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How Can You Practically Improve Psychosocial Safety?

BY Michelle McQuaid

With the costs of burnout growing, new global standards and local regulations are encouraging workplaces to do “everything reasonably practicable” to care for the mental health and wellbeing of their people. This includes assessing psychosocial (emotional and social) risks, implementing controls, and monitoring the impact. But what might this look like in a real workplace?

While the billion-dollar retailer Patagonia is known for its iconic outdoor clothing and gear, it has become renowned for its exceptional culture of safety and care. With more than 70 stores around the world and over 3,000 employees, Patagonia has always been clear that when it comes to achieving its mission of using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis, there is a powerful connection between treating things as disposable, and treating the people who make those things as disposable.

When it comes to minimizing psychosocial hazards, Patagonia prioritizes:

  • Job demands – A 9/80 work schedule that gives employees a three-day weekend every other week. Employees work nine hours a day from Monday through Thursday and eight hours on alternating Fridays. They get every second Friday off. In addition, scheduling meetings during lunchtime is forbidden because most people are out doing yoga or going for a jog. 
  • Job control Flexible working, as long as the work gets done with no negative impact on co-workers. For example, employees are encouraged to take time off to do things that make them happy, like going surfing.
  • Reward and recognition Up to two months off, with pay, to volunteer with an environmental organization or project after employees have worked at the company for a year.
  • Supervisor support – Empathy, understanding, and a listening strategy are prioritized by leaders to ensure employees’ ideas and feedback are heard, and these insights are used to inform better decision making.
  • Workplace relationships – A focus on having a “culture add” vs a “culture fit” for new hires. This means reading resumes from the bottom up to understand a candidate’s interests and hobbies and to know whether they share a passion for the outdoors.
  • Discrimination – A commitment to diversity of all kinds and specifically at least 50 percent of upper-management positions held by women.
  • Change management – Regular town hall meetings to share what’s going on and give employees visibility. Everyone is encouraged to speak up and challenge what’s happening. This gives employees a platform to speak and be heard. 
  • Physical environment – Not even the founder has a private office as everyone works in open rooms with no separations.

Does it work?

Patagonia is regularly included on “best place to work” and “most loved companies” lists based on their employees’ evaluations. The company has an enviably low employee turnover rate of only 4 percent (the retail and consumer product sector average is more than triple that at 13 percent). It has one of the best employee-attraction ratios of any company, averaging 900 applications for every one open position. 

In 2022, the founder Yvon Chouinard and his family donated the company’s non-voting stock, (valued at $3 billion), to an American non-profit organization working for climate action and policy advocacy. Patagonia expects that, depending on the health of the business, company profits of $100 million will be donated to these causes each year.

While this is great for Patagonia, their employees and hopefully our planet, what might this mean practically for your workplace? 

Patagonia don’t just talk about how they comply with the codes or legislation that impact their business. Instead, they focus their language, conversations, and actions on demonstrating their commitment to caring for their workers. Chouinard even wrote a book for them about it.

How is your workplace balancing the need for psychosocial safety compliance with a genuine commitment to care for people’s mental health and wellbeing? 

For more practical case stories on how workplaces are responding, click here.

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