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Organisational psychologists beneficial in a time of #metoo and workplace bullying

Photo: Norm Turkington
One in 5 people will encounter a mental health illness this year, according to new data published by Mental Health First Aid Australia, making mental disorders the third largest disease burden in the country, just behind cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

But it’s not just the individual that’s impacted by mental illness. The broader community, along with the organisations that employ those combating such difficulties, also face significant challenges.

“A recent publication by the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance found that the economic cost of mental illness is in the vicinity of $11 Billion dollars each year, through absenteeism, presenteeism, reduced work performance increased turnover rates and compensation claims,” says Psychologist Norm Turkington.

“It is well recognised that as with most health matters prevention and/or early intervention is the key to reducing those costs.”
Which is why an increasing number of organisations and getting qualified psychologists on board, who are able to support organisations in becoming aware of the risks for mental health issues and to develop appropriate intervention strategies.

“A recent study by National Mental Health Commission concluded that for every dollar spent on effective mental health actions returned $2.30 in benefits to the organisation,” says Mr Turkington.

But workplace understanding of the impact of mental illness is relatively new.

“Not so many years ago mental health was in the shadows and especially in organisations who preferred to avoid the matter altogether. 

“Organisations recognise that having productive staff requires effort on their part by ensuring the work environment is supportive in many areas  and sensitive to individual needs.  

“Insurance companies also expect that organisations will develop appropriate intervention strategies to reduce or minimise the cost of mental health claims.”

While most businesses are aware of the need to access professional support whether it be legal, logistics, business planning or market dynamics, the importance of access to mental health professionals is only now beginning to be more fully understood.

“The need for professional support or intervention is needed more than ever because of the awareness of rights today,” says Mr Turkington.

“Most large organisation have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place, however some of the smaller organisations either are not aware or can’t afford it. 

“Considering that such a large part of the population is employed in small business this may be a area for further awareness raising or development.”

Psychologists are able to support staff deal with a wide range interpersonal issues through evidence-based interventions.  

One of the most difficult and sensitive situations is claims of sexual harassment, however in light of the #metoo movement, it’s an issue of increasing importance to organisations.

“Many people would be familiar with some of the more high profile cases that make the front pages of the papers but sadly so many more remain either silent or are resolved locally,” says Mr Turkington.

“For these claims the presumption of innocence is paramount as reputations can be severely damaged.”

Mr Trukington says the Australian Human Rights Commission found that 1 in 5 Australians have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace since the age of 15, and that overall, 68 per cent of sexual harassment takes place at work. 

“Psychologists are acutely aware of the sensitivity for both parties and ideally placed to act in a supporting role for parties in sexual harassment cases. 

“Most staff accept that a psychologist is a professional with the necessary rules and rigour about confidentiality. 

“Psychologists are able to assist deal with these matters while maintaining the dignity of all concerned.”

Along with sexual harassment cases, workplace bullying is another area of concern, as awareness of  the potential consequences grows.

“Psychologists are able to add additional dimensions to an investigation into bullying by considering the potential causes, interpersonal dynamics and structural issues leading to the inappropriate behaviour, and of course recommending how those further issues could be addressed. 

“It would not be unusual for a psychologist to make findings with regard to the bullying claims and to also make recommendations to ensure the matters do not arise again. 

“This additional service would be further enhanced if the psychologist is a registered mediator who would then also have the skills to bring the parties together to establish an enduring resolution to the dispute.”

While large corporations are fortunate enough to have the resources to commit to addressing mental health matters, smaller organisations can struggle due to costs and the lack of access to the necessary professional supports.

“Psychologists are able to support an organisation’s Human Resource department with appropriate strategies, interventions and professional psychological advice relating to staff and staff matters. 

“With the current appropriate focus on mental health psychologists are ideally suited to assist guide interventions and education.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.