With the cost of workplace mental health disorders and rising stress claims, governments around the world are focusing on ways to address this issue. Australian organisations are now required to include psychological risk as part of their health and safety regimes and measuring psychological safety climate (PSC) can help.
In this post, we distill the key findings of research conducted in Australia on 1,000 staff to establish benchmark levels of PSC which can determine the risk of job strain and depression. The paper provides a range of low-risk and high-risk predictors that could be used to guide organisations in supporting employee mental health.
Depression and Job Strain
Depression is recognized by the World Health Organization as a global public health concern. Roughly one in 20 people report that they have experienced a depressive episode within a 12-month period. The Australia Bureau of Statistics reports that depression affects approximately 4.1% of the Australian population and suicide accounts for 20% of Australians aged between 20 and 34 years. Australian research has estimated that $2.8 billion is lost annually from reduced workplace productivity and health service costs for depressed workers.
Job strain is likely to induce stress because of a lack of control over work demands. PSC is a leading organisational predictor for psychosocial risk factors and employee mental health. For organisations with low-risk employee job strain and depressive symptoms, their PSC benchmark was 41. For organisations with high-risk employee job strain and depressive symptoms, their PSC benchmark was 37. This research showed that job strain can be reduced by 14% and depression can be reduced by 16% if the organisation’s psychological safety climate is improved. The higher the PSC, the better the employee mental health. This study and others argue that:
- Low PSC is related to higher sickness absence and presenteeism;
- Depression is related to higher sickness absence and presenteeism;
- Psychological distress is related to higher sickness absence and presenteeism; and
- Higher engagement is related to lower sickness absence and presenteeism.
National and international policy developments in Europe, have created a European framework for psychosocial risk management (PRIMA-EF). Developed to harmonise and set best-practice standards across Europe, the PRIMA-EF produces policy-orientated interventions such as guidelines, benchmarks, and online resource materials. National standards for mental health and safety in the workplace have also been developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
This is a voluntary guideline that focuses on the prevention of psychosocial hazards by improving awareness, providing tools to address work-related psychosocial risk factors, and advising how to access additional resources. The standard includes practical information about risk management, hazard control, supportive practices, safety culture, and evaluation methods. Similar resources exist in the United Kingdom, where the Health and Safety Executive provides access to detailed online information about psychosocial risk factors at work. They also provide online tools with UK benchmarks for workplace psychosocial risk assessment and recommend support services to address any identified hazards.
High PSC Organisations
In high PSC organisations:
- Management policy and procedure will place importance on mental health;
- Resources and injury management will promote the early identification of risk through psychosocial risk assessments and will address these risks via hazard management processes;
- Training in managing poor mental health problems, e.g., exhaustion, anxiety and depression, will be provided;
- Campaigns aimed at psychosocial factors identified as high risk in workplace assessments will be used;
- Managers and supervisors will effectively implement policy and procedures to increase worker participation in decision-making, and create flexible workplace practices;
- Job strain will be reduced by ensuring manageable demands and high control; and
- Employees will be provided with appropriate levels of resources, such as adequate rewards, support, and career development opportunities.
All of this results in high levels of engagement and improved mental health. Employees will feel encouraged to utilise mechanisms for well-being such as flexible working arrangement and reporting bullying and harassment. Communication about stress prevention will be clear and psychosocial risks will be regularly discussed at safety meetings. Participation of policy, procedure, practices, and communication relating to psychological health and wellbeing will exist at all levels of the organisation (executive, management, and worker). Read more on the Psychological Safety Climate Framework.
What Can Organisations Do?
Policies and Procedures
Ensure organisational workplace policies and procedures are specific in addressing psychosocial risk factors (demands, resources, support) including defined roles for responsibilities to enact procedures, examples of how policy is expected to be implemented in practice and the mechanisms for communication.
Implementation of Procedures
Clear and identifiable actions for implementation of procedures by responsible persons such as health and safety divisions, human resource units, and managers to promote worker psychological safety and wellbeing. This includes how psychosocial factors are addressed in organisational systems such as recruitment, remuneration, induction, training, career development, and injury management. Also, organisational systems are dedicated to providing support such as employee assistance programmes and avenues for communications such as feedback and grievance processes free from negative repercussions.
Manager, Supervisor, Team Leader Actions
Manager, supervisor, team leader activities reflect a culture that values employee health and well-being equal to, or above, productivity. Leaders need to provide a clear pathway for feedback from workers to communicate their concerns regarding psychological health that is free from repercussions.
Job design involves the promotion of worker psychological health and employee wellbeing when setting workloads including the provision of adequate resources, consideration of work pace, flexible working hours where possible, appropriate skill discretion, ability to be included in decision-making processes whenever practical, as well as opportunities for learning, training, and career development. Forms of support can also include team building, opportunities for debriefing, positive and constructive criticism and supportive social interactions.
Individual factors involve addressing the specific characteristics of each individual worker, such as personality factors, adverse emotional reactions to work (depression, anxiety), selfcare, resilience and coping strategies. Workers should also feel encouraged to address concerns regarding psychosocial risks and supported to enact procedures when facing a hazard (e.g., bullying and harassment).
How Can Online Solutions Help?
Part of an integrated approach to workplace mental health is including online and mobile solutions such as that delivered on the Tap into Safety platform. The platform helps organisations to identify staff groups with mental health issues early on. It helps to increase mental health literacy by providing refresher training on workplace stressors that impact mental health. Finally, it provides an alternative method of a non-confrontational way to encourage help-seeking.
For businesses investing in workplace mental health, the platform helps by intervening early to support worker mental health by providing relevant and interactive workplace wellbeing training. The solution provides staff ‘one click away’ from help, to reach out for support (on average only 5% access their Employment Assistance Provider when 20% have an issue right now – stigma plays a huge role here).
Clients have experienced a 100% increase in help-seeking activities when using the platform, as part of their wellbeing programme. By attacking stigma head on and encouraging help-seeking behaviour early on, we reduce the escalation of serious stress claims. This supports employees to reach out to seek care when they are not feeling as good as they should.
Finally, the psychometric measurement tool (animated, gamified DASS-21) is a world first in its use across organisations, that together with our filters, enables them to pinpoint groups of staff in mental health decline so that they can target and tailor their wellbeing education programmes to support improvement. Why not view the video or try a free demo?