X
GO

Work Options News

rss

Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry


The common problem with a positive drug and alcohol test which no one talks about

In light of October being Mental Health Awareness Month in New South Wales, we thought we’d shed some light on the often common reason as to why an employee may return a positive drug or alcohol result.

People use, and can become dependant on, drugs and alcohol for a number of reasons; enjoyment, to relax, inclusion within a group, curiosity, to minimise physical or psychological pain or as a coping or escape mechanism. And it’s important to note that 50% of people globally who are affected by substance abuse, also suffer from mental health disorders. But with the two being closely related, we are presented with a chicken and the egg type scenario; what came first?

Often when a person suffers with a mental health condition, they use substances to ease their symptoms temporarily. On the other hand, regular drug use can trigger the first symptoms of mental health illnesses, make symptoms worse or treatment less effective. Some people use substances because they believe that they will feel better in the short term, however it can actually leave them feeling worse, anxious, agitated, unmotivated or moody. And left untreated, both mental health issues and drug or alcohol addiction can get in the way of an individual’s ability to function at work, maintain relationships, handle difficult situations and sustain a functional and stable home life.

One in five Australian’s is currently experiencing a mental health condition equating to 20% of the country’s population.

So what should you do if a worker gets a positive result? As an Employer with a duty of care, the key is to ensure that you understand the driver behind the drug use, and explore it further to determine if something else may be a contributing factor. Did the worker have a big night out with their mate which is the reason for the positive result, or did they recently suffer a personal loss which they’re struggling to cope with?

It is not the role of the employer or manager to diagnose a possible substance or dependency problem, nor pass blame or immediately discipline… after all, you don’t know if a positive result has come from medication prescribed for a mental health condition, and disciplinary action may just make the situation worse for you and the worker. It is your role to identify if an employee is impaired, unable to do their job safely, and take the appropriate steps as per the organisation’s Drug and Alcohol Policy.

Among recent drinkers (2016) 1 in 6 (17.4%) put themselves or others at risk of harm while under the influence of alcohol in the last 12 months

So how should you support a worker with a positive result when you think there may be associated mental health issues?

  1. Employ a Drug and Alcohol Management Specialist to conduct an interview, provide guidance and make recommendations. Their expertise will ensure objectivity and legal compliance, as well as provide some reassurance to the worker. They will also be able to put together a tailored Drug and Alcohol Management Plan (DAMP) which will assess the worker’s physical, psychological and psycho-social state, and determine reasonable treatment and action moving forward.
  2. Provide opportunities for open communication and respond to their concerns compassionately. Ensure the worker feels heard, respect their privacy and confidentiality and take notes so that you can then take action.
  3. Determine what temporary changes can be made to the worker’s role or workplace to accommodate their physical and psychological needs. Do they need some time off, can they work from home, how can their workload be reduced?
  4. Provide support by offering contact details for community support groups, Employee Assistance Programs, GP or health care professional, online resources or other mental health or drug and alcohol support networks.
  5. Share your story if you’ve gone through something similar and you’re confident in sharing your experience. Be careful not to compare or say things like ‘I know what you’re going through’; simply show them that they are not alone on their journey.
  6. Let them know that they have your support in their recovery. The best treatment for co-occurring disorders is to treat them simultaneously which may mean the employee has a long road ahead of them. Let them know you’ll support them in any way you can from a work perspective. Remember – your role is to support the person be successful at work, not anywhere else.

Among recent drinkers (2016) 1 in 10 (9%) had injured themselves or someone else because of their drinking in their lifetime

When all is said and done, when mental health is concerned, the best approach is to be preventative rather than reactive. By recognising the symptoms of poor mental health and taking action, you will contribute to a positive health culture, and may prevent bigger issues such as drug and alcohol misuse at work from occurring. And if it does, if you understand the reason behind the substance abuse, you can choose the best way to respond. 

Be a proactive Employer by utilising a Drug and Alcohol Management Specialist who can assist you in identifying the risks. When addressing issues with educational understanding, the worker will be protected from further risk of deterioration, you’ll protect the business from potential unfair treatment claims, and you will retain a good employee with experience in their role.

Related reading:

You suspect a worker is under the influence, what’s next

What to do when an employee fails a drug test

Steps to preventing psychological injuries in the workplace

Approximately $543 million is paid in workers’ compensation claims for work-related mental health conditions each year in Australia, comprising nearly 7,200 workers. However often the term ‘psychological injury’ is misunderstood as it is not physically ‘seen’, therefore remains untreated. The term psychological injury refers to an individual’s emotional state and behaviour, which can include conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, and can disrupt their ability to work, carry out daily activities or engage in meaningful relationships.

Signs that a worker may be experiencing poor mental health or a psychological injury are:
• Poor work performance, lack of motivation or low productivity
• Changes in physical appearance i.e. poor grooming
• Restlessness, irritability, seeming passive or other dramatic behavioural changes
• Increased absenteeism or presenteeism
• Mood swings, outbursts or more emotional than usual
• Avoidance or withdrawing from conversation, activities or interactions with others

It’s important to understand that workplace psychological injuries are common and need to be managed appropriately to avoid severe outcomes for the employer and employee. Psychological injuries at work can occur from stress, workload demands and pressure to perform, but are also regularly attributed to workplace bullying and harassment.

