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Poor support

For: Employers and managers Information seekers

Poor support includes not providing workers with adequate support including practical assistance and emotional support from managers and colleagues to complete a task or job.

This includes not providing adequate training, tools and resources to enable a worker to perform their role.


What is poor support?

Safe Work Australia Model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work provides some examples of poor support in the workplace.

Poor support may include:

  • insufficient, unclear or contradictory information
  • not having the things to do their job properly or on time
  • frequently needing to compete for the things needed to do the job
  • poorly maintained or inadequate tools, systems and equipment
  • inadequate training for the task
  • jobs where supervisors are unavailable to make decisions or provide support
  • inadequate guidance from supervisors or assistance from other workers
  • workers cannot ask for help when needed
  • workplace cultures that discourage supervisors or co-workers supporting each other
  • working environments that discourage discussion
  • limited emotional support or unempathetic leadership
  • infrequent or poor performance feedback and discussions.

Impact of poor support

Poor support in the workplace can lead to psychological and physical impacts such as mental stress and fatigue, as well as harmful behaviours such as bullying as an inappropriate response to a worker not having adequate support to complete tasks or perform their role.

Fatigue

Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy. It is an acute, ongoing state of tiredness that leads to mental or physical exhaustion and prevents people from functioning normally.

Fatigue is a physical condition that can occur when a person’s physical or mental limits are reached.

Signs of fatigue include:

  • tiredness even after sleep
  • reduced hand-eye coordination or slow reflexes
  • short term memory problems and an inability to concentrate
  • blurred vision or impaired visual perception
  • a need for extended sleep during days off work.

Most industries are affected to some degree by fatigue. However, some types of work and sectors have an inherently higher risk of fatigue, particularly those involving shift work or long-haul transportation:

For more information on the risks and remedies, see:

Mental stress

Work-related mental stress is the worker’s reaction when workplace demands and responsibilities are greater than the worker can comfortably manage or are beyond the worker’s abilities. It can affect each worker differently and originate from different sources.

Risk

Mental stress causes the body to move into a fight or flight reaction which releases adrenaline and cortisol, raises the heart rate, boosts glucose levels in the bloodstream and diverts energy from the immune system to other areas of the body.

This reaction helps people remove themselves from danger at which time the body usually returns to normal.

When mental stress is prolonged, the body will not return to normal as easily and many key body systems can be affected and may start to break down causing major health problems.

In the workplace, the symptoms of stress can translate to personal and business costs, such as:

  • breakdown of individual and team relationships
  • poor morale and erosion of worker loyalty and commitment
  • increased absenteeism and staff turnover
  • reduced employee efficiency and workplace productivity and profitability
  • increased employer costs associated with counselling, worker assistance and mediation
  • increased workers’ compensation claims and employer legal costs.

Remedies

The Job Demands-Resources model of occupational stress highlights that employees need to balance both the demands of a job and the resources available to them in the workplace, to reduce work-related mental stress.

High levels of job demand and low levels of job resources increase the risk of mental stress.

Job demands can include:

  • role overload
  • role ambiguity or conflict
  • mental and emotional demands of the job
  • conflict arising from tasks or relationships

Job resources and strengths can include:

  • job control
  • supervisor and co-worker support
  • praise and recognition
  • following fair and just process
  • change consultation.

In practice, preventing and managing stress in the workplace before it becomes a risk to health and safety may be achieved by:

  • having senior management commitment to reducing workplace stress
  • consulting with workers to create and promote a mentally healthy workplace culture
  • ensuring the organisation has appropriate policies and procedures in place and workers are aware of these
  • managing workplace psychosocial risk factors
  • providing regular and respectful performance feedback
  • having a dedicated harassment officer – sometimes known as a contact officer, equal opportunity officer or equity contact officer – in place for workers to speak to
  • providing training around managing workplace and individual stress levels.

Control measures for poor support

Review the examples of control measures for poor support taken from Safe Work Australia Model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work.

It is important to note that in your organisation's risk management plan you must identify and implement control measures that eliminate or minimise the risks specific to your workplace, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Job/work design

  • Implement good information sharing systems so workers have quick access to the information they need to do their jobs (for example, ensure databases are kept up to date and are user friendly).
  • Design work so supervisors have manageable workloads, sufficient resources and their span of control allows effective supervision (for example, supervisors have time to answer questions or assist with challenging tasks).
  • Establish systems to ensure regular, fair, goal-focused and constructive feedback discussions occur between workers and supervisors to discuss work tasks, and any support or development needs (for example, implement end of shift debriefs or require supervisors to do quarterly check ins).
  • Provide clear management structures and reporting lines (for example, provide organisational charts or ensure workers understand who to go to for help).

Physical work environment

  • Provide workers with the things they need to do their jobs properly and safely (for example, the right tools, equipment, systems and resources) and ensure workers have sufficient access to them (for example, they are conveniently located and workers do not need to compete for access).
  • Provide workers with access to supervisors (for example, locate workers close to their supervisor or if working remotely provide tools like videoconferencing).
  • Design the work environment to facilitate cooperation and ensure people can ask for help (for example, workers can easily have discussions with others and there are suitable meeting spaces).

Increasing support

  • Hold regular team meetings, and discuss any challenges, issues and support needs (for example, ask workers about any new challenges or training they may need).
  • Build a workplace culture that values collaboration and cooperation instead of competition (for example, establish team rather than individual goals or praise cooperation).
  • Maintain tools, systems and equipment, and review whether they are suitable for the work (for example, ensure equipment works and consider whether other equipment might work better or more efficiently).
  • Schedule meetings to ensure supervisors have availability during workers’ usual hours to meet with them so workers can raise issues or ask questions.
  • Increase the level of support during peak periods or challenging tasks (for example, roster more workers on during peak season or check in more often for challenging tasks).
  • Backfill roles or redistribute work when workers are out of the office or on leave.
  • Design rosters so supervisors are available to help during difficult or busy times.
  • Set clear work goals and clearly explain tasks.

Safe work systems and procedures

  • Train workers on how to do their jobs and use relevant tools, equipment, systems, policies, or processes.
  • Establish open communication (for example, have an open-door policy) and encourage workers to share concerns early (for example, by taking their concerns seriously and ensure they have safe spaces to raise them).
  • Encourage and reward workers supporting each other.
  • Encourage the development of positive working relationships (for example, invest in team planning and building activities and encourage team discussions).
  • Build interpersonal capabilities across the team (for example, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, or communication and feedback skills).
  • Encourage supervisors to be empathetic in their leadership, including taking workers’ concerns seriously, sensitively managing problems and helping when workers are struggling.
  • Ensure supervisors understand their role in supervising workers.
  • Encourage supervisors to provide timely, task specific, constructive feedback.

The worker

  • Hire supervisors with the skills, experience and training to perform their role and support their team.
  • Provide development programs to improve supervisors’ skills.
  • Establish inductions, training and mentoring (for example, buddy programs) for new workers.

Poor support been identified as a hazard in the Model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work.

This guidance will help you meet your obligation under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011.

Resources on poor support

Training on psychological health and safety

Training on mentally healthy workplaces

We provide training through our learning management system called Comcare LMS.

To access our training, you first need to create an account in Comcare LMS (see the steps to create an account). Then, select the training item that you are interested in and login with your email and password.

For more information about the training we offer, see Training and learning.

Page last reviewed: 18 August 2022

Comcare
GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
1300 366 979 | www.comcare.gov.au

Date printed 02 Mar 2024

https://www.comcare.gov.au/safe-healthy-work/prevent-harm/psychosocial-hazards/poor-support