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The Thinking Cap

Tips, tricks and solutions from the team at PSB Solutions. We offer solutions in regards to people, safety, and business.

Mindfulness in a Hectic World

PSB Solutions - Thursday, November 03, 2016

Applying Mindfulness

The strategy to regain our connection to the present, is the practice of Mindfulness. Mindfulness focuses on maintaining awareness of your thoughts and inner self-talk, the way you feel, bodily sensations and what is happening around you.

Unlike what popular culture has made it out to be, mindfulness is not simply relaxing and staying in a state of Zen. Instead, mindfulness is a practice where people can learn to:

  • focus on the present moment;
  • improve their attentional skills; and
  • accept their thoughts and feelings without judgement (for example, if you feel frustrated, accept that you are frustrated but do so without judgement).

Mindfulness allows us to move from living on constant automatic pilot mode, to pausing and observing what is happening in the here and now. Learning to experience a mindful state requires time and effort to achieve. That being said, the amount of effort required is insignificant when compared to the plethora of potential benefits that mindfulness can provide. 

Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindfulness practices have been associated with a number of different benefits. Here is just a small sample of the positive outcomes associated with mindfulness.  

  • Mindfulness has been shown to improve emotional regulation through decreasing rumination and improving attentional awareness (Davis & Hayes, 2011). Those who practice mindfulness also experience increased levels of empathy and compassion towards others.
  • Mindfulness has an association with improved mental health through reductions in anxiety, stress and depression (Schreiner & Malcolm, 2008).
  • Mindfulness has been found to improve interpersonal relationships through helping to protect against stressful relationship issues, improve one’s ability to express themselves and to improve overall relationship satisfaction (Davis & Hayes, 2011).
  • Mindfulness training in the workplace contributes to a reduction in emotional exhaustion and has also been found to improve job satisfaction (Hülsheger, Alberts, Feinholdt & Lang, 2013).

Becoming Mindful

The good news is that mindfulness can be practiced almost anywhere, which means there are many opportunities to practice in your day. From walking to the shops, eating a meal at home or even having a shower; each can be turned into a mindfulness experience to help you bring yourself into the here and now. One of the most common exercises to begin practicing mindfulness is through breathing awareness. Read the instructions below and give it a go.

  • Sit comfortably in a chair or lie down on your bed.
  • Close your eyes and begin to focus on your breathing. Try to focus on all the sensations you experience when you breathe that you may not notice normally.
  • Take a breath through your nose, and notice whether the air is cool or warm.
  • As you exhale through your mouth, also notice whether the air is cool or warm as it leaves your body.
  • As you continue to breathe in this way focus on the sounds in the room. Concentrate on the sounds most distant to you. Then refocus on the sounds closest to you, such as your breathing, and then finally your heat beat.
  • After you feel that you have achieved a mindful state remember to reflect on the experience before continuing on with your day. Slowly become aware of your surroundings before opening your eyes and taking in what is around you.
  • During this exercise if you became distracted or if your mind wanders, accept that you did non-judgementally, and ease yourself back into focusing on your breath.

Many people give up after getting distracted and do not realise that the very fact that they recognised they were distracted is being extremely mindful of what your thoughts are. Each time you recognise a distraction and bring focus back to breathing you are essentially exercising a muscle that will make entering a mindful state easier in the future.

Mindfulness is not the panacea to all of life’s concerns and issues, but with so many competing demands on us, it is a gentle reminder to stop and pay attention to the here and now.

References

Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy, 48(2), 198-208. doi: 10.1037/a0022062

Hülsheger, U. R., Alberts, H. J., Feinholdt, A., & Lang, J. W. (2013). Benefits of mindfulness at work: the role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology,98(2), 310-325. doi: 10.1037/a0031313

Schreiner, I., & Malcolm, J. P. (2008). The benefits of mindfulness meditation: Changes in emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress. Behaviour Change, 25(03), 156-168. doi: 10.1375/bech.25.3.156

Mental Health Interventions in the Workplace Research

PSB Solutions - Monday, July 18, 2016

What are the Attitudes and Perceptions of Mental Health Interventions in the Workplace?

Our Research in Conjunction with Murdoch University

PSB Solutions, in conjunction with Murdoch University are conducting research into the very important topic of mental health within the workplace. We are exploring the perceived effectiveness of mental health interventions in the workplace from the perspective of the employee. This study is focused on understanding what interventions (both preventative and remedial) employees find worthwhile and are more likely to use.

Value for Industry

The value in conducting this research for industry is that the outcomes of this study can be used to help inform organisations as to what interventions and resources employees value and believe to work to help guide more effective mental health strategies in the future.

Why is Mental Health a Growing Concern?

