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Protective factors that reduce the risk of psychosocial hazards across the board

The workplace environment can significantly impact the psychological wellbeing of employees. Psychosocial factors are the elements that contribute to this impact. These factors can have both positive and negative effects on employees’ mental health.

For instance, positive or protective psychosocial factors such as social support, autonomy, and a sense of purpose at work can enhance or safeguard employees’ psychological health. On the other hand, negative psychosocial factors or risks, such as high workload, low control, and poor relationships with co-workers, can pose risks to employees’ psychological health.

Safe Work Australia, has identified their list of common psychosocial hazards in the workplace. Each industry is differentially impacted by the different psychosocial hazards. For example, employees working in a branch of a bank may be more heavily impacted by traumatic events or material or even violence and aggression when compared to an employee working in an office role which is not public facing or reviewing distressing material. As a result, each industry and even each organisation needs to take a tailored approach at identifying, assessing and controlling for their unique set of psychosocial hazards.

This begs the question, are there a series of protective psychosocial factors that across the board, can be used to mitigate the risks of psychosocial hazards on employee’s mental health? A recent meta-analysis of the research has indicated the following:

Protective Factor: Supportive Leadership

A supportive leadership style is one that builds trust and inspiration in team members and works to helping team members overcome challenges they may face in their role. Some ways in which supportive leadership can act as a protective factor for employee wellbeing include:

    • Use regular informal and formal performance conversations to provide positive and constructive feedback.

    • Foster a culture of openness by communicating with team members regularly and making yourself available.

    • Talk openly about challenges or failures you are experiencing to encourage others to do the same.

    • Encourage feedback from the team regarding your leadership and seek to take that feedback on board in a constructive manner.

Protective Factor 2: Psychological Support

Having a variety of interventions in place to provide psychological support to all employees increases awareness and perception of support from the organisation. Some ways to establish protective psychological support include:

    • Ensure readily available information on mental health and wellbeing for all employees.

    • Know what internal and external support options are available for you and team members for additional wellbeing support and flexibility if required.

    • Explore reasonable adjustments to support the team member to remain at work while they engage with support options.

    • If a team member has a period of time away from work, remain in communication with them and actively support their return to work.

Protective Factor 3: Team Support

Poor social support amongst colleagues has been found to be associated with increased stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms and even insomnia. Some strategies for encouraging greater team connection include:

    • Create opportunities for team members to connect and get to know each other (e.g., pair team members up for coffee roulette, promote team bonding activities, incorporate ice breakers into meetings). Building strong relationships is a key factor in building trust and creating positive wellbeing among the team.

    • Encourage regular virtual team meetings if working remotely and ensure cameras are on.

    • Invest in building a psychologically safe organisational culture where cohesion and trust are embedded. Create opportunities for social engagement in spite of and despite remote working. Ensure that accessibility and inclusion are achieved to not isolate employees most in need of social connection.

    • Increasing one-on-one time employees spend with their managers, particularly within the context of being supported has been shown to increase employee wellbeing, engagement, and satisfaction.

Psychosocial risks are highly problematic to workplaces and may increase the risk of psychological injury, disengagement and reduced productivity amongst workers. Thus, it is crucial for employers to recognise and manage the psychosocial factors within the workplace environment to protect and promote their employees’ mental health