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Achieving mentally healthy workplaces through early intervention

Safe Work Month and Mental Health Week 2020

Speakers: Dr Lorraine Stokes, Organisational psychologist
Ngaire Graham, Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors.

In this session, Dr Lorraine Stokes and Ngaire Graham explore how to create a culture of early intervention in order to achieve a mentally healthy workplace. You’ll find out why it’s a challenge when intervention doesn’t happen early enough and learn how to recognise the early warning signs of psychological distress and implement strategies to reduce the risk of harm to workers.

Achieving mentally healthy workplaces through early intervention by Dr Lorraine Stokes and Ngaire Graham

Good afternoon everyone. My name's Nicole Hughes, principal advisor, psychological health unit, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. I'll be your facilitator for today's virtual event. Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we engage in this activity today and pay my respects to elders past, present, and future. So this virtual event, we are exploring early intervention as it applies to the workplace. So, mental health week promotes the importance of mental health and wellbeing and aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. This year, the theme is take time and I'd like to thank you for taking time to join us for this discussion. So early intervention is a key characteristic of a mentally healthy and safe workplace. Whilst we know this intuitively that it's important, embedding the approach can be challenging. Today, we draw on the expertise of guest speakers, Dr. Lorraine Stokes and Ngaire Graham. Well, Lorraine will speak first about prob, by providing an overview of early intervention and Ngaire will provide that organizational perspective. And then both speakers will respond to questions. Dr. Lorraine Stokes is an organizational psychologist. Her doctoral thesis focused on employee responses to large scale organizational change. She has extensive experience in assisting individuals and groups to respond to complex workplace issues. I'd now like to welcome Lorraine.

