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1.6 Actively creating a high psychosocial safety climate

Guideline for employment problems / PREVENTING: 1.6 Actively creating a high psychosocial safety climate 

Interventions and evidence explained

Most plausible interventions explained

First literature search: most plausible interventions

During the orientation process of the available literature, we identified the following  approach to preventing the escalation of (containing) an employment dispute creating a high psychosocial safety climate, which is discussed in the literature and can be compared to a low psychosocial safety climate.

PSC refers to an organizational climate for employee psychological safety and health (a high level of psychological safety). The content domain of PSC comprises: (1) senior management support and commitment for stress prevention through involvement and commitment; (2) management priority to psychological health and safety versus productivity goals; (3) organizational communication, that is, the organization listens to contributions from employees; and (4) organizational participation and involvement, for example, participation and consultation occurs with unions, and occupational health and safety representatives (Dollard et al. p. 355).

The psychosocial safety climate (PSC) of a workplace influences employees’ coping strategies and ultimately the extent to which bullying escalates (Kwan et al.). PSC concerns the values and attitudes of senior management toward care and practices in relation to employee psychosocial well being.

High and low psychosocial safety environment

In a high PSC environment, managers are expected to show commitment for the prevention of work stress and for the promotion of psychological health among employees. In a low PSC environment, they are not. In contrast to low PSC environments, in high PSC environments communication systems are established so that stressful work conditions become known and action is taken to prevent or control psychosocial hazards. In high PSC environments there is involvement and participation of all levels of the organization in stress prevention. Furthermore, psychological health is a priority at least on equal footing with production goals. In a low psychosocial environment, production goals are more important (Dollard et al.).

The PSC construct has four main aspects that connect to best practice principles in the stress prevention, intervention, and safety climate literatures.

  • First is senior management support and commitment to psychological health through involvement and commitment. This aspect is evident when senior management take quick and decisive action to address and correct issues that affect psychological health. 
  • Second is the priority the management gives to employee psychological health and safety versus productivity goals. For example, job demands (e.g., work pressure) may be modified to make them more manageable, and management have the discretion to offer a variety of resources, such as work flexibility, autonomy, and social support that may buffer demands and reduce work stress in the interests of worker psychological health and productivity. 
  • Third is organizational communication that concerns how the organization communicates with employees about psychological health and safety issues that affect them, and brings these to the attention of employees. 
  • The fourth aspect, organizational participation and involvement, concerns participation and consultation regarding stress prevention that involves all levels of the organization, and the integration of stakeholders including employees, unions and health and safety representatives in occupational (psychological) health and safety processes. (Dollard et al.)

Selected interventions for comparison (defined as a PICO question)

For employees and employers looking to prevent the escalation of (contain) an employment dispute, is keeping a high psychosocial safety climate more effective for well-being than maintaining a low psychosocial safety climate?

Search strategy

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, and ResearchGate.

For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: employment dispute, dispute settlement, containing, good HR-practices, keeping a safe climate.

Assessment and grading of evidence

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

Quality of evidence and research gap

According to our research method, we grade the evidence on a high PSC environment as low. 

More studies with lower risks of bias are needed in order to close the research gap on how to contain a dispute in the workplace. More different kinds of interventions (other than a high PSC environment) need empirical testing.

Comparing the two interventions

Desirable outcomes of the interventions

High PSC environment
Low PSC environment
“PSC gives rise to procedures that lead to fair and predictable interactions between managers and employees” (Dollard & Bakker, 2010), thereby limiting the risk of escalation in a conflict.
Performance is mostly linked to factors that are solely designed to increase productivity. The individual and collective impact on manufacturing performance are most associated with these three theoretical perspectives: empowerment, training, teamwork, total quality management, just-in-time, advanced manufacturing technology, and supply-chain partnering. (Birdi et al., p. 469)
Conflict about tasks that occur on the workfloor in a psychologically safe environment should improve creativity and decision-making without damaging interactions. “This way, psychological safety may amplify the involvement of each team member and the intensity of interaction among teammates without endangering the harmony of the team, thereby increasing team performance” (Bradley et al. p. 151).
High PSC is positively linked to learning behavior. “[High] psychological safety is positively related to learning behavior and team performance, suggesting that teams with a psychologically safe climate learn more and perform better” (Bradley et al., p. 152).
Employees feel safer challenging their leaders. “Psychological safety mediates the positive relationship between ethical leadership and voice behavior, indicating that employees feel comfortable challenging their leaders when a psychologically safe climate has been established” (Bradley et al., p. 152). This may prevent severe conflict escalation in the long run.

Undesirable outcomes of the intervention

HIgh PSC environment
Low PSC environment
Some employers see PSC as a risk factor in itself, even though it is meant to improve employees’ wellbeing. “[By some employers, integrating and working with] psychosocial safety climate is conceived of as a preeminent psychosocial risk factor [in itself] capable of causing psychological and social harm through its influence on other psychosocial risk factors” (Dollard & Bakker, 2010).
Low PSC environments can create pressure and extra workload for employees. “Senior management that prioritise productivity over worker health may engender and promote bullying from middle managers and first line supervisors (e.g., via increased work pressure and workload for their subordinates) in order to get the job done” (Dollard et al.). Thereby potentially creating conflict or escalating conflict.
Left unchecked [in a low PSC environment], social conflict in the workplace that characterised by negative interpersonal relationships may escalate into bullying. “Job frustration is correlated with employees’ tendency to abuse their co-workers. Hence, poor work design creates fertile soil for bullying” (Dollard et al.).
“Unclear roles and contradictory goals may create competition and low trust, and high work pressure likely indicates little time or concern within organizations to resolve conflict” (Dollard et al.).

Balance of Outcomes

Taken together, the available research suggests that creating a high PSC environment is beneficial to the well-being of employees and employers. A high PSC environment with a high level of psychological safety leads to fair and predictable interactions between employer and employee. It is also regarded to be the most ideal environment for conflict to appear, as in a high PSC environment conflict can enhance creativity. Furthermore, PSC is linked to a safe environment for employees to challenge their leaders, thereby possibly preventing escalation of conflict. 

On the other hand, a low PSC environment is only linked to undesirable outcomes. Low PSC environments cause extra work pressure, social roles and unclarity about roles.

Therefore, actively creating a high Psychosocial Safety Climate with high levels of psychological safety is preferred.


Taking into account the balance of outcomes, the effect on well-being for all parties involved in an employment dispute, and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For employees and employers looking to prevent the escalation of (contai)n an employment dispute, actively creating a high psychosocial safety climate is more effective for well-being.

Table of Contents

1. Recommendations on PREVENTING
1.6 Actively creating a high psychosocial safety climate