THROUGH REDUCING STIGMA IN THE WORKPLACE, EMPLOYERS
CAN ENHANCE INCLUSIVITY AND PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY.
The basis for psychological safety is on workplace practices
that involve choices or decisions about how work is structured or
performed. Research has found that damages awarded for men-tal
injury have increased by 700 per cent since 2006, and that the
greatest psychosocial risk factors are related to job demands, job
control, rewards and recognition, fairness and support (Shain,
Arnold, & GermAnn, 2011; Shain & Baynton, 2011). Most legal
actions have been founded on workplace failures in three key
areas: 1) reasonable and clear job demands, 2) safety for employees
to voice concerns and 3) monitoring and responding to workplace
conflict. Stigma in the workplace can be linked to all three of these
areas for legal action.
REASONABLE AND CLEAR JOB DEMANDS
Overwhelming job demands are linked to burnout and exhaus-tion,
while a lack of job resources is associated with disengagement
from work, resulting in reduced organizational commitment and
increased absenteeism. Reasonable and clear job demands are
important for psychological safety; however, the reasonableness
of job demands may vary from individual to individual, making it
challenging for employers to ensure fairness among employees and
achieve necessary productivity.
Employees do need to disclose, at least to some extent, to access
necessary or helpful workplace accommodations, but many choose
not to do so. Research has found that employees who disclose do
in fact receive more accommodations, and that supervisor and
coworker supports are particularly important for increased job
tenure for employees diagnosed with a mental disorder (Corbière
et al., 2014).
SAFETY TO VOICE CONCERNS
Employees who fear stigmatization do not feel safe to voice con-cerns.
In fact, they may spend considerable mental and emotional
resources concealing the stigmatized attribute, resulting in fewer
cognitive resources available for the work itself. Employees in
this position are likely to feel less able to voice concerns related to
workload, job demands and work-life balance for fear of being per-ceived
as incompetent or trying to manipulate the system.
Once an employee discloses, through choice or accident, the infor-mation
is out there and cannot be taken back. Employees may face
responses that result in workplace conflict or harassment, such as
being the subject of gossip, social exclusion, judgment and facing
reduced opportunities for advancement. Employees may experi-ence
more limited psychological and social support, civility and
respect and psychological protection. They may also have more
limited involvement and influence through the discrediting pro-cess
that accompanies stigmatization. In turn, such factors will
have an impact on employee engagement, both for the individuals
affected and for the broader organization.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Through reducing stigma in the workplace, employers can enhance
inclusivity and psychological safety. Organizational culture is fun-damental
to this process and human resources has a key role to
play in the achievement of the desired culture. Here are some rec-ommendations
for getting started:
■■ Work towards implementation of the Standard on Psychological
Health and Safety in the Workplace. The Standard identifies 13
risk factors for organizations, including those discussed above.
Many resources exist to assist organizations – see the Mental
Health Commission of Canada website to get started.
■■ Review and enhance your organizational policies. Organizations
need to have policies in place that support a psychologically healthy
and safe workplace culture related to civility, respect, inclusivity,
diversity, non-discrimination and accommodation of individuals
with disabilities. These should be integrated into the existing health
and safety policies and practices within the organization recognizing
the health of the whole person, rather than creation of a stand-alone
psychological safety policy. It is also critical that these policies are
consistently enforced in all areas of the organization, as culture can
vary quite significantly among units in the same organization.
■■ Combat stigma in the workplace. Stigma involves cognitive,
affective and behavioural responses from others. Reduction of
stigma is challenging because it is often a result of deep-level
attitudes that are resistant to change. Research suggests that
interventions that include contact with an individual belonging
to the stigmatized group, particularly where people work
together towards a shared goal, are more effective in achieving
lasting attitude change than interventions that simply provide
accurate information and challenge stereotypes.
■■ Minimize relational conflict. Substantive conflict or conflict
related to tasks, issues, different points of view and the like can
result in better decision making and a moderate level should be
encouraged within organizations to promote full consideration
of options and avoid groupthink. On the other hand, relational
conflict is personal in nature and refers to personal attacks,
gossip, interpersonal disharmony, harassment, social exclusion
and other such practices. A conflict management strategy
sets boundaries for substantive conflict, creates processes for
respectfully disagreeing with colleagues while working together
to achieve organizational outcomes and emphasizes a zero-tolerance
policy for relational conflict (Rahim, 2002).
Taking these steps will enhance the psychological health and
safety for all employees within your organization, but particularly
for those who face increased vulnerability due to stigma. n
Dr. Kate Toth is a professor of human resources at Conestoga College.
health & safety
42 ❚ SEPTEMBER 2018 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL