With new international standards and local laws in some countries requiring workplaces to identify and mitigate a long list of psychosocial hazards, the need to monitor and support workers’ mental health and wellbeing has quickly become a standing item on leadership agendas. But what should leaders be prioritizing?
“Every job involves some psychosocial hazards that arise from the design, management, environment, plant or interactions that increase the risk of work-related stress and can harm people’s mental and physical health,” explained Dr Paige Williams, co-founder of The Leaders Lab. “These may include: unachievable job demands; low job control; lack of role clarity; inadequate reward and recognition; conflict and poor workplace relationships and interactions; poor support; poor change management; poor organizational justice; traumatic events; remote or isolated work; violence and aggression; bullying; harassment; and poor physical environment.”
While objectively identifying and managing historical hazards such as noise, chemicals, machinery, and manual handling in a workplace has been possible, minimizing many of these new psychosocial hazards will be open to subjective interpretation.
For example, new research from The Leaders Lab and their partners found that workers who were aged 66 or older were significantly more likely than other age groups to report that their workplace was caring and safe. Could it be that these workers are so much more fortunate in their choice of workplaces than their younger colleagues? Perhaps. Or could it be, as Erik Erikson’s stages of development research suggests, that people over 65 tend to have “the wisdom and sense of integrity strong enough to withstand psychological disintegration” which is minimizing the hazards they are experiencing at work? The likelihood is that both factors are shaping workers’ experiences.
This means that while addressing psychosocial hazards is clearly a workplace responsibility in which leaders need to play a significant role, workers will also need support to build their own personal, portable psychological safety to help them identify and address hazards at work. In fact, The Leaders Lab data found that team members who often felt psychologically safe (able to bring up problems and talk about mistakes), were significantly less likely to report experiencing any of the psychosocial hazards.
“By teaching workers to practice a growth mindset, extend compassion to self and others, ask for help, set boundaries, and hold themselves and others responsible for actions, they can build the thinking patterns and skills that allow them to more safely navigate the world,” explained Dr. Williams. “This builds their personal, portable psychological safety and provides a pathway that appears to lower the frequency of their experiences across all the hazards.”
Personal, portable psychological safety can be built by helping workers to:
- Replace blame with curiosity – If people believe they already know what someone else is thinking, then they’re not ready to have a conversation. Instead, encourage people to adopt a learning mindset, knowing they don’t have all the facts and remembering that generally people are doing the best they can with what they have in any given moment.
- Approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary – True success is a win-win outcome, so when conflicts come up, avoid triggering a fight-or-flight reaction by encouraging people to ask: “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?”
- Accept that failure can lead to growth – We all fail some of the time. The only question is whether we are learning from these experiences. Make it safe to take smart risks by normalizing failure and struggle as part of the learning process. Talk openly and with curiosity about what’s not working, encourage and reward people’s willingness to ask for help or mentoring, and share and celebrate the lessons being learned.
How are you building psychological safety across your work environment at an individual, leader, and organizational level? What impact is this having on the frequency and impact of psychosocial hazards?
Want to know how else your leaders and workplace can more effectively and sustainably address psychosocial hazards across your workplace? For a full copy of the research report, please click here.
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