Over the past couple of decades, mental health has become an increasingly pertinent topic, with many people attempting to develop better ways to support and improve mental health. This is for good reason as roughly half of the general population will at some point in their lives experience a mental health condition[i]. While mental health conditions can result from a number of different factors, such as genetic or social factors, the workplace is often quoted as a significant stressor relating to mental health[ii]. The negative influence that workplaces can have on the mental health of their employees can then impact the organisation itself with these employees sometimes becoming less productive and more likely to be absent from work[iii]. It is therefore important that organisations do all they can to support mental health for both their employees and the business itself. The provision of workplace mental health interventions and resources is a popular way that many organisations choose to do this.

Types of Workplace Mental Health Interventions and Resources

There are a number of different types of mental health interventions and resources that organisations are currently using to help support and improve the mental health of their employees. Here are some typical interventions explained below.

Employee Assistance Programs or EAPs are arguably the most popular form of mental health support that Australian organisations are currently providing. It traditionally involves providing counselling services designed to assist with both personal and work-related issues that may impact an employee’s health and well-being.  It is a reactive intervention that is often more beneficial to those already suffering from mental health or well-being difficulties.  Due to the ability to outsource this service it is an attractive option for many organisations.

Education and Training is another very popular approach to supporting mental health in the workplace. It can focus on a variety of different mental health topics such as supporting your own mental health, resiliency and mindfulness. As opposed to an EAP, the provision of mental health education and training also works as a preventative measure for those who are not experiencing mental health. 

Health and Well-being Programs can come in many different forms but all fundamentally aim to support and improve the health and well-being of employees. This can include anything that an organisation decides would be beneficial but will often include initiatives like gym memberships, healthy eating strategies, and quit smoking programs. Like education and training, health and well-being programs are beneficial for the mental health of both employees suffering from mental health difficulties and those who do not.

Along with those that are mentioned above, there are a number of other interventions that organisations are also using to support mental health in the workplace. These other interventions include things like peer support programs, coaching, chaplaincy programs, and return to work programs.

Mental Health Research – Want to get involved?

While many organisations value the mental health of their employees and implement interventions to support it, there is a surprising lack of research into how these interventions are perceived and what value they are actually bringing to an organisation. For this reason PSB Solutions, in conjunction with Murdoch University, are conducting a research study into those workplace interventions and resources that are used to support their employee mental health and well-being. The aim of this study is to help understand what the work force values and perceives to be effective in supporting their mental health.

For more information, or if you would like to participate in the study, please contact us on (08) 6272 3900 or email us at info@psbsolutions.com.au.

References

[i] Slade, T., Johnston, A., Oakley Browne, M. A., Andrews, G., & Whiteford, H. (2009). 2007 national survey of mental health and wellbeing: Methods and key findings. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 43(7), 594-605.

[ii] Beyond Blue (2014). State of workplace mental health in Australia. Retrieved from: https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report---tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=6 . Retrieved on 11th of July 2016. 

[iii] Kessler, R. C., Akiskal, H. S., Ames, M., Birnbaum, H., Greenberg, P., Hirschfield, R. M., Jin, R, Merikangas, K. R., Simon, G. R., & Wang, P. S. (2006). Prevalence and effects of mood disorders on work performance in a nationally representative sample of US workers. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(9), 1561-1568.

 

Getting the Right Person for the Job

PSB Solutions - Monday, January 19, 2015

For many people, hiring staff can be a hit and miss affair. Maybe you interview your candidate, speak to their old managers and, more than you’d like to admit, you listen to your “gut feel”. This approach can lead to good hiring decisions; it can also lead to the employee from hell. Psychometric Assessments, however, offer an objective assessment device that allows you to assess potential candidates on a range of relevant abilities and personal characteristics, and compare them against a large pool of similar individuals.

Why use Psychometric Assessments?

In a fast-changing and increasingly competitive market place, selecting, developing and retaining the best talent is vital for long-term success. Likewise, avoiding the costs associated with hiring the wrong candidate is also important. To ensure the best available talent is being hired, more and more businesses are using psychometric assessments to guide their recruitment process. The reason for this is simple: psychology research consistently shows that abilities assessments are a strong predictor of future job success, when used in combination with interviews, reference checks, bio data and assessment centres (Schmidt and Hunter, 1998).

The Assessments

To assess candidates’ potential performance, and to identify the most talented individuals already working for you, PSB Solutions offer a series of assessments that can be utilised and customised to the specific job type and organisational culture. PSB Solutions assessment suite includes:

  • Personality assessments. These are used to identify desirable traits required for the job (such as team work, stress management etc.).
  • Aptitude and ability assessments (graduate and manager level). These are used to provide insight into how well the candidate can manage the intellectual demands of the job position.
  • Career preferences. These are used to support decision making in terms of career development.
  • Values and motives. These are used to provide insight into how a person's values and motivations may impact their success within a job role.

