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How To Prevent Psychosocial Risks While Promoting Wellbeing

BY Michelle McQuaid

As millions of people continue to grapple with burnout, the focus on improving psychosocial (emotional and social) safety has gained prominence across workplaces. As new global standards and local regulations urge leaders to adopt a risk management approach in addressing psychosocial hazards, the prevailing question is increasingly: Is this the most effective route to supporting workplace wellbeing?

After a year of close collaboration with HR and occupational health and safety teams, it’s clear that the identification, assessment, control, and monitoring of emotional and social risks in workplaces is essential. However, the complex, constantly shifting, and subjective nature of these risks poses a significant challenge when it comes to effectively minimizing or eliminating them.

For instance, in one dynamic, customer-centric workplace, the HR team took on the challenge of addressing the psychosocial risks associated with “lack of role clarity.” Collaborating closely with leaders and teams, they introduced detailed job description templates that included precise job titles, measurable objectives, comprehensive responsibilities, and straightforward reporting lines.

Six months later, team members disclosed that, on average, less than half of their daily tasks were still aligned with the initial job description, leading to confusion, anxiety, and stress. What went wrong? Their dynamic work environment required constant adaptation to evolving customer needs and market dynamics, which rendered their static job descriptions completely inadequate.

Time and again, we’ve observed that while identifying hazards and implementing technical controls is crucial, the real challenge lies in addressing the unique and ever-changing human experiences people encounter as they work together.

This is why solely relying on preventing psychosocial risk falls short; workplaces must also invest in promoting the wellbeing of their workforce.

For instance, we’ve complemented workplace controls with a systems-oriented, evidence-based wellbeing approach at the:

  • “Me” Level – where we teach individuals to use tiny but mighty wellbeing strategies to enhance their personal psychosocial safety by:
    • Owning your stuff: When tempted to ruminate on a problem, ask yourself: What do I need to let other people own in this situation? What do I need to take responsibility for?
    • Leaving Your Comfort Zone: Each week, set a learning goal to build your competence. Embrace the effort and mistakes as part of the learning process.
    • Asking What The Func?: Tune into the physical sensations in your body, name the emotion and ask what function is it serving? What action is required?
  • “We” Level – where we support leaders and teams to incorporate small wellbeing practices into their current methods for working together through:
    • Getting Curious: If you see a team member struggling, instead of jumping to conclusions or pointing the finger, consider what else may be happening for them. Then reach out and ask if you can help.
    • Crafting Your Jobs: Consider the who, what, and why of the job tasks people most enjoy. How could you expand these and use each other’s strengths more each day?
    • Building A Boundary Checklist: Invite your team to co-design how they want to work together: What’s working well and what’s not? Create an agreed set of acceptable behaviours. Identify specific ways you’ll support each other to keep commitments.
  • “Us” Level: where we help workplaces to leverage practical strategies to foster a safer and more caring culture by:
    • Investing In Values: Ask your teams what safety and care values look like in practice. Share the behaviours that support vs undermine safety and care, and agree on how to help each other live these values daily.
    • Hiring For Strengths: Take a strengths-based approach when recruiting: What strengths does the role require? Are interview questions designed to highlight strengths or expose weaknesses?
    • Auditing Your Culture: Invest in a cultural audit to understand how your organizational norms are shaping safety and care. Ask what’s working, identify the gaps, and co-create a way forward.

How are you finding the balance between preventing psychosocial risks and promoting wellbeing in your teams and workplace?

For a toolkit with 60 evidence-based wellbeing-informed controls, click here.

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