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  • Tamar Balkin

How can YOU be proactive about workplace psychological wellbeing?

Updated: Aug 20, 2019

"A leader who demonstrates a commitment to maintaining his or her own physical and psychological health can influence the health of the employees as well as the health of the organization as a whole."

In Australia we have legislation and statutory agencies to encourage shifts in behaviour, and to raise awareness and responsibility around mental illness in the workplace. Fortunately, initiatives aimed at improving workplace psychological health are not restricted to annual “R U OK” day events and or  monthly lunchtime mindfulness sessions. But are we doing enough? According to Safe work Australia, from 2010-11 and 2014-15, 91% of claims were attributed to mental stress. The most common mechanisms causing mental stress were:work pressure (31%)work-related harassment and/or bullying (27%)Unfortunately  there are still many aspects of modern workplaces that would be considered psychological hazards. (Psychological hazards are  “things in the design or management of work that increases the risk of work-related stress.”) How should workplace psychological wellbeing be addressed at  an organisational  level? In my opinion the Canadian based Guarding Minds at Work (GM@W) provides an excellent benchmark internationally in its approach to creating psychologically safe and healthy workplaces. According to the model the following 13 factors  contribute to creating a psychologically safe and healthy workplace:

  1. Psychological Support: Co-workers and supervisors are supportive of employees' psychological and mental health concerns, and respond appropriately as needed.

  2. Organizational Culture:  The work environment is characterized by trust, honesty, and fairness.

  3. Clear Leadership & Expectations: There is effective leadership and support that helps employees know what they need to do, how their work contributes to the organization, and whether there are impending changes.

  4. Civility & Respect: Employees are respectful and considerate in their interactions with one another, as well as with customers, clients and the public.

  5. Psychological Competencies & Requirements: Employees not only possess the technical skills and knowledge for their role, but they also have the psychological skills and emotional intelligence to do the job.  

  6. Growth & Development: Employees receive encouragement and support in the development of their interpersonal, emotional and job skills.

  7. Recognition & Reward: Appropriate acknowledgement and appreciation of employees' efforts in a fair and timely manner.

  8. Involvement & Influence:  Employees are included in discussions about how their work is done and how important decisions are made. 

  9. Workload Management: Research has demonstrated that it is not just the amount of work that makes a difference, but also the extent to which employees have the resources (time, equipment, support) to do the work well.

  10. Engagement: Employees feel connected to their work and are motivated to do their job well. 

  11. Balance: Recognition of the need for balance between the demands of work, family and personal life.

  12. Psychological Protection:  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. 

  13. Protection of Physical Safety: Management takes appropriate action to protect the physical safety of employees.

These key principles are entering the Australian business space, reflecting the shift towards a more proactive approach to workplace psychological health. There is also a realisation that it is essential to provide a psychologically safe work environment before health promotion endeavours can have significant impact. What can every employee do proactively today?   The best place to start is with a review of your own psychological wellbeing. Take a formal assessment (GLWS), gain feedback from trusted advisors and have an honest look in the mirror. Remember,  just as the airplane safety announcement tells us to place on our oxygen mask before assisting others, if you are not taking care of your own psychological wellbeing it is almost impossible to appropriately care for others. Once you have got your own  psychological wellbeing on track, think proactively of ways to cultivate the wellbeing of others on both an individual and organisational level.

FYI: The following headline appeared in my inbox this week and prompted me to write this blog: 'Wellbeing comes first': Daria Gavrilova's heartbreaking admission after Wimbledon loss."


References and resources: 'Wellbeing comes first': Daria Gavrilova's heartbreaking admission after Wimbledon loss Yahoo Sport Australia, 2 Jul 2019, 11:26 am Work-related psychological health and safety. A systematic approach to meeting your duties. National guidance material. Safework Australia.

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