- Culture plays a significant role in addressing employee mental health
- Meaningful recognition at work enhances psychological health
- Leadership commitment is needed to create meaningful, lasting change
Around the world, governments are beginning to take notice of the psychological impact of work on employees. The U.S. surgeon general recently released guidance for employers to improve employee wellbeing at work.
Notably, Australia is leading the way on a new generation of policies aimed at addressing mental health at work.
In October 2022, the Australian government announced new workplace regulations related to psychosocial hazards to minimize or eliminate these risks in Australian workplaces.
Although we are familiar with safety risks in jobs that require physical labor, the danger that all workplaces pose to mental health is often overlooked. These harms can include chronic stress, anxiety and depression -- as well as negative effects on physical health. Gallup’s research into employee burnout has found that employees who say they experience burnout most of the time are more likely to take sick leave or leave their organization.
According to Safe Work Australia, psychosocial hazards include workplace factors related to:
- lack of role clarity
- inadequate reward and recognition
- poor support
As part of this new regulation, Australian businesses will soon have a more explicit duty to manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace and be required to implement control measures to proactively reduce these risks.
Like other safety issues, these hazards are often as much about culture as they are about procedures. Measuring an organization’s culture -- let alone changing it -- can be challenging for any leader. Gallup has recently worked with over 40 organizations across Australia to improve their employee engagement and concurrently address several psychosocial risks.
For organizations to tackle these psychosocial risks from a cultural perspective and create real change over time, the research shows these three areas are where leaders must start:
1. Increase role clarity.
Knowing what you are supposed to be doing at work sounds simple, yet globally, only one in two employees strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. That means that about half of workers are not confident or clear on their roles and objectives.
Lack of role clarity not only affects the ability to get work done, but it also influences the amount of stress and anxiety employees feel on the job.
Gallup’s past research has shown that role clarity plays a significant role in boosting productivity, reducing safety incidents, and reducing employee turnover. By focusing on this fundamental need, leaders can go a long way toward addressing burnout and reducing stress at work. Improving role clarity across a company takes long-term commitment and focus from leadership. In just one year of working on their employee engagement journey with Gallup, Australian clients saw an average increase of 3 percentage points in role clarity.
2. Create a culture of recognition.
Like role clarity, receiving recognition for your work is a human need for high performance and enhances psychological health. Recognition reinforces the idea that your efforts make a difference, you are noticed and appreciated. Globally, only four in 10 employees strongly agree they have received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last week.
Most organizations do have some form of recognition process in place, but it is often not deemed to be truly authentic or timely. To create a culture of recognition, managers need to regularly praise exceptional performance in formal and informal ways as part of their business practice. They also need to individualize recognition to be meaningful; some people may not want public attention or a special award, but they may prefer to receive recognition one-on-one.
Australian organizations that partnered with Gallup have seen on average an increase of 5 points on our recognition item within the first year. The results are not just connected to psychosocial wellbeing for employees, but also improvements in quality and reductions in absenteeism, according to Gallup research.
3. Provide manager support.
Our workplace science consistently shows that when people care about each other, it radically improves business outcomes. Globally, only four in 10 employees strongly agree that their supervisor, or someone at work, cares about them as a person. However, Gallup has found that if organizations doubled that ratio, they could experience a 46% reduction in safety incidents and a 41% reduction in absenteeism.
Feeling cared for begins with a conversation -- one in which employees feel heard and free to talk about their lives outside of work. Managers do not always know how to do this naturally and authentically, but they can be taught with the right support. Australian organizations have realized on average a 6-point increase in feeling cared for within the first year of partnering with Gallup.
Addressing Psychosocial Hazards Is a Long-Term Commitment
If your organization has not started thinking about psychosocial hazards, the coming changes may feel a bit intimidating. Truly addressing the problem requires a commitment from your entire leadership team for long-term change. It also requires rigorous metrics with external benchmarking to be an effectively managed and meaningfully integrated program that ties to organizational outcomes.
As Gallup research has consistently shown, addressing the risk of psychosocial hazards not only leads to improved engagement, increased wellbeing, and thriving employees but also more productive and profitable organizations. Australians will benefit from the humanistic regulations being introduced; there will be opportunities for organizations to improve their culture while concurrently reducing psychosocial hazards.
Create a culture that promotes employee wellbeing and engagement.
- Discover how to craft your ideal organizational culture.
- Learn more about why wellbeing matters for your employees and your organization.
- See how prioritizing recognition can transform your workplace.