If you know anything about houseplants, then you know that the Fiddleleaf Fig is tough to maintain. In the wild it absolutely thrives, indigenous to West Africa it is used to dense rainforests. However once domesticated it can be super finicky. Too much sun, not enough sun, too wet, too dry, avoid cold drafts, rotate it frequently, give it fertiliser but not too much.

You can give the plant what you think it needs and wants and it may still refuse to cooperate.

I’ve had mine for many years and followed much googled advice to maintain her and still, the leaves fell off on one side because I inevitably forgot to rotate it or gave it too much or too little of something to support it’s deep needs.

The same can be said to HR’s approach to supporting employee’s health and well-being. We can give the employees what we think they need and want and even so, the leaves may still begin to fall off.

What we can do is aim to take a holistic approach to ensure that we try to create an environment that is supportive and enables people to thrive.

This is what the new ISO45003 Occupational Health and Safety Management: Psychological Health and Safety at Work, aims to do.

In some ways organisations have been striving to give employees what they think they need (mental health first aid) and want (yoga) to support their mental health when in reality what is needed is a strategic and multi-disciplined approach that includes HR, H&S and occupational health to support an emerging mental health crisis.

An Emerging Mental Health Crisis

It is long known that work related stress is one of the leading causes of stress related illnesses and chronic disease. COVID-19 itself is a stressor that has interfered with elements of everyone’s life, and so is undoubtedly driving a chronic global stressor. It has increased demands on financial well-being, workload, parenting and caring while decreasing access to regular and necessary social support from activities enjoyed with family and friends. It has strained relationships, altered roles, and continues still despite the ease of restrictions, to change our lives. All of which, contribute to increased mental health challenges.

Recent studies have shown a 12% increase in burnout among professionals in the last year alone (TeamBlind). The main reasons being unmanageable workload, job insecurity and the impact of remote working on work life balance.

The Impact of Remote Working

Working from home used to be referred to as a policy that represented flexibility. Laws supporting the “Right to Disconnect” have been adapted in some countries to enhance well-being. But now, being forced to work from home with little to no flexibility or work-life separation this is driving the stress and mental health problem.

Since the pandemic anxiety, depression, overwhelm, isolation and loneliness have all been reported at an all-time high. Parents have found it particularly straining to work, parent and home-school often being seen to log on to work late at night after children have gone to bed.


Healthy minds and bodies, strong relationships and supports will all help our abilities to cope and remain hopeful. However, it is difficult to maintain these necessities when working remotely.


While many organisations have led campaigns to stay connected the trouble remains with managing work and family life while too worrying about potential illness. The crisis has forced organisations not only into remote working but new leadership styles, expectations, and ways of doing business. Without this change organisations will continue to intensify the work-related stress problem and struggle to create a psychologically safe workplace.

Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace

The problem with a reactive (yoga), superficial (mental health first aid) or signposted (EAP) approach to supporting mental health in the workplace is that just like the Fiddleleaf Fig it doesn’t support the employee holistically.

This month marked the release of the new ISO standards in the form of guidelines that address psychological health. The ISO 45003 is designed to help organisations manage psychosocial risk as part of its ISO 45001 OHS management system in a holistic way. It should not be considered as a separate management system but in fact complimentary to existing well-being interventions.

This new addition to the standard includes a definition of what are known psychosocial hazards that have the potential for psychological harm, namely;

  1. Aspects of how work is organized such as role and expectations, autonomy, demands, remote working, workload, working hours
  2. Social factors at work such as relationships, leadership, culture, reward, career development, support, respect, work-life balance, bullying
  3. Work environment, equipment and hazardous tasks

Organisations undertaking ISO 45003 will need to ensure measures are in place to identify and address these potential hazards across 3 distinct steps;

  1. Competence – identifying psychosocial hazards and managing the risks by including training and professional development as appropriate to support workers to acquire and maintain the necessary competency.
  2. Awareness – informing workers of factors that can increase stigma/ discrimination, reduce psychosocial risk, support their role and responsibilities to promote health and safety and wellbeing at work. This also including management and leadership styles into consideration.
  3. Communication – demonstrating commitment to managing psychosocial risks by promoting well-being at work, and informing workers and other interested parties of what is expected from them, and what they can expect from the organization.

When organisations are considering helping employees stay mentally safe at work they cannot do this without assessing and addressing the contributing factors to work related stress within their organisation.

Employee Assistance Programmes, meditation apps and steps challenges are great for mental health, but they may not mitigate the mental health safety risk if organisations are still contributing to the cause of stress in the first place. Organisations need to step back and ask themselves are they also contributing to the problem and put supports in place to create a solid foundation for wellness. With this we can continue to create the fertile ground that is necessary to build resilience to enable employees to thrive now and into the future.

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