Psychological safety a critical element to a positive work experience


Ample research suggests that mental health is a growing concern in Canada, so employers can expect more employees will experience a mental health issue. In addition, changes in occupational health and safety legislation are influencing the psychological health and safety conversation. 





Employers are beginning to focus on psychological safety as a critical element for facilitating a positive employee experience. When done correctly, the business impact can contribute to organizational sustainability and increased human capital productivity.

As a guide to achieving this outcome, more employers are looking at adapting the CSA National Psychological Standard on Psychological Health and Safety.

This standard provides a practical lens for employers to create a psychologically safe workplace. One easy way to begin an organization’s journey with respect to psychological health and safety is to answer three questions:

1. Why does psychological safety matter within our organization?

2. What can we as an employer do to enhance psychological safety?

3. How will we know if our actions are working?

Ample research suggests that mental health is a growing concern in Canada, so employers can expect more employees will experience a mental health issue. In addition, changes in occupational health and safety legislation are influencing the psychological health and safety conversation.

One common misstep some employers make is to focus on what they can do, before stepping back and being clear on why psychological safety really matters within the context of their organization. This question helps to calibrate and determine the risks, costs, opportunities and benefits of addressing the issue.

Answering the question also helps to provide senior leaders with information that can assist in getting their buy-in and commitment to invest.

The next question focuses on what the employer can do. Many programs have been developed to support employee mental health and promote psychological safety. They come in different forms, including training programs for employees and managers, cognitive behavioural therapy apps, and campaigns.

One of the biggest challenges for employers investing in psychological health and safety is to know whether what they’re doing is working. There simply isn’t enough case study evidence that demonstrates the direct link between what employers are doing and evidence-based outcomes.

Obtaining evidence-based outcomes requires a commitment to measuring program impact.

Measuring psychological safety considerations:

Developing psychological health and safety in an organization requires actions by both employees and employer. Offering a program alone will seldom be enough. It’s important to measure to see if programs and policies being implemented are working.

One critical factor for measuring and evaluating programs and policies is to be clear on the kind of data that needs to be collected.

One source of data is a survey called the 13 psychosocial health and safety (PHS) factors developed by Guarding Minds at Work. Psychosocial factors include the way work is carried out (deadlines, workload, work methods) and the context in which work occurs (including relationships and interactions with managers and supervisors, colleagues and coworkers, and clients or customers).

The survey provides employers with employees’ perceptions across the 13 factors. However, it doesn’t provide insight on employees’ behaviours and habits.

Facilitating a two-way accountability model between employees and employer requires using surveys that are designed to capture data about employees’ perceptions and behaviours.

Consider the kinds of analyses that are possible if in one survey an employer were able to capture the following kinds of data:

  • Employees’ experience in the work culture

  • Employees’ experience with their direct manager

  • Employees’ perception with respect to 13 PHS factors

  • Employees’ perceived resiliency

  • Employees’ perceptions around stigma

  • Employees’ experience with programs offered by the employer

  • Employees’ health and lifestyle choices

  • Employees’ productivity (includes attendance, discretionary effort and presenteeism)

Because much of the data employers have is disintegrated, it makes it hard to align these different pieces of data to form meaningful analyses and conclusions.

Employers who leverage a survey such as the Mental Fitness Index, designed to collect employees’ perceptions and behaviours, can create meaningful analysis to examine employees’:

  • perceptions of their workplace experience and resiliency

  • participation in programs and their relationship with health and productivity

  • perceptions of psychological safety and productivity

To measure and impact psychological safety it’s not enough to collect data on employees’ perceptions but to also collect data that can help predict them.

One effective way to ensure employers are positively impacting employees’ psychological health and safety is to obtain a baseline before implementing programs and policies and then to re-measure in 12 months to determine what has and has not worked.

Using a survey that assists with integrating data on employees’ perceptions, behaviours and program participation provides employers with an evidence-based framework that can be replicated and measured year over year. The insight from this process will help the employer to evaluate how effective their investments in impacting psychological health and safety have been.

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