13 Factors of Psychologically Safe & Healthy Workplaces
The thirteen workplace factors listed below are organizational or systemic in nature and therefore within the influence of the workplace. Addressing them effectively has the potential to positively impact worker mental health, psychological safety, and participation. This in turn can improve productivity and bottom line results.
Originally published by the Mental Health Commission of Canada: https://mentalhealthcommission.ca/national-standard/
Organizational culture is a mix of norms, values, beliefs, meanings, and expectations that group members hold in common and that they use as behavioural and problem-solving cues. Organizational culture could enhance the psychological safety and health of the workplace and the workforce when it is characterized by trust, honesty, respect, civility, and fairness or when it values, for example, psychological and social support, recognition, and reward. An organization with good organizational culture would be able to state that
a) all people in the workplace are held accountable for their actions;
b) people at work show sincere respect for others’ ideas, values, and beliefs;
c) difficult situations at work are addressed effectively;
d) workers feel that they are part of a community at work; and
e) workers and management trust one another
Psychological & Social Support
Psychological and social support comprises all supportive social interactions available at work, either with co-workers or supervisors. It refers to the degree of social and emotional integration and trust among co-workers and supervisors. It refers also to the level of help and assistance provided by others when one is performing tasks. Equally important are the workers’ perceptions and awareness of organizational support. When workers perceive organizational support, it means they believe their organization values their contributions, is committed to ensuring their psychological well-being, and provides meaningful support if this well-being is compromised. An organization with good psychological and social support would be able to state that
a) the organization offers services or benefits that address worker psychological and mental health;
b) workers feel part of a community and that the people they are working with are helpful in fulfilling the job requirements;
c) the organization has a process in place to intervene if an employee looks distressed while at work;
d) workers feel supported by the organization when they are dealing with personal or family issues;
e) the organization supports workers who are returning to work after time off due to a mental health condition; and
f) people in the organization have a good understanding of the importance of worker mental health.
Clear Leadership & Expectations
Clear leadership and expectations is present in an environment in which leadership is effective and provides sufficient support that helps workers know what they need to do, explains how their work contributes to the organization, and discusses the nature and expected outcomes of impending changes. There are many types of leadership, each of which impacts psychological safety and health in different ways. The most widely accepted categorizations of leadership are instrumental, transactional, and transformational. Of these, transformational leadership is considered the most powerful. Instrumental leadership focuses primarily on producing outcomes, with little attention paid to the “big picture,” the psychosocial dynamics within the organization, and unfortunately, the individual workers. Transformational leaders are seen as change agents who motivate their followers to do more than what is expected. They are concerned with long-term objectives and transmit a sense of mission, vision, and purpose. They have charisma, give individual consideration to their workers, stimulate intellectual capabilities in others, and inspire workers. An organization with clear leadership and explicit expectations would be able to state that
a) in their jobs, workers know what they are expected to do;
b) leadership in the workplace is effective;
c) workers are informed about important changes at work in a timely manner;
d) supervisors provide helpful feedback to workers on their expected and actual performance; and
e) the organization provides clear, effective communication.
Civility & Respect
Civility and respect is present in a work environment where workers are respectful and considerate in their interactions with one another, as well as with customers, clients, and the public. Civility and respect are based on showing esteem, care, and consideration for others, and acknowledging their dignity. An organization with good civility and respect would be able to state that
a) people treat each other with respect and consideration in the workplace;
b) the organization effectively handles conflicts between stakeholders (workers, customers, clients, public, suppliers, etc);
c) workers from all backgrounds are treated fairly in our workplace; and
d) the organization has effective ways of addressing inappropriate behaviour by customers or clients.
Psychological demands of any given job are documented and assessed in conjunction with the physical demands of the job. Psychological demands of the job will allow organizations to determine whether any given activity of the job might be a hazard to the worker’s health and well being. When hazards are identified, organizations consider ways of minimizing risks associated with identified job hazards through work redesign, analyst of work systems, risk assessment, etc. The assessment of psychological demands should include assessment of time stressors (including time constraints, quotas, deadlines, machine pacing, etc.); breaks and rest periods; incentive systems (production bonuses, piece work, etc.); job monotony and the repetitive nature of some work; and hours of work (overtime requirements, 12h shifts, shift work, etc.). An organization with a good psychological demands assessment process for its workers would be able to state that
a) the organization considers existing work systems and allows for work redesign;
b) the organization assesses worker demand and job control issues such as physical and psychological job demands;
c) the organization assesses the level of job control and autonomy afforded to its workers;
d) the organization monitors the management system to address behaviours that impact workers and the workplace;
e) the organization values worker input particularly during periods of change and the execution of work;
f) the organization monitors the level of emphasis on production issues;
g) the organization reviews its management accountability system that deals with performance issues and how workers can report errors; and
h) the organization emphasizes recruitment, training, and promotion practices that aim for the highest level of interpersonal competencies at work.
Growth & Development
Growth and development is present in a work environment where workers receive encouragement and support in the development of their interpersonal, emotional, and job skills. Such workplaces provide a range of internal and external opportunities for workers to build their repertoire of competencies, which will not only help with their current jobs, but will also prepare them for possible future positions. An organization with good growth and development would be able to state that
a) workers receive feedback at work that helps them grow and develop;
b) supervisors are open to worker ideas for taking on new opportunities and challenges;
c) workers have opportunities to advance within their organization;
d) the organization values workers’ ongoing growth and development; and e) workers have the opportunity to develop their “people skills” at work.
