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Psychological safety, psychosocial risks and psychological wellbeing

We're all familiar with the concept of safety in the workplace, which has been a cornerstone of organisational policies since the 1970s, following various legislative measures aimed at protecting employees' physical well-being (the history of employee health and safety has a long history with ‘The Factory Act’ and the ‘Duty of Care’ act put in place as early as 1802 and 1837 respectively). Most companies today employ dedicated health and safety personnel whose primary role is to ensure compliance and mitigate risks. On the other hand, psychology delves into the intricacies of the human mind, and it's not surprising that many perceive psychological safety as simply a fusion of these two concepts. But is it really that straightforward?


Psychological safety indeed touches on feeling safe in a given situation, but it's more nuanced than a mere combination of workplace safety and psychological wellbeing. So, what exactly is psychological safety?


Psychological safety is about creating an environment where individuals feel comfortable taking interpersonal risks and expressing themselves without fear of judgment or other negative consequences. It's a workplace culture that encourages open communication, collaboration, and risk-taking, ultimately fostering innovation and performance. In this article, we will de-mystify the concept comparing it to psychosocial risks, workplace health and safety and psychological wellbeing at work.


Is psychosocial safety part of workplace health and safety legislation?


Health and safety legislation encompasses factors related to both physical and mental wellbeing of employees. However, in practice, mental or psychological aspects are often overshadowed by physical risks, and psychological safety isn't always explicitly addressed in health and safety strategies. So while the answer to this question is not always straightforward, if psychological safety is low in a workplace, it could ultimately challenge the mental wellbeing of employees (think manager who yells at their employees for asking questions) and therefore, can be treated with evidence as a violation of employee health and safety obligations.


What is the difference between psychological safety and psychosocial safety?


Psychosocial risk management strategies, such as the one released by ISO45003 in 2021, focus on addressing psychological and social risks in the workplace. These risks, which include environmental and relational hazards, directly impact employees' psychological and physical health. While psychological safety is a crucial component of psychosocial risk management, it's often overlooked due to its subtle nature. Therefore, like in the care of workplace health and safety (ISO45001), psychological safety is a key factor in employer obligations to employees.


What is the relationship between psychological safety and employee psychological wellbeing?


Employee psychological wellbeing refers to the mental and emotional state of employees in the workplace. It encompasses various factors, including their overall mental health, emotional resilience, job satisfaction, stress levels, and sense of fulfilment. While employee wellbeing aims to create a conducive work environment that reduces stress and fosters positive aspects of work, psychological safety is a key factor within this. Feeling psychologically safe is essential for overall wellbeing, as it directly impacts an individual's ability to freely express themselves and engage in their work without fear of repercussions.


In conclusion, psychological safety is not just a buzzword; it's a fundamental aspect of employee health and safety, psychosocial risk mitigation, and overall wellbeing. However, understand what each of these terms mean will help leaders, HR professionals and management strategists to create and drive specific interventions aimed at creating positive work environments for their people.






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