Putting psychological health front and center

People’s psychological health and well-being in the workplace is firmly on the workplace agenda. BSI’s Global Head, Health, Safety and Well-being, Kate Field (CMIOSH) explains why.

Many of the definitions of well-being reflect that it is about more than physical health, it’s about how we feel, our expectations and sense of fulfilment. This is reflected in the most recent definition of well-being at work from the new international standard of psychological health and safety at work: ISO 45003 “fulfilment of the physical, mental and cognitive needs and expectations of a worker related to their work”.

Available evidence shows that every workplace has the potential to make someone mentally or physically ill at some point through psychosocial risks such as shift work, long hours, bullying, harassment, lack of autonomy or poor career development. In fact, according the latest estimates by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization, long working hours led to 745 000 deaths from stroke and ischaemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000.

As corporate memory fades, or the lag between exposure and diagnosis stretches to decades, organizations and their leaders lose sight of the human cost and often don't see it as ‘their problem’ or under their accountability – and may not be fully aware of the harm done and the resulting human and business cost.

BSI has created the best practice Prioritizing People Model© to support organizations to greater resilience through a framework on well-being. Adapting the ‘needs’ framework from Maslow’s hierarchy, the model incorporates 16 elements required to demonstrate a human-centred approach. Significantly, psychological health features at every level.

Physiological needs focus on the most basic biological needs of an individual but, without these in place, psychological harm can follow. This includes the obvious needs such as drinking water for hydration – known to be linked to quality of cognition – as well as appropriate periods of rest and recuperation. The link between personal health and mental well-being has been strongly proven and can be further supported by effective processes to support a return to work following illness.

The next phase, safety, includes promotion of workplaces free from adverse social behaviour. Bullying, harassment, and violence (whether physical, verbal, sexual and whether threatened or actual) can bring cognitive injury.

Belonging embraces factors such as the psychological contract – the unwritten expectations that workers and employers have about each other. It also supports consultation and participation to support two-way feedback channels. This phase also nurtures collaboration and positive relationships, encouraging openness, honesty, responsiveness and commitment, providing consistent behaviours and communication. Work/ life balance also forms part of this step.

Esteem is a critical step in reaching fulfilment and starts with the maintenance of fair and respectful workplaces. Equity is central to the effort/ reward balance and it is important to remember that reward is not simply financial. Career development overlaps with effort/ reward and also needs to embrace continuous learning and the development of competencies and capabilities for achieving sustainable employability. The final piece of this picture is autonomy and the esteem that comes from independence and freedom.

Actualization is the pinnacle of our model and is driven by an individual’s ability to continue to grow, be creative and adapt. For an organization, the benefits of unlocking this potential can be summarised into one word: innovation.

Find out more by downloading the prioritizing people whitepaper.

[5] https://www.who.int/news/item/17-05-2021-long-working-hours-increasing-deaths-from-heart-disease-and-stroke-who-ilo