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5 steps to mitigate psychosocial hazards in the workplace
In Australia today we have a significant and growing problem with mental illness and employers have a critically important role to play in helping to address psychosocial hazards in the workplace.
The statistics are alarming (from the ABS National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing 2022):
- Over two in five Australians aged 16-85 years (43.7% or 8.6 million people) had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life
- One in five (21.4% or 4.2 million people) had a 12-month mental disorder
- Anxiety was the most common group of 12-month mental disorders (16.8% or 3.3 million people)
- Almost two in five people (39.6%) aged 16-24 years had a 12-month mental disorder
Consider the fact that you don’t need to meet the criteria for a mental disorder to be deeply affected by it. Families, friends, colleagues and communities are all impacted when somebody is struggling with their mental health.
Employers in Australia and the way that they approach and manage mental health in the workplace can have a material impact on society. The vast majority of Australian businesses have robust, embedded OHS plans and policies but they are often focussed on physical hazards and site safety and can fall seriously short when it comes to mental health.
Many leadership teams are still trying to work out their next steps given the events of the last 3 years and for those who have settled on a remote or hybrid-working model, their OHS practices are yet to catch up. Many of the signs that we used to pick up on when somebody was unwell are now hidden from us:
- changes in dress standards
- arriving to work late
- poor personal hygiene
- smelling of alcohol
- acting differently in meetings etc
It is not surprising that even businesses with the best intentions are a bit lost as to the best way to manage and mitigate psychosocial hazards and what to do when they suspect they have a problem.
At Insync we recommend a holistic approach that includes the following 5 steps:
1. Embed Psychological Safety into your existing frameworks including:
- OHS plans and policies
- Risk Management registers and frameworks
- Management Information reporting
2. Communicate regularly
Many dates in the calendar can be leveraged to improve our awareness and understanding of mental health but we shouldn’t wait for an occasion or an issue. Weave information and advice into your regular communications – ensure that you consider the “tone from the top”.
The old adage “you can’t manage it if you don’t measure it” applies. Yes, you can do plenty of proactive and positive things to help to mitigate psychosocial hazards in the workplace, but there are several reasons why measurement, and the method of measurement, is key:
- You can provide anonymity which will assist in getting a more accurate read
- You can track progress over time
- You can understand if you have specific issues in specific cohorts
- You can identify specific elements and treat them individually
Understand what the data is telling you. This might involve further engagement i.e., workshops, focus groups or one on one interviews. Once you have a clear understanding of what your people are saying, work with them to implement improvements.
Underpinning everything needs to be a position of support from the leadership team. There are several ways that a business can demonstrate support:
- Invest in an appropriate EAP. There are lots of affordable options out there
- Develop a culture that is free of stigma and encourages open dialogue
- Discuss mental health through the lens of your company values, mission or purpose
- Be vulnerable and discuss lived experiences
If you need help to measure how your people are feeling then Insync would love to assist. We have some bespoke measurement tools that can be further customised to meet the needs of your unique organisation. Alternatively, if you just want to have a chat on the subject of psychosocial hazards or would like to be connected to peers then let us know. We would be delighted to help. Contact us.
Dr. Erika Szerda
Erika is passionate about helping organisations improve their performance and effectiveness by understanding the drivers of employee experience.
Erika has a Doctorate in Organisation and Industrial Psychology (Uni Melb) and is a registered psychologist. She is an expert in both quantitative and qualitative evidence-based methodologies. She combines these with vast consulting and leadership experience to provide insights and value to our clients.
Erika’s specialities include employee engagement/experience, alignment strategies, retention strategies, leadership, and team effectiveness.