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The ever increasing research into workplace bullying and the resulting psychological issues is revealing the true extent of its impact in Australian workplaces. A report by Safe Work Australia has found that current levels of bullying are at 6.8% which is significantly higher compared to other countries, and a study by MinterEllison found that 56% of organisations have experienced a year-on-year increase in the number of workplace claims related to mental health.  

It is estimated that depression costs Australian businesses $8 billion annually due to absenteeism and lower productivity. $693 million of this is a result of bullying. Clearly this is a humanitarian issue as well as an economic one, and it requires a strong understanding of the factors in a workplace that contribute to the risk of psychological injury.

Though it is now common to find mental health support strategies within businesses, experts are now suggesting that businesses take a risk-based approach to prevent and mitigate psychological injuries in the workplace.

Reducing the risk of mental-health issues

In order to take preventative measures, companies should perform a risk assessment for psychological injury in the same way they would for a physical injury. Health and Safety Officers need to evaluate the factors in a workplace that may contribute to mental health injuries and then implement policies to manage the risks.

A risk assessment of psychological issues could include factors such as:

  • Workers who are isolated from others due to the nature of their job
  • Lack of diversity in teams creating a negative environment for minorities
  • Existing issues with the culture of a workplace; i.e. culture of gossiping, blame-shifting or exclusion
  • Poor leadership and toxic management styles
  • Heavy workloads or conflicting priorities
  • Lack of formal position descriptions communicated to staff

Once identified, preventative measures can be put in place, such as training managers and first aid officers in mental health so that they can assist in early intervention, adopting strong anti-bullying policies and investing in the overall culture of the workplace to ensure staff are engaged, motivated and happy.

It is also important for employers and managers to keep up to date with the Environment, Health and Safety laws that protect workers. Safe Work Australia recently updated two of their publications regarding workplace bullying.

The first publication, Guide for preventing and responding to workplace bullying, details the responsibilities of employers and managers to meet the requirements of EHS laws.  It also provides useful information on how to manage the risks of bullying in the workplace.

The second publication, Dealing with Workplace Bullying, is centred around educating workers who may be either experiencing or witnessing workplace bullying.

With the health and well-being of so many people at stake, and the negative effect mental health injury has on the productivity of a business, we need to make it a priority to overcome these challenges.

 

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