To explain the difference between these two similar-sounding but unique terms, let’s use a story.
Imagine you have six medium-sized raised garden beds in a vegetable patch in your backyard. You’ve planted baby mint, parsley, and cherry tomato plants, amongst other things. You’ve even got some little green strawberries growing.
For the strawberries to ripen and everything to grow correctly, the soil has to be rich. It needs to be full of vitamins and minerals, plus it can’t be too sandy or too clay filled. It needs to have good drainage and be a rich dark brown colour.
For people to grow correctly, you need the right environment.
This healthy vegetable patch is like a psychosocially safe workplace. The soil is made up of different “vitamins” and “minerals” like psychological safety, role clarity, recognition and reward, professional development opportunities, effective communication and work-life balance.
These nutrients feed the soil, so the whole garden can be healthy (AKA psychosocially safe).
Psychological safety is the micro view - it’s just one part of the whole.
- Psychosocial safety and psychological safety are related but distinct concepts
- A positive environment and clear roles are key to psychosocial safety
- Poor support, unclear roles, and unfair practices threaten safety
- Psychological safety is crucial for team collaboration and innovation
- Enhancing safety involves respect, open communication, and fairness
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What is Psychosocial Safety?
The term "psychosocial safety" refers to making sure that employee's mental, emotional, and physical health is protected with the goal of reducing stress and encouraging good relationships with others.
A psychosocially safe workplace is an environment where the mental, emotional and physical health of employees is prioritised, supported, and protected. It’s about minimising stress and fostering positive working relationships centred around a common goal or purpose.
What threatens psychosocial safety?
These psychosocial hazards directly threaten a workplace's psychosocial safety level.
- High or Low Job Demands: Sometimes work can be really hard or too easy. When it's too hard, it means you have to do a lot of physical or thinking work, or deal with tough emotions. When it's too easy, it might be boring and not challenge your brain much.
- Low Job Control: This is when you don't get to make many choices about your work or what you do every day.
- Poor Support: This happens when the people you work for, or your bosses, don't help you enough. They might not give you the right training, tools, or help you need to do your job well.
- Low Role Clarity: In some jobs, it's not always clear what you should do. The tasks, rules, or what you're responsible for might change a lot or be confusing.
- Poor Organisational Change Management: This is when changes at work aren't planned or managed well. It can make things confusing and hard for everyone.
- Low Reward and Recognition: This is when people work really hard but don't get thanked or rewarded for it. This can happen in different ways, like not being noticed or given credit for good work.
- Poor Organisational Justice: This means that things at work aren't always fair. It could be about not making fair decisions, not telling people what they need to know, or not treating everyone nicely and with respect.
- Poor Workplace Relationships: Sometimes, people at work, like coworkers or bosses, don't get along. They might argue a lot or be unkind to each other.
- Remote or Isolated Work: This is when you have to work by yourself because of where you are, the time, or the kind of work you do. It might mean being far away from others, with not many things to help you.
- Poor Environmental Conditions: This is about working in places that can be dangerous or really uncomfortable, like being too hot or too cold.
- Traumatic Events: These are really upsetting things that you might see, hear, or learn about. They can be shocking, feel out of control, or be really scary.
- Violence and Aggression: This happens when someone is hurt, threatened, or attacked at work. It can be by customers, patients, or other people you meet while working.
- Bullying: This is when someone is treated really badly at work, in a way that can hurt their health or safety. It can be by other workers, customers, or anyone else they meet through work.
- Harassment: This includes being treated badly because of things like your age, disability, race, gender, who you like, or who you are. It's not okay and can make people feel really bad.
What creates a psychosocially safe workplace?
- Positive Work Environment: It's like a workplace where everyone says "good morning," helps each other with tasks, and listens to everyone's ideas in meetings.
- Effective Communication: This is when everyone at work talks clearly and listens to each other, like when you get to share your thoughts in a team meeting and everyone pays attention.
- Supportive Management: Imagine a boss who asks how you're doing, helps you when your work is hard, and is always ready to hear your ideas.
- Job Control and Autonomy: This is like being able to choose how to do your tasks at work or finding your own way to solve a problem.
- Role Clarity: It's like having a clear list of your job duties, so you know exactly what you need to do every day, like organising files or answering emails.
