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Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry


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

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.

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.

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