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.
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:
- Encourage and educate managers and supervisors to be supportive of work and family – write it into policies and procedures
- 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
- Provide flexible working options – working from home shows trust while being supportive of other’s schedules
- Practice work-life balance from the top down – be a role model by showing that work-life balance is accepted, not just tolerated
- 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.
It is a common misconception that maintaining a safe workplace and reducing hazards lies solely with the employer… but it’s important to note that employees have responsibilities too. Employees should be well versed in the company WHS Policy and positively contribute to a risk-adverse safety culture.
Did you know that 36% of Australian workers think that risks are unavoidable in the workplace? Or that 24% think that minor incidents are normal at work? Pretty big numbers, huh? Does this sound like people who are aware of their safety responsibilities? And employers aren’t completely innocent either… 18% think that workplace risks are unavoidable.
This is why correct policy and communication is imperative to your business. So what are the differences between employer and employee responsibilities around safety? Let’s break it down:
• Prepare, share and acknowledge the company WHS Policy and ensure all employees are aware of their safety responsibilities
• Minimise or eliminate all hazards and safety risks whereever possible
• Ensure all relevant safety legislation is adhered to, and written into the policy
• Provide all employees with appropriate training, ensuring that they can confidently and safely perform tasks
• Provide all necessary PPE and safety equipment
• Consult and communicate with employees on all things related to safety, health and wellbeing
• Have a suitable reporting process where employees can advise of any risks or health and safety concerns
• Have a detailed return to work program prepared should an injury occur
• Consult an injury management specialist as soon as an injury occurs
• Be aware of and adhere to all company WHS policies and procedures, including following safe work practices
• Wear all provided PPE and utilise safety equipment where instructed
• Report any hazards, injuries or incidents to management using appropriate reporting channels
• Take reasonable care and precautions with regard to your own safety
• Participate in all safety training and consult with a supervisor when unsure
• Report to work in a state which is fit and safe for duty
Want to change your WHS Policy for the better? Take these points, adapt them to your business and copy them straight into your policy! Because if there’s anything we’ve learnt here, it’s that no matter where you think your company’s policy stands, it could always use a health check. And not only when you’ve recruited new employees, altered job responsibilities or moved premises, but any day of the week! Adopt an ‘analyze, improve and share approach’, and create a collaborative risk-averse safety culture.