At Work Options we see many situations where a worker submits a claim for an injury at work, and doesn’t always have the experience they expect. In this case study, we look at a landscape labourer who was suffering from unknown mental health issues, and an employer who could have acted differently to avoid a negative and costly experience for both the employer and worker.
62% of harmful drug and alcohol users in Australia are employed fulltime. Let that sink in… Are you a manager or supervisor who has direct reports? If so, there’s a good chance that one or multiple workers may arrive for work under the influence at some point. Have you ever suspected that this was the case, what did you do?
Did you know that you can conduct a reasonable concern interview?
In high risk industries workers under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be harmful not only to themselves but to others; 25% of workplace accidents involve drugs or alcohol, which costs Australian businesses $680 million annually in days lost.
Can your business afford to be part of that?
So when is it time to conduct a reasonable concern interview?
1. When another employee approaches you with concerns that a co-worker may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol
2. Or upon observation of an individual displaying unusual or unsafe behaviour, which has aroused suspicions of drug or alcohol use
As soon as you suspect an employee to be under the influence, it’s best to err on the side of caution. It’s better to be risk adverse, safety conscious and consistent in enforcing the company’s Drug and Alcohol Management Program, which may prevent safety incidents, save dollars and possibly lives.
R U OK? Day is a powerful mental health awareness initiative which encourages and empowers people to have conversations with those who may be struggling. What really bothers me about it however is that it shouldn’t be restricted to just one day. We should be checking in with those around us regularly; our family, friends and co-workers, and making sure that if they need someone to talk with, there’s always an ear and friendly encouragement available.
So lesson 1… don’t wait until a special day on the calendar to ask if someone’s okay.
But it’s often not the easiest thing to do, right? What is the best way to ask if someone is okay?
Lesson 2… just do it. There’s no time to waste if you suspect that someone is struggling with their mental health. So tread sensitively, and perhaps take them to a quiet place to ask, but tell them that you’ve noticed that they’re not themselves lately, and check in with them about their current mental state.
And most importantly, how can you help if they respond with ‘no’. Lesson 3 gives you some pointers to guide you through the process:
1. Listen – don’t underestimate the power of listening. Sometimes people need to hear their issues out loud to make sense of them, and the support of someone who is actively listening and paying attention can help more than you or they realise. Listen without interrupting and show compassion as they talk.
2. Ask questions – try to ask open ended questions to encourage the person to continue voicing their concerns.
3. Show empathy – try to see things from their point of view and validate their concerns by showing empathy and using phrases like, ‘it’s understandable to feel the way you do considering all that you’re going through’.
4. Don’t try to fix their problem – it’s not up to you to find a solution. You may be able to provide some helpful suggestions but you certainly don’t have to. And don’t feel helpless if you can’t, as often it’s not advice they’re after, but rather someone to listen and help them feel supported.
5. Ask if they need urgent help – it’s hard to know how deeply a person is suffering or if they’re thinking about self-harm or even suicide. The best thing to do is just to ask and listen to their response without judgement. If they respond with ‘yes’, refer them to available support and helplines, and give them a call yourself to gain some specific advice relevant to the situation.
• Lifeline (24-hour crisis telephone counselling) 13 11 14
• Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467
• Mental health crisis lines
6. Encourage them to seek professional help – encouragement to seek help is all that you can offer at this point, only the individual can act on the decision to seek professional help. You can direct them to their GP, mental health professional or local support group.
7. Follow up – make sure you check in again and reiterate that you care and that you’re available to talk should they need to.
Asking R U OK? is a small gesture but can be significant to a person’s mental health whether you suspect they’re struggling or not. Check in every now and again, be open and supportive if they’re not okay and offer an ear or helpful resources if you can.
Here are some online tools which may assist anyone looking to improve their mental health:
Beyond Blue – educational resources
Head to Health – self-help programs
This Way Up - online depression test
Centre for Clinical Interventions – self-help workbooks
Employee Assistance Program Support
Injury Management Specialists will tell you that a fast and efficient recovery and return to work is about increasing physical capabilities which will therefore increase pain threshold, and reduce reliance on passive treatment and medications, in order to gain a sense of empowerment and return to their pre-injury state.
