There’s a real note of stress in the air.  Terms like “burnout” and “overwhelmed” are being thrown around in the workplace and even at home. Mental health services are inundated with people that are finding it hard to deal with the pressures of work and home.

But one Australian study of worker psychological safety in public and private workplaces has proven that wellbeing can actually improve during turbulent times.  Researchers from the University of South Australia and the Centre for Workplace Excellence found that worker wellbeing can improve during not only COVID, but bushfires too. 

How did they do it? The study was all about measuring the Psychosocial Safety Climate of experimental groups in the workplaces and using an innovative Implementation Program to create and maintain psychologically safe environments at work. 

What is Psychosocial Safety Climate?

Psychosocial Safety Climate refers to four underlying psychosocial factors in a workplace that lead to psychological and physical harm.  These four factors if managed correctly can improve the psychological safety in workplace and the health of its workers. 

The first factor is senior management support and commitment to psychological health through being proactive and getting involved. This factor is high when senior management take quick and decisive action to address and correct issues that affect psychological health.​

Second is about the priority that management give to worker psychological health and safety versus productivity goals. Management has a high influence on demands and resources and in most cases can offer a variety of resources, such as work flexibility, autonomy, and social support that can buffer demands and reduce work stress. 

Third is organisational communication that measures how all workers communicate about psychological health and safety, including identification of risks to mental health, strategies for risk control and hazard management.   

The final factor, organisational participation, is about how workers are expected to participate in stress prevention initiatives. It also includes how stakeholders like workers, unions, and health and safety representatives work together to resolve issues.

What was included in the Implementation Program?

The program included firstly measuring the Psychosocial Safety Climate of the workplaces, then educating key workplace representatives on psychosocial hazards before providing them with their risk assessment report.  The representatives were then guided by expert consultants in a workshop to develop an action plan aimed at addressing the issues raised in the report. 

Immediately following the workshop, the experts provided one month of consultation to finalise the action plan and embed it in the workplaces. Psychosocial Safety Climate was measured again at the end of the consulting period.

To provide further support and motivation to the representatives, the expert consultants then ran monthly networking sessions which allowed the workplaces to share ideas, experiences, and resources.  Psychosocial Safety Climate was then measured a final time to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention program.

What were the results?

Wellbeing improved in the participating workplaces.  The workers in the experimental group improved their Psychosocial Safety Climate score at the end of the consultation and again at the end of the program (during COVID restrictions). 

Feedback from the stakeholders highlighted that education on psychosocial risk and action planning created a buffer for the stressors of COVID and the bushfires.  The ongoing consultation and networking helped the participants to stay focused on the actions and identify ways to break through some of the challenges they were facing. 

What can we learn from the study?

There were some very interesting take-aways from this study:

It’s not just one thing that creates wellbeing at work.  It’s about embedding a systematic approach that has senior management support and involves all the key stakeholders.  This takes some resources to do properly, but according to the participating workplaces, the rewards are worth it.

Another important lesson was that workers were happy to do a survey three times in 12 months, because they were excited to see the outcome of their hard work.  This goes against the normal ‘survey fatigue’ issue that we hear about in workplaces.  It shows that when the results are meaningful workers are happy to engage in the process.

They also found that the project had a positive effect on the control group – who had only been watching the interventions from afar.  The Psychosocial Safety Climate score seemed to increase in the control group just knowing that there is commitment to improving mental health in the workplace.

Lastly, education and action planning around psychosocial risk management provided a buffering factor for workers, which stood up to the challenges of COVID and Bushfires.  Who knows what the next crisis will be, but if we can prepare our workers for it, we will have a more happy and productive workforce.    

Read more about PRC16, The OPUS Centre’s tool for measuring the proactive and reactive elements of a workplace’s Psychosocial Safety Climate.

Talk to us today about how we can help you identify hazards in your organisation and implement programs to address psychosocial risks. Call 1800 309 570 or fill in the form below:

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