October 14, 2019

Creating a safe and respectful workplace: start with empathy

Workplace health and safety is not just physical.

Consider this: figures from Safe Work Australia reveal that each year more than 7,200 Australians are compensated for work-related mental health conditions. That’s around 6% of workers’ compensation claims. Those claims add up to about $543 million in compensation.

These are staggering figures. 

They remind us of the importance of recognising that workplace health and safety is not just physical. 

What’s driving this? It comes from the pressure of the business world, the way we treat each other and the pressures of life itself. As nice an idea it is, people don’t just check their worries at the door when they come to work.

We’ve all experienced acute stress from difficult clients, financial pressures; and unfortunately, too many of us have been subjected to bullying and harassment in its many forms. 

As employers, we have a duty of care to provide a safe and respectful work environment that addresses employees physical, emotional and mental needs. That duty of care includes elements of compliance. As a lawyer, I work with people seeking compensation because their employers have failed in their duty of care, and highlighting their compliance failures is part of how we prove that. 

As a leader, I see the importance of compliance as a check and balance, but compliance alone but too much focus on obeying the rule book doesn’t motivate or influence workplace culture, and workplace culture is ultimately what creates a safe and respectful working environment.

As Foye Legal grew, my team and I gave serious thought to our values – what would our business be like if it was a person? That’s not so hard to do when it’s just you, but creating and instilling values in a large team to create a positive culture is much harder. 

We place great importance on professionalism, passion, empathy and integrity. I want to focus on empathy and integrity. 

Our empathy sets in stone the idea that for clients, we are life-long partners with our clients, guiding them through the major events in their lives that afflict us all at some point. 

Whether that is recovering from a life-changing personal injury, buying or selling their home, experiencing relationship or family breakdown, preparing for end of life, no matter what stage of the journey, we are with our clients every step of the way.

Our integrity means that we take a human-rights advocacy and a diversity approach to the workplace, our clients and our community.

We have a documented policy on diversity and inclusion. It’s one thing to talk about, but take the time to write it down, explain it to staff, talk about it regularly, make it part of the workplace culture rather than a tick-the-box policy exercise.

Staff are empowered to act as partners in the firm, to contribute to ideas, problem-solving and to take on responsibility. 

A flexible work environment isn’t a token idea: we champion women who want to balance time with their children and their career. Want to have a baby? Great! And come back when you’re ready. 

Life doesn’t follow a rigid Monday-to-Friday 9am-to-5pm routine, so we want our staff to feel they can contribute in whatever circumstances they have at the time.

Here’s the key point: when we focus on empathy, we focus on the people who work for us and who we serve. 

Story By

Diana Foye