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Bullying and Trust: Why victims find it hard to return to work

Australian workers have an expectation that their employer will provide a safe place to work. In fact, employers are legally obliged to make the workplace safe. When employers fail to meet the employee’s expectations, the impact on bullied workers can be profound. Sadly, we see workers take the ultimate step of taking their lives, when they feel they have no other alternatives.

 

When an employee feels that their environment cannot guarantee their safety, they often lose trust with their organisation and their employer. I regularly work with people who have taken leave as a result of work-place bullying. They make a formal complaint, they come for support, we work through the reaction to bullying, and then it comes time for them to return to work. The people who struggle the most are those who feel that, not only were they bullied, but that the organisation didn’t respond adequately  to resolve the problem or acknowledge their concerns. They have no faith that they will be able to return to work without the same people behaving the same way. Further, they feel extremely anxious about the specific workplace, sometimes experiencing extreme psychological reactions at the thought of seeing former colleagues.

 

More resourceful individuals will do one of two things; they will take legal action against their employer, or they will simply leave. Either scenario is obviously costly to the employer, however, both scenarios can be risky for the employee. The cost of the legal battle might outweigh the value of the outcome. Changing employers also does not guarantee the same thing won’t happen again.

 

The issues surrounding trust can be managed if employers take the appropriate action. First, before a problem arises, employers need clear policies regarding how they will handle bullying complaints. It is simply not adequate to have a policy that only sets out what bullying is. Stakeholders need to have the appropriate mechanisms in place to address complaints when they arise. Second, timeliness is critical. Many of my clients wait weeks, or sometimes months, before their employer takes any action at all. Victims of work-place bullying can be left wondering what their employer is thinking, or thinking their employer doesn’t care about them when there has been little to no communication for long periods of time. While they wait, they become more anxious, depressed, and angry. As a result, their trust in their employer is damaged even further. Third, independent investigation of the matter is essential. Too often matters are investigated by friends of the alleged bully or others who could be seen as having a conflict of interests, leaving the victim feeling there is no chance of a fair outcome. Fourth, a mediated outcome can make a significant difference to rebuilding trust. And finally, a planned return-to-work review of the return-to-work progress helps the employee feel that that their concerns are being taken seriously.

 

These observations are based on my accumulated experience as a clinical psychologist over the last 25 years. In that time I’ve seen many examples of good and bad management of worker’s injuries, and examples of workers malingering. In the genuine cases, putting the right plans in place and executing them well will help the worker get back to work faster and, I believe, have a positive effect on the wider culture of the organisation.

 

Simon Kinsella

Director and Clinical Psychologist

February 2018

[C&PC1]Which word you use doesn’t matter too much

Understanding the basics of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

 

When people survive a traumatic event that threatens their life or safety, they may be at risk of developing an anxiety disorder called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).    Not everyone will go on to develop PTSD after a traumatic event, and some people will recover naturally.  However a substantial number of people do go on to develop the condition, especially those who have faced a particularly severe traumatic event.EAP photo

 

These events can include car accidents, natural disasters, war and physical or sexual assault amongst others.  The events may be happening directly to the person who develops PTSD, or they might be watching something happening to someone else.  As the incident is occurring they usually think they (or the person they are watching) is about to be seriously injured, or killed.  Afterwards the person may experience feelings of extreme fear or panic, as though they are reliving the event.

 

The person will often attempt to evade the traumatic memory by avoiding reminders of the event.  However the memory, as if imprinted in the mind, will repeatedly find ways to expresses itself.  The traumatic memories most commonly surface through nightmares or flashbacks while awake.  Other symptoms can include strong physical and emotional reactions such as panic or heart palpitations, feeling wound up or irritable, and being emotionally numb and detached.  Aggressive outbursts may also occur, however symptoms will vary greatly from person to person.

