I think the answer is yes. Those of us who were doing this work in the 1990s can remember the explosion of RSI claims. RSI stood for Repetitive Strain Injury and was believed to be caused by overwork.
As an interesting sidenote the first mention of “nervous breakdown” in Australia was in an article in the medical journal in 1915 about “telegraphist’s wrist” that seemed to be the same sort of phenomenon.
RSI became an epidemic sweeping through industry. There were a number of medicos who were actively promoting this notion and recommending such treatment is no use of hands for six months or so.
There was a notorious incident in Melbourne at Yazaki Industries, a company that manufactured electrical looms for cars. Management brought in a public health expert to talk to their staff about how to recognise RSI and how to prevent it. Astonishingly within three months 60% of their staff had gone off work and made workers compensation claims for RSI!
And yet some five years later it had all gone away and I have not seen a claim for RSI for at least 10 years.
So what is the contemporary equivalent? I would suggest it is bullying. There has been an explosion in claims for bullying.
I have no doubt that many of these claims of workplace bullying are legitimate. However, there are some claims that I find problematic.
For example I have seen a number of claimants who have been supervisors, often in aged care facilities and about whom staff members have complained that they have been bullied by her. The claimant has been reprimanded by management and has gone off work alleging bullying!
The other group that can prove difficult after people, usually women in their mid-40s who have had a terrible upbringing with childhood sexual abuse followed by abusive relationships. They became personal care attendants or the equivalent and coped poorly with criticism (and have called bullying), this is understandable as their self-esteem is so precarious however this often leads to people leaving work and making workers compensation claim alleging bullying. This proves to be a disaster as they spiral into depression, more relationship difficulties and eventually become unemployable. The impression I get is that they were already significantly damaged and a very vulnerable and the workplace incident has been “the final straw”.
Of course one of the great difficulties in assessing these claims is that the investigation report claims they were all a big happy family and that the claimant is making it up, or words to that effect.
The other difficulty is that if they cease work after some workplace action their claim may be denied on the basis that there psychological injury is as a result of management actions. To some extent this seems to be a gender issue as I see only a minority-of male claimants alleging bullying. Furthermore the bully is often said to be another female.
Are workplace sexual abuse claims overtaking bullying.
The situation with regard to bullying at school is totally different and I will write about that at another time.