If you’re wondering what you should be looking for when it comes to spotting psychosocial hazards in your team, you’re not alone. Not only is there a long list of emotional and social hazards leaders are now expected to be watching for as their team works together, but the legales used to describe each hazard can make them hard to see. The truth is, every job involves hazards that can increase the risk of work-related stress, harm people’s mental and physical health, and if prolonged, lead to burnout. What, how, when, where and with whom we work can create emotional and social risks due to deficiencies in the way our work is designed and managed.
But what should leaders be looking for practically?
Chances are that right now your team may be navigating psychosocial hazards that include:
- Lack of role clarity – Confusion about how to prioritize tasks, conflicts with colleagues about who owns what, and different instructions from different leaders that can leave people feeling confused and frustrated.
- Unachievable job demands – A never-ending to-do list with no breaks in sight, a lack of the right training and support, and long, irregular, and unpredictable working hours that can leave people feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
- Inadequate reward and recognition – A lack of constructive feedback, colleagues claiming credit for other people’s work, and the absence of meaningful gratitude and appreciation that can leave people feeling disengaged and demotivated.
- Poor supervisor support – The unavailability of a supervisor to provide clear instructions, on-the-job training, and real-time feedback to ensure work tasks are performed well and consistently meets expectations can leave people feeling isolated and insecure.
- Poor change management – Uncertainty about why things are happening, what changes mean practically, and who is taking responsibility can leave people feeling anxious and afraid.
- Poor organizational justice – Unfair systems and processes, the failure to recognize and accommodate reasonable needs, penalizing people for conduct beyond their control (i.e. parents returning to work), and favoritism can undermine trust and commitment.
Spotting psychosocial hazards early and quickly is the best hope for leaders to minimize or eliminate these kinds of risks to their team. So, what should you do if you spot a hazard in your team?
When we sought guidance from Minter Ellison, one of the world’s leading employment law firms, we were told: “Having open and honest conversations about people’s day-to-day workplace experiences is the best way to protect a team.”
We’ve found there are four simple questions leaders should ask:
- What’s working well? – You can’t grow what you don’t know, so find out what’s working well before you leap into where things have gone wrong. This will also help to build appreciation with your people, as you acknowledge their strengths, what they’ve done well and gain insight into what they have enjoyed about their work.
- Where are we struggling? – Embedding this as part of the process helps to normalize struggle and remove the stigma and shame around it. Struggle is simply a signal that you’re still learning, just like every other leader and team on this planet. By normalizing struggle, you make it safe for your team to speak up and candidly discuss the psychosocial risks they are experiencing.
- What are we learning? – By making learning together part of your shared goals, and not just the achievement of outcomes, this question makes it safer for your team to be more candid and vulnerable with each other. Because your team’s context and needs keep changing, you are never “won-and-done” when it comes to building a culture of safety and care.
- What do we want to try next? – This invites your team to co-create the solutions safety and care solutions together. This helps you to all be realistic about your context, available resources, and levels of commitment for implementing changes. It also helps you clarify the next steps that will be taken, who will be responsible for what actions, and how you will continue communicating about the changes.
We call this the “Safety Check Chat”.
What are the psychosocial hazards you can see in your team? How are you addressing them?
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