Physical accidents are not the only source of workplace injuries. The fastest growing source of WorkCover claims today is occupational stress, or work-related psychological injury.
According to SafeWork Australia, around $543 million is paid in compensation each year to 7,200 Australian workers for work-related mental health conditions.
The riskiest occupations are those that involve highly challenging situations – such as the defence force, fire-fighting, policing, the ambulance service, health and welfare jobs and so on. However, it’s important to be aware that occupational stress can occur in virtually any type of industry or workplace.
According to a 2018 Torrens University article, a Medibio study showed about a third of corporate employees in Australia were suffering from stress, anxiety or depression. A similar study from ten years earlier showed it was closer to 20% – indicating the rates have increased over time.
Causes of work-related mental health problems
While occupational stress can be caused by traumatic or violent events at work, there are also many other less dramatic causes. Examples include:
- A mismatch between the demands of the job and the capacity of the employee to fulfil them.
- Poor workplace relationships and / or conflict at work.
- Over-long hours and heavy workloads.
- Work underload – where employees don’t have enough to do.
- Job insecurity, e.g. due to casual work or contracting.
- Bullying, harassment or discrimination.
- Lack of support from leaders.
- Repetitive or tedious tasks.
- Lack of opportunity for advancement.
- Poor role clarity.
- A lack of resources to perform the job effectively.
- Micro-management of employees.
- Inadequate remuneration.
- Poor workspace design.
Government census data also shows that when a worker suffers a physical injury, their mental wellbeing and work performance can be affected as well.
Symptoms and outcomes
Work-related stress can lead to a variety of physical and mental symptoms. These may include headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, sleeping difficulties, depression, anxiety, overwhelm or aggression. If symptoms become bad enough, they can prevent an employee from being able to do their job effectively or to attend work at all if they become too unwell.
From an employer perspective, occupational stress can result in unscheduled absenteeism such as sick leave, presenteeism, low morale, reduced performance and productivity, employee disengagement, poorer work quality and more.
6 ways to prevent occupational stress
Employers have an obligation under WHS laws to protect workers from psychological as well as physical risks. Failure to do so can result in substantial fines that could cripple the business. To avoid these types of scenarios, it’s essential to take steps to protect workers and your organisation.
Here are some ideas for getting started.
- Develop a safety culture.
A culture of safety is one where health and safety are given top priority. Doing so helps to reduce the risk of workplace injuries, whether physical or psychological.
This requires a solid commitment to safety, leadership involvement, open communication, engagement with workers, and continual monitoring of employee health and safety. It also involves committing to zero tolerance for bullying and harassment.
- Practice sound recruitment and provide ongoing training.
Getting recruitment right goes a long way towards preventing occupational stress. It helps ensure you get the right people into the right roles and avoid the problems that can come from skills-mismatching.
Ongoing training and development are also important, not only to improve skills and performance but also to provide workers with opportunities for improvement and advancement.
- Provide workers with more say on job design and in health and safety matters.
Allowing employees to participate in decision making at work can improve job satisfaction, engagement and enjoyment and reduce rates of absenteeism and turnover.
- Reassess workloads and adjust if necessary.
If employees are suffering the effects of overwork you may need to look into the demands of their roles and make adjustments. This may require employing extra staff where necessary.
- Commit to improving workplace communications and relationships.
This helps to reduce conflict, increase connection and improve staff wellbeing.
- Consider a professional audit
Health and safety audits can identify any hazards and risks to health and wellbeing in the workplace and help you put processes in place to address them.
There are three basic types of audits – compliance, program, and management systems. All of these focus on improving the health and safety of the people involved in your organisation.
Contact our team to find out more about workplace safety audits.