Mental Health Claims in Australia associated with bullying and harrasment

So how can psychological injuries be prevented? The great news is that there are many easy to implement and low-cost short term prevention measures available, which have been proven to effectively manage risk factors:

• Promote work-life balance and enforce it
• Encourage team building activities where workers can engage in socialisation, stepping away from work
• Promote a strong safety culture where WHS is respected, acknowledged and adhered to
• Provide open communication channels where workers can provide feedback or voice concerns privately and without judgement
• Promote wellness programs such as physical activity incentives
• Ensure all WHS policies and procedures are clear, defined and enforced, covering
o Bullying and harassment
o Change and performance management
o Grievance and conflict resolution

So what happens when a worker has already sustained a psychological injury? How can it be managed? Once a psychological injury has occurred, there is considerable research proving that early workplace intervention is the best way to significantly prevent the further development of serious problems and improve return to work outcomes.

1. Firstly, the worker should feel supported and listened to – open communication is key! If a worker voices concerns of a psychological injury, they should be heard to ensure that their frustrations are not displaced.

2. Take all reasonable steps to determine the cause of the injury. If the injury is a result of bullying or harassment, action should be taken immediately concerning all parties involved, and inappropriate behaviour ceased. Alternatively, if the injury is the result of workload or stress, re-prioritise, delegate or consider temporary alternate duties.

3. Ensure workers have confidential access to employer supported Employee Assistance Programs to improve resilience and determine coping strategies.

4. Consult a workforce safety provider who can provide training to supervisors and managers on how best to manage mental illness in the workplace, and assist those people to continue to work.

5. Provide contact details for medical support services where the worker can seek further assistance at their discretion.
o Lifeline – 13 11 14
o beyondblue – 1300 22 4636
o SANE Australia – 1800 187 263
o R U OK?
o Black Dog Institute

6. Don’t judge, blame or make negative comments with regard to a workers psychological injury, as it can demonstrate lack of understanding and sympathy.

7. Maintain contact and regularly check in.

When at work, no one wants to feel unsupported, isolated or sad, and no employer wants to have to worry about filling an unnecessarily vacant job position or navigating the workers’ compensation process. So despite having a duty of care, by taking steps to provide a mentally healthy workplace, employers are protected from psychological harm, but employers can also ensure that their businesses are as productive as possible.

How to promote corporate wellness when it’s not your primary role

It’s a pretty straight-forward formula: healthier employees = higher productivity + less sick days + reduced stress + better morale. But what happens when corporate wellness is not actually your primary job, but your job description just happens to have a tiny reference to ‘promote health and wellness’ listed within it?

You’re not the only one… many small businesses try to promote health and wellbeing within their organisation, yet don’t have a dedicated corporate wellness manager, or the budget to contract an external provider. And the reality is, to implement wellness strategies and programs can often take up more time and resources than what you have available. But the good news is, there are plenty smart ways to execute corporate wellness which are easily implementable and can cost very little or nothing at all.

Here’s where to start:

  1. Make it useful – if people think they will benefit from it, they’re more likely to use it. Start by taking a quick survey of employees to determine what they want out of a corporate wellness program. Alternatively, or in addition, you might like to direct them to a wellness quiz such as ‘find out your real age’ or ‘how healthy are you’, which are in abundance on the web. This might kick them into gear to recognise the importance of their health and also give you a starting point to track progress and program success.

 

  1. Choose one thing and do it well – not every organisation can afford to build a fully-equipped on-site gym or hire personal trainers for their staff. But you don’t have to… there are plenty of small steps to take (see the list below) which, when done well, can make a big impact on physical and emotional wellbeing. And by focusing on one initiative at a time, you still have a long list of health ideas to keep the motivation going for months to come.

 

  1. Be visible – there’s no point in implementing anything without people knowing about it. Use posters, staff notices, email and social media groups to let employees know what’s happening. Research suggests that in order for people to take notice, a message should be exposed between 5 and 7 times!

 

  1. Get feedback – if employees don’t enjoy it the first time round, they won’t want to do it again. Simple. Survey employees, or ask them face to face, for positive and negative feedback, recommendations and suggestions. Because the reality is, if people are enjoying their time spent on their health, and are engaged, the business will benefit just as much as the individual. Try to provide regular touchpoints to check in with employees and track progress.

