5 minute read 1 Feb 2019
Confused businessman staring at scribble on wall

Psychosocial risk management

By

Rebecca Dabbs

Ernst & Young Australia Climate Change and Sustainability Services Partner

Transforming the way businesses are thinking about health and safety. Passionate about helping women succeed. Accountant turned health and safety professional. Role model. Mother to two children.

5 minute read 1 Feb 2019

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Psychosocial risk management is relatively new in most industries, and not all organisations have the in-house capability to successfully identify risks. 

The impacts of mental illness and ill-health in the workplace have never been higher or more visible. Despite this, many organisations continue to struggle with the effective management of psychosocial risks. These risks, which cover the combined influence that psychological factors and the surrounding social environment have on people’s physical and mental wellbeing, directly relate to our ability to function.

We see an ongoing reliance on the reactive management of mental health ‘cases’ as they arise, or initiatives to help employees ‘cope’ better. These alone are not enough. A new approach is needed. The value of supportive leadership in responding to mental health issues is well documented, and is critical.

This paper, however, focuses on the need to apply evidence-based, proactive risk management approaches to psychosocial risks that will minimise harm to workers, and enhance organisational performance through improved productivity and innovation.

How effectively are psychosocial risks being managed?

Does your organisation provide EAP services, train employees to build resilience, and offer gym membership discounts? That is no longer enough, particularly when implemented in isolation.

So, how can you proactively manage risk in a way which is meaningful for your people, and benefit your organisation? The following, developed in consultation with the workforce (and supported by effective leadership practices), is critical:

  • Mental health strategy
  • Psychosocial risk assessment
  • Tailored controls
  • Assurance program, targeted to assess psychosocial risk control effectiveness
  • Corrective action and improvement plan.

Only through these activities can you successfully manage psychosocial risks on an ongoing basis. In doing so, you will improve overall organisational performance through a healthier, more productive, and innovative workforce.

A combined proactive and reactive approach will boost morale, better leverage resources, and improve organisational productivity.

Psychosocial risk on the rise

As our world changes, so does the work we do. For most workplaces, this means increased exposure to psychosocial hazards such as high job demands, remote or isolated work, and poor organisational structures. For some workplaces, there are additional exposures to hazards such as violence and aggression, bullying and harassment, and traumatising events.

Many organisations are currently managing the risks associated with these hazards through initiatives such as resilience training, lunchtime meditation, and referrals to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). However, guidance from regulators confirms that these initiatives — while beneficial — are simply not enough. Injuries and illnesses continue to occur. The risk remains high and the cost is great.

Employers must acknowledge these risks and take responsibility for the impact work has on the wellbeing of employees. The time for placing the sole focus on individuals to manage their own psychological safety has passed. It is now time for everyone to accept their portion of the responsibility.

An evidence-based approach

We’re all familiar with the traditional approach to managing risk: identify, assess, and control the risk, consult and communicate with employees, and perform assurance activities to confirm the effectiveness and implementation of the allocated controls. While traditional, this approach is based on a solid foundation of evidence which supports ongoing and effective risk management.

This approach provides an opportunity for us to follow a well-trodden path to a mentally healthy workplace. It does not replace the need for supportive leadership when mental health concerns are raised. Rather, our work highlights the value of a proactive, preventative approach to the identification, assessment, control, and monitoring of psychosocial risk.

Establishing a strategic direction

Without a clear vision, it is unlikely there will be a coordinated and effective reduction in psychosocial risks in a workplace.

Having a defined strategy which includes mental health, or one which focuses specifically on mental health, is critical in order to have a progressive position on issues such as:

  • The investment required to reduce psychosocial risks to as low as reasonably practicable
  • The extent the organisation is willing to innovate to positively influence employee mental health
  • How to focus on both prevention and management of mental ill-health

With a clear strategy, established through robust consultation with relevant stakeholders, the next steps towards a mentally healthy workplace through better risk management are far easier to take.

Summary

Psychosocial risk management is relatively new in most industries, and not all organisations have the in-house capability to successfully identify risks and controls, or to design and deliver valuable assurance programs to monitor the effectiveness of controls.

About this article

By

Rebecca Dabbs

Ernst & Young Australia Climate Change and Sustainability Services Partner

Transforming the way businesses are thinking about health and safety. Passionate about helping women succeed. Accountant turned health and safety professional. Role model. Mother to two children.