The Challenge of creating Psychosocially Safe Workplaces

Is your organisation prepared for the 1 July 2024 deadline introducing significant penalties regarding the management of psychosocial hazards in the workplace?

Organisations are currently facing one of the most difficult management challenges of recent times. A growing expectation of corporate social responsibility and recent changes to legislation requiring them to be proactive in eliminating psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

 

Psychosocial hazards at work are aspects of work and work situations that can lead to psychological or physical harm.

These stem from:

  • The way the tasks or jobs are designed, organised, managed, and supervised.
  • Tasks or jobs where there are inherent psychosocial hazards and risks.
  • The equipment, working environment, or requirements to undertake duties in physically hazardous environments.
  • Social factors at work, workplace relationships, and social interactions.

Psychosocial hazards can include, but are not limited to, harassment, bullying, discrimination, stressful or fatiguing working conditions, poor working relationships resulting in tension, aggression, or withdrawal, poor leadership practices, poor organisational change management, a lack of clarity or control over tasks or roles, and poor organisational justice.

 

Unlike other hazards, psychosocial hazards, as the name suggests, are prevalent in society and are not isolated to the workplace, so they are constantly reinforced through interactions outside of work. If they are also supported by workplace culture, they become self-validating.

 

As they are often dependent on the personal attributes and experiences of individuals, psychosocial hazards are experienced differently by each employee. A psychosocial hazard for one individual may be “invisible” to individuals who do not have that particular attribute because they have never experienced it. Instances of this will only increase as our workplaces become more diverse.

 

Often, psychosocial hazards are caused by individuals who are unaware that their unintentional and unconscious ingrained behaviours are impacting others negatively. These behaviours may have been reinforced, as they have led to successful outcomes in the past. For example, promoting people who do excessive or consistent discretionary overtime sets an example that this is the expectation. If this expectation is applied to others who are neither required nor in a position to do so, it could be considered an unreasonable request, causing stress, particularly if people are treated detrimentally if they are unable to meet the expectation.

 

Psychosocial hazards are often beneficial to organisations, with the decision to change having a perceived negative financial impact when compared to the indirect benefits of reduced turnover, absenteeism, and claims.

 

Environments free from psychosocial hazards foster human potential, allow organisations to be resilient to rapidly changing market conditions, expand into global markets through developing relationships based on mutual benefits, and create opportunities to improve lives.

 

The process to reduce psychosocial hazards in the workplace is familiar:

  1. Identify and assess the hazards and risk.
  2. Eliminate the hazard or control the risk.
  3. Monitor and review the effectiveness of the controls.

The hazard cannot be eliminated as it is a social condition that constantly evolves, and the controls revolve around the personal choices of individuals within the organisation to change ingrained behaviours that are based on their personal beliefs and experiences.

 

Ordinarily, an organisation will effect change through its leadership however, in the case of psychosocial safety, this can be difficult as leaders are likely to have been the beneficiaries and upholders of the current psychosocial hazards that exist in the organisation. Therefore, it is important to ensure that all employees have the knowledge, skills, and support to address these hazards in their workplace.

 

Successfully managing psychosocial hazards relies on the ability to motivate individuals to change their behaviours. In order to do this, an organisation needs to have employees, not just leaders, who are able to:

  1. Identify and assess psychosocial hazards in their workplace.
  2. Understand the behaviours contributing to the hazard.
  3. Develop and agree on behaviours that will reduce or eliminate that particular risk.
  4. Have conversations that support and motivate individuals to change their behaviours.
  5. Change their own behaviours where it’s necessary.

To be successful in creating a psychologically safe workplace, organisations need to give all their employees the knowledge to identify psychosocial hazards, the skills to develop and implement solutions, and an affirmative commitment to support change.

 

Sharlie Morrison

Business Improvement, Inclusive Cultural Change Expert

Sharlie has a strong focus on psychological safety, developing relationships and delivering training, tools and workshops for large and small organisations to build individual, team and organisational capability in the areas of business improvement, workplace culture, diversity and inclusion, organisational design and leadership. If you would like to read more about Sharlie and her workshops on Essemy click this link.

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