Workplace stress and psychological distress are becoming increasingly important to employers because they can be so prohibitive to optimal performance. Negative workplace experiences such as excessive pressure, poor leadership and lack of recognition can lead to stress, anxiety and other ensuing health problems, with substantial costs to employers, employees and the community. The level of control employees feel over their work situation and their sense of feeling valued at work can dramatically affect work performance and productivity, absenteeism, workplace safety and staff turnover.

Work plays a critical role in the development, expression and maintenance of psychological health, making organisations ideally placed to improve and foster employees’ health and wellbeing for the benefit of both the individual and organisation. The APS Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program (PHWP) is an initiative that aims to focus Australian organisations on the psychological health and wellbeing of their employees through the working environment that is provided. The Program also aims to raise awareness about the importance of psychological health in the workplace and the factors contributing to workplace wellbeing. It enables participating organisations to identify where they may be going wrong and provides ways that they can prevent workplace psychological injury from occurring and so perform better.

A psychologically healthy workplace

Organisational psychology literature has linked a number of workplace conditions with positive psychological health and wellbeing. There is a general consensus on what constitutes positive health and wellbeing at work and how to enhance organisational performance. These key elements, on which the APS PHWP is based, are as follows.

Elements of a psychologically healthy workplace
  • Supportive leadership
  • Employee engagement
  • Role clarity
  • Learning, development and growth opportunities
  • Appraisal and recognition
  • Work-life balance

 

How the Program works

The APS PHWP involves a four-step assessment to evaluate organisations’ ability to meet the identified key indicators of psychological health and wellbeing. Employees of the participating organisation complete an online survey to measure the six key indicators of psychological health and wellbeing. (The PHWP survey instrument is a psychometrically validated measure with an extensive Australian database of organisation data.) Selected human resources (HR) data is then collected via a second survey, completed by the organisation’s HR manager. The survey data is then compared against national benchmark data and the results generate a report which is provided to the organisation.

The report identifies how the whole organisation is performing, its strengths and areas of difficulty, along with an indication of its standing against the psychologically healthy workplace criteria. As part of promoting the benefits of psychologically healthy workplaces, organisations that perform well are entitled to use the descriptor ‘APS Psychologically Healthy Workplace’.

Improving workplace wellbeing

There are numerous advantages for employers to evaluate workplace psychological health and wellbeing, and the areas in which they can improve. As well supported workers are more productive workers, employers who invest in prevention strategies (rather than treating problems after they eventuate) will reap the benefits of a productive and healthy organisation and in turn, improved organisational performance outcomes.

By participating in the APS PHWP, organisations can act to improve employee satisfaction, morale and performance. By collecting data via the evidence-based APS survey, organisations will have access to key information that can assist managers and employees to bring about changes that improve the way they work together and their work environment. Workplaces are encouraged to be resurveyed every three years to identify measurable improvements in key indices.

The APS Program is the first of its kind in the country to assess the psychological health of organisations as a whole. The PHWP takes a systematic and preventative approach focussing on how organisations can create a positive organisational climate, which is strongly linked to a range of key organisational outcomes such as staff engagement and wellbeing, lower workers' compensation costs and absenteeism, and improved financial performance.

The recent establishment of the National Mental Health Commission's Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, which includes the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce along with other organisations including the APS, indicates the growing importance of the issue of workplace mental health. Health promotion programs have been shown to have many benefits, however the psychological health of the workplace is often not the focus.

The current state of the Program

So far, the APS PHWP has worked with organisations across business, local government and NGOs. The APS is currently identifying a group of members of the APS College of Organisational Psychologists to be trained as PHWP consultants in early 2015. This will expand the capability of the Program to respond to requests across Australia. The Program has been extensively promoted in human resources and business forums and publications, and it is envisaged that, as the Program grows, further training opportunities will be made available to APS members. 

For more information on the APS Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, go to www.apshealthyworkplace.com.au or email phwp@psychology.org.au

InPsych December 2014