How Can Leaders Adopt Psychology for Occupational Safety and Health?

business meeting

Uncertain times caused by the coronavirus has made organizations reassess how they approach the health and safety of their employees. With work environments constantly evolving, how do leaders respond during times of crisis? Where does one start in ensuring that employees are fit to work?

Simple psychology concepts offer good insights for protecting the health and safety of people in the workplace.

The Role of a Leader in Uncertain Times

It’s a tough balancing act to maintain employee morale while managing work operations during a pandemic. However, here’s an important thought to go by in these times: People are the force that drives your organization. While staying operational keeps you afloat, people are the ultimate factor that makes these happen.

As a leader, your responsibility is to communicate with your employees and prompt everyone to move forward.

Empathizing With Your Employees

During this unpredictable season, it helps to know how current events may be affecting your team.

Research shows that what we see on the news can negatively influence our thinking, with three cognitive biases keeping us in that headspace:

  • Negativity bias. When bad things happen, people put more weight on the negative rather than the positive aspects of a situation.
  • Availability bias. This is the tendency to give more importance to examples or instances that easily come to mind when assessing a situation. For example: seeing reports of an airplane crash causes people to think that flying on airplanes is unsafe and makes them believe other modes of transportation are safer overall.
  • Confirmation bias. This is the brain’s tendency to select certain “proofs” that will reinforce what we are already thinking. Humans favor information that supports their beliefs and are more likely to ignore facts that support the contrary.A knowledge of these will help you understand your employees, relate with them, and also make sober, objective decisions for the organization.

employees throwing paper into the air

Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs at Work

Occupational safety has more to do with psychology than we may think. Because a person’s safety has just as much to do with their mental state as their physical, using Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a guide will give leaders a good picture of how well they’re managing this in the workplace.

Physiological Needs refers to the basic needs of human beings, like food, water, shelter, and clothing. At work, these will usually take the form of meal breaks, comfortable workspaces, restrooms, and the like. Make sure your employees have easy access to these services and are compensated fairly to support themselves.

Safety is also a basic need. Consider the kind of work you do and from there assess the needed safety provisions for your workplace.

  • Health. If you have employees coming to work physically, it is vital to have proper sanitation protocols in place. Make sure you have sanitation stations like foot baths and alcohol dispensers and practice physical distancing.
  • Security. Does your workplace have an adequate security system to prevent break-ins and similar risks?Check if your office space has working locks or even additional surveillance measures like CCTV cameras and a security guard.
  • Disaster Readiness. Does your workplace comply with your city’s safety guidelines? Is your office equipped with protection like face masks, fire-safe clothes and gear, and the like? Determine which kinds of protective equipment are essential to the kind of work you do, then have clear instructions on what to do in the event of disasters like earthquakes or fires.

Love and Belonging in the workplace may not be the same as, say, love, and belonging at home or among friends. Especially during COVID-19, workplaces should foster a sense of community for employees that encourage them to make friendships at work.

Out-of-office gimmicks like Zoom parties will help build camaraderie among team members. Esteem is a sense of personal importance derived from acceptance and respect from peers. Employees may sometimes feel like they are stagnating in their particular roles. Giving everyone opportunities to make significant contributions and commending good work will help build an encouraging environment.

Self-Actualization occurs in the workplace when an individual is able to maximize their potential.

Leaders have “a duty of care” to nurture belonging and esteem for employees at work that helps them develop a sense of purpose. Purpose motivates individuals to pursue not just professional, but also creative and personal growth in their field. When basic and psychological needs are met, team members are able to find fulfillment at work.

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs may help reveal particular points for improvement in your organization. As you navigate through this uncertain period, knowing that occupational health and safety involves both the physical and mental wellbeing of your employees will help you effectively meet their needs.

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