Public servants blaming managers for rising psychological injury

by Chloe Taylor20 Nov 2015
The Australian Public Service (APS) is seeing costs go up when it comes to both physical and psychological injuries, with departments continuing to seek an end to expensive compensation claims and sick leave.

According to a recent APS Commission update, the incident rate of psychological injuries is now higher in the public sector than in the private sector.

Fairfax Media reported that departments were also told in the update that they could be doing a better job of supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.

Department secretaries are continuing to assess how workplace practices are affecting staff attitudes, motivation and performance.

“This aspect of workplace health and safety links the demands of an employee's role and the sense of control they experience over how they do their work,” the APS report said.

“Where employees experience consistently unrealistic time pressures, or have little or no control over how they do their work the workplace health and safety outcome is significantly poorer.”

The update found one-third of public servants believe they always or often face unrealistic time pressures at work, while 40 per cent said they never or rarely did.

According to Fairfax, trauma from workplace bullying or violence now makes up the largest proportion of mental-stress compensation claims among public servants.

The APS update reported that a third of public servants believed they always or often felt unrealistic time pressures at work, while almost half said senior leaders affected their health and safety at work.

Just over 40% said their immediate supervisors had demonstrated a commitment to safety – but 20% strongly disagreed with this.

“Senior leaders have a profound effect on workplace safety,” the update read.

“When senior leaders actively engage their staff on how to deal with workplace problems the effect on workplace safety is clear.”

Earlier this year, the Public Service Commission told an inquiry into the reform of the Comcare system that the APS could no longer afford the costs being incurred by the abuse of the scheme.

In the update, the Public Service Commission called upon all departments to ensure staff have a means through which to raise concerns about mental health risks, and to ensure that these could be received by management.

It was also recommended that senior leaders promote mental health through the introduction of awareness programs and workshops.


  • by Linda 20/11/2015 11:43:13 AM

    It will be interesting to see what, if anything, will be done by the APS to reduce unrealistic time pressures and bullying by managers, if these are the factors behind the increase in claims for psychological injuries. Managers will still have the pressures to get their work unit to complete unrealistic amounts of work, which is in turn the result of reductions in employee numbers through restructures, redundancies, etc without a commensurate fall in the amount of work to be completed. And then there's the issue of sociopathic/narcissistic managers who do not and are perhaps unable to recognize their personal contribution to the stress and psychological injuries that they create.

  • by Bernie Althofer 24/11/2015 10:28:29 AM

    It is interesting to note that the Draft Model Code of Practice for Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying identified the following common hazards/ risk factors that could contribute to workplace bullying:

    Negative leadership styles (Includes autocratic styles and styles that are too relaxed with inadequate supervision and feedback)
    Organisational change
    Workplace relationships
    Organisational/workplace culture
    Human resources systems
    Inappropriate systems of work
    Poor workplace relationships
    Workforce characteristics

    It does seem that managers and workers are under increased pressures from internal and external sources to deliver on a range of programs. As individuals struggle to work within the paramaters of organisations that are not addressing the hazard or risk factors, one might expect an increase in claims. However, as seems to be a point raised in other forums, individuals may not be reporting breaches of health and safety (including workplace bullying) because of how they perceive current requirements. In some cases, the circumstances of their specific situation may fall outside the boundaries established in the Fair Work Act.

    On the face of it, the prevention, detection, reporting and resolution of workplace bullying has in some cases relied heavily on workplace presentations that 'simplify' the issue. When one delves into the complexity of issues involved either as a target, an alleged bully or even as a manager/supervisor, then it becomes apparent that it is going to take a considerable mindshift in reforming some workplaces, especially those where bullying has been tolerated to the point of acceptance.

    There have over the years been a number of reviews and reports delivering findings and recommendations following allegations of systemic workplace bullying and harassment. In some cases, organisations have tried to change the workplace culture, and at the same time, other organisations have paid scant regard to the contents of those reviews and reports, perhaps in the belief that 'it won't happen here'.

    It does seem that management practices and communication are two of the consistent factors that are present in a number of bullying incidents. Unfortunately, when organisations plead 'poor' in relation to training or addressing some of the above mentioned hazard or risk factors, one might expect to see a continuation of bullying. In some cases, individuals will seek recourse not through the use of workplace bullying policies and procedures, but through the use of other HR and IR employment law e.g. breach of contract, and even through the inclusion of The Trade Practices Act.

    If individuals as targets perceive that internal policies and procedures are not designed to help them, they may seek external guidance. If alleged bullies perceive that the internal policies and procedures can be used in their favour e.g. interpretation of reasonable management actions, they may continue their current conduct or behaviour with immunity.

    Waving a workplace bullying policy around and expecting the conduct to stop is unrealistic. It takes time to work through the hazard or risk factors, develop or improve controls and then implement a program of change of positive behaviours. Importantly, having open and transparent discussions about those hazard or risk factors may be limited when decision makers do not see them as an issue that contributes to bullying.

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