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Providing a psychologically safe and positive workplace culture

This podcast examines how employers can provide a psychologically safe and positive workplace culture. Presented by Nicole Hughes, registered occupational therapist, you will learn how work design, culture and relationships are important factors influencing worker mental health, and directly correlates to how work-related psychological injuries are caused, prevented and managed.

Creating a psychologically safe workplace can lead to improved health outcomes for the worker, and also reduced financial and human costs through reduced absenteeism and fewer compensation claims.

Run time: 10:13.

Download a copy of this podcast (MP3, 9 MB)

Dom:

Welcome to this educational webcast, proudly brought to you by the Office of Industrial Relations. Today's webcast, we will speak with one of the Office of Industrial Relations own, Nicole Hughes. Nicole works within Workplace Health and Safety Queensland as a Principal Advisor in our Psychological Health Unit and is a registered occupational therapist. She has over 15 years' experience working in the area of workplace mental health with particular interest in psychological safety, injury management, employee support, and early intervention. Today, Nicole will talk to how employers can provide psychologically safe workplaces.

Dom:

Well, thank you very much, Nicole, for joining us for this webcast. And to start things off, I might just ask you to talk to us about a broad definition, if you can talk to us a little bit about what a psychologically safe workplace actually looks like.

Nicole Hughes:

Thanks Dom. A psychologically safe workplace is one that promotes workplace practices that support positive mental health, and also eliminate and minimise the psychological health and safety risks. The other aspect of it is workplaces that support the recovery of workers after a physical or psychological injury. That risk assessment process, or identifying your psychosocial hazards is really important to maintaining a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. So, some of those hazards that a workplace needs to be aware of are things like high or low work demands, low levels of control that workers have, or low levels of autonomy, poorly managed change. There's some specific hazards as well, like unmanaged fatigue, work-related violence, workplace conflict is another area, work-related bullying. So, there's a number of different hazard areas. There are also some protective factors too and these are things like supportive leadership and high levels of control in the workplace, and good reward and recognition systems, organisational justice, that type of thing are important protective factors.

Dom:

Yeah, I suppose, that's a very broad kind of definition and expectations for a psychologically safe workplace. Thank you for that discussion point.

Dom:

When we talk about psychological safety, there's been a lot of attention of late around promoting psychologically safe workplaces, and to cover off all of those psychosocial risks and hazards that you just mentioned. But what are some of the deeper meanings as to why it's so important that we actually look after our staff and provide that psychologically safe workplace? Can you talk to some of the reasons why and considerations for employers?

Nicole Hughes:

Yeah. One thing we know is that psychological injuries have significant financial and human costs, so it's important to prevent psychological injuries if we can, so that's one aspect of the advantages of a psychological healthy and safe workplace. The other is that it's important when you're returning a worker to the workplace that that environment is a psychologically safe one, and this is one of the challenges with return to work.

Dom:

Yeah, the return to work kind of stage for an injured worker is, certainly a challenge when it comes to someone experiencing psychological symptoms and ensuring that the workplace is supportive, and psychologically safe for them to return is imperative.

Dom:

When it comes to the psychosocial hazards that you mentioned earlier, how can an employer, or a manager out there in the workplace, how can they identify those? You got any tips on how a manager might be able to identify those psychosocial hazards?

Nicole Hughes:

Yeah there's a number of ways of doing that. For larger organisations, you can use a psychosocial risk assessment process, like something like People at Work. And People at Work is a tool that's available through WorkSafe that's freely available for organisations. The other thing, the other ways you can do it too at team meetings, you can talk about psychosocial hazards, whether or not people are experiencing the pressure of those. So, it can be done as a team. It can also be done just one-to-one. Like you and I could have a conversation about what we felt were the factors that were putting us under pressure at work. So, you can do it one-on-one as well.

Dom:

Yeah, great. And I think that, certainly, the evidence tells us, a lot of the research out there tells us, and you can probably echo this in your experience, Nicole, that the return on investment for those employees who go further in the workplace to engage with their staff and lead well, there's a strong return on investment when it comes to compensation claims for psychological injury. So, there's a better chance for less claims and there's a better recovery rate for those who may still become psychologically injured for whatever reason. So, there's a better chance for people to get better at work if there's that strong leadership support and accountability across the board.

Nicole Hughes:

Workplaces also have access to organisational health data that you can use to see if there are risks in the workplace. So, this data are things like your absenteeism, turnover, psychological injuries, people on income protection, customer complaints, looking at your employee assistance program data too. So, is the employee assistance program being used by workers? So, you do want a reasonable utilisation rate because I that tells you that people know about it and they trust it. You also are looking at the ratio of work related to non-work related reasons for referral. So, you can sort of see if there's elevated work-related reasons for referral, and why are people going to EAP. Is it because of change or bullying or conflict? So that's another sort of source of data that you can use as well.

Dom:

So, what I'm hearing there Nicole is the importance of workplaces one, being able to develop the data from their staff, or what's going on, getting a sense of what's going on through surveys, or accessing workplace health data. But I think it's also important for employers to recognise that they should be encouraging early reporting of incidents in the workplace because that will promote a positive workplace culture whether those occurrences, or incidents relate to physical risks, or hazards, or psychological incidents that may cause harm. So, certainly, that's a big thing for me to encourage employees to really promote that early reporting, ensuring that that staff aren't kind of trying to avoid reporting for fear of a negative consequence, or having a culture where staff may be thinking there's no point reporting it because nothing will get done.

Dom:

And that leads into the next question for you in relation to the specific responsibilities for employees when it comes to providing a safe workplace. Can you talk to some of those points for us?

Nicole Hughes:

So, managers have a responsibility under the Workplace Health and Safety Act to manage risks associated with exposure to hazards arising from work that could result in either physical or psychological harm. But workers also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety, and not adversely the effect of other people's health and safety. Also, on the legislation there's emphasis on the importance of consultation. So, it's important for everyone in the workplace to be consulted around this area of psychological safety. And also that they're involved in the development of the control measures that are used to decrease the risk of psychosocial hazards.

Dom:

Okay so, there are some of the legislative provisions and some of the reasons why we really promote psychologically safe workplaces from a legislative perspective. But, I think, I can't emphasise enough that the human aspect of why we do what we do in promoting psychologically safe workplaces to ensure the wellbeing of the people that work for us.

Dom:

And so thank you very much, Nicole, for providing some insights in relation to how we can go about improving the workplaces for the psychological benefit of the people who work for us. I think some of the key points to take away from today's webcast is the requirement for managers and workplaces to provide a strong management commitment, and leadership to the early identification of the psychosocial risks, that you mentioned. And to ensure that wherever needed and wherever possible that managers and employers consult with their staff in order to manage those risks and use them as part of the solution to some of the things that are going wrong and how to improve the safety of the workplace.

Dom:

So, did you have any closing comments for our listeners?

Nicole Hughes:

Thanks Dom. There are some resources on the WorkSafe site that your listeners may be interested in. One is the mentally healthy workplaces toolkit, so that using our integrated approach, there's lots of resources there, case studies, videos, information that assist managers to create a mentally healthy and safe workplace. There's also information on that risk management process that I've been mentioning, and there's some specific resources around some risk areas. Now, these risk areas, for example, work-related stress, fatigue, work-related bullying, work-related violence.

Dom:

Excellent. So once, again, thanks very much for coming on today and talking to our listeners, Nicole. And thank you everybody for listening.

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