Statistics regarding Australian workers and wellbeing

Despite your budget, resources or time constraints, there are plenty of creative ways to promote corporate wellness and provide employees with some stimulation outside of work, whilst still being at work. Here are some suggestions which may be a good place to start:

  • Host ‘walk and talk’ meetings where employees can step away from the boardroom and take a walk around the block instead for shorter meetings or briefings
  • Introduce ‘health challenges’ which may provide an incentive for the winner i.e. ‘10,000 Steps Challenge’
  • Provide healthy snacks in the work kitchen
  • Offer flexible working arrangements so that employees can focus on healthy living and work-life balance
  • Offer Employee Assistance Programs to assist employees who may be struggling with poor mental health or need assistance in managing work and life stressors
  • Consider ‘health adventures’ such as rock climbing or hiking for bonding experiences rather than after-work drinks
  • Salary sacrifice gym memberships or other health subsidies
  • Place motivational signage around the workplace encouraging employees to prioritise their health and wellbeing
  • Provide access to showers and/or storage lockers if possible and encourage employees to walk or ride to work
  • Provide bike racks
  • Hire a yoga or fitness instructor once a month (or as frequent as reasonable) to lead employees in a class
  • Provide stand up desks if possible and encourage regular movement
  • Set aside a time each week for employees to take a quick 10 minute stretch break – have an employee lead the group

It is said that it takes around 66 days to break a habit so it’s important to remember that real change can take time. By implementing some form of corporate wellness program into your business, although you may be starting small, you are making a positive change towards a healthy workplace and positive safety culture. Remember to listen to employees wants and needs, do one thing well and be consistent = employees = higher productivity + less sick days + reduced stress + better morale.

 

 

What to do if an employee says ‘no’ this R U OK? Day

R U OK? Day is a powerful mental health awareness initiative which encourages and empowers people to have conversations with those who may be struggling. What really bothers me about it however is that it shouldn’t be restricted to just one day. We should be checking in with those around us regularly; our family, friends and co-workers, and making sure that if they need someone to talk with, there’s always an ear and friendly encouragement available.

So lesson 1… don’t wait until a special day on the calendar to ask if someone’s okay.

But it’s often not the easiest thing to do, right? What is the best way to ask if someone is okay?

Lesson 2… just do it. There’s no time to waste if you suspect that someone is struggling with their mental health. So tread sensitively, and perhaps take them to a quiet place to ask, but tell them that you’ve noticed that they’re not themselves lately, and check in with them about their current mental state.

And most importantly, how can you help if they respond with ‘no’. Lesson 3 gives you some pointers to guide you through the process:

  1. Listen – don’t underestimate the power of listening. Sometimes people need to hear their issues out loud to make sense of them, and the support of someone who is actively listening and paying attention can help more than you or they realise. Listen without interrupting and show compassion as they talk.

 

  1. Ask questions – try to ask open ended questions to encourage the person to continue voicing their concerns.

 

  1. Show empathy – try to see things from their point of view and validate their concerns by showing empathy and using phrases like, ‘it’s understandable to feel the way you do considering all that you’re going through’.

 

  1. Don’t try to fix their problem – it’s not up to you to find a solution. You may be able to provide some helpful suggestions but you certainly don’t have to. And don’t feel helpless if you can’t, as often it’s not advice they’re after, but rather someone to listen and help them feel supported.

 

  1. Ask if they need urgent help – it’s hard to know how deeply a person is suffering or if they’re thinking about self-harm or even suicide. The best thing to do is just to ask and listen to their response without judgement. If they respond with ‘yes’, refer them to available support and helplines, and give them a call yourself to gain some specific advice relevant to the situation.
  1. Encourage them to seek professional help – encouragement to seek help is all that you can offer at this point, only the individual can act on the decision to seek professional help. You can direct them to their GP, mental health professional or local support group.

 

  1. Follow up – make sure you check in again and reiterate that you care and that you’re available to talk should they need to.

Asking R U OK? is a small gesture but can be significant to a person’s mental health whether you suspect they’re struggling or not. Check in every now and again, be open and supportive if they’re not okay and offer an ear or helpful resources if you can.

Here are some online tools which may assist anyone looking to improve their mental health:

Beyond Blue – educational resources

Head to Health – self-help programs

This Way Up – online depression test

Centre for Clinical Interventions – self-help workbooks

Employee Assistance Program Support

Case Study: When altering your reactions can affect RTW outcomes

At Work Options we see many situations where a worker submits a claim for an injury at work, and doesn’t always have the experience they expect. In this case study, we look at a landscape labourer who was suffering from unknown mental health issues, and an employer who could have acted differently to avoid a negative and costly experience for both the employer and worker.

Case Study:

Ron* was a 38 year old labourer working for a landscaping business in New South Wales when he tripped on-site and fractured his right elbow, resulting in a worker’s compensation claim. Due to the nature of his work and the injury sustained, Ron was deemed ‘unfit’ for work and took temporary leave whilst he recovered. Whilst on leave, the employer made no attempts to communicate with Ron, until 6 weeks post-injury and post-surgery, when Ron was given the capacity to return to work in alternate duties. At that time the employer did not engage in discussion with Ron, but rather sent him a pre-drafted return to work plan outlining office-based duties.

Ron became frustrated with the lack of communication and spoke aggressively to colleagues who were contacting him via phone, the insurance agency and the Workplace Rehabilitation Consultant. The employer responded to Ron’s frustration by telling him to ‘pull himself together and understand that they were trying to support him’.

After a number of weeks of non-communication between Ron and the employer, Ron made a suicide attempt. Following this, Ron spent extended periods of time at home, not engaging in normal self-care or hygiene practices, which further isolated him from any support outside of his family. It was then discovered through Ron’s wife that there was an extensive history of mental health in his family.