Thanks Nicole, it's really good to be here today. As Nicole mentioned, I'm an external consultant, an organizational psychologist who supports organizations that are seeking to create and sustain mentally healthy and productive workplaces. A comprehensive approach to creating a mentally healthy workplace, incorporates four key elements. First, the organization promotes positive mental health practices. Second, they have systems in place that help to prevent injury. Third, they intervene early to manage risks to people's wellbeing. And finally they have support strategies in place that help people to recover and return to work. Our focus today is on the third of these elements, early intervention. So what does it mean to intervene early? In the context of a healthy workplace, early intervention can occur in two ways. First, it involves identifying any workplace risks to the health of our employees and acting quickly to address these in order to prevent people becoming unwell. And second, it involves identifying when employee is experiencing ill health at work and acting promptly to provide any supports that they may need. In the case of an employee who is unwell, the sooner we're able to sit down with that person and discuss any supports that can be put in place, the sooner that they can be on the path to recovery. And this represents a win-win for both the individual and the organization. However, this does rely on two things. First, that individuals at work feel comfortable to put their hand up and let someone know when they're unwell or not coping. And second, that a manager is equally comfortable to have a conversation with the employee. For an individual, putting our hand up can be challenging. For example, we may not yet be aware that what we are experiencing is beginning to have an impact on our health and wellbeing, particularly at work. Or, we may be aware, but we may not quite feel ready or safe to discuss that with someone. And for a manager, having a conversation about an employee's health can be equally daunting. Managers are often worried about upsetting an employee or prying into their personal health. So, what are the benefits to an individual and an organization of intervening early? Let's look first at the individual. It's not a pleasant experience to be unwell. So the earlier that we can act to address anything that is affecting our health or our happiness, the better off we are. It is unfortunately normal for many of us to ignore or delay acting on the early warning signs of unwellness or ill health. Unfortunately however, the longer we wait, the longer it can take for us to recover, and the more time we may need off work. And the greater the toll that all of this can have on other aspects of our life. For the organization, early intervention has obvious benefits, including less absenteeism and less time off for employees. And less presenteeism. This is where employees may be physically present at work, but their performance is being affected by ill health. When a manager is comfortable in this space, they're better able to regularly monitor the presence of workplace risks, as well as any signs that it could indicate that these may be affecting the wellbeing of employees. An organization that has systems in place to monitor and respond promptly to these things, will naturally retain its employees and should enjoy higher performance and productivity as a result. And of course, there are broader social benefits. There'll be reduced strain on hospital and health services and employees who are generally happier, are more satisfied at work and able to get on with other aspects of their lives. So let's now look at some of the early warning signs to look out for. We all experience stress at times, and for the most part, this feels us positively and we continue to be well and productive. It is when the demands of our work, exceed our internal resources to cope, that our health and performance can begin to suffer. This can result from one single work event or from an accumulation of high demands over time. Imagine a set of scales where all of our work demands and other life stressors are on one side, and all of our coping resources are on the other side. It is when the external demands begin to overwhelm our internal capacities to cope, that we begin to become quite unwell. There are a wide range of signs and symptoms that people may observe when they're coping less well. And there will be individual differences in the extent to which we experience any of these. However, there are some relatively common ones to look out for. And some of these are listed in the table on the attached slide. Let's now look at some things that an individual might notice in themselves when they're becoming unwell. Then we'll consider what other people, such as a manager or a coworker might notice. Let's begin with ourself, the individual. At first, we may begin to feel a little challenged by outside demands. But we may still have plenty of energy, and our performance may still be quite effective. After a period of time however, we can begin to feel tired, frustrated, or irritable. The quality of our work can decline, and we may find ourselves becoming unwell more frequently. Often, despite feeling tired, we'll still experience sleep problems. Sleep onset refers to getting to sleep. Many of us will know how it feels to go to bed and have problems turning our thoughts off. Then there's sleep maintenance, that refers to staying asleep. Sleep maintenance is where we find ourselves waking up during the night and being unable to get back to sleep again. At work, we may begin to experience difficulty coping with our usual work demands. And we may begin to experience discord or conflict with those around us. Left too long without taking action, we can begin to feel increasingly unhappy at the thought of even coming to work. And we can also begin to experience other health problems that may prevent us from being able to attend work. Now, let's look at what a manager or coworker might see when an individual is becoming unwell. The individual may be less present at work, both mentally or physically. For example, they may arrive at work later, they may be absent from work more often, or they may be physically present but seem quieter or more distant. You might notice that the employee is having less interpersonal communication or contact with others. They may avoid attending group meetings or functions, and they may generally seem to be withdrawing or isolating themselves from social contact. The individual may also show more irritability or annoyance with things. They may display memory issues, so they may forget things, or they may require more support with their normal work demands. They may have difficulty concentrating, so they may complain about noise around them, or they may ask to work in a quiet space more often. And it is certainly very common for an employee to experience work performance difficulties when they're unwell. So what are the benefits of using external assistance for early intervention? I can best speak from my experience as an organizational psychologist. In which I provide assistance to organizations under what is known as an Early Intervention Program. This differs to the employee assistance service in that an organizational psychologist or someone with similar professional expertise, can come into the organization and provide short-term support to both an employee and their line manager. First, the EIP allows me to offer confidential support to the employee. This can include helping them to gain insight into their particular condition or circumstances and develop an individual wellbeing plan, and also connect them with relevant external support. I can also offer confidential support to the employee's manager. To offer guidance and assistance, to help them to manage the situation. And I also provide a safe bridge of communication between the manager and the employee. The management support can also include: identifying any workplace factors that could be impacting on individual team or organizational wellbeing. And helping to implement action strategies to address these. I also work with the employee and line manager together to develop a work-based plan that addresses the identified sources of stress and supports the employee to recover and return to work. I've been asked to provide a typical example of where intervening early produces positive outcomes. I've supported literally hundreds of employees and managers through Early Intervention Programs. And I'm still surprised at how unique each case can be. So while there are often similarities in the processes that are followed, and in the positive outcomes that can be achieved through early intervention, there can also be differences in the unique situation of each individual and work unit. So, I genuinely empathize with managers and with injury management staff, as you try to navigate some of these situations on a day-to-day basis, One type of situation that does seem to come up fairly regularly in my work, is one way there are other issues involved. For example, performance issues may have been observed, but the manager and perhaps even the employee, may not have realized that the employee is actually experiencing an underlying health issue. Or interpersonal conflict may have developed between the individual and a coworker. So the issue presents initially as one about conflict, when the conflict might actually be a consequence of one or both individuals struggling to cope with other workplace factors that have not yet been accurately identified. And thirdly, there can sometimes be a formal complaint or grievance in the mix, where the individual has either submitted a complaint about a work colleague, or they may themselves be the subject of a complaint. All of these can make the situation quite complex. And that it's not a straightforward injury management process, where we identify a health concern. We connect the individual with treating supports and we develop an individual wellbeing and a return to work plan. In these more complex situations, all individuals involved are usually quite stressed. They're having difficulty working together and there are broader impacts on the work unit. For example, we can provide independent and confidential support to gain insight into the individual experience of each stakeholder, as well as the broader issues in the workplace that might be impacting on the situation. We can also connect individuals with external supports, that will focus on restoring their health and wellbeing. We can facilitate or arrange for another professional to facilitate a guided discussion between individuals to restore working relationships where these may have broken down. And we can identify factors that have either triggered or perpetuated the situation, and develop a range of individual, relational, team, and organizational action strategies to address and resolve these. What this example shows is that early intervention is not just about helping an individual to connect with supports to recover from ill health. It can also include workplace support to help all stakeholders to navigate through the situation, as well as professional assistance, to identify and resolve any risk factors in the workplace that may be negatively impacting on individual, team, or organizational wellbeing.