If you would like to know more about how psychometric assessments can improve your selection and recruitment process, do not hesitate to give one of our friendly staff members a call on (08) 6272 3900.

References

1. Schmidt, F.L. and Hunter, J.E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology. Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 142, 262-274.

Great Parents at a Great Distance - Staying Connected

PSB Solutions - Thursday, October 30, 2014


Here are some tips on ways that you can stay involved in your children’s life even though you are  working away.


Stay in Touch

A study of 32 long distance families stressed that frequent contact was important for maintaining relationships1. Your family is only a phone call away, so try to avoid saving things up for when you are reunited, and take the time to spend a few minutes on the phone each night.

Even something small like a text message saying: “I love you” or “How are you?” once you’re back at your accommodation shows your kids that, even though you’re away, you are still thinking of and supporting them.


Stay Interested

A parent’s level of interest is incredibly important for a child at any age. A parent who does not show interest in their child’s life is not going to have the same relationship as one who shows that they are thinking about their child, interested in what is happening in their day, their hobbies and friendships. It is important while you’re away that you make an extra effort to remember significant events and dates such as school activities and birthdays, and remember to ask your children about them. It may help if you write important dates down as your kids talk about them. This can help you remember what to ask them about the next time you speak.

 

Kids love surprises!

Leave a little something behind under your children’s pillows; it could be a little note or an inexpensive gift that can mean a lot. A great tip for a surprise is to look online for businesses where you live and order goodies to be delivered to your house such as pizza for dinner. This is a great idea and it’s easy and creative; you can pay over the phone and it lets the kids know mum or dad is thinking of them.


Being “there” for your kids on you Rest & Restoration (R&R) break

It’s also very important to look after yourself while you’re on site, make sure you eat well, and get enough exercise and sleep. You want to have the energy for your family when you get back for your R&R and not feel burnt out.


Get with It!

If you have internet access, it’s definitely worth ‘getting with the technology’. There are plenty of ways to keep in the loop with what’s happening back home. Impress your kids by using the latest technology, the most popular internet communication sites at the moment are Facebook, Skype, and Twitter, to name a few.

E-cards are great if you don’t get the chance to send a card in the post for a special occasion. Another cheap and effective idea is to email photos, mini-films or newsletters to show your family what life is like away from home.

 

 References

  1. Gallegos, D (2006). Aero planes always come back: fly-in fly-out employment: managing the parenting transitions. Perth: Centre for Social and Community Research, Murdoch University.

 

Managing Error in High Risk Industries Through Human Performance Improvement

PSB Solutions - Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Human error is an inevitable aspect of being human. Therefore, a proactive approach to error management is through the development of error tolerant systems. As quoted by James Reason, "It is now widely held among human reliability specialists that the most productive strategy for dealing with active errors is to focus upon controlling their consequences rather than upon striving for their elimination” (Reason, p. 246). Download our presentation on 'Managing Error in High Risk Industries through Human Performance Improvement' here to find out more. 

Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace

PSB Solutions - Monday, August 18, 2014

The Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA) has recently urged businesses to step up and make mental health and wellbeing a priority for staff and management. One in five Australian adults will experience a mental illness over the next 12 months and millions of Australians believe their workplace is not mentally healthy. This is contributing to stress and anxiety, which can fuel a large volume of sick leave. An organisation that pays attention to this information and works to promote positive workplace mental health will achieve more through increased understanding, morale and even productivity. Please remember, World Mental Health Day is on October 10, 2014 and coincides with National Mental Health Week, 5 -12 October 2014. Now is a good a time as any to start being proactive and make a positive change at your workplace!

Mental Illness in the Workplace

Mental wellbeing expert, Graeme Cowan, found that 34% of lost productivity is caused by depression and stress disorders, however 86% of employees with stress or depression choose to suffer in silence and businesses suffer as a result. That suffering can often be in the form of mental stress claims. Safe Work Australia’s 2013 report revealed that the most common categories for mental stress claims include:
  • Work pressure (33%);
  • Work-related harassment and/or workplace bullying (22%); and
  • Exposure to workplace or occupational violence (21%).

Businesses that don’t give the right support to the mental health and wellbeing of personnel may also lay the foundations for a mentally unhealthy workplace, resulting in employees experiencing any or all of the following:

  • high levels of stress;
  • anxiety;
  • a sense of isolation;
  • concentration problems;
  • low self-confidence, energy, and morale;
  • a reduction in output and performance;
  • inability to make decisions;
  • sleep disturbance; or
  • hypersensitivity.

What can you do about it?

A strong degree of education and understanding regarding mental health and stress in the workplace is a first step toward the proactive management of typical stressors that may be negatively impacting the work environment. 
The next step would be to focus on the provision of workplace resources – including a mental health policy, wellness program and intranet materials. These would support employees in understanding their own and their employer’s position, the rights and obligations that can stem from an employee suffering from a mental health disorder and allow employees to anonymously access employer-endorsed resources. This education can help employees take positive actions to accommodate an illness and the recovery process into their work environment and job role.

