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How to transform toxic workplaces into happy ones

Awareness of psychosocial hazards has become an immediate and explicit need of many businesses. Companies are now being exposed and vilified in the media for some of the inappropriate and damaging behavior of ex-staff members.

The failures of the past have now become more than risk management – it is also reputation management. Manage the risk, manage your company’s reputation, and happy employees will protect your reputation.

The responsibility of managing psychosocial hazards sits with leaders. There is no single behavioral trait that defines effective leadership, but rather the collection of positive behaviors and actions that creates a working environment where employees feel happy and motivated.

It is their ability to adapt, and understand the differences in their team members, what they need and how that can be met in a meaningful and impactful way that makes a difference to creating a positive culture for happy employees.

Happy employees tend to be more hopeful and optimistic, and they are a critical part of your stakeholder ecosystem that ensures the success not only of your reputation, but your entire business strategy.

Faith in individuals

Knowing your employees’ job preferences is a significant contributing factor in creating a safe psychosocial workplace with a positive culture and happy employees. High or low job demands is one of the aspects that could potentially be a hazard.

If you have a job that is repetitive and could be considered monotonous, allocating this role to a person who likes routine and prefers to do the same thing to perfection may be ideal. However, to give the position to a person who thrives on diversity could be considered by them a mental hazard, as they are not being stimulated to the extent that they enjoy their job.

To be the best employees, your staff want and need to have a say in how they do their work and have some control over when specific aspects are done. This is not giving them permission to miss deadlines; it is not indicating they do not need to meet targets. It is creating a work environment where they feel they can do the aspects that they have the energy for at the time.

We all have aspects of our jobs that are boring and that we don’t particularly like to do, however being in control of what can be done and when, within a broad framework, increases the level of energy and motivation an employee has for their job and the potential for increased outcomes. This in turn has a direct relationship with their level of optimism and workplace happiness.

To be the best employees, your staff want and need to have a say in how they do their work and have some control over when specific aspects are done.

The increased optimism that results from a safe and positive work environment allows employees to build stronger adaptive and coping skills, which in turn means they are less likely to avoid making decisions when they are faced with complex challenges or problems.

Increased optimism also enhances reasoning, emotive and motivational components, which means it helps employees build stronger relationships with their colleagues.

Building resilience and collaboration through optimism will happen when your employees know they have the freedom to make mistakes and work through their challenges.

This helps to build resilience in the employees and improve systems and processes, as mistakes are being addressed, not covered up.

The level of your leaders’ and employees’ capacity to adapt to adverse events and cultivate resilience directly relates to the extent that they are able to bounce back from challenges and enhance the social dynamics in the workplace.

The employees with increased resilience coupled with a reasonable dose of emotional intelligence will most likely be willing to help others build and maintain their positivity.

Psychological safety

A positive psychosocial safety culture is not something you get or buy; it is something you work on to build and maintain with a continuous focus on improvement. Culture can be positive, negative or neutral. It can be measured and managed. But ultimately, it will only be as important as your employees believe it to be.

The challenge with identifying and managing psychosocial safety in your workplace is that different people inherently like to do different things and have different internal drivers. This is why it is important to know your staff and to regularly put some science behind the way your leaders are building a positive workplace culture, one that is aligned with your business purpose and values.

It is important you recognize that even though your employees can’t be perfect all the time, understanding their point of view, what their needs are and how to meet them is understanding that employment is a two-way process. It’s a give and take. It is understanding that the hazards are hazard if they are present repeatedly, in a way that will cause harm. It is your role as a leader to address this.

Therefore, it is about the depth you understand your employees’ needs, as well as ensuring your employees understand your needs and those of the business. When these are aligned, the growth you’re anticipating in your business will be achieved. When they are not aligned, you will spend a lot of time investing in staff recruitment and replacement.

When you do not have a positive workplace culture that is psychosocially safe, the stress levels of your staff increase.

When you do not have a positive workplace culture that is psychosocial safe, the stress levels of your staff increase. Stress is a little like pollution on buildings. Visualize your daily walk to the coffee shop, and you walk past a beautiful sandstone heritage building. You notice that something is happening, as there is scaffolding around the building. Then, early the following week you see the building has been pressure cleaned and all of the pollution is gone.

The building almost radiates with the browns, reds and creams of the beautiful clean sandstone. You didn’t notice the pollution building up because the car emissions and other atmospheric pollution were quietly settling on it daily. Well, sometimes stress follows the same pattern in both your body and the bodies of your employees. Often unobservable to the naked eye are incremental changes and pressures in your employees’ work and family life.

The layers of stress will build up, polluting their ability to stay calm and focused. If you are not aware of the buildup, one day you will notice that their behaviors are different and there will need to be drastic and significant action to counter the stress levels.

Unfortunately, should this occur with your employees it is not as simple as constructing some scaffolding and having a pressure clean. However, it is important to have the support structures around so staff know they can manage issues and gain assistance to avoid getting to that point.

What I am suggesting is you raise your awareness of the repeated low-level stresses that are slowly eroding your and your employees’ resilience, and building up to become a significant stressor.

Avoiding burnout

Anxiety has many contributing factors which are different for different people, however the presence or perceived presence of psychosocial hazards can contribute to the levels of concern and worry. Some of the influencing factors include excessive workloads, poor organizational change management, aggression and harassment.

These attributes contribute to your employees’ feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted and can, if left unaddressed, lead to breakdowns and or burnout.

External life factors can also contribute to a compounding feeling of anxiety; for example, rising interest rates and the cost of living coupled with fears around job security, result in confusion and your employees trying to choose between competing priorities.

Balancing personal wellbeing, including family time and exercise, alongside meeting job demands, which might necessitate working longer hours due to absenteeism among other employees, presents a complex situation. This confusion often makes leaders resort to stress-related responses in their leadership rather than thoughtful and focused responses.

When you have happy employees you also have a profitable business through increased productivity.

Recognizing this dynamic is crucial, and taking steps to address it marks a positive move forward.

Thinking that there are possible psychosocial hazards in the work environment and not acting to find out if they are true is like an ostrich putting its head in the sand because it has become all too hard. Avoidance is not only a potential violation of laws and codes of practice if the hazard does exist, it flags the start of the end for the business.

It is also how employers can unwittingly end up responding to legal claims. This statement sounds harsh; however it is true that we need to face and act on potential psychosocial hazards to prevent such consequences.

A mutual benefit

If you want to build productivity, measuring the psychosocial safety of your staff and addressing the gaps is crucial, and will give you a scientific analysis of the level of happiness in your business.

When you have happy employees you also have a profitable business through increased productivity. Happy people are productive people and when people who know what’s required of them and have the skill to do it, they will set about doing it in a way that makes them happy and gives you the return you are looking for.

People who are allowed to get on and do their job in a psychosocially safe culture are a long way on the journey to being happy employees – and you will be on the right path to getting the returns you are seeking.

Inspiring The Business World