Let’s talk psychosocially safe workplaces


Before answering that question we need to understand what Psychosocial means. International Standards have coined the phrase to cover mental and psychological health in the workplace. Psychosocial is core to their new standard – ISO45003 which is due to be released this summer.

A good starting point is to ask if we feel comfortable raising a concern. Will we be listened to?

To ensure their people and workplaces – even virtual ones – flourish, employers need to consider the psychosocial health of both. Risk assessing any hazards in the same way as assessing physical hazards under Occupational Health and Safety.

ISO45003 is an excellent framework for employers to follow., It’s a strong complement to the previous ISO45001.

For those not fluent in Health and Safety, HR or Occupational Health, it can be difficult to understand some of the language.

Asking the 10 points in the feature photo above will help you understand if you work in a psychosocially safe environment or not. Let’s take a closer look at each point:

  • On this team, I know what is expected of me. It’s critical to know what is expected of us in terms of our role – duties, shifts, training, deadlines etc as well as our behaviour – dress code, time keeping, following processes, interaction with team and customers. Clear communication is required to ensure expectations are understood. Employers need to communicate in a clear, inclusive way. If expectations are not clear we will not deliver and that will cause us the stress and anxiety of failing.
  • The company values outcomes more that outputs or inputs and no one has to ‘”look busy”. Outcomes – such as revenue earned, products sold, customer satisfaction etc matter more than targets of outputs met – amount of sales calls made for example. If the team focus on what truly matters to the business, they are safe to make decisions which can improve the outcomes even if they reduce outputs (targets) to get there. 
  • If I make a mistake on this team, it is never held against me. A psychosocially safe workplace will never blame a team member for making a mistake when the intentions were good. By enabling mistakes to be made without fear of blame an organisation enables innovation which can a game changer against competitors. Key is to utilise systems and thinking to develop approaches to prevent mistakes before they happen and then work together when the do happen to resolve them quickly.
  • When something goes wrong, we work as a team to find the cause and solution together without blame. Relates to the point above. Simply put every failure is an opportunity to learn and improve. By being psychosocially safe, the entire team can learn and grow.
  • Every member of the team feels safe to bring up any problems or tough issues whether they are workplace or home based ranging from personal struggles, concerns about other team members – even senior management. Psychosocial safety is key to enable vulnerability to disclose and courage to raise these difficult subjects.
  • Members of the team never reject others for being different or having different views – therefore no one is left out or feels excluded. Evidence shows diversity, inclusion and respect in teams results in higher quality products and happier team members. Team members should be included in the process to make decisions to deliver results. This leads to team empowerment. This is especially crucial for remote/virtual workers.
  • It is safe for me to take a risk on this team – different to a mistake, a risk is about actions that might not work. In a psychosocial environment the framework is there for positive risk taking. This enables innovation ultimately delivering competitive business edge.
  • It is easy for me to ask my team for help – In psychosocially unsafe environments people hide their perceived vulnerabilities and don’t ask for help.
  • Nobody within my team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts – In psychosocially unsafe environments, team members compete with each other to achieve their individual goals even undermining colleagues to get ahead. This counter-productive competition doesn’t exist in psychosocial safe environments.
  • My unique skills and talents are valued and utilised – In psychosocial safe environments team members are valued for being their true selves. This inclusion means individual assumptions (biases) about others are less likely to manifest.

After reading this, you will be able to evaluate whether or not you work in a psychosocial safe environment. You will also be able to recognise if you are a psychosocial safe colleague. 

Change often starts with us.