What to consider when auditing your company’s psychological health and safety plan
How confident are you in your ability to conduct a psychological safety audit in your workplace?
To engage in psychological safety audits requires some basic understanding of how management systems work and how to go about auditing systems that are designed to ensure psychological safety at work.
The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) is the gold standard for guiding an evidence-based mental health strategy. Achieving psychological safety for employees will require some big changes for many employers. Part of the process will require them to design and implement a program, or more specifically, a psychological health and safety management system (PHSMS). The PHSMS will likely best be integrated into a human resources (HR) or occupational health and safety (OHS) management system, or both. To be successful the PHSMS will need to address or provide programming that addresses the Standard’s 13 psychological health and safety factors.
Advancing and continuous improvement of any management system follows the Shewhart cycle of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA). Management expert Peter Drucker said it best: “That which gets measured gets done.” Fortunately, the “plan” part of the cycle has been completed for us by the Standard. The challenge in front of the corporate community is implementation of the program. This is the “do” part of the cycle, and many organizations are working on this now.
System implementation is relatively easy to start, but it takes patience and real effort to master it. The only way to know how well your PHSMS has been implemented and to know where to focus continuous improvement is to measure it by undertaking an audit. The “check” part of the cycle requires that we audit the PHSMS.
An audit is a review of a system against a standard. Since we have the National Standard, what we need now is an audit tool to measure how well the Standard has been implemented and to identify gaps so that continuous improvement is linked to closing that gap.
Audits can be qualitative or quantitative. They involve looking at directive documents that tell us what we should be doing. An assessment of operational documents will reveal how well program implementation has been completed. If a policy has been written committing senior leadership to ensuring psychological safety for all employees, the auditor will look to see if the policy has been provided to employees, that it has been posted and that people know about it.
An audit also requires talking to employees. A representative number of employees from all levels and all areas of the organization need to be engaged, either in person or online, to gain their perspective on the effectiveness of the PHSMS. Perception is reality when it comes to psychological safety. If a PHSMS has been implemented and is having a positive impact on the organizational culture, employees will know about it and be able to tell the auditor all about it. Occupational health and safety management systems are regularly audited in most organizations. A PHSMS audit is a logical next step.
Psychological safety can be achieved only with the full involvement of all employees. The system can be designed by HR or OHS and can be piggybacked on their existing management system framework, but it needs to be communicated. A policy that nobody knows about or that has had no impact on the way people think or the way they behave is of little use. The leadership team will need to make a real effort to get out and talk to employees up, down, and across the organizational chart. Employees at all levels, from the supervisor to the CEO, will need to be part of implementing the PHSMS and will need to be accountable for their piece of it. During the audit, this involvement will be measured. If the Standard is to be implemented effectively, there needs to be education, training and awareness throughout the organization.
Since the future of organizational management in Canada will include psychological health and safety management, HR and OHS management system frameworks are logical starting places for the development of a system to manage psychological safety. One simple place to start the audit process is to use the Rapid Psychological Health and Safety Gap Analysis.
The results of this analysis can guide final development of a PHSMS consistent with the Standard.
· Plan to review the program implementation.
· Check the extent to which your plan has been implemented.
· Develop a measurement and audit tool of the Standard.
· If you don’t have an audit tool or feel developing one is too difficult, bring in a management systems or an OHS management system audit expert to measure implementation and teach you how to audit your PHSMS.