Continuing on with the series of the 13 pillars in our National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the workplace, this post addresses Psychological Demands. The Guide to the Standard defines a workplace with positive Psychological Demands as: “Employees have the social and emotional skills needed to do their jobs well, supervisors believe that social skills are as valuable as other skills, [and] positions make good use of employees’ personal strengths.”
Psychological demands are very high across all sectors and all positions as we continue to face the impact of the pandemic. We are all being asked to do things that may be outside the scope of our training and skills as we look for creative solutions to remain productive and profitable in the face of numerous challenges and restrictions. Unfortunately, the cost of high psychological demands impacts our team’s resilience and increases workplace stress. This in turn leads to burn out, increased absenteeism, and increased errors. The fact is employers cannot afford the cost of not addressing the impact of increased psychological demands.
So what can employers and leaders do to support their teams? The first step is creating a culture where it is ok to not be ok. That means accepting that people will not have all the answers, even you as leader. It also means to accept that some days won’t be as productive as others. Great leaders will be aware of the pace of work expected and ensure tasks and priorities are not in conflict. When you or your team members are challenged, being supportive and showing empathy will turn things around. Hoping it will go away by itself or informing staff they need to “get it together” or “suck it up” will only make things worse.
Employers must ensure training is provided for staff performing new tasks or doing things in new ways. For example, most meetings are virtual now. Have you trained all your staff on how to be engaging and effective for online meetings? Are there other skills your staff need to function in the current environment that require training and support? The stress of conducting meetings virtually is well documented. Proper training on how to interact well virtually and limiting the daily number of virtual meetings will build resiliency to social stress from this type of work.
Have you considered if you have the right people doing the right jobs? With the quick transitions needed to move to home offices, creating cohorts for onsite staff, and countless other forms organizational restructuring, have you unintentionally taken people away from the tasks they excel in? Are your staff able to work on the projects that fulfill them for at least part of their new responsibilities? If you have people working in new groups, are they communicating well and working cohesively? So many things have changed that it is easy to overlook job fit and employee capabilities. Building on the strongest skills of each team will keep things moving in a positive direction.
Staff need to feel supported and safe to be able to bring up the challenges they are facing to accomplish their work objectives. In our new environment, this now bridges into personal home life more than ever. Juggling home schooling, supporting isolated elderly relatives, difficulties with public transit, and concerns for physical health all challenge our ability to be productive at work. Are you providing a safe space to share and problem solve these issues? Have you ensured that your team members take sufficient breaks during the work day or are they clicking from meeting to meeting without mental or physical break times? If you look and act on these, your staff will feel that you will help them so they can help you. Research demonstrates staff who feel supported by their employer are willing to put in the extra effort when things are difficult and are less likely to leave in challenging times.
The events of last summer heightened our awareness of systemic racism in our culture, including our businesses. This provided an opportunity for employers to examine their policies and procedures as well as the culture and composition of their workforce. There are resources and supports available to organizations to address both psychological safety and how to be more inclusive. We need to look at this as an opportunity to use them.
With the reorganization of tasks and responsibilities organizations undertook over the past year, were the psychological demands of the revised workload taken into consideration? Living with significant stress and uncertainty limits our mental resources to cope with the other tasks heaped on us, including our work responsibilities. Our brains continue to operate in survival mode, even though we are now one year into the pandemic. In survival mode, we experience mental fog, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and are more likely to make errors and mistakes. New tasks are incredibly difficult to learn. It is important for supervisors and leaders to consider these additional challenges when evaluating performance.
Community Healthcare Consulting provides ways of managing the increased psychological demands. For more information on how to support the evolving psychological demands of our current work world, contact Community Healthcare Consulting for an initial discussion, or book a session and get started supporting your team’s resiliency to workplace stress.
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