What is an audit?
The area is confusing and here is a simple introduction of corporate social responsibility. An audit is a commonly used term describing the official inspection of an organization.
There is an ever growing variety of assessments that emerge to inspect companies and the most common types of audits are: compliance audits, financial audits, internal or external audits, tax audits, operational audits, information system audits, payroll audits, technical audits, quality audits, etc.
What is a compliance audit?
What is a Corporate Social Responsibility Audit? 1
What is an audit scope?
What is a CSR audit process?
All social responsibility audits follow similar protocols, confirming employees’ wellbeing in the workplace. The CSR audit process includes five sections:
- The opening meeting with the auditor and the auditee’s management team;
- The facility tour of indoor and outdoor facilities chaperoned by manager(s);
- Employee interviews including about 10% of the workforce;
- Document review with the management team and departments heads;
- The closing meeting when the auditor presents the conclusions and the next steps.
The rising interest for CSR
The seven core subjects are:
- Ethical behavior,
- Respect of stakeholder interest,
- Respect for rule of law,
- Respect for international norms of behavior, and
- Respect for human right.
The year 2020 provided ample examples of global distress, underlining the unsustainability of the current state of affairs. Various initiatives at national and international levels emerged to sensitize populations in ways to modify wrongful habits while implementing more respectful plans.
The rising importance of ethics
- Effective abolition of child labor6,
- Elimination of discrimination at work,
- Elimination of forced labor, and
- Freedom of association and the right of collective bargaining.
The benefits of a CSR audit
Audits are usually considered a burden because they require preparation and cause apprehension and unease among auditees. However, it is important to underline their positive connotations:
- Certifications are a ‘stamp of approval’ showing compliance with mandatory requirements, legal procedures or industry-specific requisites;
- The audit process leads to improvements that would otherwise not be addressed;
- The auditor’s expertise opens new opportunities.
Building CSR within a management system
- Define internal goals within industry-specific CSR requirements;
- Evaluate the interest of employees, customers, stakeholders and suppliers;
- Build a CSR department;
- Monitor the implementation of new procedures;
- Apply lessons learned to improve ROI7.
Where to start?
This short introduction to the social responsibility audit context is further presented in Journal of a social auditor written during the 2020 confinement. Based on research and personal experience, the book narrates the auditing processes spanning a range of industries in the Americas and Western Europe. It provides answers to the auditing frequently asked questions; further information about the book can be found at Imago Editorial
Writing Journal of a social auditor increased my awareness on the complexity of the auditor’s role and the attention to detail required in this line of business. Forthcoming articles will address sensitive issues arising in the auditing world from both the auditor and the auditee’s perspectives. Should you wish to share a particular subject of concern, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGO.AUDITING builds a bridge among auditors and auditees around the world with the mission to offer a global and multilingual platform for exchanges among people willing to improve psychosocial and conflict-resolution skills.
After five years on the road, the pandemic stopped my busy schedule and gave me ample time to explore ways at building a link among auditors and auditees around the world. After describing the content of this new webpage, I share some of my successes and failures.
What is the relation between IMAGO.AUDITING and the photograph?
First came the idea of writing a book about my auditing experience and Journal of a social auditor kept me busy for several months during the 2020 confinement. It is a tale of audits from which lessons learned emanated and I built a toolbox useful for any auditor or professional involved in audits. The book is now available in English and French on Amazon and Apple Store; it will be available in Spanish in Spring 2021.
Then, based on Journal of a social auditor, ideas of articles and webinars emerged, addressing issues arising in this field of work, with a focus on psychosocial skills and conflict resolution techniques that are seldom addressed during training programs. Imagoblog is the platform that allows exchanges about auditing experiences.
Why join IMAGO.AUDITING?
Facing setbacks or rejection during an audit is an experience that all auditors have gone through. The art is in the auditor’s behavior because s/he may prevent complications during the presence onsite. Whether you are experienced or starting an auditing career, solutions are suggested throughout my articles and webinars. Auditors usually work as a team of one and certification bodies seldom have group discussions regarding difficult audits.
IMAGO.AUDITING introduces approaches to deal with questionable behaviors and prevent difficult interactions.
Why trust me?
With extensive experience as a multilingual therapist and five years of auditing work in three continents, I learned to use social skills, sometimes the hard way.
My education and background in multi-cultural settings offered an awareness which is shared through articles and webinars, offering tools and solutions to professionals willing to expand their psychosocial and negotiation skills.