Recognition & Reward
Recognition and reward is present in a work environment where there is appropriate acknowledgement and appreciation of workers’ efforts in a fair and timely manner. This includes appropriate and regular acknowledgements such as worker or team celebrations, recognition of good performance and years served, and/milestones reached. An organization with a good recognition and reward program would be able to state that
a) immediate supervision demonstrates appreciation of workers’ contributions;
b) workers are paid fairly for the work they do;
c) the organization appreciates efforts made by workers;
d) the organization celebrates shared accomplishments; and
e) the organization values workers’ commitment and passion for their work
Involvement & Influence
Involvement and influence is present in a work environment where workers are included in discussions about how their work is done and how important decisions are made. Opportunities for involvement can relate to a worker’s specific job, the activities of a team or department, or issues involving the organization as a whole. An organization with good involvement and influence would be able to state that
a) workers are able to talk to their immediate supervisors about how their work is done;
b) workers have some control over how they organize their work;
c) worker opinions and suggestions are considered with respect to work;
d) workers are informed of important changes that can impact how their work is done; and
e) the organization encourages input from all workers on important decisions related to their work.
Workload management is present in a work environment where assigned tasks and responsibilities can be accomplished successfully within the time available. This is the risk factor that many working Canadians describe as being the biggest workplace stressor (i.e., having too much to do and not enough time to do it). It has been demonstrated that it is not just the amount of work that makes a difference but also the extent to which workers have the resources (time, equipment, support) to do the work well. An organization with good workload management would be able to state that
a) the amount of work workers are expected to do is reasonable for their positions;
b) workers have the equipment and resources needed to do their jobs well;
c) workers can talk to their supervisors about the amount of work they have to do;
d) workers’ work is free from unnecessary interruptions and disruptions; and
e) workers have an appropriate level of control over prioritizing tasks and responsibilities when facing multiple demands.
Engagement is present in a work environment where workers enjoy and feel connected to their work and where they feel motivated to do their job well. Worker engagement can be physical, emotional, and/or cognitive. Physical engagement is based on the amount of exertion a worker puts into his or her job. Physically engaged workers view work as a source of energy. Emotionally engaged workers have a positive job outlook and are passionate about their work. Cognitively engaged workers devote more attention to their work and are absorbed in their job. Whatever the source, engaged workers feel connected to their work because they can relate to, and are committed to, the overall success and mission of their company. Engagement should be seen as a result of policies, practices, and procedures for the protection of worker psychological health and safety. Engagement is similar to, but is not to be mistaken for, job satisfaction, job involvement, organizational commitment, psychological empowerment, and intrinsic motivation. An organization with good engagement would be able to state that
a) workers enjoy their work;
b) workers are willing to give extra effort at work if needed;
c) workers describe work as an important part of who they are;
d) workers are committed to the success of the organization; and
e) workers are proud of the work they do.
Balance is present in a work environment where there is acceptance of the need for a sense of harmony between the demands of personal life, family, and work. This factor reflects the fact that everyone has multiple roles: as workers, parents, partners, etc. This complexity of roles is enriching and allows fulfillment of individual strengths and responsibilities, but conflicting responsibilities can lead to role conflict or overload. An organization with good balance would be able to state that
a) the organization encourages workers to take their entitled breaks (e.g., lunchtime, sick time, vacation time, earned days off, parental leave);
b) workers are able to reasonably meet the demands of personal life and work;
c) the organization promotes life-work harmony;
d) workers can talk to their supervisors when they are having trouble maintaining harmony between their life and work; and
e) workers have energy left at the end of most workdays for their personal life.
Psychological protection is present in a work environment where workers’ psychological safety is ensured. Workplace psychological safety is demonstrated when workers feel able to put themselves on the line, ask questions, seek feedback, report mistakes and problems, or propose a new idea without fearing negative consequences to themselves, their job, or their career. A psychologically safe and healthy organization actively promotes emotional well-being among workers while taking all reasonable steps to minimize threats to worker mental health. An organization with good psychological protection would be able to state that
a) the organization is committed to minimizing unnecessary stress at work;
b) immediate supervisors care about workers’ emotional well-being;
c) the organization makes efforts to prevent harm to workers from harassment, bullying, discrimination, violence, or stigma;
d) workers would describe the workplace as being psychologically healthy; and
e) the organization deals effectively with situations that can threaten or harm workers (e.g., harassment, bullying, discrimination, violence, stigma, etc).
Protection of Physical Safety
Protection of physical safety is present when a worker’s psychological, as well as physical safety, is protected from hazards and risks related to the worker’s physical environment. An organization that protects physical safety would be able to state that
a) the organization cares about how the physical work environment impacts mental health;
b) workers feel safe (not concerned or anxious) about the physical work environment;
c) the way work is scheduled allows for reasonable rest periods;
d) e) all health and safety concerns are taken seriously; workers asked to do work that they believe is unsafe, have no hesitation in refusing to do it;
f) workers get sufficient training to perform their work safely; and
g) the organization assesses the psychological demands of the jobs and the job environment to determine if it presents a hazard to workers’ health and safety.