Over the next several months, Ron rejected any communication attempts from the employer and insurance company, made three additional suicide attempts and was admitted to two impatient units for a combined total of 15 weeks. The employer became frustrated with Ron’s aggressive behaviour, considering it inappropriate, and elected to no longer attempt to engage with him.

After two years Ron had still not returned to work and his mental health did not improve during this time.

Recommendations:

  1. Communication is key! As soon as an employee is injured at work, it is important that the employer or a colleague checks on them regularly to ensure that they feel supported and are open to the recovery process. In this case, if communication lines were open, it would have been easier for the employer to determine that Ron was suffering from a mental health condition, which could have been managed and potentially prevented from escalating to suicide attempts.

Open communication may seem like a simple step however is often not done, particularly when mental health is concerned, for fear of making it worse for the individual.

 

  1. It is important to understand that, even when introducing positive changes, people experiencing low mental health will often react emotionally and can feel increased stress with change. This is likely how Ron felt when he received a return to work plan outlining alternate duties, without first being notified. By consulting Ron initially, he would have felt as though he had some input on the plan itself, and felt compassion from his employer.

This logic also applied when a person is still working within the workplace – businesses have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace environment when a worker has disclosed low mental health, and that person needs to be a part of that discussion.

 

  1. Using language such as “we will work through it together” or “we are here to support you” shows empathy for the injured workers situation and allows them to feel valued. In this case, using language like “pull yourself together”, gave the opposite effect and caused Ron to stop communication altogether. This behaviour known as ‘avolition’ or ‘demotivation’ is typical for people experiencing low mental health, and is a sign that they often need more support to help them during these periods. It is important that if things have escalated to this point, professional advice should be sought. Suicide is fundamentally a coping strategy, a sign that a person doesn’t have a better way of coping or needs more communication around their mental health experience, and should be done professionally.

 

  1. Often people with low mental health such as Ron don’t understand why things happen unless it is explained to them; again, communication is key. Despite non-communication from Ron over the next several months as well as additional suicide attempts, although his aggressive behaviour was in fact unacceptable, reasonable attempts need to be made to explain why the employer’s communication will cease.

Although Ron’s reactions to his alternate duties were considered aggressive and unreasonable, his actions are realistic for someone suffering with a mental health condition. If your seeing signs similar to this case in your workplace, ensure that you initiate engagement, provide communication and support, and show compassion. Follow these steps, suggest and seek professional support if required, and preserve employee performance at work.

 

 

Understanding How Psychosocial Barriers to Pain Affect RTW Outcomes

Have you ever been for a routine chiropractic appointment and met with, ‘Oh wow, you’re back is really out of alignment’ before a click and a crack has you sorted? But then in another week or two your back starts to ache and you automatically think ‘my Chiropractor said my back is out and it’s hurting again so I obviously have a bad back.’ Think about it… have you actually always had a bad back and since your Chiropractor has pointed it out, you’re more sensitive to back pain? Or have you just been sitting for a long time and need to stretch out, or lifted a heavy box from an awkward position? Perhaps there are a range of other factors that are impacting your perception of pain…

The psychosocial approach to pain looks at the combined influences of factors – or barriers – within a social environment, and determines the effects they have on physical and mental wellness. Beliefs, values and behaviours are examples of these barriers which can impact on an individual’s pain threshold and perceived pain tolerance.

Pain threshold refers to the point at which a stimulus causes pain that can no longer be tolerated, whereas pain tolerance refers to putting up with pain day to day. In order to recover, an individual must tolerate pain in order to increase physical capabilities, which ultimately then increases pain threshold.

So how does this all relate to return to work outcomes? Often an injured person will tell themselves that they can’t do something, or they can’t function at full capacity, because of their injury. As a result, they start to move less in fear of making their injury worse, which is the opposite of what they need to do to make it better, slowing down their recovery time. Their thought process goes something like this:

Injury Management Specialists will tell you that a fast and efficient recovery and return to work is about increasing physical capabilities which will therefore increase pain threshold, and reduce reliance on passive treatment and medications, in order to gain a sense of empowerment and return to their pre-injury state.

Here’s how an Injury Management Specialist will assist an injured worker reduce the impact of psychosocial barriers, and get back to work sooner:

  • Provide rehabilitation services, recovery strategies and mediation between doctors and specialists to manage pain, with sustainable upgrades in capacity to increase function
  • Set personal goals for increases in self-efficacy, improved relationships, mood and reduction in pain through personal, domestic, work and community
  • Provide pain education and encourage shifting beliefs about pain:
    • Provide valuable and educational resources beyond Google
    • Listen to what the worker hears, rather than what they are told
    • Checks in to identify what they’ve learnt and put ideas into practice
  • Focus on reducing pain by encouraging the worker to reduce reliance on passive treatment, reduce pain medication and home help, and take control of their pain

Pain is a subjective experience; everyone has personal barriers when it comes to pain, which is often reflected in our actions. But what is important to understand is that psychosocial barriers to pain, and the fear of making an injury worse, can sometimes mean that pain gets worse anyway, or an individual develops chronic pain as a result. Defusion – changing the relationships with thoughts – and acceptance – turning off the struggle switch – are key factors in the psychosocial approach to pain and recovery. An Injury Management Specialist will use these tools, and others, to create a placebo affect, and shift pain beliefs by allowing increased confidence to function, the resolution of the cause of pain, and ultimately allow improvement in life and return to work as quickly as possible.