IMAGO.AUDITING offers different perspectives whether you face difficult contexts or behaviors.
More information > Who we are
Introducing Journal of a social auditor
I received ample technical training to be able to practice: yet few included social skills indispensable to become a successful auditor.
Journal of a social auditor addresses these ‘implicit’ core values. My knowledge about human behavior was acquired through practice on the road and real-life examples describe unusual situations, to understand behaviors and how to deal with unexpected situations.
Social responsibility and ethics have progressively shifted the corporate focus on human capital. Important changes took place in the last decade, modifying employment conditions. Auditors adjust by mastering demanding technical situations with little or no attention given to delicate human contexts.
Journal of a social auditor and IMAGO.AUDITING offer a communication channel for auditors and auditees around the globe.
More information > Editorial
Introducing Imago Webinars
Convert your knowledge into social skills.
Each webinar introduces one psychosocial skill with tips and guidance, illustrated by live examples. Negotiation techniques are included when needed. The benefit of the webinars is the easy-to-grasp skills that help deal with complex situations: knowledge and practice improve self-satisfaction and work quality. Each webinar introduces one psychosocial skill with tips on how to use it.
More information > Webinars
Imagoblog assists auditors with their questions: often working as a team of one, we auditors seldom share experiences and seldom receive feedback and support from others.
Imagoblog is a channel without borders for exchanges among auditors and professionals around the world, where ideas and experiences are shared to expand knowledge among cultures.
More information > ImagoBlog
This program is not related to auditing. However, it is related to conflict resolution and its description is included on the website because of its relevance.
Paz Escolar is the translation and adaptation of an American educational program called “Connected and Respected” created by Educators for Social Responsibility based in Cambridge, USA. In 2011, I was granted the rights to translate the program into Spanish and the project was carried out with a group of students from an interpretation school in Mendoza, Argentina. The pilot program was carried out in three elementary schools of Lima, Peru in collaboration with CEDRO (www.cedro.org).
Ethical awareness is expanding, causing a shift in mentalities, with the attention now focused on employees instead of revenue. Ethics is an intrinsic part of eastern cultures while in western countries, its relevance is now been recognized in the business environment. Its influence on the workforce is palpable during social responsibility audits, so what is business ethics?
The implementation of ethical values through codes of ethics and codes of conduct show the increased compliance with ethical requirements. Ethics have been part of daily lives for centuries but were not often recognized.
They found new grounds of support in 2011, when ten UN Principles were published, as underlined in a previous article about corporate social responsibility
Ethics in eastern versus western cultures
In eastern societies, “Ethics is the foundation of everything, and an ethical conduct is basic: in our [eastern] society, cheating somebody, whether you believe in a religion or not, is unethical”1. Ethical values are behind in western societies because individualism has taken over, forgetting values such as “honesty, kindness, compassion, respect and personal responsibility”.2
The prevalence of ethical values
Growing numbers of companies are now requested to implement ethical practices at different levels:
1. Internally, a company must respect human and labor principles among its employees.
2. Externally, a company is bound to control human and labor principles among its supply-chain.
3. Consumers are now requesting transparency regarding the products they purchase.
Ethical rules vary from country to country and greatly influence the human context of work. Rules are also influenced by the ethical approach of companies’ leaders. The implementation of mandatory ethical guidelines in businesses around the world was crucial in the emergence of social responsibility.
Business ethics is often seen as an abstract concept; however, as a social responsibility auditor, I discovered that the ethical involvement of a company is revealed during employee interviews.
I look for evidence confirming whether a company’s business is conducted ethically and with its employees, clients, suppliers and stakeholders’ best interests in mind.
DETRIMENTAL BUSINESS ETHICS:
it is deceiving to see high-ranking employees act unethically, but it is a well-known business fact. The ethical example usually comes from the top and employees tend to speak up about inequalities in their workplace during social responsibility interviews.
It is difficult to act upon unethical behaviors because they tend to be well-orchestrated with the support of internal key partners, such as department heads, accounting managers, even the general manager. The outcome benefits a few and frustrates the majority, usually kept silent. Although this case is not unusual, my focus goes towards positive business ethics.
SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS ETHICS:
starts at the top and trickles down: an ethical behavior within the workforce encourages personal growth, work satisfaction, polyvalence, increasing revenues and decreasing absenteeism. In chapter four of my book Journal of a social auditor, I describe the well-intentioned owner of a French industrial bakery whose social commitment focuses on business ethics, resulting in high indicators year after year, such as 15% annual sales increase and a low 2.3% turnover.
