Working can be stressful, so it is important that organizations do what they can to manage stress. All jobs can be stressful, some more than others. Last week I blogged about the many sources of stress that nurses encounter. like the consequences of making mistakes or the risk of being assaulted by patients. Many of the sources of stress are built into the job itself and can be difficult to eliminate, but often stress comes from interactions with other employees, and it can be the most difficult to deal with. Workplace mistreatment and bullying is important to control, and new research by Zachary Klinefelter, Robert Sinclair, Thomas Britt, Gargi Sawhney, Kristen Jennings Black, and Alec Munc published in the peer reviewed journal Personnel Psychology might have the answer. They showed that when it comes to controlling bullying, having a good psychosocial safety climate is important.
Bullying at Work
Everyone is familiar with school bullying, and many have been targets themselves as children. But bullying also occurs in adulthood, and often it happens at work. Bullying is a pattern of physical and psychological mistreatment of an employee by others at work, such as coworkers or supervisors. Although everyone might experience a nasty comment from a coworker occasionally, targets of bullying contend with ongoing mistreatment from one or more people. In the extreme bullying has lead to traumatic stress requiring mental health treatment. Its occurrence can be expensive to organizations in terms of lost productivity and increased turnover, not to mention lawsuits.
Organizational climate is the shared beliefs by employees about acceptable behavior at work. It involves the policies and procedures at work, and the behaviors that are encouraged versus discouraged. A psychosocial safety climate is one where organizations focus on the psychological health and safety of employees. This means a commitment to supporting employees and minimizing exposure to unnecessary stress. An organization with a good psychosocial safety climate will have policies and practices focused on employee well-being. Supervisors will do what they can to support employee well-being.
Having a Good Psychosocial Safety Climate Is Important
Klinefelter and his team conducted a survey of 500 Americans, about half men and half women, from a wide range of industries to assess their experiences at work. The survey included standard measures of being the target of bullying and psychosocial safety climate. They also included a measure of burnout as a general indicator of employee psychological well-being. This measure asked about feelings of emotional and physical fatigue at work. The results of the study showed that employees who worked in a place with a good psychosocial climate were less likely to experience bullying. They were also less likely to feel burnout. Although it is not clear from this type of study that climate is the driver of the outcomes, it joins many other studies that show how psychosocial safety climate is connected to employee well-being.
Building a Psychosocial Safety Climate
Organizational climates are important tools for achieving many organizational goals and maintaining employee physical and psychological health is no exception. It begins by identifying the sort of climate you wish to build. Once that is established, polices and practices can follow. Much of the effort filters down through the organization as supervisors at all levels communicate what is and is not acceptable behavior. As I talked about in more detail in a previous blog article, supervisors should engage in five activities.
Correcting: Supervisors should correct employees who engage in bullying and other forms of abusive behavior toward others.
Messaging: Supervisors should talk about the importance of supporting one another and treating one another with respect.
Modeling: Supervisors should model appropriate behavior by treating everyone respectfully.
Rewarding: Supervisors should acknowledge appropriate behavior when one employee supports another. Do not underestimate the power of showing appreciation and recognition.
Teaching: Supervisors should be coaches and teachers who explain to employees how they should behave. For example, an instance of an argument between two employees can be an opportunity to teach about more effective ways of resolving differences.
Employees and their organizations benefit from maintaining a work environment where everyone feels comfortable and safe. For this reason having a good psychosocial safety climate is important.