An introduction to the psychosocial work environment factors that contribute to enhanced psychological health and safety (PH&S).
Occupational health and safety best practices have expanded over recent years to include a broader focus on psychological health and safety (PH&S): or, practices as they pertain to enhanced workplace mental health. Psychological health and safety (PH&S) is embedded in the way people interact with one another on a daily basis. It’s part of the way working conditions and management practices are structured within the workplace.
Psychological health comprises our ability to think, feel, and behave in a manner that enables us to perform effectively in our work environments, our personal lives, and in society at large. They occur on a spectrum, from common psychological difficulties such as fatigue, to serious mental illnesses.
Psychological safety is different – it deals with the risk of injury to psychological well-being. Improving psychological safety in a work setting involves taking precautions to avert injury or danger to employee psychological health that is within the influence and responsibility of an employer.
The vision for a psychologically healthy and safe workplace is “one that actively works to prevent harm to the psychological health of workers in negligent, reckless, or intentional ways, and promotes psychological well-being.” (CSA Z1003)
WHY IS PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH & SAFETY IMPORTANT?
There are many reasons employers should assess and address the psychological health and safety of their workplace:
Current and emerging legal and regulatory mandates articulate employer responsibilities in this area;
Compelling financial incentives exist for employers to reduce costs and improve the bottom line; and
Scientific and practical evidence exists that demonstrates the impact psychosocial factors have on employee well-being.
DOES WORK CAUSE PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH PROBLEMS?
With the exception of psychological trauma related to an extremely stressful event such as being robbed or assaulted on the job, it may be difficult to draw a conclusive link between a person’s work situation and their developing a mental disorder. However, we do know that while our psychological health can impact our ability to perform at work, work can also contribute to psychological health problems in the following ways:
Workplace factors may increase the likelihood of a mental disorder, make an existing disorder worse, or impede effective treatment and rehabilitation;
Workplace factors may contribute directly to psychological distress such as demoralization, depressed mood, anxiety, or burnout. Psychological distress may not reach the level of a diagnosable mental disorder, and yet be a source of considerable suffering for the employee, productivity loss for the employer, and legal consequences if work conditions are judged to have contributed to an employee’s suffering and disability;
A supportive work environment may help reduce the onset, severity, impact, and duration of a mental health disorder; and
Organizations that make the effort to identify psychosocial risks and to create a psychologically healthy workplace see benefits in productivity, sustainability, and growth.
THE STANDARD The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ9700-803/2013) (the Standard) – the first of its kind in the world – is a set of voluntary guidelines, tools, and resources intended to guide organizations in promoting mental health, and preventing psychological harm at work.
The Standard provides a comprehensive framework to help organizations of all types guide their current and future efforts in a way that provides the best return of investment.
The Standard advises organizations to assess and address the psychosocial factors – adapted from the framework developed in Guarding Minds at Work: A Workplace Guide to Psychological Health & Safety – known to impact workplace psychological health and safety, and to reflect on the factors that organizations have strength in, and work towards improvements on those indicating areas of risk.
WHAT ARE THE PSYCHOSOCIAL FACTORS?
Psychosocial factors are elements within the influence and responsibility of employers that can impact the psychological health and safety of employees. Psychosocial factors include the way work is carried out (deadlines, workload, work methods), as well as the context in which work occurs (relationships and interactions with managers and supervisors, colleagues and coworkers, and clients or customers).
The Standard outlines 13 psychosocial factors which contribute to workplace PH&S:
Psychological and social support
Clear leadership and expectations
Civility and respect
Growth and development
Recognition and reward
Involvement and influence
Protection of physical safety
WHERE TO START?
Ready to implement the Standard? We know how overwhelming it can feel to start to enhance organizational psychological health and safety (PH&S). If you’re like most organizations, you don’t know where to start, and likely have limited resources to do so. That’s where MyWorkplaceHealth steps in.
MyWorkplaceHealth has developed a number of resources, including information on the psychosocial factors, to help organizations create more psychologically healthy work environments.
MyWorkplaceHealth also offers workplace consulting and Dr. Samra and her team have extensive expertise in helping organizations implement initiatives related to workplace PH&S including implementation of the CSA Standard; providing leadership development, training & coaching services across a broad range of areas, including emotional intelligence, psychologically safe leadership and mental health awareness; and, providing a breadth of services to enhance employee psychological health, wellness and resilience.
Dr. Samra, the CEO & Founder of MyWorkplaceHealth, is a highly-regarded expert in psychological health and safety (PH&S). Over the past two decades, she has been involved in numerous national initiatives that have contributed to policy change in Canada, and is a Founding & Ongoing Member of the CSA Technical Committee that developed the Standard. She is also the lead Research Scientist who created Guarding Minds at Work, in which the 13 psychosocial factor frame adopted by the Standard was developed.