Here’s how an Injury Management Specialist will assist an injured worker reduce the impact of psychosocial barriers, and get back to work sooner:
• Provide rehabilitation services, recovery strategies and mediation between doctors and specialists to manage pain, with sustainable upgrades in capacity to increase function
• Set personal goals for increases in self-efficacy, improved relationships, mood and reduction in pain through personal, domestic, work and community
• Provide pain education and encourage shifting beliefs about pain:
-Provide valuable and educational resources beyond Google
-Listen to what the worker hears, rather than what they are told
-Checks in to identify what they’ve learnt and put ideas into practice
• Focus on reducing pain by encouraging the worker to reduce reliance on passive treatment, reduce pain medication and home help, and take control of their pain
Pain is a subjective experience; everyone has personal barriers when it comes to pain, which is often reflected in our actions. But what is important to understand is that psychosocial barriers to pain, and the fear of making an injury worse, can sometimes mean that pain gets worse anyway, or an individual develops chronic pain as a result. Defusion – changing the relationships with thoughts – and acceptance – turning off the struggle switch – are key factors in the psychosocial approach to pain and recovery. An Injury Management Specialist will use these tools, and others, to create a placebo affect, and shift pain beliefs by allowing increased confidence to function, the resolution of the cause of pain, and ultimately allow improvement in life and return to work as quickly as possible.
Consult an Injury Management Specialist or Return to Work Provider.
Stress is often amplified by a feeling of ‘lack of support’ in the workplace, a traumatic event, bullying or harassment, prolonged work pressures, issues at home, or any number of other tensions. In fact, mental health is responsible for around 6% and $543 million of workers’ compensation claims each year, covering approximately 7,200 Australians.
As part of Australian Workplace Health and Safety Laws, employers have a duty or care to manage risks which may cause any physical or psychological harm. So what can Employers do to ease the burden? Here are some short term steps to ensure employees feel happy and supported at work:
• Ensure job demands are achievable – workloads can be carried out and completed in a reasonable timeframe, with limited pressure
• Job control and ability – employees should be well trained in how to do their job safely, and provided with all necessary equipment and resources
• Communication and support must be top priority – employees should feel comfortable in talking to management about any issues, and feel supported and listened to if a problem should arise
• Recognition and reward – ensure employees are told when they’re doing a good job and provide opportunities for skills development and further training where possible
• Early intervention – develop a confidential survey to ask your employees if they’re okay, what challenges they may be facing and addressing any issues in the workplace… you may realise team culture or the workplace environment is different to what you initially thought!
And if that is the case, there are other solutions to assist employees improve their mental wellbeing, productivity and sense of support. Read up on Employee Assistance Programs and Return to Work Coordination, which are proven to effectively reduce problems associated with workplace stress and injury.
It’s pretty obvious that having a healthy work-life balance is good for mental health and stimulation, but new research shows that it’s also important for injury prevention in the workplace. In fact, studies have found that work-life balance has a significant impact on safety at work.
But in order to answer the how, first we need to look at the why… why does work-life balance matter at all when it comes to injury prevention? It’s not like leaving work on time to pick up the kids is going to stop us from slipping on a wet floor, is it?
First, let’s take a look at the cost of productivity, absenteeism and return to work outcomes, and gain a greater understanding of where Australian workers sit.
• 21% of employees report that they have taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in the past 12 months
• $1.2 billion = the cost to employers of worker’s short absences due to injury in 2018
• $6.5 billion = the cost to employers of worker’s long absences due to injury in 2018
• Employees who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy take four times as many sick days than those who consider their workplace mentally healthy
• On average 6.5 working days of productivity are lost annually per employee as a result of presenteeism
• The longer someone is off work, the less likely they are to return to work = for 20 days off, the worker has 70% chance of returning to work. For 45 days off, the worker has 50% chance of returning to work
Now back to that question; why does work life balance matter? The answer is common sense really… when we’re juggling the pressures of work and the demands of home life (notice I said juggling, not balancing), our mind is constantly elsewhere, we’re not focused, our defences are down and we get sick. And all of this can lead to accidents or injury. For example, high job demands increase the risk of safety shortcuts; long working hours can result in lack of sleep, fatigue and reduced focused; and being time poor often means you put yourself last, which also means that you’re at risk of developing illness and chronic diseases.
All of this considered, it’s pretty obviously that supporting and maintaining work-life balance is not only good for individuals, but can save the business a whole lot of money in the long run. Which is why embedding work health and wellbeing programs into organisational policies and culture is not only best practice, its good business.
Here are a few simple steps to take creating and supporting work-life balance:
1. Encourage and educate managers and supervisors to be supportive of work and family – write it into policies and procedures
2. Give workers more control over their hours – don’t be counting the clock while they’re in the office, let them stay longer when it works and rush off early when they need to
3. Provide flexible working options – working from home shows trust while being supportive of other’s schedules
4. Practice work-life balance from the top down – be a role model by showing that work-life balance is accepted, not just tolerated
5. Pay attention to burnout – getting emails from employees at 2am? Make sure you recognise when workers are taking on too much and act
For years Australian’s have thought of work and home as two completely separate entities. In fact, often times it isn’t until we become parents ourselves that the line between work and home can start to cross and blur.
