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Psychological Injuries in the Workplace

Mental health and wellbeing has become as much of a focus for Workplace Health and Safety as traditional forms, such as lifting boxes the correct way and offering stand up desks to people with back issues.

With 1 in 5 Australians affected by mental illness, it is for very good reason that maintaining the positive mental health of employees has become a priority of employers, but when the average amount of time off work for employees with psychological injuries is twice as much as those with physical injuries, is enough being done to protect workers?

What is a psychological injury?

A psychological injury includes symptoms across the cognitive, behavioural and emotional spectrums that negatively impacts the way a person thinks, feels and acts.

While stress is regarded as one of the key causes of a workplace psychological injury, it can be brought on by a number of environmental, individual or organisational factors.

Other common forms of psychological injury include depression and anxiety.

Secondary psychological injury can also occur, and this is typically caused by a physical injury that deeply impacts the lifestyle of the individual, such as a back injury that causes the person to be unable to walk without assistance, which then causes the psychological injury to manifest.

What causes psychological injuries in the workplace?

There are many reasons why a person may suffer from a psychological injury in the workplace, however, some of the most widespread are:

Bullying and Harassment

For some, being bullied (or being the bully) doesn’t stop at school. Adults can easily fall victim to workplace bullying from their superiors, a team member or even someone they don’t work with directly.

Forms of bullying and harassment in the workplace can include sexual harassment, exclusion, being delegated meaningless or menial tasks that are below your skillset and responsibilities, threats and physical intimidation.

These behaviours can cause the victim to suffer from depression, anxiety, stress and see a decrease in their motivation, with a potential increase in their personal days used.

Compensation claims can be brought against employers for psychological injuries, so it is imperative that the employer has strict bullying and harassment policies in place that take swift action to stamp out this type of behaviour.

Workloads

Since the introduction of mobile phones, followed by e-mail and then e-mail on mobile phones, work lives have become more intertwined with personal lives. Sending off an email on a Sunday morning doesn’t seem so tedious when it can be done within seconds from the comfort of your own home, but this convenience has also created a generation of people who pride themselves on a large workload and how busy they are.

A person overloading themselves or being overloaded with work is a common cause of psychological injury that can cause work-related stress and can ultimately lead to poor performance.

Employers should be mindful of setting unrealistic targets that can cause their staff to burnout and create a high turnover, which is costly and bad for reputation and morale.

Job insecurity

With short-term contract roles becoming a more viable way for companies to hire their employees, job insecurity is on the rise. A volatile global economy, a competitive pool of educated and skilled workers to hire from and loose contract terms all create a stressful environment for those who are not protected by the same employment laws as permanent employees.

Constantly worrying about how to pay bills or find a new job should the current contract role fall through can cause significant amounts of stress not only on the worker, but also their family.

While this psychological injury is not the fault of the employer, employees should be mindful when applying for or accepting such roles, that they are thinking responsibly about the future so they do not cause themselves unnecessary stress worrying about what could happen to their job.

How can an individual avoid a psychological injury in the workplace?

Most root causes of psychological injury should be detected and thwarted by the employer, however, in cases such as bullying and harassment, it may take the courage of the victim or one of their colleagues to report the behaviour before action is taken.

If you believe you are the victim of workplace bullying and harassment, it is important to keep notes with dates, names and accurate descriptions about the incidents that took place in case an investigation is needed subsequent to reporting the behaviour.

Most importantly, employees should look after their own mental health by decreasing their workload where possible, ensure they are not working extra-long, unnecessary hours and take a break at least once a year.

Call Cairns Injury Lawyers if you require more information about psychological injuries in the workplace. 

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