I was asked to coach Sam, a frontline customer service officer. On listening to Sam’s story, I hear that they have recently broken up with their partner. At work, the normally easy-going Sam, who put up with problems of short staffing by working harder, has become short tempered themself. Sam was recently cautioned by a supervisor for yelling at a difficult customer. Sam is now considering resigning.*
New Federal workplace laws widen the responsibility for identifying and responding to hazards to include psychosocial hazards. This has been part of work health and safety in many State jurisdictions. As a result of Federal (and State laws) leaders must proactively prevent and manage psychosocial risks. What does this mean?
While Sam’s employer is not responsible for Sam’s home situation, they are responsible for how Sam personal issues might be triggered at work by the way the workplace and his role are configured.
Psychosocial hazards in the workplace must be managed by employers in the same way as physical hazards – through assessing the risk so that there can be prevention-management-response.
What are psychosocial hazards in the workplace?
The language of hazards is about ‘trip factors’ in a person’s relationship with their working environment that can cause harm or injury – physical, psychological, or both. The number of claims for workers compensation for psychological harm has increased over the last years so it is critical to understand how the workplace may be contributing to this situation.
Psychosocial hazards are about the way work is carried out and its effects on a person. It includes relationships between people in a social environment. Psychosocial hazards arise from common issues in workplaces like unreasonable work demands, low job control, poor behaviours, stressful clients, unresolved conflict and job insecurity.
Psychological harms refers to experiences of the mind and mental health that can result from psychosocial hazards. These include distress, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, sleep disorders and post-traumatic stress.
Sam’s story illustrates how personal and work factors can combine to create a risk to health and safety in the workplace. Responding to the surface issue – poor work behaviour – without considering the person and the environment the person is working in, may mean that you are not managing the hazard appropriately. In Sam’s case picking up the personal struggle can lead to how he and others are dealing with the number of work hours, or whether there is monitoring of the amount of ‘difficult conversations’ they should have in a day.
There are a number of categories of risk that are useful to consider when surveying the environment for trip factors:
Here are our 5 top tips
1. Understand and be conscious of the nature of psychosocial hazard. This will assist in the design and management of work. It makes one conscious of the areas that guardrails: matters like work hours, being exposed to trauma, dealing with difficult clients. The categories above are designed as a prompt.
2. Research shows that workers from diverse backgrounds: women, young workers, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, LGBTIQA+ and workers with disabilities may be more exposed to psychosocial hazards. Think about engaging with these groups in your workplace proactively. Importantly make sure they have people to reach out to who they feel safe to approach and will be skilled at listening empathetically and responding by actioning items with the appropriate people in the workplace.
3. Ensure clear and consistent communications about where to go for support, advice and get a problem solved. People forget, so over communicate. Reach out when people sign up, on board, when they get their pay, when you meet. This is like any safety moment it needs repetition.
4. Make sure all your leaders consistently signal that it is appropriate to speak up. Don’t just use the senior team identify and empower those that are informal leaders- the ones the team trust and have appointed themselves, they are your greatest allies.
5. Broadcast your success where things have been effectively mentioned and changed. That builds trust and positive momentum.
Finally, reach out to others and share your thinking and success stories. Having sounding boards amongst peers and professionals is gold.
*Based on a de-identified case study
Women Love Tech would like to thank both David Bryson and Shirli Kirschner for this story.