Do you feel safe at work?
Maybe you feel physically safe, especially if you take precautions, including using safety equipment, or protecting yourself from repetitive strain injuries at the office.
But, what about your psychological safety?
Keeping psychologically safe at work is as important as caring for your physical safety. The rise in knowledge work and the increasing complexity of organizations, has made safeguarding one’s mental health a priority.
However, psychological hazards exist that can harm staff emotional and mental well-being. Many experience depression, anxiety, stress and overload with their careers sidelined as a result.
At the same time, to succeed in your career, you have to do more than protect yourself from mental illness. You have to be sharp and on top of your game every day. Employees can’t be at their best when they are trying to avoid mental illness, or fighting to get their jobs done in a difficult or hostile environment. Many check-out, give up, and no longer stay mentally vital.
Yet, psychological hazards go unchecked in many organizations, contributing to unsafe and unhealthy work environments.
For example, a particularly damaging psychological hazard can be found in abusive or ineffective supervision practices. This occurs when a supervisor expresses displeasure, or gives feedback in unsafe and unhealthy ways, such as shouting, or using sarcasm to point out
employee errors. On other occasions, the supervisor may give underperforming staff members the cold shoulder.
Also, turf wars between workers and departments present a psychological hazard as workers withhold information from each other and block each other’s progress.
In some cases, unfair workloads present an issue. Staff observe that some on the team seem to do a lot, while others do less and the problem isn’t rectified.
Another hazard, causing high stress levels, is favouritism. If an employee becomes the Boss’s Pet, rivalry and jealousy detract from getting on with the job. Sometimes staff muzzling occurs as well. This is hazardous when constructive debate and valuable dissenting opinion are shut down, leading to a lack of employee involvement.
Another common hazard is giving abusive clients, or customers free reign, leaving staff to cope with the issue alone.
Nevertheless, there are eight ways for both organizations and workers to create healthy and safe environments including:
Advice For Organizations
- Hazard Analysis
Look at your organization and analyze it for psychological hazards. For example, if the organization doesn’t train or develop people in leadership roles, you probably have supervisors who are ineffective, or worse–abusive or negligent.
Another common hazard can be found in how organizations hire. If the company or agency doesn’t have consistent and well-understood hiring policies and protocols, favouritism, or the perception of it, can get a toe-hold in your organization.
The lack of a routine way to give feedback presents a psychological hazard causing harm if unaddressed. Without a regular means of giving staff feedback, supervisors risk only giving direction when something goes wrong. This can lead to blaming, shouting and finger pointing.
A failure to keep up-to-date job descriptions, and an adequate organizational chart can compromise worker health. Turf wars tend to erupt more easily when no one knows who is responsible for what, or who to go to for information and assistance. It’s easy for staff to feel they get their toes stepped on and lash out, or feel overloaded and resentful.
- Build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace
Assist staff and managers in understanding psychological vitality and a sense of involvement at work, depends upon being challenged and being able to challenge one another.
Focus on helping employees experience themselves as useful and influential. Provide a sense of belonging and being part of a team. This tends to motivate staff to do their best and provides support.
Feeling cared about as an individual and in one’s role is also key. Let staff know they matter. Creating a safe place to come to work is important and these kinds of experiences will protect and enhance worker mental health.
Advice For Workers
While organizations have a large role to play in creating and maintaining a psychologically healthy and safe workplace, workers can safeguard their mental wellbeing as well.
- Check-in with yourself.
It’s easy to go on auto-pilot at work especially when something doesn’t seem quite right. Ask yourself: “Do I feel safe?” If the answer is “No”, think about why. Jot down the reasons.
- Analyze your workplace.
Next, watch out for blaming yourself or doubting your abilities when feeling unsafe at work. Instead, take a hard look at your workplace. For example, if your boss is contributing to your feeling unsafe—does he or she get regular supervision or training? If not, refrain from personalizing his or her ineffectiveness.
- Check company policy.
If you feel unsafe because you are on the receiving end of disrespectful behaviour, look into your company’s Respectful Workplace Policy and follow it. If you struggle after handling abusive customers—look at what your company procedures suggest and follow them.
- Bring psychological workplace hazards forward.
If you find your company doesn’t have current policy to direct you, bring it to the attention of your superiors. For example, the organization needs to create a Respectful Workplace policy. If it doesn’t have a policy and protocol for handling abusive customers, you can bring it up with your supervisor.
- Concentrate on what you can control.
After you identify a psychological hazard at work, and let someone in authority know, go back to concentrating on what you can control. This includes how well you perform within the constraints you find yourself, or how you can assist colleagues when needed.
- Look after your emotional and mental health.
Take breaks to keep perspective. Exercise, eat properly and sleep. Competing demands will make this difficult, especially if you juggle a young family and work responsibilities. However, thinking about what will keep your mind alert, vital and clear is the first step to safeguarding your psychological health.
Dr. Jennifer Newman is a registered psychologist and director of Newman Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development company. Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality. Dr. Newman can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org