How to Manage Psychosocial Risks in your organisation

By Narelle Stoll, first published HERE

I was very honoured to have been invited by Dr Robert Long along with Dr Craig Ashhurst and Lawyer Greg Smith to participate in this panel discussion  on such an important issue facing community organisations today.…

Following the panel discussion, this caused me to reflect on the impact psychosocial issues has on community organisations, the seriousness of outcomes and  and the strategies that organisations should consider implementing to manage them.

Background and Experience

As an Occupational Therapist and WHS Practitioner I have had over 16 years’ experience of managing people with complex physical and mental health needs, both in the workplace and their home in culturally diverse communities.  As well as over 30 years’ experience in volunteer organisations that included National Board positions.

I have also had personal experience of being a victim of bullying while serving on a National Board in a Community organisation, and more recently in a workplace.

From my experience, I consider I have a responsibility to inform other Community Leaders of the serious impact to their organisation if this matter is not well managed. The purpose of this blog is to cover the following:

  • What are Psychosocial Factors
  • Impact of Psychosocial Risk Factors to Community Organisations
  • How they are to be managed.

The recommendations provided here are general in nature and for guidance only. It is recommended that any organisation who is required to deal or manage any complaint or grievance matter must seek legal advice.

What are Psychosocial Factors

Psychosocial  as defined  by the Oxford Dictionary means “pertaining to the influence of social factors on an individual’s mind or behaviour, and to the interrelation of behavioural and social factors” (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012). OED Online. (2012). Oxford University Press. Dictionary on line Source: Law Insider

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada factors that promote psychologically safe places to work include the following:

  • Organizational Culture
  • Psychological and Social Support
  • Clear Leadership & Expectations
  • Clearly documented processes.
  • Civility & Respect
  • Appropriate Psychological Demands
  • Growth & Development
  • Recognition & Reward
  • Involvement & Influence
  • Workload Management
  • Engagement
  • Balance
  • Psychological Protection
  • Protection of Physical Safety.

Impact of Psychological Risk Factors to Community Organisations

In the absence of such factors that support a safe organisational culture, observed behaviours such as bullying (including name calling), violence (verbal, threat or physical), unsafe or inappropriate behaviours, discrimination and exclusion can emerge.  Which left unmanaged can not only have a significant impact on individuals health and wellbeing, but also a financial, legal and reputation impact on the organisation. As seen in the following article.

Moira Shire Council Sacked in Wake of the Murder of Rick Devlin

From my observation these issues do not necessarily arise just from one person’s observed behaviour or attitude at the time. Instead, they can arise from a range of complex social and psychological factors  involving one or more people, which includes but is not limited to the following;

  • The persons perceived bias and attitudes towards others and the organisation, both positive and negative.
  • Past and present interactions and experiences with others both internally and externally.
  • The persons cultural, religious and ethnic upbringing.
  • Their own physical and mental health.
  • Their own genetic and neurological makeup. (Connection between brain, behaviour and thinking).
  • The environment.
  • Work or task arrangements and workload.
  • Perceived support from their peers and other people in the organisation.
  • Culture of the organisation, which includes the expected behaviour vs the behaviour demonstrated  by the person/s  within the organisation to ensure acceptance from others. Particularly with the people of perceived influence.


Social Psychology of Risk

It should also be noted that not only these factors can influence the person’s behaviour at a conscious level, but also at a subconscious and unconscious level as well. These factors may also act interdependently to each other as well as on their own. 

Management of Psychosocial Issues

The following approach is recommended for the resolution of such matters. These recommendations are not inclusive and other factors may need to consider in regard to the management of such matters. Recommendations include but are not limited to the following:

  • Implementation of a Complaint or Grievance Procedure
  • Legal advice
  • Identification of personal bias or conflict of interest
  • Privacy and Confidentiality
  • Wellbeing and safety
  • Communication

Implementation of a Complaint or Grievance Procedure

If not already in place,  it is recommended that a community organisation  develops and implements  a complaint or grievance procedure. which should  then be communicated to all individuals within the organisation. Prior to the final document being circulated it is recommended it is reviewed by someone with legal authority to confirm it complies with any relevant Acts or Regulations.  Recommended Items to be covered by a grievance procedure, includes but is not limited to the following:

  • An outline and purpose of the grievance process.
  • The responsibility and commitment the organisation has in addressing these matters in a timely and professional manner to ensure the safety and welfare of all people involved in the organisation and the wider community.
  • Any Acts or Regulations the organisation is required to follow.
  • Process for reporting the grievance. (Needs to also include alternate arrangements if the board members are the ones also involved in the grievance).
  • The method and timeframe and who will be responsible for contacting the individual reporting the grievance and other parties involved in the grievance.
  • Process around the individual needs for privacy, inclusion in decision making.
  • Confidentiality of any records or notes taken and feedback methods.
  • How the matter will be reported back to senior members of the board
  • How further actions will be managed.
  • The appeal process if the person does not agree with the decision.
  • How the grievance or complaint will be finalised and the decision communicated to all parties involved in the complaint.
  • The escalation process if the organisation is unable to manage the matter or further professional help is required.
  • What actions will be taken by the board if it is determined there has been a continued breach of the grievance procedure.

Refer to the following pages for more information and guidance as to how to establish a Complaint or Grievance Procedure.

