• Your workplace participates in “RUOK day” – tick
  • Your workplace is involved in Beyond Blue’s “Heads Up” initiative – tick
  • You have an EAP in place for your employees and their families – tick
  • You have a workplace health program which educates employees on hypertension, effects of alcohol use and the benefits of exercise – tick

Yet is it enough?

What are the impact of these initiatives?

You’re doing well to promote mental health in the workplace so deserve a pat on the back but if you are still experiencing the following, then there may be more systemic issues at play.

  • Low motivation
  • Decreased productivity
  • Increased turnover and absenteeism
  • Increased signs of burnout and stress
  • Increased safety issues
  • Low organisational commitment and engagement
  • Increased workplace conflict and counter-productive work behaviours
  • Infrequent and ineffective communication and poor information sharing
  • Increased bullying and harassment.

Beyond mental health promotion

Among other factors, the way your organisation is designed, the way work is structured and your organisational culture significantly contribute to mitigating psychosocial hazards that are harmful to your employees, resulting in low organisational outcomes such as those mentioned above.

So what are psychosocial hazards? A simple definition is

“those aspects of the design and management of work, and it’s social and organisational contexts, that have the potential for causing psychological or physical harm”

Employees regularly exposed to these psychosocial hazards in the workplace are more likely to develop stress responses and poor mental health conditions and/or worsen existing employee mental health conditions.

On the flip side, workplaces that can identify, prioritise, and manage these hazards are more likely to have healthier, happier employees, and are likely to be rewarded with good performance, productivity, client satisfaction and retention of employees.

As such if you are a manager or human resource/organisational development professional and your role contributes toward: job design, improving communications, creation of support, enhancing team dynamics; and managing workplace relations, you play a major part in the creation of psychologically healthy workplaces.

How does your organisation stack up against these organisational factors?

Let’s look at a different set questions and tick what you have in place:

  1. Do your employees have clarity about their role and how it fits into the bigger picture?
  2. Do employees have a sustainable balance of work demands, variety, autonomy and control over the way they do their job?
  3. Do your employees feel supported by the organisation, their supervisors and their peers so they feel safe enough to suggest new innovations, make mistakes and learn from them?
  4. Are your teams cohesive and functioning well?
  5. Are workplace relations good enough and conflicts dealt with at the lowest level?
  6. Do employees feel that organisational and operational procedures are fair and just?
  7. Are employees recognised and rewarded for good work?
  8. Are change initiatives justified, communicated effectively and involves active consultation?

If you can tick off these most of these, research would suggest you would be a high preforming organisation. Well done.

So what if you have room for improvement. What should your workplace focus on?

A Price Waterhouse Coopers Study (2014) estimates that:

“A positive ROI of 2.3 is possible through implementing effective actions to create a mentally healthy workplace.”

The study suggests that workplace should focus on:

  1. Raising awareness and reducing stigma
  2. Supporting staff with mental health conditions
  3. Creating a positive working environment

Let’s apply a standardised system used in industry to minimise or eliminate exposure to hazards, to give some insight into what organisations could focus on.

The Hierarchy of Hazard Control has six level so control measures whereby the most effective measure is at the top and the least effective is at the bottom. The idea is to start at the top of the hierarchy and work your way down. The hierarchy of control involves the following steps:

  1.  Elimination – removes the cause of the hazard completely by design.
  2. Substitution – control the hazard by replacing it with a less risky way to achieve the same outcome.
  3. Isolation – separates the hazard from the people at risk by isolating it.
  4. Engineering – making physical changes to lessen any remaining risk.
  5. Administration – use administrative controls to lessen the risk, e.g. provide training.
  6. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – require your employees to wear PPE.

Although not specifically designed for psychosocial hazards, this tool still proves conceptually useful in providing a spectrum of hazards control and its level of effectiveness. Let’s face it, designing out a hazard would always be more effective than wearing protective clothing to minimise exposure to the hazard.

So let’s look at organisational and work design factors against this hierarchy to manage psychosocial hazards. Can your workplace:

  1. Design roles with clarity, variety, autonomy and opportunity for control over the way the job is done? (Elimination)
  2. Minimise workload impacts through the establishment of strong peer and supervisory support structures if job demands can’t be designed out? (Substitution)
  3. Design performance management and development systems with a strong team element to ensure effective teamwork? (Substitution)
  4. Conduct inter and intra team events to increase understanding and trust thus minimising conflicts? (Engineering)
  5. Create checks and balances to ensure fair and equitable application of policies and procedures? (Administration)

The intent behind organisational and work design is to prevent and minimise the experience of psychosocial hazards. In the main, these interventions fall under the top end of the Hierarchy of Hazard Control spectrum and should therefore be seriously considered.

By all means, continue initiatives that promote mental health awareness, reduces stigma, and support staff with mental health conditions but if your workplace is not looking at the way the organisation and the work is designed, you may be missing out on a big piece of the pie that builds a psychologically healthy workplace.


Related article: The Design of Work Needs to Change to Prevent Mental Illness


PerMentis conducts psychosocial risk assessments and psychosocial hazards training as a means to assist organisations to create psychologically healthy workplaces. The team who provides these services are registered psychologists who have received specialist training to analyse organisations and their people, and devise strategies to recruit, motivate, develop, change and inspire. Our psychologists work with organisations, teams and individual employees to improve their performance and increase effectiveness and productivity in the workplace, striving to enhance people’s wellbeing by improving their experience at work. If you would like more information on our services, please visit our website (www.permentis.com.au) or email info@permentis.com.au

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