Consult an Injury Management Specialist or Return to Work Provider.

 

When stress in the workplace becomes a bigger issue

There’s no doubt that we’ve all experienced a high level of stress at some point in our working life. For some of us it may have been short term, and long-term for others. And for some of us, it may be an ongoing and constant source of struggle in our everyday lives. Studies have shown that when stress is prolonged, it can develop into psychological and/or physical injury, so at what point does stress at work become a bigger issue?

Stress is often amplified by a feeling of ‘lack of support’ in the workplace, a traumatic event, bullying or harassment, prolonged work pressures, issues at home, or any number of other tensions. In fact, mental health is responsible for around 6% and $543 million of workers’ compensation claims each year, covering approximately 7,200 Australians.

As part of Australian Workplace Health and Safety Laws, employers have a duty or care to manage risks which may cause any physical or psychological harm. So what can Employers do to ease the burden? Here are some short term steps to ensure employees feel happy and supported at work:

  • Ensure job demands are achievable – workloads can be carried out and completed in a reasonable timeframe, with limited pressure
  • Job control and ability – employees should be well trained in how to do their job safely, and provided with all necessary equipment and resources
  • Communication and support must be top priority – employees should feel comfortable in talking to management about any issues, and feel supported and listened to if a problem should arise
  • Recognition and reward – ensure employees are told when they’re doing a good job and provide opportunities for skills development and further training where possible
  • Early intervention – develop a confidential survey to ask your employees if they’re okay, what challenges they may be facing and addressing any issues in the workplace… you may realise team culture or the workplace environment is different to what you initially thought!

And if that is the case, there are other solutions to assist employees improve their mental wellbeing, productivity and sense of support. Read up on Employee Assistance Programs and Return to Work Coordination, which are proven to effectively reduce problems associated with workplace stress and injury.

Why work-life balance is so important for injury prevention and tips on how to do it

It’s pretty obvious that having a healthy work-life balance is good for mental health and stimulation, but new research shows that it’s also important for injury prevention in the workplace. In fact, studies have found that work-life balance has a significant impact on safety at work.

 

But in order to answer the how, first we need to look at the why… why does work-life balance matter at all when it comes to injury prevention? It’s not like leaving work on time to pick up the kids is going to stop us from slipping on a wet floor, is it?

First, let’s take a look at the cost of productivity, absenteeism and return to work outcomes, and gain a greater understanding of where Australian workers sit.

  • 21% of employees report that they have taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in the past 12 months
  • $1.2 billion = the cost to employers of worker’s short absences due to injury in 2018
  • $6.5 billion = the cost to employers of worker’s long absences due to injury in 2018
  • Employees who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy take four times as many sick days than those who consider their workplace mentally healthy
  • On average 6.5 working days of productivity are lost annually per employee as a result of presenteeism
  • The longer someone is off work, the less likely they are to return to work = for 20 days off, the worker has 70% chance of returning to work. For 45 days off, the worker has 50% chance of returning to work

Now back to that question; why does work life balance matter? The answer is common sense really… when we’re juggling the pressures of work and the demands of home life (notice I said juggling, not balancing), our mind is constantly elsewhere, we’re not focused, our defences are down and we get sick. And all of this can lead to accidents or injury. For example, high job demands increase the risk of safety shortcuts; long working hours can result in lack of sleep, fatigue and reduced focused; and being time poor often means you put yourself last, which also means that you’re at risk of developing illness and chronic diseases.

All of this considered, it’s pretty obviously that supporting and maintaining work-life balance is not only good for individuals, but can save the business a whole lot of money in the long run. Which is why embedding work health and wellbeing programs into organisational policies and culture is not only best practice, its good business.

Here are a few simple steps to take creating and supporting work-life balance:

  1. Encourage and educate managers and supervisors to be supportive of work and family – write it into policies and procedures
  2. Give workers more control over their hours – don’t be counting the clock while they’re in the office, let them stay longer when it works and rush off early when they need to
  3. Provide flexible working options – working from home shows trust while being supportive of other’s schedules
  4. Practice work-life balance from the top down – be a role model by showing that work-life balance is accepted, not just tolerated
  5. Pay attention to burnout – getting emails from employees at 2am? Make sure you recognise when workers are taking on too much and act

For years Australian’s have thought of work and home as two completely separate entities. In fact, often times it isn’t until we become parents ourselves that the line between work and home can start to cross and blur.

So don’t wait until other commitments create enough stress to start a positive balance with work and home.

Studies have shown that when an organisation adopts a positive work-life balance culture, the benefits and results are worth it. Within a few months workers are more engaged, with higher energy and focus; overall worker health is improved and stress is reduced; and in the long-run workplace injuries, absenteeism and the cost of workers’ compensation claims are all significantly less. Not to mention, workers are happier within their work and personal lives, which is the most important of all.

