Psychosocial duties - close the gap

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Psychosocial hazards – understand your dutiesย 

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Under the model WHS laws, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage the risk of psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

A psychosocial hazard is anything that could cause psychological harm (e.g. harm someoneโ€™s mental health). Common psychosocial hazards at work include: lack of role clarity, poor organisational change management, inadequate reward and recognition, harassment, conflict in the workplace.

The perception gap: We are focusing our intervention efforts and initiatives in the wrong place.ย 

Despite leaders’ claims of taking actions to minimise hazards (92.5%) like poor change management, a substantial percentage of employees report experiencing these risks (81%). * Michelle McQuaid, Leadership Lab 2023.

Perception and reality gaps

๐Ÿ‘ฅ๐Ÿ” The reality gap between what leaders ๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ’ผ think is happening in the workplace and what employees perceive is a significant challenge.  Whilst leaders are making every effort to bring new activities and initiatives into the workplace – many are doing more harm than good. ๐Ÿ“Š

Research and studies have highlighted the need to measure and address the psychosocial (emotional and social) safety of employees. Every job involves potential hazards that can harm individuals due to deficiencies in work design, organisation, management, or a poor social context. ๐Ÿ˜ฐ Perhaps in the past organisations have got away with explaining it as a “personal issue” that can be addressed with some “resilience training”, but this is far from the truth.

Interestingly, in the People Plus Science People Plus Culture Audits the number one issue has been a lack of role clarity. “This is often seen when leaders in the boardroom are not in agreement over strategic goals and priorities and therefore the messages, direction and questions from the boardroom often cause conflicts within the executive leadership team and middle management. This in turn makes it really difficult for those who are wanting to “just do their job” but find that there are many conflicting priorities, KPIs, and decision-making is just becoming too difficult” says Carolyn Grant, CEO of People Plus Science.  

Organisational strategies are often not in depth enough, for example we might discuss in a broad sense the product strategies but we have not looked at the resourcing, the customer strategies that it links to, the “sacrifices” that will need to be made to commit to the product strategies with limited resources. So the scope and efforts we are asking of our people are getting wider and blurred and I think many are asking “what do you want me to do first”? 

Carolyn Grant, CEO of People Plus Science is currently working with global boards and chairs to identify their ability to foster a positive work environment, measuring psychological safety, psychosocial hazards, trust, organisational resilience, burnout and advocacy with both boards and organisations. “There is a strong correlation between psychological safety and organisational resilience in the boardroom to psychological safety and organisational resilience of our teams charged with executing the strategy. We need our C-suite executives to feel safe to speak up and report transparently in board meetings, we also need our boards to be asking the right questions and not basing decisions on their perceptions rather than facts”, says Carolyn .

“”I don’t know” is not a legal defense for leaders who are not sure if their managers or team members feel safe to speak up and report transparently. It is not a legal defense for not being aware of bullying or harassment in the workplace. I hear a lot of organisational middle managers saying that the organisation is “grappling” with these new responsibilities. Just take the first step by engaging authentically with your employees or if you have low levels of trust, I strongly recommend getting a third party in to engage with your staff and work with you for a period of time, says Carolyn.

In Australia every state has a WHS regulatory framework that addresses the need for businesses to measure, mitigate and monitor and report on psychosocial hazards. Examples include unachievable job demands, lack of supervisor support, poor change management, bullying, and exposure to traumatic events. ๐Ÿ“‘

Assessing the impact of these hazards on employees’, as well as contractors, volunteers, customers) well-being requires considering their frequency, severity, and duration. A one-off experience does not necessarily indicate a risk of psychosocial harm. ๐Ÿ”„

However, simply measuring risks does not provide enough data to effectively minimise or eliminate hazards. Identifying the risks is essential, but it does not reveal the most effective strategies to address them. Organisations must consider their strengths and capabilities as well, when looking to mitigate a hazard. “In fact what one person might describe as a high risk hazard, another person describes exactly the same hazard as a mitigation strategy and a reward – ie travelling for work – some people consider it high risk and others consider it a great way to escape from the family and focus 100% on the work at hand”, says Carolyn

“Cultivating a positive work environment and focusing on strengths is key to addressing psychosocial risks. As Marcus Buckingham once said, ‘Playing to your strengths and surrounding yourself with people who support and complement you can help create a workplace that is conducive to psychological safety and overall well-being.'”

By assessing both the risks and strengths, organisations gain a more comprehensive understanding of how to minimise or eliminate psychosocial hazards effectively.

However, there is an additional safety risk that existing codes and legislation fail to address. ๐Ÿšจ There is a significant gap between the positive impact leaders believe they are having (their strengths) and the actual impact being felt by employees (this can extend to volunteers, contractors, board members, customers).

Research conducted by the Michelle McQuaid, involving over 1,000 workers from diverse workplaces, revealed a significant “safety gap.”

Despite leaders’ claims of taking actions to minimise hazards (92.5%) like poor change management, a substantial percentage of team members reported experiencing these risks (81%).

The support provided by leaders was often insufficient or ineffective. 

Identifying and understanding this safety gap is crucial for organisations to swiftly and effectively reduce psychosocial risks. Workplaces should assess:

1๏ธโƒฃ Hazards: The frequency, severity, and duration of psychosocial hazards employees encounter.

2๏ธโƒฃ Strengths: The frequency and impact of psychosocial support provided by leaders and the workplace.

3๏ธโƒฃ Safety Gaps: Any disparities between the support offered by leaders and the level of psychosocial risk experienced by employees, along with the underlying causes. ๐Ÿ•ต๏ธโ€โ™€๏ธ  Without assessing the gap, leaders will continue to be exposed to great risk for themselves, their teams and the organisation. Conversely, getting these things right will build the positive work environment needed to drive great customer and employee experiences.

To take a holistic approach in measuring psychosocial safety, workplaces should consider these factors. 

In addition, do not forget that this legisation is not just about employees, it also addresses an obligation to identify psychosocial hazards with contractors, with volunteers, with suppliers and customers. 

When we are thinking about our customers think in terms of the service patients, aged care consumers, students may be subjected to if our staff are being treated unfairly and they take their frustrations out on the very people they are there to serve.

Understanding the comprehensive picture enables organisations to address psychosocial risks quickly, affordably, and effectively. ๐ŸŒŸ 

People Plus Science do not just assess the psychosocial hazards in the workplace, we need to understand a broader context such as psychological safety, trust, skills gap analysis, organisational responsiveness and team dynamics.

If you want to evaluate your leadership approach to psychosocial safety, you can try our free five-minute survey by clicking here. ๐Ÿ“‹2

” Your people are your greatest resource. Take care of them and they will take care of you and your customers”.ย  Carolyn Grant

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