Physical safety in workplaces has been a huge focus for leaders and boards – especially those industries where the risk of injuries, or even death, are significant. These organisations have embarked on their safety journey by addressing both culture and systems. John Makris, a WHS expert at Kingston Reid, reflects that “building an effective safety framework requires employers to create a culture where people feel safe to raise concerns and management are open to addressing these in a proactive manner. It’s all about inclusiveness – coupled with early intervention”.
Yet some organisations with stellar improvements in physical safety programs fail to emulate these same cultural settings as it relates to psychological safety or, in layman’s terms, creating a workplace where bullying, harassment and general bad behaviour are not tolerated.
While there are reforms proposed (and currently being implemented in some States) by safety regulators in the areas of psychological and psychosocial risks, this merely sets the minimum standard.
The tragedy of this outcome is that many of the steps they have taken to improve physical safety can be easily replicated to improve psychological safety. Let me explain.
Risk Management – Most organisations’ risk assessment frameworks have "People Risks”. Mostly it is measured in terms of historical reporting – turnover rates, exit interview analysis and the number of formal complaints lodged. Boards and management need to consider more real time reporting to give them a better understanding of what is going on in their workplaces. Many engagement surveys have not been updated in this regard (although there are exceptions such as Peakon's approach to getting qualitative data and supporting real time conversations). Ombpoint’s trend reporting would also give engagement surveys more teeth by enabling management and boards to understand the current “workplace niggles” that could impact on staff turnover and increase grievance complaints if not addressed.
Skills, Training and Confidence – Employees need the skills and confidence to have the right conversations with managers. Managers need the right skills to be receptive to these conversations. Many organisations provide executive coaching but that only supports a small number of individuals and broad-based training programs are often difficult forums for allowing specific questions to be asked. Ombpoint provides a confidential service for employees (and managers) to explore their specific concerns, prepare them to interact and achieve workable solutions. This is done at a time that works for the individual instead of when formal training is scheduled.
Tone from the Top – It’s an over-used term that is supposed to ensure the executive leadership team prioritises these messages, measures how the organisation is going, and generally has the tools and frameworks in place to indicate this is important. But it can work as changed attitudes to physical safety illustrate. So, the question must be asked, why have these same leaders been reluctant to tackle psychological safety? I am not suggesting this reflects all corporate leaders or that none makes it a priority. That said I have the distinct impression that a significant shift needs to occur. While we don't address this aspect of workplace culture or executive coaching, we know that many employees will be fearful (based on previous experience) about calling out this behaviour to senior managers. Ombpoint can help these employees to explore the ways they can address it constructively, giving them the confidence to have the conversation. Once they start having productive conversations with their leaders, it will reinforce the "tone from the top” in terms of the right cultural settings.
There are no quick answers. The improvements in physical safety have not happened overnight – and more still needs to be done. But it does show what can happen when management leads on an issue. In particular, with physical safety early intervention has proved to be a key differentiator in building safe workplaces, and I have no doubt the same principle would make enormous difference in making employees feel safe from bullying, harassment and other anti-social behaviours.
Lindall West | Managing Director
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