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How to Prevent Psychological Injury in the Workplace

Mental health in the workplace is once again in the news. Why? In New South Wales, claims for psychological injury at work are increasing at a rate far in an excess of those for physical injury claims.

What’s going on? Read on to find out.

Staggering increase in claims of psychological injury in the workplace

Well, the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) reports that claims of psychological injury in the workplace jumped a staggering 30% over the four years to mid-2023. Meanwhile, over the same period, physical injury claims rose a mere 11%.

Of course, New South Wales isn’t the only flash point.

Reporting in Gallup found that mental health conditions contributed to an increasing proportion of work-related injuries and illnesses for the entire country.

In 2021-2022, they accounted for nine per cent of all serious work-related claims, representing a meteoric rise of nearly 37% since 2017-2018. 

Behind the numbers was the eye-popping statistic from the Australian Workers Union (AWU) that nearly half of Australia’s workforce experienced workplace bullying, harassment, or discrimination last year.

The productivity toll of psychological injury in the workplace

Of course, psychological injury doesn’t just affect one person. It also exacts a productivity toll on the workplace. And that toll scales up, affecting the national economy as a whole.

How badly?

According to the government, workplace mental ill-health is estimated to cost Australian businesses up to AUD 39bn a year in lost productivity and participation.

And at the state level, SIRA notes that the average cost and time off work for psychological injury claims is more than triple that of physical injuries.

Strategies to prevent psychological injury in the workplace

What then can be done?

For starters, employers must first understand what constitutes a mentally healthy workplace. Here, contributing factors include:

  • Job design. Demands of the job, control in the work environment, resources provided, the level of work engagement, the characteristics of the job, and potential exposure to trauma.
  • Team/group factors. Support from colleagues and managers, the quality of interpersonal relationships, effective leadership, and the availability of manager training.
  • Organizational factors. Changes to the organization, support from the organization, recognizing and rewarding work, how justice is perceived in an organization, a psychosocial safety climate, positive organizational climate, and a safe physical environment.
  • Home/work conflict. The degree to which conflicting demands from home, including significant life events, interfere with work.
  • Individual biopsychosocial factors. Genetics, personality, early life events, cognitive and behavioral patterns, mental health history, lifestyle factors and coping style.

From there, senior leadership must be committed to getting wellbeing programs off the ground or to taking existing programs to the next level.

To this end, leadership should deputize wellbeing committees, including representatives from Safety and HR, to conduct situational analyses of the current state of wellbeing in the workplace.

Measurement tools available to such committees might include data in safety and wellbeing software solutions coming from or related to:

  • Sickness absence
  • Work-related psychological injuries
  • Return to work rates
  • Exit interviews
  • Staff turnover rates
  • Audits of existing mental health policies and procedures
  • Focus groups of employees
  • Surveys of employee engagement
  • Audits of existing leadership and management training
  • Examinations of the mental health strategies of similar organizations
  • External expert advice and best practices from psychologically healthy workplace programs
  • Recognition of upcoming organizational change

Gathering and synthesizing that data is only a first step, however. With the blessing of senior leadership, wellbeing committees must then abstract from the data to identify and implement the appropriate intervention strategies for the workplace.

Organizations shouldn’t simply implement interventions without follow up, though. Committees must review outcomes and adjust intervention strategies along the way.

Finally, new data suggests that the mental health and wellbeing crisis in the workplace is far from over. As a result, regulators are gearing up to crack down.

What else can employers to do prevent psychological injury before it exacts a performance toll? Check out our Comprehensive Guide to Workplace Mental Health & Wellbeing to find out.

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