The effect work can have on mental health

Risk Matters - Summer 2021

A 2020 University of Melbourne study - which followed 1300 workers over 12 years - found that being exposed to poor quality work increased the odds of developing a mental disorder by 30 per cent.

Worksafe Victoria has identified 11 factors that affect the mental health of workers:

  • Job demands are too high or low
  • Low level of job support
  • Poor support
  • Poorly managed organisational change
  • Poor organisational justice
  • Lack of recognition or reward
  • Low role clarity
  • Poor workplace relationships
  • Remote or isolated work
  • Violent or traumatic events
  • Poor environmental conditions

From an occupational health and safety standpoint, you can utilise your OSH representatives or your LGIS regional risk coordinators to determine if these sorts of issues are occurring in the workplace.

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How to spot the signs

The early signs of job stress are easy to spot once managers know what they are looking for.

These may include:

  • Increased unplanned absences
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • Sudden lack of productivity
  • Mood swings
  • Easily irritated or frustrated
  • An unkempt appearance
  • Abuse of drugs and alcohol

Intervention at this stage can relieve mental distress in the employee and prevent a claim in the future.

How LGIS can help

To support you in managing the health and wellbeing of your workers, LGIS can provide mental wellbeing services for your local government at your request. Services include:

Mental health for leaders training

Managers in the workplace have a key role in creating a mentally healthy work environment. This training will provide managers with the knowledge, competence and confidence to know how to identify mental health concerns within their teams, and know how to take appropriate early intervention.

Workplace behaviour training

If left unmanaged, isolated bullying and harassment behaviours can rapidly escalate into organisational wide issues because these toxic behaviours might be seen as acceptable around the workplace. Our training workshops are tailored towards general workers and supervisors and managers.

Workplace conflict resolution

When workplace conflict cannot be managed, mediation may be the answer. At LGIS, we can provide advice to assist workplace leaders to better understand their staff’s concerns, and to support management and resolution of the conflict. However, mediation is not always the answer. In the event of complex matters involving high numbers of workers or long-standing issues, our team can provide consulting advice and conduct a workplace needs analysis.

Workplace needs analysis

Being proactive is crucial when managing organisational stress.

LGIS needs analysis is a preventative intervention that will assist you to identify the “hot-spots” (key stressors) within your workplace. The findings guide us to work with you on implementing targeted strategies before these stressors manifest themselves in the form of stress leave, major mistakes, injuries and workers compensation claims.

Further to this, members can access a range of mental wellbeing services focused on mental health awareness, breaking down stigma, and proactive approaches to building resilience through the LGIS Health and Wellbeing Program.

Prevention trumps treatment

The ‘R U OK?’ organisation estimates only half of psychological injury claimants go back to work within six months.

Therefore it is imperative to be on the front foot in prevention. This can be done through training and support, and also through removing the stigma of mental health within the workplace. R U OK? recommends leaders and managers with personal experience of mental health conditions share their experiences (if comfortable), as this often encourages other employees to seek support.

For assistance in tackling psychological health in your workplace, and for information on the LGIS services available to members in this area, contact WorkCare Services Manager Lauren Wojas on 9483 8818.

Case study

Employee's workload and problems with a difficult customer caused psychiatric illness

A workplace rehabilitation case manager’s increased workload after a merger, and problems with a difficult claimant who threatened her safety, caused her to develop depression, a tribunal has found.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal Senior Member Robert Cameron rejected Comcare’s medical evidence that the Department of Human Services worker’s workplace issues were too “modest” to have caused her depression.

Senior Member Cameron found that it was rare for a person like the case manager with no family history of depression to develop the condition “out of the blue” and it was more likely the workplace environment triggered her condition.

At the AAT, the worker sought to overturn Comcare’s decision to deny her workers’ compensation, after it determined she no longer suffered the effects of a work-related adjustment disorder and her condition not caused by her work environment.

The worker told the AAT that from 2011, all case managers’ workloads increased following the merging of Centrelink and Medicare and they were working with fewer resources.

She said that from 2010 to 2013, she was managing a difficult injured worker, who worked one floor away from her in the Department’s office in Sunshine, Victoria, and blamed her for the conditions she suffered and threatened her with legal action.

The worker claimed the injured worker made nuisance phone calls to her home and she started taking a cricket bat to bed for protection because she was scared for her and her children’s safety.

The worker told the AAT she forced herself “to do better” to deal with her work demands and worked as hard as she could, believing she would eventually catch up. But by 2013 she was burnt out and constantly thinking about work, she said.

She told her managers she was struggling several times but her workload wasn’t decreased until mid-2014, when her condition had already deteriorated, and from 2015 to early 2016 she was unfit for work and received worker’s compensation for work-related stress and anxiety.

Upon her return to work, a senior director sent an email to her team members containing workers’ comp information that identified her as having a psychological claim, which led her to deteriorate again. 

Senior Member Cameron heard the worker’s condition was consistent with a history of increasing stress and anxiety. Outside of work there were no identifiable stressors that could have attributed to her condition, he heard.

The medical evidence showed the worker had “perfectionistic traits”, which made her mentally vulnerable in a situation where she was unable to produce the same level of work as she had before, the Senior Member found.

She was a high achiever who worked hard but was gradually unable to deal with her work problems, particularly overwork, and suffered a psychological decline, he heard.

It was more likely than not this triggered her condition than an endogenous or biological major depressive illness as put forward by Comcare, the Senior Member found.

He found the worker’s injury arose out of her employment at the Department, and ordered Comcare to pay her weekly workers’ comp payments and medical expenses. He also found she had an impairment of at least 10 per cent, entitling her to compensation for non-economic loss.

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