Workplace Health & Safety

Psychological injury: The silent risk to Aussie business

David Moylan /

Australian workers are facing a mental health crisis, according to recently published research.

study by MinterEllison found that 56% of local organisations have experienced a year-on-year increase in the number of workplace claims related to mental health, with depression and anxiety the most commonly reported problems. This follows an earlier study by Safe Work Australia that found depression costs Australian employers a whopping $8 billion a year through sick leave and absenteeism, with some $693 million of that is due to stress and bullying—one of the highest rates in the world.

Clearly this is a moral issue as well as an economic one, and it requires a strong understanding of the factors in a workplace that contribute to the risk of psychological injury.

Read more: Small business owners, it’s time to talk about mental health

Although it is now common to find mental health support strategies within businesses, experts are suggesting that businesses take a risk-based approach to prevent psychological injuries in the workplace. The following steps will help to ensure your business is taking a proactive approach to better manage mental health in the workplace.

1. Perform a mental health risk assessment

Alarmingly, 60% of those surveyed by Minter Ellison said their organisation did not have any processes or policies in place for identifying key risk factors that contribute to staff mental health issues.

To take preventative measures against psychological injury, companies should perform a risk assessment in the same way they would for physical injuries. Ideally an external consultant is best placed to perform this, but a general assessment of psychological issues will include looking at factors such as:

  • Workers who are isolated from others due to the nature of their job;
  • Lack of diversity in teams, which can create a negative environment for minorities;
  • Existing issues with the culture of a workplace; (for example, a culture of gossiping, blame-shifting or exclusion);
  • Poor leadership and toxic management styles;
  • Heavy workloads or conflicting priorities;
  • Mundane work;
  • Personal issues; or
  • Lack of formal position descriptions communicated to staff.

2. Implement prevention strategies

Worryingly, 74% of businesses surveyed said they did not have a mental health policy in place.

As a first point of call toward prevention, every business should adopt a strong anti-bullying and mental health policy that outlines expectations on staff behaviour and how matters will be managed when they do arise. And everyone should be trained in these processes.

Once you’ve conducted an audit and identified areas of risk for psychological illness, you can also use these findings as focus points to introduce other proactive prevention strategies. This may include things like further professional development for managers to assess their management styles and train them in any areas of weakness, particularly from a communication standpoint.

Your business may also need to consider training first aid officers in mental health so that they can assist in early intervention, or reassess staffing and workloads to reduce stress. Professional development could also include a cultural audit across the organisation that offers group training for key issues.

3. Stay informed

It is also important for employers and managers to keep up to date with the environment, health and safety (EHS) laws that protect workers. Safe Work Australia recently updated two of its publications regarding workplace bullying.

The first publication, Guide for preventing and responding to workplace bullying, details the responsibilities of employers and managers to meet the requirements of EHS laws. It also provides useful information on how to manage the risks of bullying in the workplace, which can be handy when developing a mental health policy.

The second publication, Dealing with Workplace Bullying, is centred around educating workers who may be either experiencing or witnessing workplace bullying.

Australian businesses have come a long way in taking measures to prevent physical injury, and now the same needs to be done with psychological injury. With the wellbeing of so many people at stake, as well as the productivity of our companies, we need to make it a priority to overcome these challenges.

David Moylan is the founder of Vault Intelligence

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David Moylan

David Moylan is the founder of cloud-based environment, health and safety (EHS) software Vault Intelligence, and a former director of safety and risk for the Australian Army.

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