I'd like to introduce Ngaire Graham. Ngaire has over 30 years experience in the area of health and safety. Her current role is principal advisor in the Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors. And that role encompasses safety, injuring management, and well-being. So, welcome Ngaire.

Thanks Nicole.

Firstly, how do you create a culture of early intervention within a workplace?

Well, we have been involved with the Early Intervention Program, which is a specific program for I think since 2003 when the pilot was first developed. So we have a long history of working in that area. In saying that, we still tend to use it a bit as a, rather than doing true early intervention. So we still need to improve ourselves in that. But basically, this kind of four steps I suppose, that I would look at. And the first is that we developed documentation around that. So we developed a policy and other supporting documentation, a framework and a risk management process for psychological injury. And that was sort of that started through the whole thing in society, which became a really big thing over the last few years. So we sort of trying to focus more on the positive aspects of it. Looked at a positive and supportive workplace behavior policy. So we went down that direction. A lot of the information is based basically, from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, which has a huge amount of resources and from Safe Work Australia, again, they have great resources. So we started off with that background of, you know, the documentation. And along with that, we also developed a lot of fact sheets, some of which are around early intervention process. So then we sort of develop awareness sessions for managers and supervisors around injury management generally, and around psychological management or management of psychological injuries. And, so in that we sort of also discuss the Early Intervention Program as one of our strategies that we use to support injured workers. So then again, also when situations arise between, you know, for employees in the workplace, we would be called in. So we'll have discussions about the program then among other things. But the Early Intervention Program is obviously one that we do then. So I'll just talk to people about the program, how it works, what happens about it and, you know, I go from there. We also then usually provide the employee with fact sheets, so that they can take it home and have a think about it. Coz people often aren't quite ready to sign up to that sort of thing straight up. Yeah, so that's sort of how we really worked through in terms of trying to get that early intervention culture, getting people, managers aware of it first up so that they know, that this is something they can offer their staff.

So what about the challenges that you face as an internal safety advisor in promoting early intervention?

Okay, well, I think one of the difficulties, has always been that once people become aware that their manager or supervisor or someone else is aware that there's an issue, people start to feel very, very vulnerable. And as Lorraine discussed earlier, you know, people can not want to raise issues, they don't want this to be open. There's still, you know, stigma around mental health issues. So part of the real challenge can be getting people to actually sign up for the process. And getting people to basically feel empowered, to do something about it themselves, to take charge of this themselves. And people often don't know how, you know. So bringing in an early, bringing in an external psychologist to help deal with that, is a good way to progress. Some of the most common problems that we come up with, or we come across, is interpersonal challenges or conflicts. So situations where people have what we call, a lack of psychological flexibility. So, they don't agree with other people. They aren't able to accept that people have different ideas and different perspectives than that they might they do. Secondly, a lack of insight into their own behavior and a lack of ability to reflect on what their behavior has been. Sometimes, you know, not being able to step back and consider what role they've played in a situation or how they've contributed to it. And how did others perceive my actions and what I did. A third one is a lack of self-confidence that people have, which can create obviously those interpersonal conflicts. And they're not sometimes confident in their own capabilities in their roles. Sometimes people might feel threatened by new people coming in with new ideas, those sorts of things. Or they're struggling with the development of their own management style, sometimes. You know, often we don't teach managers how to be managers. You know, they sort of walk into a role and are expected automatically to know how to manage people. Probably one of the most difficult things people can do. So, there's that. Then other than personal challenges or interpersonal conflicts, people not performing is the other really big issue we come across. And this usually comes from people not being managed properly. They might have a lack of understanding of their role, what it is that they're really supposed to be doing, how to do their role and what the expectations are. And if people don't know and don't understand that fully, then obviously their performance is going to flag. Sometimes people actually aren't suited to the roles that they find themselves in. And so that can be another challenge for people to realize that that's not where they need to be. And of course, just being unwell, you know, physically and, or psychologically, you know, can have significant impacts on their performance. And it's about getting supervisors and managers to understand that that could be what's the problem, not necessarily, you know, their performance as such.

