Female leader speaking with employees

Implementing systems to help create psychologically safe workplaces

Why making it a safe place to speak out is crucial

4 minute read
Female leader speaking with employees

There is a plethora of potential psychosocial and psychological hazards in the workplace, which can lead to stress and mental health issues.

However, it can be difficult to tell when something is becoming a potential issue to our mental health, which is why it is crucial to set up effective reporting systems for psychological and psychosocial hazards.

With recent legislation such as the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 emphasising that workplace health and safety issues can be physical or psychological, being unprepared to deal with potential hazards can prove costly.

The importance of preventing mental health hazards

A workplace where everyone experiences good mental health carries several benefits, according to The University of Western Australia Business School Senior Lecturer Joseph Carpini.

“There is almost an ethical or a moral component to ensuring good mental health in the workplace,” Dr Carpini said.

“From an organisational perspective, good mental health is related to pretty much every positive outcome.

“You are more likely to keep people, better able to attract employees and are in a better position to maximise from a financial perspective.”

But in order to reap these benefits, you need to prevent and deal with hazards that could cause mental health issues.

Identifying mental health hazards

Edith Cowan University (ECU) Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety (MARS) Centre Deputy Director and ECU Occupational Health and Safety Associate Professor Marcus Cattani said dealing with psychological and psychosocial hazards was similar to dealing with physical hazards – by taking a risk-based approach, identifying what could go wrong and preventing it.

“One of the major differences is that mental health is really what is going on in your head but it can be difficult to work out what caused the stress,” he said.

“There are many well-known things that cause stress at work, particularly the relationship with others, fatigue and workload.

“To make a good start on managing mental health, we can look at these factors, and then decide whether we need to do something about it.”

However, it can be difficult to find other potential issues, with Dr Carpini noting there is a wide range of psychosocial and psychological hazards.

“You can think of it on a task level, and then all the way up to things like team dynamics and how the team is working,” he said.

“We talk about situations like abusive supervision, incivility and bullying, and in a broader context about workplace policies and practices.

“It’s essential to think about it from the very micro level – from how we do our tasks and what those tasks are, all the way up into our broader organisational environment.

“Which is why it’s particularly challenging.”

As such, to stay aware of and deal with hazards in an effective manner, Associate Professor Cattani said a reporting system was necessary.

“Since we cannot see what is going on in someone’s head, we need to encourage people to report issues so that something can be done to prevent the situation from becoming worse,” he said.

“We need people to look after themselves and look after each other, and one of the ways we can do that is by creating a reporting system.

“It is a really important way for an organisation to detect what’s going on in the mental health or psychological area.”

Setting up an effective reporting system

However, setting up a reporting system is not a simple task – if employees are prompted to report issues themselves, they need to feel reassured their concerns will be taken seriously.

“The individuals making a report need to trust the organisation is going to respect their anonymity and do something about the issue they have raised,” Associate Professor Cattani said.

“The main issue then is to provide feedback to those people who are reporting, to value the information provided and to indicate at some stage that something is going to be done about it.

“If people don’t feel their information is valued and there isn’t trust, then they’ll probably keep quiet about it.”

By building that culture of trust and dealing with reported hazards, you can ensure the reporting system works as intended.

Dr Carpini said when setting up these reporting systems, it was important to not just be reactive and collect reports and respond to the issues but to also analyse what hazards are arising and why.

By collating this data, you can be proactive and prevent hazards from arising in the first place.

“It is really important we have a way of recording and capturing these hazards because that allows us to be more proactive in terms of seeing the indicators of something coming up,” he said.

“When you are reacting, you’re figuring out something is going on, you’re capturing the data and you’re systematically analysing it.

“If you are collecting this information systematically, hopefully, what you can do is move from being reactive – where you’re responding to potential issues – to using human resources analytics and your own insights to actually predict where those incidents might happen before they even occur.”