ACAS UK General advice for Managing the Grievance Process

Justice Connect Australia – Handling Disputes and Conflicts with Members -Australian Specific Requirements

Legal Advice

It is recommended those assigned to manage the issue are familiar with and adopt the approach recommended in their organisation documents such as the constitution and other relevant documents. As well as any legal Acts or Regulations the organisation may be required to adhere to.

If it is identified there may be perceived conflict between Acts and Regulations, that members in the organisation are required to follow and the process for reporting and managing complaints and grievances.  Then it is recommended that further consultation with qualified professionals responsible for ensuring legal compliance, is sought. Following consultation, processes are then clearly documented and communicated to those involved.

Identification of personal bias or conflict of interest

It is recommended that if an individual involved in the management of such matters, where they or others perceive as having a bias or conflict of interest in resolving the matter. Or is not sufficiently experienced in managing such matters.  Then they should step aside and refer the matter to another person or seek advice from a qualified person. Even if this involves escalating the matter to  a higher level within the organisation or an external party for conflict mediation.

Privacy and Confidentiality

It is imperative for leaders of any community organisation  to recognise these matters are complex and that a wholistic, fair and transparent approach must be taken to manage these issues. Any person involved in managing such matters should consider adopting an approach that is proactive, timely, ethical and professional. That respects and ensures all parties involved in the matter of their rights to privacy, involves them in inclusive decision making, provides them with correct information to enable them to make an informed decision and considers their needs. As previously  highlighted “Just sitting back and hoping these matters will simply resolve themselves on their own”  will not resolve these issues.

Wellbeing and safety

If during this process there are concerns identified  in respect to individual’s health and wellbeing (for example the person demonstrating emotions such as crying, anger, agitation or anxiety). The persons managing the grievance or complaint process. must not under any circumstances attempt to counsel the person themselves, offer medical advice to the person or contact the individual’s doctor or family seeking advice.   Instead they must confirm with the person/s if they are able to continue with the meeting .

If the persons holding the meeting continue to have concerns regarding the persons wellbeing. It is recommended they inform the person the conflict or grievance process will cease, until they receive confirmation from the person/s involved they are well enough to proceed. If avaliable and in place, the person can be provided with the contact for the organisations counselling or support service. However the person has no obligations to contact the service or seek further assistance from them.

The following site provides some guideance fo leaders in Community Organisations as to the Do’s and Dont’s for responding to and managing Psychosocial Risks

Safety Risk Net- Psychological Safety Following Leading in Risk

Safety Risk Net- How to be oriented towards psychosocial and mental health in safety

If the members overseeing the grievance or complaint process, identify behaviours from anyone that has the potential to result in immediate harm to themselves or other persons. It is recommended that immediate action is taken by the organisation to ensure the safety of everyone. Further actions that may need to be taken can include;

  • Requesting the  persons involved to leave the site.
  • Contacting a law enforcement agency.
  • Immediate suspension from the organisation if the person/s involved is a member*.

*It is recommended that organisations have documented procedures in their constitution regarding the suspension of members.


Communication that comprises of empathy, active listening and respect is crucial to managing these difficult and complex matters. Below are some tips to consider when engaging people in conversations. These techniques also apply to written as well as verbal conversations.

  • Be consistent and fair and in alignment with organisation documented procedure for the management of such matters.
  • Ensure the environment and delivery of communication is adjusted to meet individual needs. This includes the environment and technology used in the conversation. As well as provision of interpreters or support persons if required.
  • Be respectful and caring. Avoid being judgemental and confrontational.
  • When advising persons of any meeting be clear as to what the meeting is about.
  • At the meeting confirm with the persons involved, of the process that will be followed for managing the grievance of conflict.
  • Discuss with the person/s involved of the confidentiality arrangements regarding the taking, circulating and storage of any notes taken during the meeting.
  • Discuss and get agreement from the person/s involved as to the agreed timeframes for reporting and responding.
  • Keep to the facts of the complaint or grievance and avoid language that is insulting or abusive. Avoid bringing up past history or personal matters. Deal only with the complaint or grievance at hand.
  • Listen and give time for person/s to respond to the questions asked and seek clarification.
  • Repeat back the response provided by the person/s back to them, to confirm the information that has been provided is correct.
  • Keep all types of communication transparent  and accurate. To enable all person/s involved to make informed decisions.
  • Ensure any information sent to all person/s involved is in accordance with the agreed timeframes discussed at the meeting.
  • If it is identified that information presented at the meeting is not accurate, ensure it is corrected and all person/s are advised in a timely manner. (The agreed times for feedback many need to be adjusted, to enable individuals time to review and respond).
  • Ensure all communications maintains privacy, confidentiality and dignity of all person/s involved in the process. This includes communication in written forms such as emails and minutes. Avoid including people who are not involved in the matter.
  • Ensures the communication process enables feedback and response from the persons involved.
  • Keep to the agreed timeframes for reporting back to the person/s who has made the complaint and the person/s who the complaint or grievance is against.
  • Ensure individual decisions and their right to appeal are met in accordance with the procedure.
  • Be clear to all parties that a final decision needs to be made and the timeframe for when this is to occur will be in accordance with the agreed timeframes discussed at the first meeting. Once a decision is made all parties must respect this decision. (This is to ensure the matter does not drag on).

Visit this site for more information on Active Listening Techniques

Active Listening Techniques – Community Leadership Network (

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