How to reduce the risk of ‘psychological injury’ in the workplace

by John Hilton10 Oct 2016
Employers are becoming increasingly concerned about mental health issues in the workplace, according to a study released this year by MinterElllison.

The research found that 56% of organisations surveyed reported a year-to-year increase in the number of mental health cases at work.

Even though offering mental health support through employee assistance programs is still common, employers are moving towards a risk-based approach to managing ‘psychological injury’, said Aaron Anderson, partner at Norton Rose Fulbright.

“This involves gaining an understanding of what workplace factors may give rise to the risk of psychological injury and implementing preventative measures to seek to manage the risks,” said Anderson.

These preventative measures include training mental health first aid officers who can assist in early intervention, adopting a zero tolerance approach to workplace bullying and providing a flexible work environment.

Sue Horlin, managing partner, human capital, at PwC Australia, said their company is undertaking initiatives such as sharing personal to reduce stigma, and educating people on the signs and symptoms of mental illness.

PwC are also promoting mindfulness to manage stress and anxiety, while encouraging inclusive leadership and teams.

It’s also important to recognise that change leads to uncertainty and if managed poorly it can create unnecessary stress for employees, said Rachel Wells, general manager – people & performance at Certus Solutions ANZ.

This then impacts on their productivity and engagement, resulting in illness and increased turnover.

“Building a resilient workforce that is ‘change ready’ results from utilising a people-centric systems approach to manage and lead change,” said Wells.

“At Certus we use tools such as ‘change resistance mapping’, a technique using personas to anticipate potential concerns and minimising their impact head-on.

“Creating a thriving culture with exceptional leadership where people feel comfortable to ask for help is the essential first step.”


  • by Bernie Althofer 10/10/2016 12:37:49 PM

    Organisations may find some advantages in conducting a Bullying Risk Assessment, and whilst it is important to conduct such an assessment, it is just as important to commit to addressing the findings.

    Identifying the root causes that contribute to workplace dysfunction, negative workplace conflict and psychological injuries means that hazards and/or contributing factors need to be assessed. On the surface, individuals may appear as though they are coping or managing to get through the daily expectations being placed on them, when in reality the opposite occurs.

    If managers and workers do not feel as though their concerns are being acknowledged or even addressed, they may suffer in silence which in turns leads to workplace claims. Investing in a Bullying Risk Assessment can lead to discoverying a broad range of issues that impact on the physical, psychological and financial safety of individuals and the organisation.

  • by Bernie Althofer 14/10/2016 10:29:45 AM

    There are extensive publications providing a range of self help options for those involved in workplace bullying. I wrote a book because I was concerned that many of those who had approached me either as a target, as an alleged bully or as a manager/supervisor were not aware that there were a range of questions that they could and should ask, or even why they should ask those questions.

    Whilst some questions might be reasonably basic i.e. "Does the organisation have a workplace bullying policy"'; "Where is this located?" through to more confronting questions such as "Do the behaviours being used against me meet the definition?"

    A question about a specific issue directed towards a target will be different to that directed towards an alleged bully or towards the CEO. For example, if hazards or contributing factors such as negative leadership or even change management create an environment where a worker believes they are being subjected to bullying, it is reasonable to ask a target "Why do you believe you are being targeted?" whereas a question directed towards an alleged bully might be "How do you cope with internal and external pressures created because of the change process?". A question to the CEO could be "What systems and processes in place do you have in place to manage change management?"

    Responses from individuals may have some relationship as to whether or not they are at risk of psychological injury; whether or not they have coping mechanisms; or even whether they are likely to report counterproductive behaviours. Effective questioning and listening may help to identify the causal factors that are contributing feelings of being unsafe in a workplace.

    Whilst it is important to provide educative programs on the prevention, detection, reporting and resolution of bullying, it is equally important to provide managers and workers at all levels with awareness regarding new legislation e.g. anti-bribery and corruption laws, and how that may result in psychological injury to 'whistleblowers' or others inadvertently caught up in some 'suspect' activities.

    Asking questions beginning with the how, what, when, where, who and why is important. It is equally important to understand that the structure of the question is also important and the responses provided may have a negative impact on a diverse range of people.

Most Read