So, now you partner with external providers. What are the challenges and benefits of doing that?

Well, my role in the early intervention process is to basically pave the way through discussions about the program. So pave the way for the provider to come in. So I talk to people about this will might be why I'm suggesting, the Early Intervention Program, what it's all about, how it will progress, what's the stages of the program, what are the benefits, what are they gonna get out of, you know, coming into and joining into this program, what types of outcomes are possible. And that obviously can be very organization specific. So coming from a government background, you know, we're quite limited sometimes in what we can do. And in other circumstances, we have a lot more scope perhaps than a private organization. I talk about the limits on confidentiality. Coz this is something of significant concern to people, obviously, of what information of their private information, is going to be shared around the workplace. So that's an obvious concern for people. The Early Intervention Program does not have the same limits of confidentiality as say individual personal counseling. Because obviously we have to be able to work out what the issues are and then to resolve those issues in the workplace. So that involves, you know, discussions and negotiations with managers or whomever. Also talk about what will happen with the report. So through the program, what happens is the early intervention provider comes in, does an assessment, usually through discussions with the employee, the manager, maybe the team, it might be a team. There is also team interventions. And then they will sometimes talk to medical people if they're involved and they'll do an assessment report. Giving us information about what they think the situation is and how that can be best resolved or give us some recommendations around that. That assessment report comes to me and only me. And I then will have a look at what the recommendations are. So I might go back to the provider and say, I understand that's a great recommendation, but within government, we're not going to be able to do that or achieve that. So what else can we do? How else can we approach this situation? And so we will, you know, work together to gain some ideas about how it can best progress. In some circumstances that provider may then go ahead with some of those strategies or we might, you know, go to other external providers. And then there's a final sum-up report. Now the only information from those reports that are given to anybody else in the workplace, are the recommendations, okay. So what we need to do and what their role is in the process. So other than that, the process is confidential and people's medical information and history is completely confidential. So I make sure that I discuss those sorts of things. So once I have the employee on or the injured worker, whomever they may be, sometimes it's the manager themselves on board. I select who I think will be a good provider. Now that's really based very much on the age of the individual, what their circumstances are, what gender they are. And then I have a look at what providers we have around, who I think will suit that circumstance. Who's had success in those sorts of circumstances before. And sometimes you might need a very soft and a very supportive approach. Sometimes people need to be challenged in what's going on for them. So it's about trying to match, to pair up a good provider with that individual. I outline the situation to the provider, who the parties are, what the situation is, what the complexities of the issues may be. So the provider can then go away and do their bit. Then I get the assessment report, as I said, then I'll review that report and have a look at what their suggested interventions are. And as I said, maybe sometimes we might do that in collaboration. I often will liaise periodically throughout the process with the provider and the employees to see how they're going, what they're thinking where the process is sort of heading. Then, I'll discuss the provider's recommendations. Are they feasible with regard to the organization's policies, budgets, staffing, that sort of stuff. And then we will, then, as I said, I'll forward the recommendations through to the manager or whomever is the person who can progress those recommendations whatever they may be. The major challenges in this process can be things like, the process might highlight that the manager doesn't have the skills. Whereas the manager has expected the early intervention provider to come in and just fix that employee. But it's not always the employee's problems. Sometimes it's about how they're managed. So managers can get quite disgruntled if suddenly the process isn't fixing their employee. This scenario is generally handled well and delicately by the providers. External providers are able to point this out, whereas this would be less acceptable, coming from someone within the organization often, you know. Employees and managers don't necessarily want people from within their organization to know what's wrong with him, or to see that they're vulnerable or to see something as a shortcoming or a weakness. So, it's easier for an external person to do that. It's easier for an external person to make recommendations about what should happen, particularly when you're looking at managers and executives and those sorts of things.

You know, one thing I'm really interested in is, how do you evaluate the effectiveness of early intervention?

So each situation is individual. And I generally look at what movement has been achieved in that situation, whatever the situation may be. So sometimes the situation might get fully resolved. That doesn't happen all that often. But mostly partial resolution with individuals gaining some insight and being able to operate as functioning member of the team. That's what we're really looking at. People don't have to end up being best buddies. That's not what it's all about. It's about whether they can perform professionally and effectively within their role. So also whether the person has been able to remain at work. Yeah, if they were becoming quite unwell. Whether we've been able to successfully return the person to work and they've been able to remain at work. Or sometimes a person might find another job. Sometimes if they're really not suited to that role, then the early intervention process can help them to find another role, a role that they're better suited to. Also, if WorkCover claims have been avoided or often the duration of them is reduced. As we know with psychological claims, the costs, and durations are much higher than physical claims. So while we may not be able to initially prevent that claim from that person from claiming, we can often reduce the length of time that they're off work by gaining some sort of psychological flexibility or traction in what their issue is. People get back to work rather than being sitting at home mulling and stewing over whatever their issue may be.

