Psychosocial safety and risk management continues to grow an increasing profile in the workplace. Australian Health and Safety bodies are increasing their focus on regulating this and controls in the workplace with guidelines and support documentation.

A recent Deloitte report identifies five top psychosocial safety risks in the workplace. This includes workplace bullying, work pressure (high job demands), exposure to occupational violence, exposure to traumatic events, and other harassment (including sexual harassment). It is not unfair to suggest, if these have been addressed in the workplace at all, they have previously fallen under the remit of Human Resources. From the sidelines, it appears we might be headed towards a tug of war between the two workplace teams as to who has the primary responsibility for the behavioural risks.

However, when we focus on workplace behavioural education to manage psychological risk, instead of a tug of war, is there a greater opportunity for collaboration between the two workplace functions? Can they compliment each other more effectively to get better and safer workplace outcomes for our employees and better productivity?

The Tick a Box Activity

Over the years, workplace education has been rolled out as a response to many situations of bullying and harassment. An incident occurs and the workplace decides to remind everyone of their responsibilities in relation to poor and inappropriate behaviours. Then it seemingly fades from memory until the next incident. This is not to say workplace education in appropriate workplace behaviours isn’t of value or shouldn’t be rolled out. It’s absolutely one part of creating safer cultures. However, it needs to become more than a tick-a-box activity.

This is where there is a great opportunity for H&S input and workplace collaboration with HR can lead to better results. To get to this, H&S need to step up to the plate and with HR, work out who has responsibility for tasks and actions that could achieve that goal.

Where does the education collaboration start?

HR has important functions to bring to a collaborative environment and there are responsibilities that cannot be ignored. This includes HR leading when it comes to the Fair Work functions that can influence how risk is managed in relation to performance managing or terminating problematic employees. Individual employee risk management processes including orders to stop bullying and/or sexual harassment at work also sit under Fair Work and HR. (Though this is not to say this is how it has to always be.)

Equally, H&S have much to bring to the table in workplace education and it’s impact on psychologically safe workplaces. Embedded in health and safety risk management processes and regulations, for example ISO guidelines for managing psychosocial risk or guidance material from Worksafe Australia, is the expectation of preventing injury and implementing systems that achieve that help goal.

Workplace H&S can bring behavioural education to life rather than a tool that exists in the moment of the “problematic behaviour”. H&S should use the continuous improvement process, the Plan – Do – Check – Act cycle to achieve this outcome. This can have a significant impact on workplace behavioural education and it’s quality in the workplace.

Workplace Bullying Education – An Example

Let’s use workplace bullying education as our example.

An incident of bullying, or potential bullying, has occurred and HR decides to roll out bullying workshops reminding everyone of their responsibilities. This is the first point where the two can collaborate. Instead of jumping in, identifying a provider and rolling the training out, H&S can utilise their prevention lense. A key problem with bullying education is that it can often be implemented without a preventative framework. It can often be focused on what is bullying before jumping to the actions you take in lodge a complaint. H&S, with their preventative hat on can add that different perspective. They may add to the conversation what skills are needed to educate employees to prevention and intervene early. This might be a range of educational skills from leaders creating positive and psychologically safety culture, to employees being skilled up to manage conflict in it’s early stages.

The H&S expertise doesn’t end there. H&S can utilise their quality improvement skills and the PDCA cycle to review the education and it’s value. Consulting with employees at regular intervals in the 12 months after workshops to gather information of what was useful and what was not. What skills have they used from educational workshops and what ones have they not, and if not, why not?

This give important feedback from which an organisation can learn to provide education better and more effectively in a collaborative approach.

This is one way that collaboration could enhance what is being done to manage psychological risk creating a safer workplace for all who work there. The sky is the limit in achieving this goal if the two can find a way to collaborate.