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Creating psychologically healthy workplaces

Safe Work Month 2019

Dr Natasha Lazareski

Presented by: Dr Natasha Lazareski

Natasha has over 20 years’ experience working with organisations to support the creation of safe and healthy workplaces.

Employers are rapidly recognising the need to create ‘Healthy’ work environments that encourage and maintain caring, respectful and supportive relationships. In this session you’ll learn the core characteristics of psychologically healthy workplaces, what it really takes to build one and where to start.

Run time: 16:50

Download a copy of this podcast (MP3, 15 MB)

Creating psychologically healthy workplaces

Presented by: Dr Natasha Lazareski

[Start of transcript]

Spencer Howsen: Dr. Natasha Lazareski, welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: Thank you. Good to be here.

Spencer Howsen: You've come up with a 10-point plan for creating a psychologically healthy workplace. I love a 10-point plan. This is great, and I'd love for you just to take us through what those key points are.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: Oh, thank you. I actually narrowed it down to 10. It can be 20 and hundred. The first and most important part is to do appropriate psychosocial risk analysis for the workplace and understanding what are actually the risks in your work place. Very often, people are just looking at the symptoms. They just see things happening, and they just launch straight away in bringing initiatives to fix those problems without understanding what is the cause of them. They don't even understand what the psychosocial risks are actually, what are the demands placed on the employees and workers in the workplace. So the first and most important part is understanding what are those job demands, which we call psychosocial risks, that can cause a psychological injury to occur?

Spencer Howsen: That's number one?

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: Yeah, and number two is once we understand what are those risks, we need to understand what do we need to implement to actually minimise those risks. It's not just visible risk like bullying and harassment. The risk may be anything from doctor's reporting line, one person reporting to two different managers, ambiguity of jobs, unclear purpose to leadership behaviour and approach to change management.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: So, the initiatives that we're implementing have to cover all of that, have to cover the organisational approach to how we do business to the individual... Do we have individuals here that are able to deal with the demands of the job? Who are we employing? Is our employee able to deal with the demands here? Are their psychological strength and/or resilience good, and do we need to do something there? It needs to be multi-layered and holistic, so what is the prevention? What is the early intervention, and what is your ongoing support that we provide to our staff?

Spencer Howsen: I just want to pick you up on something you said there, which was about the... someone reporting to two different people or ambiguity of their job. Why is that an issue?

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: Well, if you report to two people, it's like a, it works great if those two people are actually aligned and they have the same goal, the same purpose, and the same values. It's highly unlikely in today's work environment, so you will find a person reporting to one person that is saying, "You need to do X, Y, and Z," and then they go to the other, and then that person doesn't agree with that.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: It's like praying at two different churches, I usually say, and it usually happens in HR or roles where you kind of belong to the business and learning development. You're sitting in the business, but you actually have a centralised management. So those are the roles where people are saying, "What am I going to do here? How do I actually meet both people's expectations?" If those reporting lines are hard to replace or change, what we need then to think who are we going to place in those two positions, how we employ our leaders. That brings me to the next point.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: We need then to have leaders that are able to work together and understand that if we work against each other, then the person that reports to us will suffer, so employing leaders that are value-based leaders, that are linked strongly with how I want to treat myself and others here. “What do I want to stand for?” “How am I perceived?” “What is important here for others, not just for myself”, is very important part, and also, leaders who understand “What are the psychosocial risk?”, which leads me to fourth point, and that is once when you understand what are the psychosocial risk in your organisation, then you need to inform leaders. You need to bring leaders in the board and say, "This is what hurts people. We need to really know how we can actually, as leaders, minimise those risks, and what is the role of the leader to do that?

Spencer Howsen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: Obviously, you need to have a leader who is self-aware and aware of others, we call that psychological flexibility, who is able to stand back and the deal through their own insecurities, their own questions, and their own need to be right. I put that aside, then actually focus on what is the purpose of me being here and what is it that we need to achieve.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: We often forget the leaders are just humans, and as any other human, they have brain that wants to save them. Very often, that brain is saying, "I need to check that you've done the right job," which then becomes a micromanager or, "You may do this wrong," or, "You always do this wrong," and blaming, and so on. So we need to develop those leaders that are able to be more mindful and step back from being reactive to actually be more thinking about others.

Spencer Howsen: Just before you go on, this has been a bit of a theme of all of these conversations that managers need to be human and think about if they were the person, if they were their employee, how would they want to be treated? If you think in those terms, it really does make you look closely at some of the ways you behave or decisions you've made, doesn't it?