What is an ethical audit?
Ethical and corporate social responsibility audits are part of the compliance group because certifications mandate that companies comply with rules and regulations to be certified. The audit measures compliance to rules included in the standard, or evaluation document, and determines the tasks, if any, a company must complete to obtain and maintain its certification.
The audit outcome provides a company with an evaluation of its internal processes, pointing out best practices, observations and non-conformities. Social responsibility audits help spread the prevalence of ethical practices in the workplace, as working conditions improve when social assessments are carried out. Compliance with requirements means that employees work in healthier and safer environments. Companies now tend to monitor their suppliers, to check the ethical compliance of their supply chain.
BRCGS Global Standard for Ethical Trade & Responsible Sourcing was created in 2019 and is currently being implemented, a process slowed by the COVID 19 pandemic. This certification, for which I was trained, requires a transparent commitment of upper management towards its workers now that corporate social responsibility has made the employee a top priority.
Two case studies of successful ethical practices
Two companies took business ethics seriously, Cadbury Schweppes and Costco.
Cadbury Schweppes is described by Business Case Studies as a global believer in business ethical behaviors, with a strong corporate social responsibility commitment applied at three levels:
1. The traceability of raw materials and ingredients that go into production is made possible thanks to a systematic initial questionnaire to all suppliers. The goal is to have a supply chain in agreement with the company’s beliefs.
2. Internally, the corporation sets environmental goals while policies trickle down to reach all entities. Employees are treated with respect and their working environments follow strict health and safety manufacturing regulations.
3. Externally, the corporation is committed to its customers and is continuously adjusting its products and policies to comply with changes in consumers’ demands.
Costco stands out above corporations because its ethical practice started with its first store in the 1970s. With a ‘high volume – low price’ business approach, getting the right product, in the right place for the right price has granted the company an excellent global reputation because of three key points:
1. Leadership: each store has a flat, fast and flexible managerial style and is treated as a mini corporation to ensure that product flow and sales are efficiently controlled by a committed team. The company empowers its employees while wages and benefits are above market rates and in return, employees are loyal to their employer.
2. Business ethics is the ability to engage employees’ behaviors for their own satisfaction and the financial stability of the company. This approach allows growth through accrued performance while keeping the balance between the demands of consumers, suppliers, and stakeholders.
3. Business diversity: diversification of business styles within the company allows access to a wider set of tools when communication issues arise. Disagreements have a negative impact on human performance, therefore teamwork is required to solve conflicts internally and without delay.
One key element in the success of these two companies is their happy workforce: good salaries attract quality workers who tend to stay longer, while reliable and stable teams allow business to grow.
How to evaluate the presence of ethical values in your business?
- Start by asking your employees about their work satisfaction.
- See whether their response is what you expected.
- Be ready to make adjustments that may include business ethics.
This introduction to ethics shows the prevalence of ethical values in today’s business world. The employee is now at the center of attention while research shows how a happy workforce allows business to grow. A corporate social responsibility audit is a safe context to evaluate a company’s business ethics, providing information regarding the needs and the opportunity to set new corporate ethical values in place.
In the business world in general, and the auditing world in particular, emotional intelligence is what allows a person to go through the day smoothly, silently juggling the emotions crossing their mind and their path. The current respect towards emotional intelligence (EI) opens a new door as people are noticed for their individual values beyond their mere professional results 1.
The metaphor used for this article is the photograph above showing a beech tree standing alone in a golf course in Brussels, Belgium. The tree has been there for years, keeping its balance while adjusting to weather afflictions and human transformations. In the business world, those who stand tall are the leaders who grasp the impact of EI, adjusting to change and transformation.
EI has become a recognized asset, especially during the search for high-ranking profiles. However, its benefits receive worldwide recognition at all levels of society and in any context: this photograph was taken during a training program on values I witnessed, in Iquitos in the Amazon region of Peru. Here, a group of teens meets their leader at a community center on the edges of the river, to learn and practice EI techniques 2.
What is emotional intelligence?
The term emotional intelligence was used by two researchers 3 in 1990 and made popular in 1995 by Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional intelligence, where he defines self-awareness as “the first component of emotional intelligence; which makes sense when one considers that the Delphic oracle gave the advice to ‘know thyself’ thousands of years ago”.
In other words, it is the ability to “recognize, understand and manage one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others”.
Goleman demonstrated in the Harvard Business Review how self-knowledge and competencies forge exceptional managers; however, what makes them successful lays in their leadership values emanating from their emotional intelligence.
