HRBC Forum Summary

Psychological Safety and Psychosocial Workplace Risks

In June’s HR Breakfast Club, we hosted guest speaker, Simone Ey from Citron Consulting. Her engaging presentation focused on psychosocial risks in the workplace and strategies to enhance staff psychological safety.

Psychosocial Safety

Simone traced Australia’s WHS evolution from the perilous conditions endured by British convicts and prison guards prior to Federation, through to the establishment of the Model WHS laws we know today, and to the emerging waves of Fair Work amendments introduced by the Federal Government.

Simone shared valuable insights into the four stages of psychological safety, being:

  1. Inclusion safety – Belonging, the authentic self and the absence of harm;
  2. Learner safety – The need to grow, learn and develop mastery through encouragement;
  3. Contributor safety – Individual autonomy, contribution and recognition with guidance for achievement and optimisation; and
  4. Challenger safety – Innovation and improvement of the status quo to challenge in good faith and express views with candour

Simone also outlined primary indicators for manifestation of psychological safety for employers and HR professionals to look out for:

High Psychological SafetyLow Psychological Safety
Verbally acknowledging and actively respecting boundaries
Expressing gratitude and candid emotions
Making yourself available
Valuing honesty over correct answers
Offering a way forward after a mistake
Giving autonomy
Dismissing requests for help
Reacting poorly to mistakes
Asking a person to try something new/change without clear expectations
Ignoring effort and expect perfection
Refusing to provide more resources
Shutting down challenges to status quo

To pursue and achieve High Psychological Safety, Simone further instructed employers and HR professionals to ask the ‘Seven Questions’ to assess the psychological safety of an organisation:

Presence: Leader’s presence sets the tone. “What happens when x walks into the room/meeting?”

Collaboration: Collaborating builds trust. “Do teams collaborate to influence acceleration or does it reduce speed of innovation?”

Feedback: Fear breaks the feedback loop. “What restricts feedback?”

Inquiry: Telling rather than asking. “Does the organisational culture encourage people or shut them down?”

Dissent: Effective cultures need dissent. “How do leaders deal with challenges – does the organisation reward or punish dissent?”

Mistakes: Adults learn through fallback. “Does the organisation celebrate mistakes and lessons learned or quietly marginalize people for them?”

Truth: Everyone has blind spots. “Can people speak to leaders about the things they don’t want to hear without fear of retribution?”

Simone also offered valuable tips for organisations to promote psychosocial safety, including proactive intervention, positive responses to work-related stressors, and fostering a culture where employees feel empowered to ‘speak up’.

Psychosocial Hazards and Risks

As Simone cautioned, proactive identification of psychosocial hazards and risks is paramount for organisational management. As outlined in the Work Health and Safety Amendment, a ‘psychosocial hazard’ is anything which:

(a) Arises from, or relates to:

  • The design or management of work; or
  • A work environment; or
  • Plant at a workplace; or
  • Workplace interactions or behaviours; and

(b) May cause psychological harm (whether or not it may also cause physical harm)

Simone clarified that ‘psychosocial risks’ refer to the likelihood and degree of harm which may occur as a result of exposure to a hazard; for a psychosocial risk to be considered a hazard, it must be ongoing or enduring, and pose a risk to a worker’s psychological well-being. These include issues such as bullying and harassment, lack of role clarity, inadequate reward and recognition and remote or isolated work. As Simone elucidated, unlike psychosocial hazards, not all psychosocial risks may be eliminated.

For effective management and elimination of issues, Simone referred to the frameworks below:

Figure 1 Safe Work Australia Guideline
image 2
Figure 2 Snowden’s Cynefin Framework

Simone further outlined risk mitigation techniques to position, determine and mitigate psychosocial hazards which may arise out of regular work-related tasks. Simone encouraged employers and HR professionals to look for activities and behaviours expected within specific roles and levels, to analyse the job descriptions and to determine what may be missing from that role – for instance, autonomy, collaboration and meaningful work. The discussion also highlighted the Victorian Supreme Court case of Kozarov v State of Victoria, to determine whether it is enough to direct an employee to access existing policies themselves when a superior is aware of trauma (spoiler, it is not!) The case emphasised that Active measures are required to be performed by the employer to provide a safe place of work.

Simone concluded her presentation by offering several tips for HR and employers to mitigate psychosocial risks and hazards. These included adopting a systemic approach by viewing the whole person and organisation through a systemic lens, providing continuous opportunities for employees to identify and address psychosocial risks, and ensuring adequate resources are allocated to enact meaningful change.

For further materials shared by Simone, please access the following links:

You may contact Simone through the following avenues:

Closing Remarks

If you are a HR professional in the ACT and would like to attend future HR Breakfast Club forums, visit our monthly forum page and register to attend. If you have any questions or queries about the information in this summary, please contact the BAL Lawyers Employment Law & Investigations team on 02 6274 0999.

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