In current conversations about organisational culture and employee safety, two terms often appear Psychological Safety and Workplace Psychological Health and Safety. While they might sound interchangeable, they are certainly not the same. Understanding the differences and how they impact employees is essential for any organisation interested in fostering an optimal environment for their teams to flourish.
Psychological Safety, as defined by Amy Edmondson
Harvard Business School’s Amy Edmondson coined the term Psychological Safety to spotlight the emotional state of employees within teams. It’s “a belief that one won’t face punishment or humiliation for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” Psychological safety undoubtedly benefits all organisations and teams for innovation, learning, and error reporting, and it has a critical role in Workplace Psychological Health and Safety.
Workplace Psychological Health and Safety
Workplace Psychological Health and Safety is a comprehensive framework encompassing employees’ complete mental health and wellbeing. Safe Work Australia’s definition includes addressing a range of workplace factors, not just team interactions and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety states that a psychologically safe and healthy workplace is one that “promotes workers’ psychological wellbeing and actively works to prevent harm to worker psychological health including in negligent, reckless, or intentional ways.” Importantly, psychological safety (as defined by Edmonson) is only one of several possible factors that could cause psychological harm in the workplace, underscoring the need for a comprehensive approach.
The emphasis here is on an integrated approach that looks at all the possible psychosocial hazards that may cause harm – from excessive work demands and limited job control to workplace bullying or harassment.
Why Workplace Psychological Health and Safety Deserves More Emphasis
While both are vital, Workplace Psychological Health and Safety arguably hold more extensive business implications. Here’s why:
- Comprehensive Approach: While psychological safety revolves mainly around team dynamics, workplace psychological health and safety is more encompassing. It addresses various workplace factors that could lead to psychosocial risks and psychological harm.
- Tangible Impact on Employee Wellbeing: A report by Safe Work Australia highlighted that work-related mental health conditions resulted in a substantial number of claims, with the majority of these claims being attributed to work pressure. Addressing this head-on can result in fewer absences, greater productivity, and better workplace morale.
- Legal Implications: There are legal obligations for employers to ensure the psychological wellbeing of their employees. Prioritising psychological health and safety can prevent potentially costly legal repercussions.
Addressing Workplace Factors is Crucial
Ensuring employees’ psychological health requires a proactive approach. Employers should:
- Regularly conduct risk assessments to identify psychosocial hazards
- Engage employees in conversations about their workplace challenges and encourage open feedback
- Implement training programs to enhance leadership understanding of psychosocial hazards and identification of potential mental health concerns
- Establish clear policies addressing workplace bullying, harassment, and other harmful behaviours.
Taking the Next Step
Any step that moves an organisation towards improving Psychological Health and Safety is a positive one. Building a trust-based culture where everyone feels safe to speak up is a great initiative. However, it is essential to remember that this is just one factor for consideration when looking to protect the psychological health of an organisation. Organisations need to look at all potential factors for a comprehensive approach to workplace mental health and follow the risk management approach.
Are you ready to comprehensively assess and address psychosocial risks in your workplace? Speak with AP Psychology & Consulting Services today and embark on a proactive journey towards psychological health and safety.
Differentiating between psychological safety and workplace psychological health and safety is important for all professionals responsible for people risk. By embracing a broader, systemic approach, businesses can ensure a balanced, healthier, and more harmonious ecosystem to support their people.