These measures would assist greatly in easing concerns about stigma and encouraging employees to take a proactive approach in managing their illness, with the support of their employer. 

Finally, it is important that organisations work towards preventative measures that promote a psychological safe and healthy environment, alleviating the potential for psychological risk. Preventative measures can include the provision of flexible working arrangements, mentoring / peer support programs, specialised training (e.g. stress management, having difficult conversations, managing conflict), and the regular recognition of achievements.

How can PSB Solutions support your business?

PSB Solutions consists of a team of consultants, with qualifications in Organisational Psychology. Our knowledge and expertise can support your business in taking the right steps toward making your workplace mentally safe and healthy. Our services include:

  • Mental Health Awareness workshops.
  • Developing customised Psychological Health Strategies, with tailored psychosocial risk assessments.
  • Providing lunch and learn awareness sessions to the workforce.
  • Stress Management and Enhancing Communication workshops aimed at leadership and/or the workforce.
  • Providing management support and coaching.

For more information, or if you would like to discuss what you’ve read today, please contact us on (08) 6272 3900 or email us at info@psbsolutions.com.au.

Please remember, World Mental Health Day is on October 10, 2014 and coincides with National Mental Health Week, 5 -12th October 2014. Now is a good a time as any to start being proactive and make a positive change at your workplace!

References:
  • Cowan, Graeme (2013). The Elephant in the Boardroom: getting mentally fit for work. Retrieved from: http://www.iambackfromthebrink.com/elephant . Retrieved on 25th July 2014.
  • Safe Work Australia (2013).  Incidence of Accepted Workers’ Compensation Claims for Mental Stress in Australia. Retrieved from: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/pages/workers-compensation-claims-for-mental-stress-in-australia . Retrieved on 6th August, 2014.

The Work-life Balancing Act

PSB Solutions - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

There is a growing demand for more flexible working arrangements across Australia, as balancing work and life commitments has increasingly become an issue in our society.  More and more, employees are finding it difficult to find a satisfactory balance between work and family commitments, leading to job dissatisfaction and an increase in work-related psychological injury claims. Read more to find out how a flexible work environment results in the attraction and retention of skilled employees and the strategies that can help you achieve this goal.

When at work, be at work and give it your all.  When at home, be at home and spend time with your family – don’t worry about the things you didn’t get done at the office.  This could be a case of easier said than done.  There is growing awareness that work and other life commitments cannot be easily separated.  Increasing work demands, longer working hours and the consequent rise in work-related psychological injury claims are all indicators of a need for a more balanced approach.

Work-life balance (WLB) refers to the interaction of one’s life and work commitments and the ability to attain a satisfactory balance between the two.

Why is Work-life Balance Important?

A changing work environment, including an increase in the participation of women in the workforce, and the aging population, shows that the number of employees with responsibilities for the care of family members will continue to increase. Flexible work arrangements enable carers of young children or elderly relatives to attend to their responsibilities when required. Times of illness or school commitments are good examples.  There is a need for organisations to adopt strategies and policies that accommodate the work-life needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.

Additionally, there is strong evidence to show that good worker health and wellbeing boosts organisational health and business performance.  Psychological injury (such as stress and depression) brought on by increased work demands are influenced by the work environment and the way that work is organised.  These work factors are known as psychosocial hazards and when not effectively managed, have been shown to negatively impact both the employee and the organisation.

Responsibilities Under the Law

The Work Health and Safety Act (2011) states that employers must ensure the health and safety of its employees.  Health is defined under the Act to mean both physical and psychological health.  This has led to the awareness for the requirement to manage psychosocial risks. WLB is a key method of this management.

All Australian states adopting these laws will have to consider how they are managing psychological health under the legislation. Regardless, workplaces should and do have a moral obligation to manage psychological hazards in the workplace, including WLB.

Benefits of Work-life Balance

Balance between work and life commitments requires a flexible working environment.  Through providing greater flexibility in work arrangements, along with other factors, organisations can: 

  • improve employee retention;
  • reduce staff turnover;
  • improve performance;
  • reduce absenteeism;
  • improve physical/mental health;
  • attract broader talent pool;
  • attain positive employer branding; and
  • induce earlier return from maternity leave.

