Professor Maureen Dollard, Co-Director of the University of South Australia’s Centre for Workplace Excellence, has received an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship worth more than $3.1 million to establish a platform for research into the psychosocial safety climate (PSC) of workplaces. With global trends showing increases in anxiety and depression, the ‘Psychosocial Safety Climate Observatory’ will support capacity to make evidence-based changes and improve conditions and productivity for workers and organisations.
The Laureate Fellowship will support the foundation of the Observatory, a research platform that will gather, analyse and synthesise national and international data. The project will help Australia meet its UN Sustainable Development Goal to promote decent and safe work by producing new knowledge, to reform Australia’s corporate climate.
As work pressures increase, only 52% of Australian workers report threat their workplace is psychosocially healthy, with bullying rates in the workplace now some of the highest in the world. According to Professor Dollard, these circumstances have unfolded as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which will only place more pressure on workplaces and workers.
“We have already been facing disruptions imposed by the transition to Industry 4.0, new patterns of employment, shifting demographics and globalisation, and now we are about to confront the fallout from one of the biggest economic downturns Australia has ever experienced,” Professor Dollard said. Professor Dollard said the Observatory provides an opportunity to research, define and lead in developing the knowledge and tools for work climate change, so future work is more psychologically healthy and creates innovative and productive work environments.
A key goal of the research funded by the Laureate Fellowship will be to deliver evidence and improve understanding about the psychosocial safety climate and its impact on workplaces and the wider society. Professor Dollard’s research with more than 4200 Australian employees revealed that 44% were already working in PSC-poor environments and were therefore at greater risk of job strain and higher rates of depression — feeding into national increases in depression, anxiety and suicide.
“The rise in aggressive profit-over-people corporate cultures, wide-scale breaches in paying workers their Award, disproportionate rises in CEO salaries, and job insecurity associated with Industry 4.0 transformation, and union density are the kinds of external environmental factors that likely influence workplace climate,” Professor Dollard said. A team of researchers led by Professor Dollard, including three postdoctoral researchers and two PhD candidates, will analyse these influences and consider the economic, political, cultural and social factors that drive the PSC of organisations and businesses.
“We want to identify the problems — find what factors influence the state of the psychosocial work climate — what aspects or combinations of factors make that climate feel unsafe and then look at developing tangible solutions in workplace management, practice and policymaking that will support an improvement,” Professor Dollard said. An international advisory board, comprised of members from the United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam and the Netherlands will support and advise on ethics, industry relevance and potential policy translation.
Professor Dollard’s research on worker psychological health and safety, and PSC theory, led to the development of the Australian Workplace Barometer (AWB), a national survey of Australian work conditions, and revolutionised how the root cause of work stress and related productivity issues are viewed in the field.
Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Andrey Popov