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: It does. It's really hard to do it. we are hard hardwired to ask the question, "Is this good or bad for me? Do I look good or bad?" In order to be the leader who is able to put themselves in other position, they need to train their brains to do that. We call that part of the brain prefrontal cortex. You really need to step back and be able to do it, and that means that you need to first learn how to deal with what's inside you, what's inside your brain, what your brain is messaging because as long as your mind is focused and perceiving the world through what's your internal talk, what is your brain saying, then you're unable to actually open your eyes and see what's out there.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: Leaders these days, are also placed under huge pressure to perform, and that pressure also closes the mind to step back and take wider picture on everything else. So I think the demands placed on the leader by just saying, "You need to place yourself in others' position," is unrealistic if you don't actually allow that leader to train that and train that in them.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: That brings me to another point that I have, and that is building the leadership that's flexible, that's able to be courageous. We talk about confidence. Confidence I don't like because it sometimes, it means the people are actually having a high self-esteem and not necessarily are the best leaders, but courageous leaders, leaders that are able to show their weakness and not be afraid of it. Leaders that are able to trust others. That's the leader that we want, the leader of tomorrow.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: What we need to do in order to create a workplace that is psychologically healthy is to have a commitment and engagement from everyone. It needs to become this psychological safety. It's not what we do to people, what we do with people. It's how we live. It's like putting a seatbelt on in the car. Firstly, it is something we had to do because police was monitoring it, but now it became just the instinct to do it. It's not because someone is monitoring, but because that's how we want to treat ourselves. We want to be safe, so what we need to do is build that organisation that really wants to be safe. It's committed to doing it.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: So, when the leader who builds that leaves, that organisation continues to become... to actually stay psychologically safe, and that means that the infrastructure and everything we build is he main question it's asking is, "Are we all psychologically safe and physically safe here, and how do we want to treat ourselves and others?" If you're coming to work here with us, do you share our beliefs? Not necessarily the values that are listed on the wall, but behaviours that underlie those values and beliefs that we have about how we should treat each other, and that's what we call commitment and engagement.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: The last point I wanted to bring is the very important part of the organisations, and every single organisation today list values. We talk about what do we want to stand for as a matter of values. However, it's highly unlikely that they also have very descriptive behaviours, what underlies those values.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: So, for me, as a Balkan woman, respect and respectful behaviour. Maybe it's completely different than it is for you as the Englishman, the behaviours that are saying, "I'm respectful." In my country, sometimes we don't always say please, but we always say thank you. In your country, they would always say please, and so you would consider that I'm not respectful if I don't say that.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: So, defining all those behaviours. Rolling eyes in meetings when someone is saying something you don't agree and making those behaviours clear of what's acceptable and what's not, and then managing misbehaviours appropriately in a really very effective and efficient way is also part of your psychosocial risk management. Understanding how I need to behave here and what is acceptable here, and actually knowing that if someone behaves in a way that that's not acceptable, that person will be spoken to and they will be managed is very important to us as human beings, so we need to ensure that that's happening.

Spencer Howsen: What are some things that organisations do wrong when they're attempting to create a psychologically healthy workplace?

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: Oh, the most common thing that usually happens when they actually call me as well is, they just launch in solution. They usually say, "We need a resilience program. We need to build everyone resilience because they can't deal with the change." I have so often managers saying... It's like that book “Who Moved My Cheese?” They can't just understand that they need to deal with it, and they usually say it's not... The problem wasn't in the cheese being moved, but in mice not knowing the cheese had to be moved and where the cheese is.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: You really need to, instead of launching and trying to do yoga initiative, bringing initiatives that are from providers that are promoting them as the best ever and you're going to have quick solution to actually understand what I want to achieve with this, and is it the core problem that I'm resolving, or am I just ticking a box that someone told me I need to tick? So that's the first, most common issue.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: The second issue that I see with organisations and the way they do psychosocial risk management is that they don't have enough data to, in the first place, understand what are the psychosocial risks, so collecting any information about absenteeism, about leadership training, leadership behaviours, disputes in the workplace. what are the most common misbehaviours that we have?

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: Understanding the information that you get from people culture surveys and actually looking what's behind that, having discussions with your staff is very important and collecting all that data. Workplaces usually don't do that, and very often, when I do psychosocial risk assessments for them, they usually don't like the report, and they find it very confronting, and that's where I was talking about being courageous. In leadership, you really need to be able to feel vulnerable and say, "Okay. Maybe we need to change something here so that we have better outcomes."

Spencer Howsen: From your experience, is it small organisations or large organisations that do this really well?

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: I had both, small and large organisations, that do terribly and that do it well. The problem with the large organisations is they have lots of resources. They're pouring lots of money into wrong programs and wrong approach. If they do it right, then the leadership may leave, and then it's going to fail. Small organisations are more, and especially family-based businesses are more likely to continue going on and doing it right.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: The large organisations, sometimes it's disconnected. There is a disconnection. One department does this great and the other department may not do it really well. So, I find the medium-sized organisations that are really committed to this and investing time and effort in it that they actually have great results and also good business results, which is what we want.

Spencer Howsen: So, with the large organisations, it's about whoever is at the top or whoever is driving it, really communicating it, and making, just helping everyone to understand why rather than them being the champion, and as you say, once they leave, it all just falls apart?

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: Exactly, and it needs to be driven from the top and not even CEO, the board. Board, and CEO, and leadership team is very important. Decision-makers, and so that if one... It needs to become the part of who we are as an organisation, so if you want to join our organisation, this is who we are, and that gets taken in the future as well.

Spencer Howsen: It's been fascinating. Dr. Natasha Lazareski, thank you for being on the podcast today.

Dr. Natasha Lazareski: Thank you.

[End of transcript]