Allianz data reveals workplace mental health injury claims are on the rise

Why is there a lack of support in the workplace?

Allianz data reveals workplace mental health injury claims are on the rise

New research has found workplace psychological injury claims are on the rise, yet 69% of workers have not had a conversation with their manager about mental health since the pandemic began.

The figures released by Allianz reveal a worrying disconnect between employers and their staff, which could be contributing to higher levels of absenteeism and putting organisations at far greater risk of receiving a costly worker’s compensation claim. Allianz’ data shows the number of active psychological claims has jumped by 5% for the last financial year, and compared to physical injuries, the average cost of psychological damage is 3.5 times higher.

Speaking to HRD, Julie Mitchell, Allianz Australia’s chief general manager, personal injury, said while there is still a long way to go, the data reveals the stigma around talking about mental health in the workplace is beginning to fade.

“If you're looking for a positive from the pandemic, it’s that we’ve emerged out of it with people being more comfortable to have the conversation and be transparent about their mental health,” she said.

“But it’s clear that open and honest conversations between managers and employees about mental health and wellbeing is critical in the current environment. It can often start really simply within organisations by having their most senior leaders share their own personal stories and be transparent about their own challenges, either within the current environment or more broadly. That role modelling helps to create a culture within the workplace for employees to feel comfortable to speak up about their own challenges.”

According to the Finding Balance in the Modern Workplace report, 70% of employees are no longer able to find time to transition between their work and personal life and over two thirds say they’re struggling to balance the two. The added stress on employees’ mental health caused by the pandemic and the blurring of our work and home has been well documented. Yet inside some organisations, not enough is being done to protect workers’ mental health.

Mitchell said the main reasons HR leaders cite for not implementing mental health initiatives are a lack of budget (22%), a lack of clear processes for identifying mental illness (19%) and a lack of practical information and resources (28%). But supporting employees’ mental health doesn’t have to be costly or difficult. Mitchell said mechanisms like a mental health policy and a dedicated space to access resources, like through a staff intranet, are good first steps. Training employees to become mental health first aiders can also be extremely effective, offering another avenue of support aside from an employee’s manager or HR.

In the remote world many employees are currently living in, it’s never been more important to communicate the resources available to employees. It’s far too easy to suffer in silence when employees are isolated from one another. What’s more, with a high expat population, many employees in Australia and New Zealand are separated from their loved ones overseas, adding even more pressure to an already fraught situation. So how can HR leaders encourage managers to check in with their employees remotely?

Speaking to HRD, Donna Kimmel, chief people officer and executive vice president at software firm Citrix, said first, it’s about reminding managers why it’s so important to care about their employees’ wellbeing.

“They may have been taught to keep work and personal lives separate, but we all bring our whole selves to work. And if we only check in about part of the person, we don’t have a complete picture to help them contribute their best,” she said.

“Workers who are struggling with their mental health can’t be focused, effective, and innovative at work. Managers aren’t expected to be mental health professionals, but if they show care and compassion, employees may feel safer, more confident, and supported—simply less alone—in tackling challenges in their work and their life.”

Kimmel said 1:1 check-ins should be a regular item on the agenda – rather than an afterthought, and HR can equip managers with the tools to ask meaningful follow-up questions and warning signs. It’s also vital that managers know what resources are available so they can encourage staff to lean on the next pillar of support if they need it.

Of course, there is a fine line between being proactive and becoming overbearing – and the support each individual employee wants and needs will vary. Some days, an employee may not have the capacity to open up about the challenges they’re facing. But that’s OK. Simply knowing their manager is there and ready to listen is powerful in itself. Kimmel said that’s why checking in using video calls, rather than simply phone calls, is also important. We can pick up subtle shifts in behaviour from a person’s body language, and get a better understanding of what’s really going on. Eye contact helps to build up that two-way trust between an employee and their manager, which is a key facet of psychological safety.

“This is especially important when it comes to new starters who have entered the workforce during the lockdown and have spent very little, or potentially no time in the office building relationships with their co-workers,” she said.

Allianz’ data relating to managers supports this view. The majority of managers (70%) believe it is important to express empathy and build emotional intelligence to manage their team. Employees are calling out for regular mental health programs and leave days too. As Mitchell said, prevention is better than cure – especially when it comes to protecting our minds.

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