Over the past 3 years I’ve had the privilege of speaking with hundreds of employers about their workplace mental health programs.
While workplace safety is a specialist area, addressing complex organisational needs, people at all levels within an organisation are able to immediately address physical safety issues in their workplaces.
If a computer cord was lying across a pathway and could easily be tripped over. Most people would move the cord, tape it down, or report it to the relevant person to ensure it is dealt with quickly and efficiently.
If we consider this cord in the pathway in terms of a safety issue, we have applied 4 key safety elements to address it:
Addressing this risk of the cord in the pathway would be deemed by many as common sense. Most Australian workplaces are now adept at dealing with physical risk.
However, an ‘unhealthy’ work environment can cause considerable stress and exacerbate an existing employee mental health condition, or contribute to the development of a mental illness. So our next challenge is to be able to identify and address psychosocial workplace risks.
When the word ‘psychosocial’ arises in conversations, unless I am speaking with OHS or HSE professionals, often eyes will glaze over and there seems to be limited understanding of what that term means. “Psychosocial hazards” are those hazards which impact an employee’s mental health and wellbeing.
Using the same four steps that are applied to physical risks in the workplace, let’s address a psychosocial risk such as lack of role clarity, which would be addressed by an employee’s line manager in many cases:
There are many online resources which can support us to address workplace psychosocial risk, SafeWork Australia and the Human Rights Commission are good places to start. Keep the Person at the Centre of the Conversation
Finally, whether we are identifying risks at an organisational level or for a single employee’s role, we need to involve our employees and ask the people who carry out the duties for their input on any potential risks or hazards, whether they are physical or psychosocial.
We need to move away from a “check-list” style of managing workplace strategies for mental health and be willing to engage in ongoing conversations with our people.
Just as we wouldn’t give the cord in the pathway a second thought, we need to become more comfortable and skilled in addressing psychosocial risks at work so that our workplaces provide a safe and healthy environment for everyone. I’m confident this can be achieved.