3 Salavoy P. and Mayer J., 1990. Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality Journal
4 Goleman Daniel, 1995. Emotional intelligence, p. 95.
Emotions and reason are connected
António Damasio, an expert in emotions, goes further by asserting that emotions and feeling are the center of all human interactions. He suggests that “emotions and reason are one same thing: emotions are at the starting point of a process that progressively evolves to become reason”. And since “emotions are our bodyguard”, we’d better understand them!
Knowledge about one’s emotions and the ability to control their sudden appearance and their flow, is an indicator of personal self-awareness.
The prevalence of self-awareness
When used wisely, self-awareness is an insatiable source of knowledge that eases interactions with others. Fred Kofman states that good business starts with the self-awareness of its leaders: “a leader who learns to decipher intimate emotions, behaviors, expectations, goals, struggles, is able to maintain composure in front of employees, with an open-minded perspective. Self-awareness must be mastered before pretending to understand other people’s emotions” 5.
It comes to the famous saying: judge yourself before judging others!
Our personality is composed of positive and negative traits; the self-awareness meaning comes with the acknowledgment of personal strengths and weaknesses. It includes the knowledge of one’s limits and the threshold beyond which a situation becomes hard to handle. A self-aware leader is objective and acknowledges good or wrong-doing, identifying errors and finding solutions.
5 Kofman, Robert. 2006. Conscious Business, p.3 & 5.
Emotional intelligence practice
To get back to Dr. Damasio’s theory, emotional intelligence requires awareness and training because our brain remembers positive and negative experiences that he calls “somatic markers” and stores them. Learning to choose the right marker at the right time is a skill requiring practice.
Somatic markers stamp our memory since childhood with positive and negative markers. They form our basic emotional realm and it is up to us to keep markers engaged and updated.
EI brings awareness to analyze situations, adjust to the needs by building a strategy to move forward.
The impact of emotional intelligence in the business world
The Consortium for research on EI provides ample examples regarding the field of EI. One of the examples puts a dollar value on the benefits of EI, and I mention it because it shows the power of this often neglected knowledge. Members of a consulting firm were assessed on their EI competencies and results showed that “partners who scored above the median on 9 or more of the 20 competencies delivered $1.2 million more profit from their accounts than did other partners; a 139 percent incremental gain” 6.
6 Boyatzis, R. et al., 1999. Clustering competence in emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence during a compliance audit
This chart compares positive and negative attitudes during a compliance audit, leading to drastically different outcomes. A self-aware auditor shows the will and the ability to adjust to a situation and encourages constructive exchanges to comply with certification requirements: this is EI applied to the benefit of all. The auditor without emotional engagement has a hard time staying focused and the behavior affects the audit outcome.
The auditor’s EI is a determinant factor in the outcome of an audit. This simplified example underlines how an emotionally engaged auditor is equipped to face uncertainties. The unprepared auditor is hesitant, overwhelmed and frustrated, causing frustration to the auditees and slowing the audit process.
Emotional intelligence testing
EI is a skill and therefore can be learned and measured.
Tests are now available to measure a person’s self-knowledge and problem-solving abilities as a marker of one’s emotional quotient or EQ.
Kofman states that people with high EQs tend to be better coworkers or leaders because they are tuned to other people’s experiences.
Tests were set in place to evaluate the emotional intelligence of employees and a famous one was created by the MSCEIT team: it states that “emotional intelligence is one of hundreds of parts of our personality. Is it the most important predictor of success in life or work? It probably is part of “success” but it is not the sole ingredient, nor is it the most important one”.
Emotional intelligence learning options
Whether you or your employees are ready to discover the world of emotional intelligence, several options are available depending on the needs:
1. At the university level, EI classes are now offered to students as part of their leadership curriculum, and include practice through assessment tools and experiential exercises.
2. In the corporate world, communication companies provide training programs in EI for employees, activated by practice and exercises. The workforce progressively develops abilities to face unusual situations without feeling fear nor anger. HR managers are aware of EI tests available to evaluate potential candidates for high-ranking positions.
One particular test was created by MSCEIT team, who states that “emotional intelligence is one of hundreds of parts of our personality. Is it the most important predictor of success in life or work? It probably is part of “success” but it is not the sole ingredient, nor is it the most important one”.
