A Psychosocial Health Check In Action

Posted on Feb 9, 2023 in Case Studies,Conflict Resolution,Hot Topics . 0 Comments.

It is so important to accurately diagnose the workplace situation. Action taken on a hunch, without effective data to support decision making can not only make matters worse, it can lead you to breach your psychosocial workplace obligations as detailed late last year in our blog Psychosocial, what’s it really about? It can be difficult at times to decide whether to do a formal workplace investigation or pursue a different solution. So let’s take a look at a real example we recently dealt with.

What happened?

A well-regarded financial services client with an excellent employer brand had some surprising, though not objectively bad, results from their recent Employee Survey. Words like “burn out” and “stress” kept appearing in the survey of a specialised Team, as did comments revealing that some employees had been bullied or witnessed another employee being bullied.

How can we help?

All eyes turned to the poor management and the initial call to us was to check our availability to conduct a Workplace Investigation. However, after a range of questions and prompts a decision was made to try a different approach to gain a better understanding of the issues.

It was agreed that we would assist by conducting a Workplace Health Check (otherwise known as a Workplace Audit or a Culture Review). The process we followed was:

Pursuing a Health Check is a diagnostic tool and allows you to better diagnose the situation, determine what the condition actually is (usually there are a range of factors) and then come out the other side with an effective treatment plan.

Sponsors and communication

It was relatively easy to establish a sponsor for the Workplace Health Check. As this business has a strong operational focus, it was decided that the GM Operations would be that person. That gave gravitas to the process and HR was freed up to be an effective business support.

We were quickly able to draft a communication to the Team that was even given the approval of the internal comms team (yay for us!) and went out under the signature of the GM Ops.

Good questions and even better listening

The nub of the Workplace Health Check was the participant interviews. In these 1:1 semi structured interviews, we tied our questions to the psychosocial themes we have previously discussed. Broadly, the questions were:

What is your morale and job satisfaction like?

• Connection to mission

• Work design, role clarity…

Do you have a clear understanding of what is expected of you? What is workplace communication like?

• Work design

• Organisational structures

• Management effectiveness

Are you treated fairly? What are you valued for?

• Organisational structures

• Management effectiveness

How effective is management and leadership?

• Organisational structures

• Management effectiveness

• Social controls

What behaviours should start/stop/continue?

• Social controls

There was nuance to the questions and we asked about a few systems as well that the Ops Team were looking for some feedback on. We also took the time to prepare the participants to return to work after interviews to help them focus and be productive. Of course, the key to this process is how you listen to the responses and understanding the themes that are being raised by participants.

What did we find?

The big news was that the warning signs initially attributed to the local management were not accurate. The real cause was non-collaborative behaviours from other Teams up and down stream. There actually was high respect for line management. The burnout, stress and bullying behaviours were a consequence of the poor inter-Team relations. This meant that people were constantly being pushed back on, work had to be done last minute and late irrespective of other goals and deadlines.

It was also noted that there was:

  • limited opportunity for career progression
  • frustration with remuneration structure as it was geared towards rewarding customer facing staff rather than backend and quality employees
  • angst surrounding a failed IT product implementation

What did we recommend?

  1. A detailed debrief with the Team around issues identified in the Employee Survey and the Workplace Health Check. This was led by us, but had input form Ops and HR.
  2. Team relationship reset
    • Feedback conversations led by Ops and us with the upstream and downstream teams
    • Relationship audits amongst all three Teams to determine the key relationships, why they were strained and ideally what they should be like
    • Separate skills training sessions for the Team on interest-based negotiation (branded with them as ‘Getting effective outcomes for your Team’)
    • Joint sessions to work on real problems as well as some fun and simple problem solving so they realise they can work effectively together.
  3. Working with the main Team to give them new and better vocab for describing issues they were faced with. Moving from language such as “they are triggering me” to them recognising that they may feel uncomfortable, that is OK, and how they can approach the issue in a problem-solving manner.
  4. Changed approach to acting in roles and secondments.

All of this took approximately 3 months to happen once the initial process was finished and the debrief had occurred.

What was the impact?

  • The Team’s KPIs improved!
  • A significant increase in engagement scores in the next survey.
  • Stress and burnout significantly reduced, marked improvement in scores relating to observed behaviours.
  • Quality and number of internal and external candidates improved as people were being attracted to the Team.
  • The Exit Interview process was entirely revamped as none of the identified issues in the Workplace Health Check had come up through that source, despite Exit Interview data being reported on a monthly basis. There was a change of questions and who asked the questions.

Some observations

The organisation’s instinct had been to investigate the manager. This would have been a disaster as it is likely the Team and the leadership of the Team would have felt threatened and people would have been looking for a way to divert blame. With the Workplace Health Check in place, we were able to give individual Team members as well as Team leadership a voice to express their concerns and identify how to solve the problem. This allowed them to feel a part of the solution and as things improved the upward spiral of success kicked in as they saw it as their success being driven by their actions. This approach is not always the right one, but in the right circumstances such as these it is a very powerful tool to look after your people, combat psychosocial distress and boost performance!

When NOT to mediate. Joint dialogue is not always the way!
Psychosocial - what’s it really about?