So that, yeah, so there's some benefits in terms of stay at work for some people.


More prompt return to work. And I imagine also there's some very valuable management coaching that might be an outcome of this process too.

Yes, often it is, that's correct. And the other big plus that I've found is that we can often prevent grievances or we can shorten up the grievance process. And one of the things I do use the program for quite a lot is where you have interpersonal conflict and people are about to put in a grievance, a grievance will only create more division between people. It won't bring people back together. The early intervention process is a much more mending kind of process, and mends those gaps and grievances between people.

What about you about to share an example of where early intervention was used that had a positive outcome.

Okay, so, we had an employee who was previously very successful in another or a different team. And they moved to a new work group and they started struggling. They felt the team leader was a bully and they'd be considered to become quite unwell and went off work. Now they were off work for two weeks. And we got on the phone early and had lots of discussion with this person and put an early intervention into place for them. Now, interestingly, many of the team leaders behaviors that were described to me, did in fact reflect bullying behavior. When the situation was discussed with their manager, the manager was very happy with the team leader's performance because they were getting the work done. Everything was working well for them. And they knew that the team leader had a prickly personality, but, you know, that was okay. It was sort of just brushed off as their personality. Their paid provider interviewed the employee and the manager who was quite protective of the team leader, because she obviously was very successful in her job. Then the EIP provider, the manager and the team leader met to discuss the employee's performance. The team leader thought the employee was an okay worker, but lacked initiative and was striving to improve this in that person. To correct this, the team leader pointed out the employees deficits and then encouraged them to follow the team leader's methods and behavior, as they modeled how to perform duties and behave in their team. That's what they wanted done. So ultimately, the employee identified that they actually didn't like the type of work and the time pressures that were related to that work in that team. And they decided that they would return to their previous work group, which luckily this was just an acting opportunity for that person. So through some coaching type discussions and general team building training, as recommended by the EIP provider. The manager realized the extent of the impact of the team leader's prickly personality. Supervisor training in the general benefits of a cohesive and collaborative management style versus an autocratic management style, assisted the team as a whole. So generally the team worked and functioned much better, which, you know, gave better work outcomes. And the person who'd been impacted went back to their role and was very happy and functioning well in their role.

Thanks Ngaire for sharing that. I'd just like to, just to thank you for sharing your experience and how to promote and support early intervention within a workplace.

You're welcome.

We gonna take a short break now to prepare for our question and answer session. Welcome back everybody, I'm joined by Ngaire and Lorraine for our question time. So we received a lot of questions through the event registration process. And we're gonna do our best to work our way through those questions. So firstly for you Lorraine, you mentioned in terms of early intervention where you may need to intervene early with, in response to a psychosocial hazard. Can you tell us a little bit about what those psychosocial hazards might be?

Yeah, absolutely. There's been some really great research done in this area in particular. And a lot of it started out at the UK in Europe and then Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. In particular in Queensland did some research with UQ, university of Queensland, and came up with a number of factors that are in fact kind of replicated globally. So some fairly consistent factors come up that are environmental, or part of the workplace that are often very much associated with psychological injuries in terms of either triggering them or helping to perpetuate them, et cetera. I've actually sort of got a little list for myself here, which people will be able to access from this virtual event because we've got a couple of resources I know listed. And these are in fact available in both of those resources, from both Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and Safe Work Australia. So I'll just kind of mention a couple of them that I think are really kind of probably quite intuitive in terms of when people hear about them, they'll be familiar with these possibly being kind of risk factors. One of the main one is job demands. And most of the time that's high job demands. So we're, you know, we're very kind of aware that when people are asked to do quite a bit, you know, do more than perhaps their core work, et cetera, that they'll struggle. But low job demands is also an issue. So people who are feeling a bit bored or lacking a sense of challenge that can also be quite stressful. Another one, and I think we've both talked, Ngaire and I, about that a bit today, is, you know, interpersonal conflict. So relationships, the way that people relate with each other at work can often end up, you know, becoming issue. As you said, people are different, they have different ways of doing things. So managers will often find that's one of the struggles. And quite significantly I think, through some of these issues, they can be a starting point or they can be a consequence. So sometimes yeah, sometimes relationships can be fractured because of someone already feeling a bit stressed or unwell. People having a sense of support. So I know that as an external provider, when I come into a workplace, I'm always really, really reassured and happy when I see the degree of management support that's present. So for example, an employee may be unwell, but their line manager is, you know, really and willing to have a conversation with them. They're comfortable about listening and talking through the concerns and looking at any kind of adjustments that might be able to be made in the workplace, that sort of thing. So another one, and I think this would be very, very common to us all these days, is change. So the degree to which change is occurring in your workplace. We've got all these new constructs today about change fatigue and, you know, so that kind of sense of things, not being stable and secure.

