We all know that psychosocial risk needs to be identified and managed to prevent the harmful effects of work-related factors on staff health, workplace productivity and the bottom line, but organisations are still willing to ‘put off’ the risk assessment. The reasons for delaying a risk assessment that we often hear are “we’re going through organisational change, so we don’t feel it’s the best time” or “senior management is worried about survey fatigue” or even “we already have an engagement survey that asks similar questions”. Let’s look at these scenarios in more detail to weigh up the pros and cons of running a psychosocial risk assessment survey:
Organisational change can be a difficult time for both management and staff. Managers often need to do a lot of extra work to make sure the changes go smoothly, and staff are worried about how it will impact them. The change itself is a risk to mental health, which if poorly managed can lead to stress and psychological injury.
To help change go more smoothly best practice is to increase staff communication and consultation before, during, and after the process. Now, imagine you had short risk assessment survey that you can send out to get a gauge on what staff thing about the psychological safety in the current work environment and whether their mental health is going to be prioritised during the change process. You could use this information to better prepare and incorporate actions directly targeting any issues identified by the risk assessment to avoid psychological harm during the process. A risk assessment conducted before and after the change process can be used to evaluate if the changes have had an impact on psychological safety in your work environment.
We are all asked to take surveys on a regular basis, whether it be from work or in our personal lives. This can cause survey fatigue, which is where people have been asked to complete surveys so many times that they no longer want to respond. But is it about the survey, or is it more about the return on your investment of time? A long time ago market researchers found if you offer enough of a reward people willingly give their time to drive across town to answer your questions.
What do your staff get from taking your surveys? If the answer is ‘not much’, there is an opportunity to make sure that this time is different. Usually, it’s enough to show that the information will be used to make meaningful changes to systems of work that directly benefit their health and wellbeing. With the surveys that we use, we have seen staff participation increase over time, as workers start experiencing the benefits to their mental health.
With surveys being sent to staff for different purposes and possibly from different areas of the business, it is highly likely that there will be some overlap. It is possible that you may already be gathering the information you need to measure and manage psychosocial risk. But how do you know if the questions you are asking are capturing the right information? While numerous risk assessment tools are capturing data on known psychosocial hazards such as excessive job demands, bullying and harassment, lack of adequate supports, they may not be giving you information on why these hazards are occurring to begin with.
Existing surveys are often unclear about the two components that contribute to risk; potential for hazards to occur, and likelihood that if they do occur that they will cause harm. It should be clear which survey items are identifying factors that contribute to risk of exposure to hazards, which we refer to as a ‘Proactive Climate’ for psychological health. But not all hazards can be avoided, so you need to know if your resources and supports are adequately protecting workers from psychological harm when exposures occur, which we refer to as the Reactive Climate.
You may want to check out our PRC16 page to see if any of your existing survey items capture the known conditions needed for creating a psychologically safe environment.
Having the right information is essential to making the right decisions. Risk assessments that provide clear and useful information can be a powerful tool to better manage organisational change, engage your workers in the process, and allocate resources effectively resulting in direct benefits to both worker health and organisational productivity outcomes.
In conclusion, there are some things that you need to take into consideration when running a psychosocial risk assessment survey. How many times you run it, how will participation benefit your staff directly and are you getting what you need to know out of your existing assessments. But when it comes to the question of when… the best time is NOW (and repeat regularly).