Psychological Safety and Psychosocial Risk

Psychological safety and psychosocial risks are two important concepts in the field of psychology and occupational health.

Psychological safety refers to the perception of an individual that they are able to speak up, take risks, and make mistakes without fear of negative consequences to their self-image, status, or career. Psychological safety in the workplace has been shown to lead to higher job satisfaction, better team performance, and greater creativity and innovation.

On the other hand, psychosocial risks are work-related factors that can have a negative impact on an employee’s mental health and well-being. These can include things like high job demands, low job control, poor social support, and workplace bullying or harassment. Exposure to psychosocial risks can increase the likelihood of developing mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical health problems, such as cardiovascular disease.

There is a complex relationship between psychological safety and psychosocial risks. On one hand, creating a psychologically safe workplace can help mitigate the negative effects of psychosocial risks by allowing employees to speak up about their concerns and work collaboratively to find solutions. On the other hand, exposure to psychosocial risks can make it difficult to create a psychologically safe workplace, as employees may feel hesitant to speak up about their concerns for fear of retaliation or further negative consequences.

To minimise psychosocial risk and embrace psychological safety an organisation must spend time developing their employee’s knowledge of human behaviour and most importantly how stress impacts that behaviour. A significant focus on developing everyone’s awareness of what triggers an individual’s stress response system, how to recognise what being triggered feels like to the individual and what it looks like to others around them. This is crucial because it is the unhelpful behaviour, attitude and performance of a triggered individual or team that increases psychosocial risk and reduces the psychological safety of everyone else around them.

Overall, it’s important for employers and organizations to take steps to address both psychological safety and psychosocial risks in the workplace in order to promote employee well-being and positive work outcomes. This can involve implementing policies, procedures, and development programmes that foster a psychologically safe workplace, as well as identifying and mitigating psychosocial risks through measures like job design, training, and support for employees.

To reduce psychosocial risk and embracing psychological safety requires a cultural shift within the organisation (if it is not there yet) and requires everyone within to do their part. Saying that it is crucial that for an organisation to be successful, the focus must be led by the executives at the top and indeed where relevant the board.

The focus on addressing psychosocial risk factors is not going to go away, it is not going to be too far into the future when organisations will have to upskill their Health and Safety officers in psychosocial risk, or maybe create a new dedicated role in this space.

How confident are you that your organisation is doing everything it can to mitigate psychosocial risks and create an environment that cultivates great mental health?