State of the service

Psychosocial Safety Climate

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The workplace can have many positive health impacts for employees. There are social, economic and moral benefits associated with work. Employment provides the economic resources required for participation in society. Work is important to an individual’s sense of self and their place in society, which in turn impacts physical and mental wellbeing.1 In the Australian Public Service (APS), more than three quarters of employees enjoy the work in their current job and nearly two thirds of employees believe that their agency genuinely cares about them being healthy and safe at work.

  • “Effective workplace health and safety practices reduce absence rates”

However the workplace can also be a place where both physical and psychological injuries occur. While workplace injuries have serious consequences for employees, there is also a cost associated for the organisation. The cost of workplace injuries, particularly psychological injuries, in the APS continues to increase.

The rising rates of these injuries are a concern for APS leaders. Analysis of data from Comcare, the APS insurer, suggests that the incidence of accepted psychological injuries in the APS is higher than in the private sector. The APS is taking a leading role in the prevention of these injuries through the establishment of a Deputy Secretary level working group on managing compensation. The group is focused on reducing the incidence and impact of psychological injuries and the establishment of agency benchmarks against which agencies will be able to monitor their progress towards providing a safe workplace.

A key strategy in the prevention of injuries is the development of practices and procedures to make the workplace safe. The APS has actively pursued workplace safety for many years and has mature processes that have become a normal part of the APS workplace. These efforts have however, been primarily focussed on the prevention of physical injuries.

Recent work conducted in Australia on behalf of Safe Work Australia2 has shown that it is possible to prevent or reduce the likelihood of psychological injuries through the application of a range of workplace practices and procedures.

The psychosocial safety (PSC) score reflects the adequacy of an agency’s practices and processes that have been shown to support good psychological health in the workplace. Research in Australian organisations3 has shown that as workplace health and safety scores reduce, employees face greater risk of suffering from depression and job stress. Both of these factors have been shown to have negative consequences including increased use of sick leave. APS agencies have already begun considering this issue as part of their efforts to better manage injuries in the APS workplace.

This work is relatively new but is gaining prominence. It examines the processes and practices in a workplace that affect employees’ work attitudes, their motivation and performance at work.4

This aspect of workplace health and safety links the demands of an employee’s role and the sense of control they experience over how they do their work. Where employees experience consistently unrealistic time pressures, or have little or no control over how they do their work the workplace health and safety outcome is significantly poorer.

Figure 1.

Linking job demands and control with workplace health

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 1.

Psychosocial Safety Climate (PSC) score

Linking job demands and control with workplace health


Figure 1. is a line chart showing a gap in agency digital transformation capability in strategic digital planning across the APS

Active leadership is required at all levels to create safe workplaces. Senior leaders have a profound effect on workplace safety. When senior leaders actively engage their staff on how to deal with workplace problems the effect on workplace safety is clear.

Figure 2.

Senior leaders affect workplace health and safety

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 2.

Psychosocial Safety Climate (PSC) score

Senior leaders affect workplace health and safety


Figure 2. is a bar graph showing there is a lack of any formal digital skills training in the APS

Immediate supervisors also have a role to play. When they provide a supportive workplace through a commitment to workplace health and safety and by treating all employees with respect, there is a clear effect on workplace health and safety.

Figure 3.

Immediate supervisors affect workplace health and safety

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 3.

Psychosocial Safety Climate (PSC) score

Immediate supervisors affect workplace health and safety


Figure 3 is a line chart showing .

While looking after the health and wellbeing of employees is grounded in legislation and good business sense, the data suggests that APS agencies can do more. APS employee census results suggest that effective workplace health and safety practices can reduce absence rates. Clear communication within workgroups about what constitutes appropriate leave behaviour, and timely support for managers from corporate areas on managing attendance in the workplace are also important factors.

Figure 4.

Interactive Chart: Sick leave and Psychosocial Safety Climate score

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 4.