- Work-Life Balance: This means having time after work to enjoy hobbies, relax, or spend time with family and friends, not just working all the time.
- Recognition and Reward: It's like getting a "thank you" or a special mention in a meeting for doing a great job at work.
- Professional Development Opportunities: This is like getting the chance to learn new skills at work, maybe through a training program or a new project.
- Social Support: It's when your coworkers are friendly and help you out, like when someone helps you understand a new task or cheers you up when you're having a tough day.
- Fairness and Justice: This is like when everyone's ideas are considered equally in a decision, or when work is divided fairly among the team.
What is Psychological Safety?
Psychological safety is feeling safe to share without fear of negative consequences.
Psychological safety means that you can talk about your thoughts, feelings, and worries at work without being afraid of getting into trouble or being laughed at. It's really about creating a place where everyone feels okay to share what they're thinking and feeling.
Some of the psychosocial hazards mentioned above threaten psychological safety.
Which psychosocial hazards threaten psychological safety?
- Low Job Control: When people don't have much say in their work, they might feel less safe to express their ideas or concerns.
- Poor Support: Lack of support from bosses or colleagues can make someone feel unsafe to share their thoughts or admit mistakes.
- Low Role Clarity: If roles and responsibilities are unclear, employees might feel insecure about speaking up, fearing they might overstep their boundaries or make mistakes.
- Poor Organisational Change Management: Ineffective communication and support during changes can lead to a lack of trust and safety in expressing concerns or ideas.
- Low Reward and Recognition: When hard work and contributions are not acknowledged, employees might feel that their ideas and inputs are undervalued, leading to a reluctance to speak up.
- Poor Organisational Justice: If employees perceive unfairness in decision-making, they might not feel safe to express dissenting opinions or challenge the status quo.
- Poor Workplace Relationships: Conflict and poor relationships in the workplace can significantly reduce the sense of safety in expressing oneself freely.
- Violence and Aggression, Bullying, and Harassment: These behaviours directly undermine psychological safety, as they create an environment of fear and intimidation.
Which psychosocial hazards aren’t linked to psychological safety?
- High or Low Job Demands: While extreme job demands can contribute to overall stress, they aren’t directly linked to psychological safety. You can have low or high demands and may be able to address them with your manager without fear of negative consequences.
- Remote or Isolated Work: Working alone due to location or job nature might lead to feelings of isolation, but it doesn't inherently impact an employee's sense of safety in expressing their thoughts or concerns within a team or organisational context.
- Poor Environmental Conditions: Working in uncomfortable or hazardous conditions primarily affects physical wellbeing and comfort, if you’re uncomfortable you may still be able to safely address these issues with a manager without fear of being mocked or negatively impacted.
- Traumatic Events: Exposure to traumatic events primarily impacts mental health and wellbeing but doesn't directly relate to psychological safety and your ability to speak up about those events. If you bring the situation up and it’s dismissed or you’re negatively impacted, that could be a sign of a psychologically unsafe workplace.
Psychological safety enhances team collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, and innovation. It contributes to a positive workplace culture and increases job satisfaction and wellbeing.
1. Difference Between Psychological and Psychosocial Safety: Psychological safety is about feeling safe to share thoughts and concerns without fear, while psychosocial safety encompasses the broader environment that supports mental, emotional, and physical health at work.
2. Elements of a Psychosocially Safe Workplace: Key aspects include a positive work environment, effective communication, supportive management, job control and autonomy, role clarity, work-life balance, recognition and reward, professional development opportunities, social support, and fairness and justice.
3. Threats to Psychosocial Safety: Factors like high or low job demands, low job control, poor support, low role clarity, poor organisational change management, low reward and recognition, poor organisational justice, poor workplace relationships, remote or isolated work, poor environmental conditions, traumatic events, violence and aggression, bullying, and harassment can threaten psychosocial safety.
4. Psychological Safety Specifics: Psychological safety is threatened by low job control, poor support, low role clarity, poor organisational change management, low reward and recognition, poor organisational justice, and poor workplace relationships. It's essential for team collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, and innovation.
5. Actionable Steps for Improvement: To enhance psychological and psychosocial safety, consider actions like fostering a culture of respect and listening, encouraging open and honest communication, allowing autonomy in work, recognising employee contributions, and striving for balance and fairness in the workplace.