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Prioritising psychosocial safety in the workplace

In the Australian workplace, the concept of psychosocial safety is gaining recognition as an essential element of creating a safe and healthy work environment. While physical safety measures are a long-established priority, understanding and addressing the psychosocial well-being of team members is becoming increasingly important. Addressing the significance of psychosocial safety in the Australian workplace can have a positive impact on both employees and organisations.

Understanding Psychosocial Safety

Psychosocial safety involves creating a work environment that safeguards employees’ psychological and social well-being. This encompasses addressing the mental and emotional needs of team members alongside physical safety measures.

The Relevance of Psychosocial Safety in the Australian Workplace

  1. Mental Health and Well-being: Prioritising psychosocial safety is crucial in promoting mental health and well-being among the team. A supportive and emotionally safe workplace can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
  2. Enhanced Productivity: Team members who feel safe and supported in their psychosocial well-being are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and productive. They can focus on their tasks without undue stress or distractions.
  3. Reduced Turnover: A workplace that prioritises psychosocial safety is more likely to retain team members. Lower turnover rates save organisations significant costs associated with recruitment, onboarding, and training.
  4. Legal and Ethical Obligations: Australian labour laws require employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment. Failing to address psychosocial safety can lead to potential legal issues and non-compliance with occupational health and safety regulations.

So how can we Ensure Psychosocial Safety in the Workplace

Communication

Engage in open communication between the team themselves and the team and management. Ensure that processes exist for team members to report concerns without fear of retaliation. Eye-rolls, raised eyebrows, hand gestures, and even refusing to look someone in the eye can all make a person feel psychosocially unsafe and these micro-aggressions can impact psychosocial safety. Provide assistance to the team member responsible for the behaviour, use EAP and engage in services to assist with behaviour recalibration. We were forced to remove two team members several years ago for these exact micro-aggressions within our team and we are so glad that we did. We engaged counsellors, hypnotherapists and anger management consultants but to no avail. In both instances, the moment these team members were removed, the group reconvened with such calmness. All the anxiety about attending meetings and enduring these micro-behaviours was gone and the team grew from strength to strength. As such we have reconfigured our entire recruitment process to prevent these behaviours from entering the workplace, and in the event they do, the team trust that leaders within the organisation will act swiftly.

EAP

Ensure the organisation has a sound EAP and provide access to the resources. Promote this within the organisation, there is little point in having an EAP if noone in the business knows about it.

Work-life Balance

Promote work life balance and provide support. My research on mental health in the workplace this year has been Property Management specific but I have little doubt that it is transferrable, certainly the strategies for improvement are. At times, team members may require assistance with personal commitments and help to address personal situations that impact their ability to perform their daily tasks. Be open to assisting – in many cases retention is a far better option than recruitment and retraining.

Train in Conflict Resolution

Establish and train in conflict resolution. Have a documented process, for sure, but in most cases that is not enough. Conflict resolution skills are becoming less developed in the workplace, perhaps due to society and family life, perhaps just because people seem to have less tolerance these days. Whatever the reason, having a process for conflict resolution is not enough. Train your team, ALL team members in conflict resolution because guaranteed, someone on your team will not have these skills. In many cases it will be the minority who actually have well rounded conflict resolution skills, and the majority that require training.

Prevent Bullying and Harassment

Prevent bullying and harassment entering the workplace by reconfiguring the recruitment process. For instance, our team require new team members to be sponsored into our business whereby no less than six team members have met with the potential recruit and agree that they would be a good fit for the team. We are fiercely protective of what we have created in terms of the culture and unless the recommendation is unanimous, then the potential recruit will not be offered a role. We are simply unwilling to take any chances with our culture. Secondly, aside from the obvious; having policies and procedures around bullying, develop a culture that simply does not tolerate it whereby leaders lawfully counsel, utilise EAP and finally if required remove the antagonist. Action by leaders to protect the team goes a long way in developing culture.

More Training – Including MHFA

Provide training on soft skills. We train weekly, but its not always to improve our growth or processes, many training days are devoted to developing a positive mindset, reducing the tolerance to gossip, dealing with difficult situations, and improving the culture within the team through a positive outlook. Our annual conference or retreat always includes sessions on building the team. Team building is not about going to lunch together, a ten pin bowling night or paintballing, team building is about learning and adopting a positive culture within the organisation, one that builds trust, encourages opinions and discussion, and is safe and inclusive. Sure those extra activities can strengthen relationships but without the foundations there is nothing to strengthen, and often times those activities result in more pain for the HR department than any perceived or actual growth of relationships within the team.

Further to this, ensure that you have a Mental Health First Aider, at least one, within the business. You can call Moni 0419 814 709 to facilitate training if you are interested in pursuing this. The role of a mental health first aider is to provide initial support for people experiencing signs or symptoms of mental health issues and refer them to more appropriate care if necessary. They also help to open the lines of communication between the employer and staff and to reduce stigma in the workplace.

In Australia, psychosocial safety is regulated through Work Health and Safety, Fair Work and Anti Discrimination Laws. Psychosocial safety is an increasingly important consideration in the Australian workplace. It’s not just the legal ramifications, in fact I’d argue that these are secondary considerations for proactive businesses. Everyone in a work environment understands physical safety, like wearing safety boots, or a hat for sun protection, and yet so many ignore the psychological and social needs of workers. Prioritising psychosocial safety creates a supportive, healthy, and productive work environment that benefits everyone within the organisation. Psychosocial safe work environments benefit from improved productivity, reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, decreased stress levels in individual workers, plus improved morale, loyalty and job satisfaction. In an evolving work landscape, recognising and addressing psychosocial safety is not just a legal obligation but it also morally imperative for the well-being and success of any business and should be included in the businesses strategic plan alongside physical safety.

WRITTEN BY

Moni Mazzeo

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