7 Tips to Get You Started on Creating a Psychologically Healthy Workplace

The OHS amendments set the scene for what employers have to do to meet their obligations but creating a psychologically healthy and thriving workplace goes beyond just meeting your obligations. It extends from preventing harm to promoting the positive aspects of work, right the way through to managing illness if and when it occurs. This can only be achieved by taking an integrated approach to psychological health that holistically considers the role the workplace plays in both protecting and negatively impacting the psychological health of workers. By considering some of the following tips employers can feel confident they are on the right path to not only meet their obligations but begin their journey towards true psychological health in the context of work.

1) Gain leadership buy-in

If there has ever been a time where gaining leadership buy-in was easier, it’s now. Given the changes to the OHS regulations are on every workplace’s doorstep creating a psychologically healthy workplace and investing in strategies around this is no longer a ‘nice to have’ or ‘if there’s enough budget left over’ solution. Most workplaces have turned the corner in seeing the importance of psychological health in the workplace and it’s not a hard sell, but for those trailing behind the formality of the OHS obligations are the carrot they may need.

Do the work to get your executive leadership team on board with why an investment in psychological health is the right move for your workplace, use data and research to build your business case, and if there are specific problem areas for your workplace, present these also. If the leaders are on board and walking the walk, the strategy put in place is far more likely to succeed.

2) Identify and assess risks

It can be difficult to know where to start with identifying and assessing psychosocial risks in your workplace. A good place however is to understand the most common psychosocial risks as mentioned in our previous newsletter and use existing tools and resources in your workplace to determine if these may be an issue for you. For example, you may use your workplace engagement survey, wellbeing survey, or other data sources such as workers’ compensation and absence data. Consult with your workforce and ask your employees about their experiences at work through focus groups is a highly recommended approach.

There are some great resources from People at Work and Thrive At Work that could give you a head start also. But if you are really stuck and need some guidance along the way, our team at Aspect specialises in the identification and management of psychosocial risks in the workplace and can be a trusted advisor in your psychologically healthy workplace journey.

3) Control risks where possible

Once you have identified the psychosocial risks that are specific to your workplace the next job is to control them where possible. Importantly, not all risks can be completely removed, and this is ok, however where you can mitigate the risk, an effort should be made to do so, and if not, have appropriate support and measures in place to minimise the impact of that risk.

A clear psychological health strategy or prevention plan which addresses the key risks with a tangible plan of how as a workplace you are aiming to prevent harm, promote the positive and manage illness should be in place. The more tailored and specific this is to your workplace the better, there’s no one size fits all and generic plans that purely tick the box do not work.

Examples of controls may include addressing unrealistic workload if this is a risk by investing in more resources, addressing KPI’s or having workload limits in place. In a workplace where exposure to traumatic events is common and part of the job (say in emergency services), this may be addressed by having clear mandatory protocols around debriefing or reflective practice and boosting protective factors in the workplace (such as manager support). Lastly, if the reward for effort is identified as a risk, investing in structured reward and recognition programs and clear processes around career development and progression could be helpful.

4) Take an integrated approach

A holistic strategy to address psychological health in your workplace must use an integrated approach. Most well intending workplaces invest the most energy and time into support services for those that are experiencing a mental illness. Although helpful, this approach is reactive, and when it comes to psychological health, prevention is better than cure. An integrated approach is one that focuses on prevention right the way through to support or management.

First, we must aim to prevent harm, we do this by identifying and addressing work-related risks to minimise the impact on the psychological health of our people. The next step in adopting an integrated approach is to promote the positive aspects of work and leverage and enhance those parts of work that protect our psychological health and contribute positively to our wellbeing. Lastly, we should be identifying, responding to, and supporting those people experiencing mental illness, stress, and distress.

This multi-faceted approach to psychological health in the workplace is a great place to start, not only in identifying any gaps but responding to said gaps with appropriate levels of intervention. Building a strategy to address psychological health in your workplace that is tailored specifically to your workplace and addressing the risks you have identified will certainly set you up for success.

5) Consult with your people

A strategy or plan that is about your people should involve your people, simple! Once you have identified the risks applicable to your workplace and considered best practice approaches to addressing these risks ask the people that matter the most, those that do the job. Consulting with and involving your staff in the creation of your psychological health strategy or plan will make them feel included, but importantly gain much needed support and buy in to ensure everyone is accountable for, accepting of and supporting the plan in action. This goes a long way towards creating a culture where a psychologically healthy workplace is everyone’s business.

6) Don’t ignore the ‘too hard’ basket

This one is quite specific, but worth consideration. Often there are things in the workplace that are in the ‘too hard’ basket and it’s easy to sweep them to the side and put a band-aid over the top. But when it comes to creating a psychologically healthy workplace this approach can do more harm than good. Often workload or work design is put straight into the ‘too hard’ basket because it is exactly that, hard to address, takes effort, and is time-consuming. However, if we ignore it, any other initiatives we put in place could be counterproductive.

Consider this example, 80% of our staff have extremely high and unreasonable workloads with unrealistic KPIs that are almost impossible to reach. In our engagement surveys, it’s the number one issue year on year and has been noted to cause stress, burnout, and potentially even mental illness. Now, instead of addressing the workload or work-design issues that are clearly present, we give every department fruit boxes once a week and yoga on a Wednesday (that nobody can attend because they are too busy and aren’t even taking lunch breaks). You get the hint!

We need to go deep and get to the crux of the issues when assessing psychosocial risks and look at causation rather than symptom and importantly don’t brush over the too hard basket, embrace it and see it as the biggest opportunity to make meaningful change.

7) Invest in psychological health literacy

Knowledge is power and this could not be truer than when it comes to understanding psychological health. The more knowledge and understanding your workforce has of their own psychological health, the psychological health of those around them, and how the workplace contributes the more psychologically healthy your workplace will be. This is due in part to the ability knowledge has to decrease stigma, but also the level of empowerment your people will feel to address their own psychological health while positively contributing to the workplace.

Consider the role training and development programs and formal learning about psychological health can play in your workplace as well as the appropriateness and fit for storytelling and lived experience programs. At Aspect, we offer a range of training programs that may be the perfect fit.

The time is now to put psychological health and safety on the agenda

There is no better time to get the ball rolling on creating a psychologically healthy workplace, if you are not yet confident in what the best approach is for your workplace Aspect Group can help – we’d love to partner with you on your journey.