And COVID-19.

Oh gosh, of course, yes.

That hit to everything and the changes people have had to cope with it.

And that has added to work demands and workload, and lack of clarity about, you know.

And how do you manage people externally and things like that because all those--

Yeah, absolutely. And remote working is another one of those factors. So of course people are having to do a lot more of that. And you'll get people that actually really do enjoy that social contact at work. And that's more of a struggle for them when they, so there's kind of some benefits I guess, from working from home during COVID, less commuting time, et cetera. But there's also some struggles, people are not doing work-life balance perhaps as well as they used to because you're unable to kind of separate work from home. And look what I think that comes up a lot. And probably again, a lot of people will be kind of familiar with is. When an employee feels that their organization is not treating everyone fairly or consistently. So we've got things like a sense of procedural fairness or natural justice or, you know, things just occurring in a way that that seemed kind of appropriate and fair. And I think obviously there's more of acute kind of factors as well, things where there's an actual really, kind of acute specific challenging event. You know, and again, COVID initially was probably something of that ilk. So, I haven't mentioned all of them, but there are a few that are just really kind of consistently come up. And I guess if a manager learns to be able to, you know, look out for those things, observe them, identify them and obviously there's also a lot of strategies then, usually that we can look out to, to kind of start to try to address some of those and help people who are struggling around that.

So now a question for you, this is from Michael. So, who's responsible for the implementation of strategies to reduce the risk for workers?

I think that everybody has a role to play in that in providing a mentally sound and safe workplace. The legislation however, puts this very firmly onto management. The PCBU, the person in control of the business or undertaking. It's laid out in legislation that they have to provide a safe workplace. So that means not just physically safe, but psychologically safe as well. And the person in control of workplaces, also has the same responsibility. But employees also have responsibilities under the legislation. And in government, in particular, we have codes of conduct that people have to follow. One of those points is about people ensuring their own soundness for work, to be at work. So, we can say that everybody really has a shared responsibility in doing that.

Okay, so Lorraine, you mentioned remote and isolated work and the work from home. And we've had a questions come through from Amy, is a workplace still responsible in those circumstances?

With working for--

The safety of workers when they're working from home.

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there are a lot of jobs, you know, ordinarily even without COVID, I guess, where people are not working at an office. And wherever they are working is a workplace. And so certainly, you know, the organization itself and the line manager and indeed the employee are responsible for ensuring that that is a safe place to be. And that the practices around, you know, the work design and the workstation, et cetera, are set up so that people are, you know, they're preventative and they promote positive health. And that any risks there are able to be identified quickly if they do start to impact. I mean, that's certainly with COVID, that's one of the greatest challenges is not as easy to observe someone on a day-to-day basis when they're working from home. And you do hear of a lot of managers who are finding, you know, very creative and novel ways to kind of check in with them, and, you know, team members regularly, whether that's by team meetings or Zoom or things like that. And I've certainly never found, you know, those sorts of methods and impediment to being able to listen to an employee, observe, see how they're going. But absolutely, wherever you are working is technically your workplace.

I have a question from Alicia and this question is really for both of you. How can I make accommodations for one staff member who may be struggling and not the rest of the team?

So, you know, when I think about psychology 101, it's individual differences, you know. There'll always be differences and the things that sort of some of us will struggle with, others will thrive with, you know. Some people like a lot of stress, you know, and others, not very much. So I think certainly my sense of, I'm not a specialist and certainly, you know, managing workplaces from an internal perspective, you know, in terms of a policy, et cetera. But, you know, we are responsible for sort of making accommodations for individuals who are struggling and then trying to think about what's going to be the appropriate kind of adjustments to put in place for each person. What I like about the questions is it's acknowledging that it does have anything that you do, has an impact on other people as well. But normally if I'm sort of making recommendations, I'm always trying to suggest that individual interventions are considered with the group in mind. You know, that if you're actually sort of making some adjustments to their work demands, that you're not just adding those demands onto another team member, for example.

