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Psychosocial safety and the community sector.

In the community sector, the physical safety of workers and clients has always been a key priority. But recently, the spotlight has shifted towards understanding and ensuring something just as important – psychosocial safety.

In this post, we’ll take a look at what psychosocial safety actually is, its significance in the community sector, and how organisations, leaders, and individuals can help create safe work environments.

Understanding Psychosocial Safety

Before we begin, a couple of definitions may be helpful – “psychosocial” refers to the relationships between people in terms of their thoughts, behaviours, and social environment, while “psychological” specifically concerns an individual’s mind and thoughts.

When we talk about psychosocial safety, we mean creating a workplace free from discrimination, harassment, and other forms of negative behaviour that can cause significant psychological damage.

Safe Work Australia identifies numerous situations as potential psychosocial hazards. When these issues persist or multiple factors converge, they can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or sleep disorders. Some of the issues include:

  1. Job demands
  2. Low job control
  3. Poor support
  4. Poor organisational change management
  5. Inadequate reward and recognition
  6. Poor organisational justice
  7. Traumatic events or materials
  8. Poor physical work environment
  9. Violence and aggression
  10. Bullying
  11. Harassment, including sexual harassment
  12. Conflict or poor workplace relationships and interactions
Why Psychosocial Safety Matters

Put simply, psychosocial safety matters because the health and wellbeing of people matters!

In addition, there are a wide range of reasons why psychosocial safety is important, not just for workers, but for organisations as a whole.

Employees who grapple with bullying, harassment, or other negative workplace behaviours often struggle to stay focused and meet expectations, leading to reduced productivity. Conversely, when employees feel valued, respected, and supported, their motivation and commitment to their work rise. This creates a win-win situation for both employees and employers.

Empowered and supported individuals and teams are more likely to innovate and deliver exceptional results. Fostering an innovative culture, including a healthy approach to risk, is only possible when employees feel safe to experiment, try new approaches, and learn from failures.

Organisations that prioritise their employees’ well-being and create supportive work environments build reputations as ethical and responsible employers. This reputation appeals to customers and stakeholders who value organisations that prioritise people.

Obstacles to Achieving Psychosocial Safety

Despite the clear advantages, several obstacles can hinder the achievement of psychosocial safety in our workplaces:

  1. Lack of Clarity and Confusion: Unclear roles, vague task descriptions, and undefined expectations can create uncertainty and disagreements, hampering performance and standards.
  2. Poor Visibility of Negative Behaviour: Subtle forms of negative behaviour, particularly in remote working conditions, can go unnoticed, making it challenging to detect potential issues.
  3. Fear of Speaking Up and Retribution: Many individuals fear speaking up due to concerns about being perceived as overly sensitive or not being seen as team players. It’s often easier to leave an organisation than confront an unsafe environment.
  4. Dismissal or Protection of Poor Behaviour: An informal culture that protects or dismisses problematic behaviour can stem from management’s lack of awareness or reluctance to address uncomfortable situations.
  5. Lack of Time and Skills: Leaders may struggle to create psychosocial safety due to concerns about handling difficult conversations or lacking the necessary interpersonal skills.
  6. Competition Over Collaboration: A culture of “win at all costs” can create stressful environments fraught with psychosocial risks.

Now that we know what psychosocial safety is, some of the hazards and obstacles that can lead to unsafe environments, let’s take a closer look at how leaders, organisations, and employees can all play their part in improving psychosocial safety.

How leaders can help improve psychosocial safety
  1. Provide Clarity and Set Expectations: Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and expectations to reduce uncertainty and confusion within the team.
  2. Foster Open Communication and Create Space: Encourage open dialogue and create channels for employees to express concerns or grievances without fear of reprisal.
  3. Be a Role Model and Take Responsibility: Lead by example, setting the tone for expected behaviour and accountability within the organisation.
  4. Promote Work-Life Balance Authentically: Promote work-life balance by supporting flexible work arrangements and discouraging excessive work hours.
  5. Develop Skills and Capabilities: Cultivate skills such as active listening, feedback, trust-building, and coaching to create safe spaces for teams to address psychosocial risks.
How organisations can help improve psychosocial safety
  1. Invest in Training and Development: Facilitate development opportunities for employees, including conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and stress management training.
  2. Increase Employee Confidence: Support individuals in voicing their challenges and needs, creating a culture where speaking up against inappropriate behaviour is encouraged and protected.
  3. Listen to Signals and Respond to Warning Signs: Create spaces for employees to share their experiences, unveiling hidden issues and allowing the organisation to respond proactively.
  4. Leverage Your Values: Align organisational values with expected behaviours, setting explicit expectations about what is not tolerated in the workplace.
  5. Provide Support and Resources: Ensure employees have access to necessary resources and support tools for effective job performance.
How employees can contribute to psychosocial safety
  1. Prioritise Self-Care: Engage in self-care activities, including mindfulness and meditation, to recharge mentally and emotionally.
  2. Build a Support Network and Ask for Help: Reach out to trusted friends, family, or colleagues for guidance and support. Don’t hesitate to ask for help when needed.
  3. Monitor and Address Early Signs: Be vigilant for warning signs of burnout, such as chronic exhaustion, irritability, and decreased motivation, and take steps to address them.
  4. Increase Self-Awareness and Self-Regulation: Question your biases, seek feedback, and be curious about how your behaviour affects others.
  5. Set and Enforce Boundaries: Establish clear work-life boundaries and have the courage to uphold them, ensuring personal well-being and addressing psychosocial risks.

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