Is burnout costing your business? Here’s what to do about it.

Picture this… you’re the GM or CEO of a booming commercial company; you’re well connected and well respected within the industry; you rise above any challenge, find superior solutions to any problem, exceed all expectations and the business thrives because of it; you’ve got a nice little holiday home, drive a European car and fly business-class. But here’s the problem… the holiday home sits empty because you work seven days a week, 52 weeks a year; you rarely see your kids before they’re in bed, only ever eat on the run and haven’t been on a date with your partner in months; you’re gaining weight at a steady pace and even the strongest pain-killers are no longer easing your migraines; you can’t take your mind off work, feel as though your constantly putting out fires, and you’re stress levels are through the roof. So is it all worth it?

While studies into burnout have been happening for years, acknowledgement and awareness have only recently become more prevalent within Australian businesses, with workers from the CEO to the receptionist and cleaner often ignoring its symptoms. But not only is burnout affecting the lives of those experiencing it, it’s also costing businesses billions of dollars each year in absenteeism, presenteeism, accidents and injury.

And this is a problem! Job burnout is associated with work stress and is a state of physical or emotional exhaustion, usually involving a sense of reduced achievement, which can be related to health conditions such as depression, illness and disease. Symptoms can include becoming cynical or critical, irritability and/or impatience, decline in productivity and concentration, fatigue, lack of satisfaction or physical illness. So whether you’re the CEO of this particular booming business, or you recognise symptoms in your employees, it’s so important that they are not ignored.

Here are some key areas to focus on:

Lack of control – do workers have control of their own schedule, projects or workload? Do workers have all the resources they need to do their job?
Role and expectations – do workers clearly understand their role and expectations, how much authority do they have and do they feel valued?
Demands – are workers able to cope with the demands and workload of their role?
Relationships and support – do workers have positive working relationships, with open communication, with co-workers and managers? Do manager’s micro-manage work? Are workers receiving encouragement and support for a job well done?
Organisational change – if change or restructure is taking place, are workers well managed and effectively communicated to?
Activity extremes – is the job monotonous or chaotic? Both can lead to burnout.
Work-life balance – does the job take up so much time and effort that a worker is missing out on time with friends or family, or doesn’t even have the energy to take part in activities outside of work?

It’s important to remain object and keep and open mind when you consider these questions… because at the end of the day, health is more important than ticking an item off your to do list.

“Presenteeism is a concept that describes people being present at work but not productive. Current research shows this to be a $33 billion loss to Australian industry.”

If you’ve realised that burnout is in fact prevalent in your workplace, take action! There are plenty of small things which can help:

Evaluate the options – what is priority 1 on you or your workers to do list? Work together to determine expectations, problems and solutions, what needs doing now, and what can wait. Be realistic.
Get help – reach out to support networks: co-workers, family and friends. Anyone who might be able to assist either in collaborating you to get the job done, or provide you with some stress-relief. An Employee Assistance Program is a great tool to provide counselling, support and useful techniques to manage stress and build resilience.
Take your mind off it – try a relaxing activity or hobby that might assist in taking your mind away from work, even for 10 minutes.
Exercise ¬– there’s a lot of research proving that exercise is a great stimulant for improving mental health. Get moving!
Rest ¬– as with exercise, sleep is vital to functioning at full capacity, not to mention allows you to think clearly and make good choices.
Practice mindfulness – there are plenty of Apps available which can take you through mindfulness techniques to calm and reduce stress.

So after a bit of re-prioritising, delegating and practicing some mindfulness, you’re still the CEO of a booming commercial company; still well connected and well respected; and you’re taking the family to the holiday home for the weekend, while you switch off your phone and enjoy some ‘me’ time. Because what you’ve just learnt is that well-managed workplaces are proactive about burnout, see issues as they arise and are prepared to put workplace health first.

The importance of critical incident debriefing in preventing psychological injuries

SafeWork NSW has recently circulated information highlighting the risk of crush injuries, as a result of two fatal incidents where truck drivers have died while working on or near their trucks. And it got us thinking… what about the psychological injuries caused to others who are unfortunate enough to witness incidents like these?

 

History tells us that high risk industries are almost guaranteed to succumb to a worker fatality at some point.

 

As of the 6th of June there had been 64 Australian workers killed at work in 2019. In 2018, that number totalled 157.

 

What history also tells us, is that for those who are exposed to or involved in a workplace incident, the first two hours are critical in assisting workers deal with their physical and emotional reactions.

And the reason being is because exposure to critical incidents can lead to significant distress; recurrent thoughts, anxiousness, mood changes, restlessness and shock. And gone untreated, distress can lead to long-term physiological issues such as Acute Stress Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

By providing really early intervention to a fatality or major incident on site, psychologists can counsel workers to assess their current state of mind, diagnose shock and determine if they are at risk of developing long-term psychological injuries.