Strategies for Work-life Balance

Effective, flexible work arrangements are achieved when organisations develop a positive WLB thinking culture through the following initiatives:

  • managers and supervisors demonstrating commitment to creating a flexible workplace that supports WLB by considering employees’ needs and requests;
  • implementing flexible work practices to provide greater flexibility to all employees (including supervisors, managers and other senior staff);
  • ensuring flexible working hours and leave arrangements to accommodate family and personal responsibilities without detriment or penalty;
  • management training and accountability – managers to be responsible and accountable for implementing WLB strategies; and
  • increasing awareness of employees’ entitlements in accessing flexible working arrangements, assistance and services, such as:
    • part-time work;
    • study leave;
    • flexible starting/finishing times;
    • working from home;
    • job sharing;
    • subsidised/free fitness memberships;
    • life skills programs; and
    • time management programs.

How PSB Solutions Can Help

PSB Solutions can assist your organisation in supporting work-life balance initiatives through:

  • establishing leadership support and commitment through targeted training programs and coaching;
  • stress management seminars and workshops;
  • workshops on workforce psychological fitness for managers and supervisors; and
  • psychological fitness risk assessments.

Please contact PSB Solutions on (08) 6272 3900 or info@psbsolutions.com.au to discuss your needs and set up a complementary consultation session.

Further Reading

Work Health & Safety Act (2011).  Retrieved from http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2011A00137

Bulger, C. A., Matthews, R. A., & Hoffman, M. E. (2007). Work and personal life boundary management: Boundary strength, work/personal life balance, and the segmentation-integration continuum. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12, 365-375.

Hawksley, B. (2006). Work-related stress, work/life balance and personal life coaching. British Journal of Community Nursing,12, 34-36.

Murthy, V. & Guthrie, J. (2012). Management control of work-life balance: A narrative study of an Australian financial institution. Journal of Human Resource Costing & Accounting, 15, 258-280.

Pocock, B. (2005). Work-life ‘balance’ in Australia: Limited progress, dim prospects. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 43, 198-208.

 

Delivering Feedback in the Workplace

PSB Solutions - Wednesday, March 26, 2014



Feedback is the biggest driver of performance we have available.  But sometimes feedback is difficult to deliver, especially when it is for a person that may become defensive.  It is important to know how to provide feedback to others correctly, without causing offence. Do you provide feedback as often as you should, in the best way possible?  Read more to find out how you can develop your interpersonal skills to give feedback more effectively.

Feedback should not be viewed as a negative process, but rather as a strategy to improve the performance of both people and the organisation.  As you may already know, feedback can be a powerful tool to encourage goal accomplishment, influence behaviours, and help improve morale.  It can also increase employee engagement, working relations, and productivity.  Without allowing opportunities for feedback, employees may be unsure of what is expected from their performance, and the workplace can get caught in a place of uncertainty. 

Unfortunately, not all feedback is easy to deliver.  Many people are often reluctant to provide feedback, because they fear retaliation.  In the same way, if the feedback is not delivered correctly, it can be received as a personal attack or discouraging. 

So it’s no secret that most of us are afraid of feedback, because sometimes it is unpleasant and hard to accept.  But what if it is YOU that needs to deliver feedback?  What if the feedback is negative and the person receiving the feedback has a tendency to become defensive?

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical scenario:  Jack, who is one of your employees, has worked in the office for nine years.  He knows a lot about the workplace’s systems, but tends to keep to himself.  For over a month now, you have observed that Jack regularly shows up late to the office, takes lengthy lunch breaks, and is often out the door before everyone else.  Although you have had no past performance issues with Jack, you know that he will get angry and defensive if you approach him.

How would you deliver feedback to Jack?  Use the tips below to help you.  By improving your interpersonal skills you can deliver feedback to Jack correctly, without eliciting negative reactions.

PLAN what you are going to say.  When possible, you can overcome the fear of giving feedback to Jack by planning the conversation.  This also helps you to avoid making mistakes during the feedback discussion.  Before providing him with feedback you can practice conversation openers, being polite, and clearly stating your point. If you’re still not sure of what you want to say, it might be helpful to consult with the Human Resources team before the talk.    

COMMUNICATION is everything.  During the feedback discussion, it is important that Jack sees you as receptive, attentive, and interested in what he has to say.  You can do this by:

  • being clear and appropriate in what you say (i.e. clearly stating your point and being polite);
  • being assertive (i.e. respecting and caring for your own needs, as well as the needs of Jack);
  • being sincere and honest;
  • being sensitive to Jack’s and others’ feelings;
  • calmly arriving at a solution; and
  • avoiding gossip and judgemental language.

Besides, Jack might have a good reason for being late – we need to find out what those reasons are.

TIMING is important when delivering feedback.  You’ve already waited over a month to give feedback to Jack!  Waiting this long to have the conversation is likely to be ineffective, and can negatively affect Jack’s commitment, motivation, and attitude.  Giving feedback as soon as possible will have a greater impact on changing behaviour.

ASSESS your own emotional state.  Given that you’re quite frustrated with Jack’s tardiness, it might be best to not give him feedback in your current state of frustration.  There are many situations where you will need to provide feedback for inappropriate actions, but it is important to be aware of your emotional state - especially if it is likely to lead to an unpleasant interaction with your working relations. 