Figure 4. is a line chart showing the mean age of APS employees from 1966 to 2015. The mean age has steadily increased since 1983 (mean age 34.4) to 2015 (mean age 43.5). Prior to 1983 the mean age remained below 35 years of age, with the mean age ranging from 33.2 (lowest in 1973) to 35 (1966 and 1982).

This is an interactive chart: hover over the coloured diamonds to view data.

A correlation exists between the PSC score for an agency and the number of sick leave days taken by their agency employees. Agencies with higher PSC scores typically have lower staff absence rates.

Analysis conducted by the APS shows that there are a number of activities that agencies are using to improve workplace health and safety:

  • Having senior leaders (SES) actively promote mental health in the workplace through formal activities such as the introduction of workplace mental health programs or less formal activities like participation in World Mental Health day activities.
  • Incorporating messages in agency-wide communications from the senior leadership that reinforce the importance of employee health, particularly mental health.
  • Reinforcing existing processes or developing new ones that support communication about workplace safety issues.
  • Ensuring a regular and routine flow of information from management to employees about psychological safety risks in the workplace.
  • Ensuring there is a process whereby concerns raised by employees about psychological safety risks are acknowledged by line management or health and safety staff.
  • Actively promoting stress prevention at all levels, particularly through middle management/executive level staff.

Let us know what you think in the comments section below—we welcome your views.

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Read the State of the Service Report 2014–15 on the APSC website.

[1] Waddell, G & Burton, A 2006, Is work good for your health and well-being?, TSO, London.

[2] Safe Work Australia 2012, The Australian Workplace Barometer: Report on psychosocial safety climate and worker health in Australia, Canberra, Safe Work Australia.

[3] Bailey, T, Dollard, M, Richards, P 2015, ‘A national standard for psychosocial safety climate: PSC41 as the benchmark for low risk of job strain and depressive symptoms’, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 15–26.

[4] Parker, CP, Baltes, BB, Young, SA, Huff, JW, Altmann, RA, Lacost, HA & Roberts, JE 2003, ‘Relationships between psychological climate perceptions and work outcomes: A meta-analytic review’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 389–416.


  1. Anonymous

    idealy the more regulated of internal programs by having teams to gather and collect information across departments will support the organisation in findings and make improvement accordingly and in a private and confidential manner, as such the public service may need to incorporate a unified performance system to monitor workplace incidents continously and also other workers compensation of related industries however the diversity of cultures has to be considered and programs to have all kinds of people included young and old ages groups as the technology was not as modern if not at all in the education 20 years ago and knowledge needs to be dispersed about issues past and present to be of high standard practise . agree this is a major issue in public service is simple friendly and smart diverse service for all

    • Donna

      Ideally agree – a major issue over a duration of years of diverse cultures and ideologies along the journey of system technology and training programs- and a liaison team of private and power to also review prior handling by health professionals that provide information may be an issue to even the foundations of having an exit and entry in workplaces and a point of contact for reporting to teams …and management styles and compliance and organisational restructures and systems can begin to collaborate and also communicate and internal organisational programs and dispersed and differentiate the different views of practises and usage of incidents in workplaces and building infastructure , and a unified performance monitoring system to manage may need a very high level of mentoring from prior individuals even with a disability and i have knowledge over 20 years and also education and opportunities to be incorporated with an incident major and minor registry database of all organisational performance and i agree this is the major issue and according the original records i have and prior public service role exposure , only a unified approach can be in a training restructure and with prior knowledge and experience as a mentor – And and workplace incidents do go unfollowed and some industries perform better in also hiding them according to records of also health that is also part of the public service corporate decision making as stakeholders. Performance 360 degree review and add on to a newly designed uniform performance system – and i agree according to also records from 1992… and if a private and confidential role even as a mentor and audit records content assurance liaison team role many can also fit in even with minor impairments and workers compensation and industries need a uniform system that is friendly and diplomatic as too many handlers becomes the primary issue as i agree now.