managing stress in the workplace
Research by Safe Work Australia in 2018 indicates that 7,200 Australians are compensated for work-related mental health conditions each year, with approximately $543 million paid out in workers’ compensation. With around 91% of workers’ compensation claims involving a mental health condition linked to work-related stress, employers need to be aware of the psychological risks as well as physical risks within the workplace.
Stress occurs in the workplace when there is an imbalance between the demands and pressures of a job, and the worker’s skills and ability. Interestingly, too few demands can create stress just as easily as too many demands. Other factors such as poor workplace relationships, low role clarity, remote or isolated work, and poor support can also adversely affect mental health.
Workers with severe depression take 20 times more sick days per month than those with balanced mental health, creating a knock-on effect for colleagues dealing with the additional workload. Increased stress, lower morale, and a lack of commitment to the job and employer can spread if the root cause is not addressed.
Workers belonging to the highest occupation groups who receive compensation for a work-related mental health condition also tend to be those with high levels of interaction with other people, are often providing a public service, and are doing their job in difficult and challenging circumstances. The highest occupation unit groups are:
- train and tram drivers
- indigenous health workers
- prison officers
- ambulance officers and paramedics.
identifying risk factors
Employers and employees have a duty of care to maintain health and safety within the workplace. Once psychological risks are identified, they should be minimised or eliminated – the same as any physical risk. The People at Work Project (www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/book/queensland-managing-psychological-risks) provides additional resources, tools and a guide on how a risk management process can be applied towards psychological risk factors.
Managers and supervisors play a vital role in the identification and management of work-related stress, as they are in the best position to notice changes in behaviour or symptoms of stress in their teams.
Work-place stress can be caused by the following:
- conflict with a colleague
- performance management
- violence or threats of violence
- discrimination and harassment
- exposure to a traumatic incident or event.
Organisations should look to offer different ways of offering support to employees, as not all people deal with stress in the same way. Some options may include:
- providing information for external services, e.g. telephone helplines, counselling services, employee assistance program
- training on how to identify potential risks and help minimise them
- providing clear guidelines on how to report incidents within the workplace.