FOCUS on the issue or action, and not the person.  Telling Jack that he is lazy or incompetent might cause him offence, and he will most likely overlook his poor performance.  In the same way, telling him that he is a really good worker, without specifying his actions, will probably discourage him to perform higher.

LINK the issue or action to the impact that it will have on the person, team, and organisation.  It is important that Jack sees how his actions are having an impact on all levels of the organisation.  You need to help Jack understand that his tardiness is putting stress on other employees who are required to cover for him, lowering the team’s morale, and causing a loss in productivity for the overall organisation. This will ensure that the feedback process with Jack is a fair and non-judgmental one.

IDENTIFY a successful solution.  When providing feedback to Jack, it is important to address the areas where he needs to improve.  This might involve providing him with positive behaviours to improve his actions, or even discussing a plan for correcting his actions and improving his performance. 

HELP the person.  If Jack lacks the confidence in his ability to perform as required, you should offer some helping suggestions.  This can be in the form of additional training, coaching, or mentoring.  In the same way, everyone else in the workplace needs to be clear on what appropriate performance should be - to avoid any feelings of uncertainty and frustration. 

EXPRESS confidence in the person.  After having the feedback discussion with Jack, use the time to express confidence in his ability to improve performance.  This can be in the form of establishing an action plan, or setting up a timeline that specifies when you would like information about his progress.  This will help to improve his morale and encourages his goal accomplishment. 

How can PSB Solutions help?

PSB Solutions understands human behaviour and performance improvement in the workplace, like Jack’s situation, and recognises that feedback isn’t as easy as it may seem.  PSB Solutions can assist your organisation by customising feedback tools, strategies, and skills development programs that can be utilised in helping your organisation deliver effective feedback. For more information, or if you would like to have a discussion about what you’ve read today, please contact us on (08) 9489 3900 or email us at info@psbsolutions.com.au.

Recommended Readings

Taylor, J., Jenkins, J., & Barber, L. (2013). Breaking bad (news): Some constructive criticisms of performance feedback.

From http://www.apaexcellence.org/resources/goodcompany/newsletter/article/481. 

Watkins, T. (2010-2012). Giving constructive feedback. 



The Human Factors Analysis and Classification System

PSB Solutions - Friday, February 28, 2014

It has been said before that one incident is one too many. However, given that humans by their very nature make mistakes, how do we prevent a disaster? To answer this question we should look to the innovative world of human factors and focus on learning from our past mistakes and errors. A great example of progress in human error prevention is the Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFACS). This human error framework, developed within the U.S. military, tackles human error at every level of the organisation, namely the physical and mental state of humans as well as potential organisational influences.

The Four Levels of Human Failure

HFACS is based on Reason’s (1990) four levels of human failure (commonly known as the Swiss Cheese Model), which, when you work backwards from unsafe acts, establishes that each level of failure impacts drastically on the next. The following breakdown of these four levels provides us with insight into where involvement of the human factor can lead to an error or mistake being made.

1. Unsafe Acts

Will we ever be able to prevent all unsafe acts from occurring? Probably not. However, understanding what classifies an unsafe act brings us a step closer to implementing the right tools to minimise the risk of negative outcomes. We can classify these acts into two categories: errors and violations.

a)            Errors: Generally encompassing skill-based (memory lapses and slips in attention), decision based (intentional behaviour with an undesired outcome, an “honest mistake”), and perceptual error (when perception of a situation is different from the reality).

b)            Violations: A wilful disregard for safety rules, often resulting in severe consequences. Two distinct forms of violation have been identified: 1) Routine violations - the breaking of a safety rule or procedure is the normal way of working. It becomes routine not to use the documented procedures for tasks. 2) Wilful violations – an isolated departure from the rules, a wilful violation can occur in overcoming an unworkable situation or can, albeit rarely, be the result of an employee’s desire to do something they know they’re not supposed to.

2. Preconditions for Unsafe Acts

We cannot focus on an unsafe act without also analysing the reasons for why this act occurred. Did the operator have inadequate training? Were they suffering from fatigue? It is vital that we look beyond the act itself to have a hope of preventing someone else from repeating it. HFACS established two major subdivisions of unsafe conditions:

a)             Substandard conditions of operators:

  • Adverse mental states - mental conditions that may affect performance (e.g. distraction, task obsession, and mental fatigue).
  • Adverse physiological states - medical or physical conditions that prevent safe operations.
  • Physical/mental limitations - when the job requires more than the person may be able to achieve (e.g. environmental conditions such as night time driving on a long straight road which demands a large increase in attention and alertness). This can also encompass an individual’s general ability for a role.

b)             Substandard practices of operators:

  • Employee resource management - poor coordination within and amongst teams (e.g. failure to radio operators on mobile plant or equipment).
  • Personal readiness – the expectation that individuals will turn up to work ready to perform. Failures occur when individuals do not prepare mentally or physically for work (e.g. at least 8 hours sleep before working a 12 hour shift).