Here are five critical incident management tools to assist in supporting workers:

1. If you’re in a high risk industry, prepare workers for a possible critical incident:
• Develop procedures for responding to and identifying critical incidents and ensure staff are educated and aware of procedures
• Contract suitably qualified safety consultants with experience in critical incidents and critical incident management
• Asses the workplace for safety hazards and ensure all necessary PPE is available

2. Demobilisation (rest, information and time out) is the best way to calm workers following a critical incident, ensuring their immediate needs are met as soon as possible:
• Convene with all workers, summarising the incident and clarify any uncertainties (ensure all workers have the opportunity to ask questions)
• Provide Psychological First Aid (supportive and practical assistance via assessing needs and concerns, ensuring basic needs are met and connecting people with information)
• Provide a course of action moving forward, and alter workplace responsibilities and roles where necessary

3. Defusing (immediate small group support) should be conducted by a qualified employee or external contractor and is an opportunity for workers to review the event, talk about what happened, receive advice and support. Defusing should take place within 12 hours of the critical incident occurring.

4. Debriefing as a group should take place approximately one week after the critical incident. It is an opportunity for workers to put things into perspective once they’ve had a chance to process what has happened. Often a knee-jerk reaction to a critical incident will be that ‘I don’t need to talk about it’, but often within a few days the worker may find that they are now experiencing other psychological or physical issues as a result. Debriefing allows a qualified counsellor or safety expert to assess the risk of long-term psychological injuries, determine if acute stress is present for individual workers, and can provide management techniques and tools to handle emotional reactions.

5. Follow-up support is key in psychological injuries; shock around trauma is known to manifest over time and can worsen if not addressed or spoken about. If workers find that their shock builds momentum, they are losing sleep, having recurring thoughts of the incident and are struggling to move on with every day duties, this may be a sign of a psychological injury such as acute PTSD. Workers who expressed significant concerns at earlier stages of the critical incident management process should have continual follow up support with a trained professional.

When it comes to preventing the onset of shock, and potentially acute stress or PTSD, after a critical incident, it’s recommended that all workers be involved in the critical incident debriefing process. Although many workers will be able to return to normal duties within a short time frame, if not immediately, it’s important to note that serious accidents are one of the leading causes of PTSD in Australia. But more importantly, it’s treatable and, with the right help, avoidable.

For more information or help with regards to critical incidents and psychological injuries, see our Work Health Safety Services or call 02 9957 1300.

An Employee Assistance Program Story

Sarah* was into her third year working for a major Australian news publisher, was head of a small team and caught in the middle of a company-wide restructure that bought with it much uncertainty.

“There was a lot of movement happening within the company which seemed to take forever for any actual changes to be made… people were getting fed up with the lack of communication from management, worried about their job security and a lot of people ended up finding new jobs elsewhere. And they weren’t being replaced fast enough or at all so the workload was massively piling up”.

With an ever-increasing workload, a team to support and a system database crash adding to an already stressful working environment, a relationship breakdown with her boyfriend was enough to push Sarah to breaking point.

“I was burnt out. I really honestly just didn’t care anymore… as soon as I cleared my plate of one thing, another issue would come up”.

Sarah had seen the Employee Assistance Program posters around the office, and vaguely recalled the email come through advising employees of the new initiative, and decided it was time to take notice. And rightfully so.

“I called the number and was offered help straight away. They asked if I’d like a one-on-one or phone session and I took the phone option. I think I was entitled to around eight sessions which my employer paid for. I only had three though… after three I had my head in a good enough space to get myself back on track. And it was good to know I had other sessions available if I needed them later on”.

Sarah was provided with confidential counselling which offered coping strategies to deal with her work-induced stress, and offered suggestions on how to best manage work-life balance and deal with her break-up.


“The lady running the EAP gave me a bunch of coping strategies to deal with the stress at work and the reassurance that it was only temporary while the re-structure was taking place. She also helped me deal with my relationship breakdown and gave me a bit of confidence that it was okay to take time for myself”.

And Sarah credits the Employee Assistance Program for providing the support she needed at the time, in both her work and personal life.

“I am really glad that I did the EAP because I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise. Probably quit my job and have even more stress to deal with. And now I am focused again, doing well at my job and am emotionally available to me team”.

*Sarah, 26, New South Wales

For information on how an EAP can help your employees and business, see Employee Assistance Programs.

The Role of an EAP in Improving Staff Performance
When we talk about poor mental health, it’s easy to think of personal problems like family and relationship issues, financial difficulties and a myriad of other concerns that occur in our every day lives. But what should really be at the forefront of our minds is work; the act of balancing work and home life, excessive demands, pressure to perform, lack of support… if it relates to work then it without question relates to mental health.

 

Every year in Australia, mental health concerns equate to approximately 6% of total workers’ compensation claims.But with the growing rate of mental health cases, awareness also grows and, in turn, strategies to manage the adverse effects.

 

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides employers with a positive and proactive approach to assisting workers who may be affected by personal and job related issues. It involves providing access to confidential counselling sessions, either in person or over the phone, for employees and their families, and puts them on a path towards a positive mindset.

So, how does an EAP actually improve staff performance? Let’s look at the facts because they’re alarming – poor mental health in the workplace is more prevalent than ever.

