrounded by the things and people and activities we love best.
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Admit it. You’ve already checked your emails today, right? Even on a Sunday, we’re enslaved by two little words, 11 letters in total: Send/Receive.
On Wednesday, one Australian university will begin to fight back. Alarmed by a doubling in employee grievances and email-induced stress among her colleagues, Notre Dame University vice chancellor Celia Hammond has introduced a voluntary email-free scheme one morning a week.
Yes, voluntary: Prof Hammond initially suggested a compulsory three-hour shutdown, but the staff revolted - presumably via email.
All my life I’ve been a massage slut.
Instead of pledging fidelity to one practitioner or technique, I’ve been a total tramp. One day I’d be getting my gear off for a Balinese hot rocker (in Ubud, everybody must get stoned), and the next I’d be baring my Chinese acupoints like no-one’s business.
I blame my addiction on once having lived near the massage epicentre of Nimbin where the oils are always essential and the “body work” is usually accompanied by quartz healing feathers powered by reincarnated dolphin vibrations.
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The short-term fix of Olympic glory aside, Essential’s weekly poll suggests Australia is a pretty miserable place right now. We may be living in one of the most prosperous societies in history, but we aren’t happy with how our own lives are travelling.
The majority of us say we are either struggling or just coping financially; we are worried about losing our jobs and expect our personal situation to deteriorate over the next 12 months.
We actively dislike our elected leaders, both PM and Opposition are disapproved by about two thirds of us. We have have not only lost faith in government in most of our public institutions – the public service, the High Court, the Reserve Bank, business, unions, the media, even religion.
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Tim Kreider’s opinion piece for The New York Times made the top of my must-read list this week. Kreider, a writer who lives an idyllic existence in small town America, where checking his emails means a drive into the town library, says the rest of us all too busy for our own good.
Well, that part we know. Normal lives are chaotic, non-stop and full to the brim. Just try organising a social event with more than two other people sometime.
More interesting was Kreider’s sub-point, the bit where he said we only have ourselves to blame for being too busy. And that our seemingly endless list of social, work, health or family commitments are created by us on purpose, to make up for our largely intangible day jobs.
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Mental health surveys consistently show that around one in five of us will experience an episode of significant distress and dysfunction in any year. It saddens me that this suffering is mostly labelled as mental disorder and that we are encouraged to seek medical treatment for it.
No one likes suffering, but to suffer meaninglessly is worse. We should therefore strive to help people make sense of their distress; instead contemporary psychiatric practice is to rob actions and experiences of their meaning by applying simplistic labels and glib biological explanations.
Of course biological understanding can impart meaning, sometimes dramatically.
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The case of magistrate Jennifer Betts, who explained to the NSW Parliament Wednesday how a mental illness was central to the behaviour that has put her job on the line, is a cautionary tale for workplaces everywhere.
Mental health issues are as prevalent in the workplace as their complexities are poorly understood by senior management.
Ms Betts, 55, has asked MPs not to discriminate against her because of a depressive illness. Only parliament can dismiss an appointed magistrate.
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My friend Nick doesn’t talk like other people. Over the years, I’ve become used to the way he leaves long pauses in conversation – last week, I counted a full 11 seconds – as he thinks about what he’s going to say next. It can be unnerving, yet when he does eventually speak, what he says is sound, wise and invariably a smart solution.
I thought of Nick a couple of weeks ago, when Kevin Rudd went on ABC’s Q&A and confessed he’d been wrong in ditching the emissions trading scheme. In the ensuing hoopla over whether he was out to nix the PM, his most sentient comment was overlooked.
During his leadership, Rudd told the audience, he had neglected sound advice to “leave yourself time to think, to reflect and to plan”.
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I like technology. I like the fact that technology allows me to be an actor for a living. You see, without technology like television, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Yet there is something sinister about the way technology is changing our lives.
I sometimes think that each new marvellous technological invention gives us yet another reason to spend less time with each other.
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Remember the Seinfeld episode where George is slugged $75 because he cancels an appointment with a physio within her arbitrarily decreed 24-hour exclusion zone? “24 hours for all cancellations … It’s our policy,’’ he’s told. When the physio subsequently cancels an appointment with George, also within 24 hours, he demands she pay him $75. “I have a policy …,’’ he tells her.
A man ahead of his time, George Constanza. Who do these people think they are? And why do we meekly acquiesce to such injustices? Needless to say I have my own particular axe to grind, which I’ll get to in a minute, but more broadly this is a call to all self-respecting citizens to stand up to the sort of professional and corporate bullying that insists “their” time is valuable and our time is worthless.
While the cancellation “policy” (consider how often bastardry is cloaked in that word: refugee policy, indigenous affairs policy, tax policy, mental health policy) is the most despicable example, it’s far from the only one. How about the four-hour “window” when you want to get some service – a phone connection, say – installed or a courier package delivered?
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The world’s worst headline is widely agreed to be this rip-snorter from a brief which ran some years ago in The New York Times: None dead in small earthquake in Chile.
This column might be considered a belated shot at the title.
But setting aside from its decidedly unspectacular impact, it’s a story which says something about the way we live and interact in a big city like Sydney. It goes to the kind of entrenched bullying and brinksmanship which pits complete strangers against each other in all sorts of frazzled, sometimes deadly encounters as we try to get through our day.
Read all about it
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