So don’t wait until other commitments create enough stress to start a positive balance with work and home.
Studies have shown that when an organisation adopts a positive work-life balance culture, the benefits and results are worth it. Within a few months workers are more engaged, with higher energy and focus; overall worker health is improved and stress is reduced; and in the long-run workplace injuries, absenteeism and the cost of workers’ compensation claims are all significantly less. Not to mention, workers are happier within their work and personal lives, which is the most important of all.
While studies into burnout have been happening for years, acknowledgement and awareness have only recently become more prevalent within Australian businesses, with workers from the CEO to the receptionist and cleaner often ignoring its symptoms. But not only is burnout affecting the lives of those experiencing it, it’s also costing businesses billions of dollars each year in absenteeism, presenteeism, accidents and injury.
And this is a problem! Job burnout is associated with work stress and is a state of physical or emotional exhaustion, usually involving a sense of reduced achievement, which can be related to health conditions such as depression, illness and disease. Symptoms can include becoming cynical or critical, irritability and/or impatience, decline in productivity and concentration, fatigue, lack of satisfaction or physical illness. So whether you’re the CEO of this particular booming business, or you recognise symptoms in your employees, it’s so important that they are not ignored.
Here are some key areas to focus on:
• Lack of control – do workers have control of their own schedule, projects or workload? Do workers have all the resources they need to do their job?
• Role and expectations – do workers clearly understand their role and expectations, how much authority do they have and do they feel valued?
• Demands – are workers able to cope with the demands and workload of their role?
• Relationships and support – do workers have positive working relationships, with open communication, with co-workers and managers? Do manager’s micro-manage work? Are workers receiving encouragement and support for a job well done?
• Organisational change - if change or restructure is taking place, are workers well managed and effectively communicated to?
• Activity extremes – is the job monotonous or chaotic? Both can lead to burnout.
• Work-life balance – does the job take up so much time and effort that a worker is missing out on time with friends or family, or doesn’t even have the energy to take part in activities outside of work?
It’s important to remain object and keep and open mind when you consider these questions… because at the end of the day, health is more important than ticking an item off your to do list.
"Presenteeism is a concept that describes people being present at work but not productive. Current research shows this to be a $33 billion loss to Australian industry."
If you’ve realised that burnout is in fact prevalent in your workplace, take action! There are plenty of small things which can help:
• Evaluate the options – what is priority 1 on you or your workers to do list? Work together to determine expectations, problems and solutions, what needs doing now, and what can wait. Be realistic.
• Get help – reach out to support networks: co-workers, family and friends. Anyone who might be able to assist either in collaborating you to get the job done, or provide you with some stress-relief. An Employee Assistance Program is a great tool to provide counselling, support and useful techniques to manage stress and build resilience.
• Take your mind off it – try a relaxing activity or hobby that might assist in taking your mind away from work, even for 10 minutes.
• Exercise ¬– there’s a lot of research proving that exercise is a great stimulant for improving mental health. Get moving!
• Rest ¬– as with exercise, sleep is vital to functioning at full capacity, not to mention allows you to think clearly and make good choices.
• Practice mindfulness – there are plenty of Apps available which can take you through mindfulness techniques to calm and reduce stress.
So after a bit of re-prioritising, delegating and practicing some mindfulness, you’re still the CEO of a booming commercial company; still well connected and well respected; and you’re taking the family to the holiday home for the weekend, while you switch off your phone and enjoy some ‘me’ time. Because what you’ve just learnt is that well-managed workplaces are proactive about burnout, see issues as they arise and are prepared to put workplace health first.
SafeWork NSW has recently circulated information highlighting the risk of crush injuries, as a result of two fatal incidents where truck drivers have died while working on or near their trucks. And it got us thinking… what about the psychological injuries caused to others who are unfortunate enough to witness incidents like these?
As an employer, you have a lot on your mind when a worker gets injured... I’m not going to meet the deadline; how will I get the job done now; what will this cost me; should I hire a temporary replacement?
It is a common misconception that maintaining a safe workplace and reducing hazards lies solely with the employer… but it’s important to note that employees have responsibilities too. Employees should be well versed in the company WHS Policy and positively contribute to a risk-adverse safety culture.