I think that's a real fear of managers and probably a fear of other team members too, when they see that sort of situation is I'm gonna be loaded up with these.

Exactly who else is going to be sort of picking up that load. And you just had me thinking of something which jumps out.

Well, I mean, one of the big things in terms of injury management, whatever it may be, is reasonable adjustment and doing suitable duties and things like that. So it is about having programs in place. You can define what that program is and provided that the person is happy for it to be shared with the team. Then the team can see that this isn't something that is going on forever. This is a set reasonable adjustment that's gonna happen to assist this person. And I think one of the other good things about that, is that hopefully team members realize that that would be done for them in the same circumstance.

Yeah, and what I like about that is as well, you're sort of showing that it's good when the team is actually part of that decision making and they're thinking about what's gonna work best here. The thing that I was thinking of was of how the situation occur a lot, where an individual will have put off taking some time away from work, whether it's just, you know, reducing their days at all or actually taking some time out. And you know ironically, there's a real positive in that because not only are they sort of getting well themselves and focusing on self care and recovery, but I've often had other people in the team say, you know, what we all kind of were being very stoic and trying to be really strong for others and not let anyone else in the team down. And when that person took that time out, it kind of gave me permission to also look at my own wellbeing and recognize that maybe I also need to look after myself. So, sometimes there is a bit of a blessing in disguise, when people kind of do put their hand up finally and acknowledge, you know, what I'm actually not doing so good at the moment.

Because often people have been carrying that workload as well, you know, while the person's not well. And you know, the team members that get on well, they will cover up for other people, they'll help them, they'll support. And so it can be a relief for those people because at least they're going, all right, it's being acknowledged we can see, and there's then a process in place of how to manage that.



I have a question here from Carolyn and I think this might be a good one for both of you to answer to. So, how would you convince decision-makers of the need to invest in some sort of early intervention process?

That's an interesting one.

I do have something to say to that. And I mean, you often do hear of research particularly across Australia, within Australia, and sometimes it can be very specific to, you know, say Queensland for example. Where they're able to sort of give up actual costs to what it costs an organization to not do it. You know, you were mentioning previously the cost of WorkCover claims, the time it takes to get someone back to work. You know, the cost associated with grievances and having workplace investigations and all sorts of things like that. So, you know, often I think it's partly that, that you're able to kind of put some actual figures to this is what it's gonna cost you to, you know, the consequences of not kind of engaging and this sort of thing. And, I don't know if there's similar kind of, you know, data and I'm sure there may be in terms of one of the benefits of keeping people well and having productive employees and having them be fully engaged and, you know, being satisfied in what they're doing and are able to perform and be productive. And I mean, that is the kind of the most sort of intuitive thing to me, is that when the individuals are well, the organization is well.

Yeah, and I mean, some of that is just presented through normal awareness sessions about injury management and psychological injury management. And what you can do and what you can achieve. Also, even just in, you know, your normal WorkCover statistic reports and stuff like that. It's often quite easy to separate out your psychological injuries and just see how expensive they are in relation to the physical claims. And so that's a good selling point as well. And even if you don't have actual specific data, I think some of the anecdotal data that you can supply in some of those reports is valuable too, about things like, you know, it will reduce the number of grievances that are put in place. It can reduce the length of WorkCover claims, psychological WorkCover claims.

And I think I'd like to add, I mean, obviously coming from an organizational psychology lens. I embrace those sort of, you know, difficulties and problems and things that people are experiencing or work teams are experiencing as opportunities. So they really are an opportunity to help develop a manager, to help learn a bit more about how to manage people and issues that happen in the workplace. It is one of the great ironies that managers who actually do tend to provide strong support in this area, are people who've been through a psychological injury themselves. Often having had that really firsthand experience of kind of just struggling and finding your way through that and coming out the other side. You know, it really does feel a person's toolkit with, you know, quite a lot of knowledge, awareness, empathy strategies that they can then use, that they will also then use preventatively, not just reactively. But they'll certainly recognize probably a little bit more quickly when people are not coping.

So for either of you, have you noticed any unexpected consequences or benefits of a person being involved in this process?

