What is it about?

Recent research showed that major depressive symptoms increase 300% over 12 months in workers in toxic workplaces (Zadow et al., 2021). So how do we build a strong psychosocial safety climate in organisations? In this intervention study, researchers found that it is possible to improve the corporate climate to protect worker psychological health (PSC) in a fairly short period of time when top level management make it a priority. Researchers co-designed a systems level intervention with personnel responsible for WHS from eight organisations. The intervention emphasised PSC principles (top management support, prioritisation of psychological health vs productivity concerns, communication and participation processes to address psychosocial risks and psychological health), building resources, reducing demands, developing communication systems about risk, and creating opportunities for participation in stress prevention. Using a randomized cohort control design they found within 4 months that the experimental groups showed significant improvements relative to the control group consistent with an intervention effect. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit at four months causing widespread changes and work from home orders. Instead of decreasing PSC, levels for both the intervention group and control group increased. COVID-19 was shocking and its novelty, disruption, criticality and timing in Australian industrial history enabled a strong positive top management response re worker mental health, which also affected the control group too - positively.

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Why is it important?

It shouldn’t take a crisis to focus attention on improving PSC. Nevertheless PSC may be built in times of shock with top management will, and a top-level pro-psychological health agenda. The high level of engagement from participants demonstrated that personnel are eager to understand how to best manage work related factors that impact psychological health. And the results show that safe systems of work designed to protect worker psychological health through reasonable and practicable actions can be implemented to successfully reduce risk.

Perspectives

It was such a pleasure to work with organisations in a co-design process to confront the many unknowns in organisational intervention research, but equipped with the principles of PSC (high level concern, communication systems, participatory approaches) we could face issues in an authentic way to produce change. World wide there is a huge mental health burden and evidence based research shows that PSC is a leading indicator of worker mental health. Therefore modifications to the corporate climate could lead to an efficient way to improve mental health globally. This paper shows how this could be achieved at the enterprise level.

Maureen Dollard
University of South Australia

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This page is a summary of: Building psychosocial safety climate in turbulent times: The case of COVID-19., Journal of Applied Psychology, July 2021, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/apl0000939.
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