3. Unsafe Supervision

When we look at the conditions and practices of our operators as contributing to failure, it would be only natural to look at the role their supervisors play as well. HFACS has identified four categories of unsafe supervision:

a)      Inadequate supervision: If guidance and direction from supervisors is non-existent, violation of procedures is more likely to occur. For example, this could happen when a supervisor is working on the tools instead of supervising his team members.

b)     Planned inappropriate operations: Operational demands have been known to impact time and scheduling, at times putting workers at risk and affecting their performance. These periods, though occasionally unavoidable in emergency situations, are unacceptable for standard operations. This category has been created specifically to account for failures that occur due to out of the ordinary circumstances.

c)     Failure to correct a known problem: Sometimes a supervisor may know that a team member is cutting corners or that a piece of equipment isn’t quite up to spec, but for whatever reason, doesn’t address it. This failure to correct inappropriate behaviour or address issues with machinery works to foster an unsafe environment.

d)    Supervisory violations: This category is specific to those supervisors who wilfully violate rules and procedures to get a job done, laying the foundation for a potentially disastrous outcome (e.g. permitting individuals to operate machinery without current licenses).

4. Organisational Influences

Finally, decisions made at the top level of the organisation must be addressed, given that they impact upon personnel practices across the entire organisation. Failures at the organisational level consist of:

a)             Resource management: Decision making which is focused on two objectives – safety and cost-effective, productive operations. It is not uncommon for safety to be the loser, with training and safety budgets often getting the boot in times of financial strife. This has the concerning knock-on effect of poorly trained employees and poorly maintained equipment lending itself to potential for injury and incidents.

b)             Organisational climate: The working atmosphere within the organisation, what it looks like at any given time. This can be evidenced by its structure, policies, and culture. When these are poorly defined, conflicting or not actively supported from the top of the organisation, confusion tends to result down the levels and safety can end up suffering.

c)              Operational processes: Decisions and rules made at the top level that direct everyday activities within the organisation. These commonplace decisions can potentially have an adverse effect on safety (e.g. increased time pressure to meet deadlines and lengthening work schedules).

Each of these human factors can influence one another and are not independent behaviours. So often an error at an operator level may stem from a management decision at the upper levels of the organisation. Certainly, any analysis of human factors should investigate all levels of the organisation, not just the operator.

How can PSB Solutions help?

PSB Solutions understands that managing risk when it comes to human beings is no easy task.  Understanding the capabilities and limitations of your workforce to ensure the best possible fit between people and the systems in which they operate is a vital step to doing this.

PSB Solutions can assist your organisation in human factor management in the following ways:

  • safety leadership training encompassing human factors; and
  • Human Factors in Systems Analysis (an in-depth analysis of the human factors required to ensure systems are working properly).

For more information, or if you would like to have a discussion regarding what you’ve read today, please contact us on (08) 9489 3900 or email us at info@psbsolutions.com.au.

References:

  • Reason, J. (1990). Human error. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Shappell, A.S. (2000). The Human Factors Analysis and Classification System – HFACS. US Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration. 

Safety Culture Frameworks

PSB Solutions - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Successful organisations rely on building a culture of safety in the workplace, in which everyone collectively strives to achieve.  A strong safety culture is one in which safety is valued and prioritised within an organisation, and there is a real commitment to safety at all levels, even when no one is watching.   

I already have systems in place.  Why do I need a safety culture?

Research has shown that a Safety Management System (SMS) incorporating workplace inspections, policies, procedures, roles and responsibilities, cannot achieve safe performance alone.  In fact, without a safety culture even the best designed systems will fail.  For example, if a person believes that safety is not important, then they are likely to cut corners, or make unsafe decisions or judgements, especially when the perceived risk of harm is small.  Therefore, an organisation’s safety culture has a direct impact on safe performance, and is important in understanding why systems fail or succeed. 

How can I build a strong safety culture?

The safety culture of an organisation is the product of the people’s values, beliefs, behaviours, attitudes, and commitment towards safety.  Building a safety culture is not as easy as calling a meeting and saying, “Ok, now we’re going to have a strong safety culture.”  What you can do is create a framework that guides your organisation towards achieving a strong safety culture and defines the behaviours of each member of your organisation.

Building your framework

First, you need to define what a safety culture looks like in your organisation.  Psychologist James Reason’s (1998; 2000) framework suggests that building a strong safety culture consists of combining five cultures, including (1) an informed culture, (2) a reporting culture, (3) a just culture, (4) a flexible culture, and (5) a learning culture.

