Report reveals WA local government CEOs ‘at breaking point’

By Andrew Timming

November 26, 2019

Local government CEOS from around the state are facing unprecedented levels of work-related stress, according to new research led by The University of Western Australia.

Lead researcher Dr Andrew Timming, from UWA’s Business School, said the report had identified local government CEOs were suffering from levels of psychosocial distress that were nearly three times the national average among Australia’s general population.

“The current way of doing things is not protecting their health and safety, with important implications for service delivery,” Dr Timming said.

“Urgent reform is needed not only to safeguard the wellbeing of CEOs but also to ensure that ratepayers are enjoying the benefits of new protections that will increase the productivity of local government.”

Commissioned by Local Government Professionals Australia WA, the report found high levels of work-related stress exceeded those found in traditionally dangerous professions such as mining, construction and emergency services.

Dr Timming said several factors were identified including a mismatch between job demands and job resources, a legal health and safety loophole and inefficient procedures for handling public complaints.

“These shortcomings were found to be not only detrimental to CEOs’ emotional health but also physical health and the health of family members.”

Local Government Professionals WA CEO Candy Choo said the research provided evidence to understand the unique working environment of CEOs in WA local government.

“The findings point to the unreasonable levels of stress and pressure that local government CEOs are under,” Ms Choo said.

“This is compounded by the lack of protection from legislation, a system that requires CEOs to report and monitor the very people — elected members — who determine their ongoing employment, and often abusive behaviour by members of the public, online and in person.

“As an association, we are very concerned about the wellbeing of our members and will endeavour to work with the state government to improve the system of local government.”

The report highlights nine key recommendations, including mandatory training for elected members; use of professional consultants to recruit and assess CEOs; enhanced protection for CEOs through safety legislation; reforming the complaints procedures for ratepayers; cutting red tape; and interventions to improve elected member and CEO collaborations.

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