 

PTSD can cause significant disruption to a person’s everyday life and relationships so it is important to seek help from a medical or mental health professional should PTSD symptoms persist for more than two weeks after the event.  The most effective evidence based treatment today for PTSD is trauma-focused psychological therapy which aims to confront the traumatic memory and help the person become aware of the automatic thoughts and beliefs that are linked to the experience.  Recovery can also be facilitated by engaging with supportive and caring networks, educating oneself about the effects of trauma, and getting back into normal every day routines such as work or study.

 

Recovery times from PTSD vary dramatically.  They depend on the severity of the trauma, how quickly treatment was provided, and the pre-existing personality of the patient. Therefore setting personal realistic goals, rewarding positive steps and finding ways to relax and enjoy life are an important part of the process.   Family members, friends or carers should also be involved in the recovery process where possible.  This can prove difficult as a person struggling with PTSD can become distant, irritable and detached from reality.  The person may not be as engaged as they once were, or their behaviour could be noticeably different after the traumatic event.   This can be upsetting for family and friends, so taking care of your own needs and health as a person travelling alongside is crucial.  It is important to note that the changes in behaviour are part of the condition, and that PTSD symptoms can be significantly reduced with professional help. Simply listening to the person, giving them space when needed and sharing quality time together can go a long way towards supporting the overall recovery process.

 

By Shelly Morrison

 

 

Sleep Resources

I was recently introduced to the resources provided by David Cunnington, a sleep physician here in Melbourne.  David has built up a wealth of excellent resources for people experiencing a range of sleep conditions.  You will find podcasts, blogs and questionnaires freely available on his site  Sleep Hub

Speaking to Children About Terrorism

France

The whole world has been rocked over the weekend by the horror of the attacks in Paris. As we’re grappling to come to terms with what has happened our children will also be starting to ask questions about why this is happening. I personally had a talk to my 15 year old in the car on the way to school this morning. While it can be difficult to talk, it is invaluable for our children, and can also help us work through our own reactions.

Here are some tips on how to approach talking to your children:

Listen:

    • Don’t force them to speak, but make time when they are ready to speak. If at all possible stop what you are doing to give them your full attention.
    • Don’t be surprised if they are worried about family or friends who may have been in the area.
    • Help them find ways to express themselves that are appropriate for their age. Some children may be too young or not good at talking. Drawing, play or writing can give some good insights into what they are feeling, and they provide an opportunity for adults to ask questions like “how are you feeling about what’s happened?” You might not get an answer immediately, but the act of asking lets your child know that you are interested in how they feel.
  • Respond:

 

    • Always be honest. Children usually know if you’re not being honest, and you can do permanent harm to the trust relationship by not being honest. If you don’t have an answer, tell them that but help them find someone who does have the answer.
    • Use words and ideas that are appropriate for your child’s age and personality. Provide an answer, but don’t go further than you need to. If your child has more questions, let them ask. Otherwise you run the risk of overloading them.
    • Let your child know that you think their questions and concerns are important.
    • Be consistent and reassuring.
    • Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
    • You may have to be a broken record, and repeat explanations. This is more likely if your child is very anxious, or the information is complex. Asking some questions repeatedly may be your child’s way of asking for reassurance.
    • Use the opportunity to teach tolerance and explain prejudice. It can be tempting to stereotype by race or religion. These stereotypes can be dangerous and are ultimately unhelpful.
    • Children look to adults as role models. They will notice how you respond when you are talking to other adults.
    • It is OK for children to know if you are worried, but let them know they don’t have to care for you.
    • If you don’t know how to respond, ask for help from others in your community.
  • Support:

 

    • Repetitive frightening news footage can be very disturbing, especially to young children. With access to the internet it is too easy to see too much. Make sure you limit the exposure and explain why you are limiting it.
    • Keep everything else in life as routine as possible. Children are reassured by predictable routines.
    • Discuss any concerns with teachers, especially if your children are in primary school.
    • Watch for possible preoccupation with violent movies or war theme video/computer games.
    • If you think that your child is becoming preoccupied or overly stressed seek professional help. Start by talking to your child’s school counsellor, your GP, or a psychologist.
    • Encourage talking when your child wants to talk, but give them space when they don’t. Don’t feel that they have to talk to be able to cope.

 

Dr Simon Kinsella