1. Each year 7,200 Australians are compensated for work related mental health concerns
2. Mental health related workers’ compensation claims cost $11 billion annually
3. People suffering from severe depression take 20 times more sick days per month than other workers

By providing our employees with a proactive platform to work through their concerns, with tailored strategies recommended by a trained professional, we encourage them to stay at or return to work, feel supported and happier. And happy employees create a positive and productive work environment! So let’s discuss some of the more specific benefits:

1. Increased employee productivity
It’s pretty simple really… when you’re mind isn’t distracted by a lengthy list of concerns, you’re more focused on the task in front of you. In a 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers report it was identified that Australian businesses lose around $10.9billion annually in lost productivity.

2. Increased employee retention
It goes without saying that when employees are happy at work, they’re more likely to stay there. And the confidential nature of an EAP provides an outlet for those employees who wish to be discreet when it comes to mental health issues, or don’t have the means to gain access privately. An EAP lets employees know that they are supported at work, while assisting them to gain the help they need.

3. Increased employer profits
Remember that $11billion figure? When you’re employees are at work, productive and focused, you’re getting a return on your investment. There’s no lost money on sick days, deadlines being pushed back or contributing to co-workers stress levels. In the above mentioned PricewaterhouseCoopers report, it was discovered for every $1 invested in mental health initiatives, a return of $2.30 was received. And $3.60 for every $1 in the electricity, gas and water industry and $6.70 in mining.

4. Affordability for employers
The great thing about an EAP is that it can be relatively inexpensive to implement and can often cost far less than paying for a mental health related workers’ compensation claim. Consider an EAP an investment for your business, promote it to all your employees and calculate the return.

5. Positive clinical outcomes and a happier workforce
If you’ve ever had to step in to complete someone else’s task when a co-worker is off sick, you know the additional stress and ripple effect it can often create. By implementing an EAP program, not only are you helping your employees to better themselves and become happier, but the overall workforce won’t be adversely affected. A positive EAP program can often assist in creating a strong, collaborative and productive team.

For many Australian businesses, an EAP is already an integral part of their WHS strategy, implemented to assist in employee wellbeing. But for others, it can be executed as a response to an unfortunate event or used as a liability tool… but they’re missing out. Because not only does a positive EAP program provide qualified help to valuable workers who need it, it also assists employers gain back a percentage of lost absenteeism days, and ultimately improves the businesses bottom line.

A simple guide to talking to employees about mental health

Responsibilities at work may not always be the sole cause for poor metal health, but for some people, workload and stress can be a significant contributor. In Australia employers have a duty of care to ensure that employees are safe at work, both physically and psychologically, and can confidently perform their job without any adverse affects. So what happens when you suspect an employee is struggling mentally, and how do you approach it? Here are some steps to follow:

1.       Arrange a confidential meeting
Ensure that you arrange a confidential meeting, in an environment away from prying eyes where the person can feel comfortable. Be professional when scheduling so that you don’t further contribute to stress or anxiety.

2.       Be familiar with your workplace mental health resources
Be well versed in any company policies around mental health and resources available such as Employee Assistance Programs. Have hand-outs printed and sealed in a folder for the employee to take with them.

3.       Adopt an honest, upfront and caring approach
Start off by providing encouragement and pointing out the employees strengths and contributions that they bring to the business – it is important that they feel valued. Consider the conversation to be somewhat of a performance review where the positives are discussed first followed by concerns. Be clear in stating why you are concerned.

Be aware that your employee may not realise the impact their mental state is having on their work, feel as though their personal issues are not your concern, or alternatively they may think that everything is just fine. Be prepared to be dismissed. But if your employee is willing to open up, be supportive.

Consider asking open ended questions where the employee is able to steer the conversation in a direction they are comfortable. Ensure that you listen openly and provide encouragement. Don’t push for information which is outside of the scope of work related issues – it is not your business.

4.       Act!
It is important that you focus on solutions, not problems, and how you can help the employee in a business sense – remember that you’re not in their shoes, even if you think you have been before. Ensure that you document everything being said and consider ways of temporarily altering their job role and responsibilities to reduce pressure and workload. Offer your collected mental health resources and details about what’s included in the pack.

5.       Schedule a follow-up meeting
Don’t forget that you have a duty of care to ensure your employees are happy at work. Once the employee has had some time to digest the conversation, potentially seek help and you’ve altered their work responsibilities, check back in. If the employee’s mental state has not improved, or gotten worse, consider offering them the support of an Employee Assistance Program. Again consider their workload and responsibilities, and refer them to free phone and online resources, as well as community service providers such as doctors, psychologists and counsellors. And once again, after some time, repeat the process.

 

Talking to employees about mental health may seem a daunting process, but it’s the first step in taking positive strides to ensuring happy, healthy and efficient employees. And when you make mental health and wellbeing a priority in your workplace, your employees will thank you for it.

For further reading and free mental health resources, see:
Black Dog Institute: Workplace Mental Health Toolkit
Beyond Blue: Workplace Mental Health
Headspace
Lifeline – Phone: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – Phone: 1300 22 4636