Absolutely. And I've come to expect them now, you know, so for those individuals, they may be a bit unexpected. I don't think I've ever found a situation where people have found themselves in some kind of struggle. Where people haven't come out the other side, having grown in some way, developing insight about themselves, awareness of what they like and dislike around them in terms of their work and their life. For managers in particular, knowledge, skill, you know, developing a greater sort of understanding of how to manage people in the workplace. So I inherently see every Early Intervention Program, where every opportunity to come into those situations, including conflict, as a really great, you know, developmental opportunity. You were mentioning conflict earlier. And I think, you know, it's sort of limiting people, putting complaints and things like that. I often say to people that there's kind of two ways you can go and one's a very adversarial kind of process. So complaints, even a WorkCover claim unfortunately tend to kind of lead to a bit of an adversarial process of people, sort of, you know, describing issues and complaining about issues. And then someone else's defending those. Whereas processes like the early intervention program, or those sorts of things, or conflict resolution are restorative. They're about restoring wellbeing, you know, restoring relationships, restoring a healthy sort of environment. And so, yeah, they really are to me such a great opportunity for learning for everyone.

Yeah, I found the same thing. It's amending situation, it's restorative and that works well. But also, I think a lot of the sort of side effects of things are things like teams working out how to function together, how to communicate together, how to work collaboratively. All of those things can come out of an early intervention process. A manager, perhaps understanding that, oh, okay, there is a different way that I can manage this situation through manager coaching and those sorts of things. So, I think while often they're focused on the one individual, there's a lot of people that benefit from the process.

So, we've reached the end of our time for questions today. But if you have a question that you want one of our speakers to answer in the future, please email So I'm just now gonna ask our speakers for their takeaway messages. So, for you first Lorraine, what are your takeaway messages for people watching?

I think for me, one of the kind of key aspects in terms of creating a culture of, you know, healthy workplaces, early intervention, that sort of thing is to really encourage people to speak up. So whether that's an individual speaking up when they're not coping. Whether it's a manager speaking up and initiating a kind of a sensitive conversation with someone whom they feel is perhaps not coping. I think, you know, the workplaces and I guess all held in general, it would be a better place if we're just more comfortable to talk about those things. So for an individual, I'd really encourage them to talk to someone. And that can be in or outside work, if they think that they might be experiencing any of the signs or symptoms that we've talked about today. And certainly if someone comes to talk to you, I'd really encourage people to take the time to listen, help a person to locate support, and then just check in with them regularly to kind of review how they're progressing. And if you are a manager or an organization, consider talking to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland about how you might go about setting up early intervention processes. And explore some of the resources that are available. I think we've kind of mentioned a couple of times today about Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and Safe Work Australia. And I know that you're putting a couple of those up so that people can see them today. Really encourage you to have a look at those, they're really readable and do kind of cover a great range of information. And just, I guess, lastly, find out what support or training or other kinds of things like that can be put in place to assist your workplace and your managers to kind of be able to address and resolve issues as early as possible.

Excellent, Ngaire do you have any takeaway messages?

Probably reiterating what Lorraine had to say in creating a culture of psychological safety and workplaces where positive and supportive behaviors are the norm. And that's what we're all kind of really aiming for. The EIP, the Early Intervention Program, is just one initiative. And it can be used both proactively and reactively. And I think the real thing that people need to realize is that people become stuck, they can become stuck in playing a role. Maybe they're a manager that needs to change in how they do it. Maybe, you know, the person thinks that, that manager isn't treating me properly. Maybe they have to rethink and reflect on what they're doing. So people get stuck in situations. I hate this job, but I need the money, so I've got to stay. I'm not good at this job, what else can I do, you know? But early intervention processes can help people work through that. People get stuck in feelings about something or someone. This employee is hopeless and is never gonna be able to perform well. Or that poor person should be punished because they treated me badly, you know, that's another one. They get stuck in these sorts of things and they can't move beyond that. And also, people who are just unwell and that can be very hard to move beyond as well. So, I think the thing is that people become stuck and the EIP process helps people and organizations to get some traction and to get some movement, to move on with where they are, from where they are.

[Nicole] So thank you for joining us today. I hope you found the topic of early intervention, an interesting and useful topic. And of course I'd like to thank Lorraine and Ngaire for sharing their time with us today to talk about early intervention. Thank you. I just like to encourage people to have a look at what else we have on for both mental health week and safe work month. There's lots of very interesting topics that are spread across a month. So definitely encourage you to have a look at what else we have on offer. So, for further information, go to the WorkSafe site and up on the screen there if you have any specific questions, just a reminder that email address