Psychological injuries in the workplace

Employers play a large role in promoting and maintaining psychological wellbeing of workers.

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Key takeaways

  • Mental health stigma in the workplace can lead to poor health and business outcomes.
  • Mental illness is now the leading cause of workplace sickness absence and long-term incapacity in Australia.
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Mental health in the workplace

Working provides individuals with a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction, although there are some risks of developing mental illness due to job, operational and organisation factors.

Workers often spend more time at work than with their families and friends. It's crucial to ensure workers feel mentally healthy and safe at work.

Employers play a large role in promoting and maintaining psychological wellbeing of workers while all staff contribute to creating a mentally-safe work environment.

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Mental health stigma in the workplace

Mental health stigma can consist of negative perceptions of workers who are facing difficulties with their mental health.

Workers may hide or ignore mental health risks due to concerns of negative repercussions in the workplace, such as being terminated or being treated differently.

If a worker who is experiencing a mental health issue does not seek help in a timely manner it can:

  • lead to poor health outcomes.
  • hinder the ability of an employer to identify and respond to risks.

Mental illness is now the leading cause of workplace sickness absence and long-term incapacity in Australia (LaMontagne AD, Keegel T & Vallance D, 2007).

Mental illness is estimated to cost Australian businesses more than $6.5 billion each year through a loss of productivity, turnover and absenteeism (Whiteford, Harvey & Sheridan, Judith & Cleary, Cathy & Hilton, M.F. 2005).

Previous research shows that despite one in five Australians experiencing mental health problems every year, almost half of all senior managers do not believe their workers experience a mental health problem in the workplace (Hilton, Whiteford, Sheridan, Cleary, Chant, Wang & Kessler, 2008).

Mental health stigma in the workplace can:

  • lead to discriminatory behaviour, for example bullying and harassment
  • affect an employer's attitude and behaviour towards workers struggling with their mental health
  • prevent a worker with mental illness from feeling safe to disclose and seek support from their employer.
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Benefits of a mentally healthy workplace

There are multiple benefits for promoting a mentally healthy environment in your workplace.

Employers that create a culture that fosters and supports the psychological health of workers helps to address stigma. These employers are more likely to experience the benefits of a mentally healthy workplace such as:

  • retention of workers: lower turnover and competitive advantage of being an employer of choice.
  • fewer workplace psychological claims
  • increased workplace productivity: a more productive workplace with decreased absenteeism.  
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How can I help my workers?

Employers play an important role in promoting mentally healthy workplaces, which extends the benefits across the business. Employers and organisations can drive the reduction in work-related mental illness through their policies, implementation of WHS practices and providing workers with support resources.

What can managers do to reduce mental health stigma?

  • Workplace culture: establish and maintain a positive working environment and culture through minimisation of workplace psychological risks such as job stress and bullying.
  • Zero-tolerance approach to discrimination: develop workplace mental health and wellbeing policies.
  • Speak openly about wellness in the workplace: have regular conversations with workers, checking in on their wellbeing.
  • Advocate for equal opportunity and workers privacy: this will promote a safe and inclusive workplace culture.
  • Monitoring workplace risks: stress, unrealistic deadlines, heavy workloads, and poor communication can contribute to poor workplace mental health.
  • Accessibility: ensure workers have access to mental health education resources, such as online resources and training.
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