Alarming behaviour employers should look out for

By Dr Frank Chow, Director and Psychiatrist, 2OP Health
Friday, 04 September, 2020

Alarming behaviour employers should look out for

The increasing demand on the Australian healthcare system due to COVID-19 has put immense pressure on the mental health of healthcare workers. Not only are our healthcare workers working long irregular hours, they are also working under extremely stressful situations that can take a toll on their mental health.

The first step in controlling stress is to understand its symptoms. However, because each one of us deals with stress in very different and personal ways, identifying stress symptoms might not be as easy as you’d think.

Keeping an eye out for alarming behaviours

There is no one size fits all when it comes to stress. We experience and respond to stress in various ways. However, there are a few alarming behavioural patterns and indications healthcare employers need to be mindful of, observe and intervene where necessary. These patterns come in two categories: performance related and behavioural.

Performance-related observations include consistent work errors, poor punctuality and deterioration in the quality of patient care including carelessness, which can lead to an increase in complaints from the patient and their family.

Often, there are some fairly obvious changes in employees when they are dealing with a high level of stress. This includes behaving out of their usual character, increased interpersonal hypersensitivity, defensiveness, irritability, sarcasm, making inappropriate jokes, increased interpersonal conflicts, escalated bullying or even harassment behaviour.

Most people are so used to being stressed that they don’t realise they’re stressed until it takes its toll and presents itself either in their behaviour or their performance. If left untreated, stress can potentially lead to, in the worst of cases, violence and self-harming tendencies including verbal and physical aggression, intoxication and substance abuse, impulsive behaviour and poor judgment.

A mental health checklist

1. Wellbeing check-in and catch-up

As simple as it sounds, employers should reach out to an employee who is showcasing these red flags, whether it is performance or behaviour related.

A wellbeing check-up by way of listening to them and understanding their issues goes a long way. Where possible, offer support such as time off work, shorter shifts or longer breaks, which are important steps to show employees they have the necessary support and ensure they understand that their wellbeing matters too.

2. Emphasise the importance of physical health

Another way to keep healthcare workers proactive about their mental health is to remind them of the small things they can do to keep on top of their mental wellbeing.

Eating a balanced diet and exercising are good foundations for staying physically and mentally healthy. Avoiding coping mechanisms such as tobacco and alcohol can help ease pressure in the long term.

3. Encourage communications with loved ones

Keeping in touch with friends, family and loved ones regularly may help healthcare workers manage stress and receive valuable day-to-day support.

3. Suggest professional help

Depending on the severity of the issue, employers should advise struggling healthcare employees to seek guidance from a GP, psychologist or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help them communicate their issues and receive the proper support and guidance to put them back on the right track. When it comes to dealing with stress, it is much better to intervene sooner rather than later.

In severe cases where the employee’s fitness to work is in doubt, advise them to obtain medical clearance from a professional or consider organising a fitness or duty assessment by an external independent psychiatrist.

Healthcare workers are great at looking after others — sometimes at the cost of their own mental health and wellbeing. As an employer, it is best to have conversations early on and encourage your healthcare staff to seek help as soon as symptoms show. In both physical health and mental health, prevention is always better than cure.

Image credit: ©

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