Managing Psychological Injuries in the Workplace
A workers’ psychological health can be adversely affected by:
- Exposure to a poorly designed or managed work environment
- A traumatic event
- Workplace violence
- Bullying or harassment
- Excessive work pressures
Any of these factors can result in workers experiencing a prolonged stress response. The physical, mental and emotional reactions which arise when people perceive that their work demands exceed their ability to cope, over time may lead to psychological or physical injury.
Traditionally risk management practices conducted by workplace health and safety professionals do not account for the prevention and management of a workers psychological wellbeing, often exposing a workplace to preventable workers compensation claims and/or the development of significant mental health conditions. This may adversely affect workplace culture, employee wellbeing and prevent healthy workplaces from being established.
Psychological Injuries: Signs & Symptoms
Typically, a psychological injury may involve post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), a concussion, chronic pain, or a disorder such as depression, anxiety, phobias, and adjustment disorder.
Early signs of a psychological injury include a range of cognitive, emotional and behavioural symptoms such as:
- Significant changes in behaviour
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty managing tasks
- Deteriorating work performance
- Excessive worrying
- Panic attacks
- Emotional reactions
- Increased workplace conflict
- Social withdrawal
- Low morale
- Increased absenteeism
- Alcohol and substance use
Psychological injuries have adverse effects on the employee and the rest of the workforce. Increased frequency and duration of stress has been linked with high levels of unplanned absences, sick leave, staff turnover, interpersonal conflict and more task errors.
It is the employer’s duty to ensure the psychological health and safety of workers by providing and maintaining a safe work environment. The employer can provide support to an employee with early warning signs by:
- Making contact
- Listening with empathy
- Offering support
- Seeking advice from HR
- Contacting a rehabilitation case manager
- Developing and implementing a psychological injury management process
When to Engage a Psychologist
There are multiple and interacting biological, psychological and social barriers that a person who is recovering from an injury may face in returning to work. These may include:
- Physical and mental capacity, activity level and work demands
- Personal perceptions, beliefs and behaviour relating to work
- Workplace relationships with management and co-workers
- Supportive conditions at work and attitudes towards health and disability
It is crucial to engage a Psychologist as early as possible to provide assessment and counselling services to assist the worker in understanding, managing and resolving the cognitive, emotional and behavioural processes underlying return to work barriers. This will greatly contribute to long-term, sustainable return to work outcomes for injured workers.
Psychological Injury Management
Why manage Psychological risk?
Psychological injury claims currently account for a significant portion of costs associated with absenteeism from the workplace.
- 7200 employees are compensated for work-related mental health conditions
- 6% of all compensation claims are related to mental health conditions
- Approximately $543 million is paid in workers compensation each year for work related mental health conditions
Who delivers Psychological services?
Psychological injury management is performed by one of KINNECT’s Registered Psychologist with extensive experience in workplace injury management in addition to psychological injury counselling.
Who is responsible for the management of Psychological hazards?
The employer ultimately has the responsibility under the WHS act to manage and/or eliminate hazards that could result in physical and/or psychological injury. This may include:
- Providing and upholding an environment that is free of health and safety risk
- Implementing safe systems of work
- Establishing procedures and process to effectively monitor and/or manage health conditions at the workplace
- Consulting with the workplace on potential risks that may impact physical or psychological wellbeing
What is the employer's role in Psychological Injury Management?
An employer plays an integral role in an workers return to work following psychological injury. It has been extensively documented that the three top actions that positively impact return to work outcomes following a psychological injury, following a claim made for psychological injury include:
- Early Contact: Workers who receive early contact from their workplace following their psychological injury had greater success with return to work compared to those who received no contact.
- Employer Support: An employers support of an injured worker with a psychological injury is a significant factor when ensuring a return to work outcome is achieved. It has been documented that workers who reported feeling supported by their workplace at the time of their psychological injury return back to the work quicker.
- Assistance with Lodging Claims: Employers who are actively involved and assist with the lodgement of workers compensation claims for injury directly and positively influence the successful return to work of the employee post a psychological injury.