In an informed culture there is a level of awareness by those who manage and operate the organisation on factors such as people, jobs, and the workplace environment that could impact safe performance.  In an informed culture the organisation collects, analyses, and disseminates safety information such as near-misses and errors. 

In a reporting culture there is an atmosphere in which people have the willingness and confidence to report any safety concerns (such as near-misses and errors) without any fear of blame.  It is important in a reporting culture people know that the confidentiality of their information will be maintained, and the information they submit will be acted upon.  Otherwise, people may decide that there is no benefit in reporting.      

Similar to a reporting culture, a just culture is where reporting safety concerns are encouraged with an emphasis on learning rather than blame.  For example, in a just culture a person performing an unsafe act will not be punished if their act was unintentional.  However, it is important to understand that having a “no-blame” culture is not possible.  For example, a person who acts recklessly or takes a deliberate risk should be subject to disciplinary action.  Therefore, in a just culture people still need to be aware of what is acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour. 

In a flexible culture the organisation and its people are capable of adapting effectively to changing demands.  Such adaptability is an important feature of organisations striving towards a strong safety culture.

Finally, an organisation must have a learning culture, in which they are able to analyse safety data, draw the right conclusions, learn from mistakes, and act upon recommendations. 

Defining your behaviours

To complete your safety culture framework, it is important to define what behaviours are required at every level of your organisation, so that each member knows what they need to do as part of that culture.  There are a number of ways all levels in the organisation can contribute to building a strong safety culture.  At the managerial level, these are:

  • Communicating safety and health related information to everyone.
  • Being honest.
  • Communicating the organisation’s vision.
  • Implementing safety and health related solutions.
  • Providing safety and health related training for everyone.
  • Being visibly committed towards safety.
  • Avoiding silos through poor communication channels.
  • Being just and holding people accountable for non-acceptable behaviour.
  • Confronting the inherent risks within their operations.
  • Taking part in systems such as risk assessments and inspections.

At the supervisory level, these are:

  • Encouraging upward communication.
  • Reinforcing the team on safe performance by providing feedback.
  • Learning from mistakes.
  • Listening to the team’s safety concerns and managers, and providing feedback.
  • Actively involving the team to participate in safety.
  • Encouraging team collaboration.
  • Sharing responsibility for non-acceptable behaviour.
  • Promoting risk awareness in the team.
  • Taking part in systems such as risk assessments and inspections.

At all levels in the organisation, everyone can contribute to building a strong safety culture.  These are:

  • Speaking up to raise health and safety concerns.
  • Listening to safety and health related information.
  • Reporting errors, near-misses and incidents.
  • Suggesting safety and health related solutions.
  • Accepting feedback.
  • Actively participating in safety.
  • Taking responsibility for non-acceptable behaviour.
  • Being mindful of risks and stopping work if the job is unsafe.

An example of combining the elements of your safety culture framework and defining behaviours might look like this:

 

Management

Supervisors

Everyone

Supporting Safety Systems

Learning Culture

Implement solutions, Provide training, Be prepared, Know your risks

Learn from mistakes, Listen to the experts, Provide feedback

Report errors, Suggest solutions, Accept feedback

Reporting systems, Behaviour Based Safety, Mentors


What are the benefits of a safety culture framework?

The benefits of incorporating a safety culture framework go way beyond reducing compensation claims, insurance premiums, decreasing absence from work, and reducing fines and lawsuits.  A safety culture framework also:

  • Creates clarity at all levels in the organisation on how to achieve a strong safety culture.
  • Creates a common safety language throughout the organisation, which aids in building a strong safety culture.
  • Allows for the integration of an existing Safety Management System (SMS) and a Human Resources System.  For example, performance management systems can include behaviours from a safety culture framework.
  • Allows for any gaps in a Safety Management System to be identified and managed.
  • Can be given to independent contractors to support their own efforts in improving their own health and safety.  This allows for contractor led initiatives to complement the organisation’s safety culture.  

References

Ardern, J. (2012). Creating a safety culture. Accessed on January 2nd, 2013 from

http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/Worksafe/PDF/Forums/safety_culture-Jane_.pdf.

Reason, J. (1998). Achieving a safe culture: Theory and practice. Work & Stress, 12(3), 293-306.

Reason, J. (2000). Human error: Models and management. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 320(7237), 768.

Van der Graaf, G., & Hudson, P. (2002). Hearts and Minds: The status after 15 years research. In SPE International Conference on Health, Safety and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production.

Recommended Readings

Cooper, M. D. (2000). Towards a model of safety culture. Safety Science, 36(2), 111-136.

Golda, E. O. (2013). Framework for developing and sustaining sound safety culture in a developing economy. European Journal of Natural and Applied Sciences, 1(1), 28-37.