3. IMAGO.AUDITING provides guidance and support to organizations looking at expanding their EQ.
A lesson learned from this article is the relevance of EI in the auditing profession, or any profession for that matter. Corporate senior management should consider offering emotional intelligence training to their workforce because
Emotional intelligence is becoming an indispensable asset.
Every individual who receives EI training sees changes at the personal and professional levels. EI plays a crucial role in self-confidence acquisition. Practice allows difficult conversations to take place with less harmful effects: EI offers negotiation tools to lead a pleasant personal and professional life.
The lack of awareness on how to consider psychosocial risks within the audit framework is undeniable. Although corporations are now considering these risks as part of their obligations, little attention is given to this subject by accreditation bodies.
To this day, there is no confirmed approach in the auditing context on how to deal with psychosocial risks, although some countries require an internal health and safety assessment that includes a psychosocial evaluation.
This article explores occupational health and safety risks, as they are perceived in the corporate and auditing world, and shows the two types of psychosocial risks encountered during audits:
- Rational psychosocial risks, covered by ISO 45001 health and safety management audit, which are measurable and traceable.
- Emotional psychosocial risks, also called the ‘wicked problems’, are not measured nor controlled.
What is a psychosocial risk factor?
Psychosocial risks are defined as the “analysis of the management within the social and organizational contexts which tends to cause psychological, social, or physical harm” 1.
Psychosocial risks vary whether they are rational or emotional, leading to different outcomes on businesses and their employees. The risk-analysis is included in the occupational health and safety (or OHS) section of the audit report. This is where rational psychosocial risks are evaluated. However, it is recognized that the OHS standards provide little guidance on how to evaluate psychosocial risks.
1 Cox, T.; Griffiths A. & Rial-González E. 2000. Research on work-related stress. European Agency for safety and health at work.
Understanding the evidence about psychosocial risks
Within the traditional audit approach, OHS risks have to be rigorous, objective, and thereby auditable (Power, 1996).
However, psychosocial risks are not linear nor rigorous; rather, they are subjective and unpredictable, which makes them un-auditable within the traditional audit frame. Because of the difficulties in auditing psychosocial risks, there is a need to develop an audit methodology that can manage the ‘wicked’ side of psychosocial risks.
What are psychosocial risks?
1. Rational psychosocial risks
OHS risk indicators were created to evaluate and trace psychosocial risks within a facility during an audit. The OHSAS 18001 standard provided companies with indicators regarding their internal social risks, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Some countries require that all companies submit an OHS risk-assessment.
Rational OHS indicators evaluate employees’ safety at a given time, and provide information that can be turned into action.
It is usually measurable, leading to indicators from which a preventive plan can be set. However, not all OHS indicators are traceable: some psychosocial risks are not measurable and therefore require other tools to evaluate, understand and trace them. Let’s begin by describing the current options to measure rational psychosocial risks.
2. How to measure rational psychosocial risks
Three options are suggested to evaluate the rational psychosocial risks within the corporate context, used individually or combined.
i) The ISO 45001 audit permanently replaced the OSHAS 18001 standard on April 1st 2021. It is a third party audit which takes place when a company hires a certification body to perform the audit of its facilities towards certification.
ISO 45001 standard includes questions such as: health and safety management; safety hazard policies and observations; occupational risk management; frequency of safety meetings. However, psychosocial risks are only briefly mentioned in the standard, and the question remains whether audits currently in practice cover these risks to a sufficient extent.
ii) The Publicly Available Specification (PAS 1010) on psychosocial risks was published in 2011, resulting from a collaboration between the British Standards Institution (BSI), the Institute of Work Health and Organizations (I-WHO), and the University of Nottingham, GB.
At the time, the goal of this document was to develop remedies to the shortcomings of the OHSAS standard because it was clear that work-related stress was not defined nor addressed during audits. The field of psychosocial risks includes moral and physical violence, psychological harassment, bullying, work-related stress: they are difficult to evaluate and often require individual attention. The European Foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions carry out surveys on regular basis throughout the 26 countries, to evaluate work-related policies.
iii) Internal interviews or questionnaires anonymously filled by all employees and analyzed to provide valuable inside information.
These three risk-evaluations methods help occupational health and safety management find the adequate solutions to traceable and measurable problems.
3. The emotional psychosocial risks
Unlike rational OHS risks, emotional risks are mostly determined by the way in which people perceive risks they are exposed to. The perception is subjective because it affects people differently. Stress-related issues may cause distress in one individual and none in another. However, unlike rational OHS risks, emotional risks are often imperceptible and they are hard to evaluate because they are not necessarily measurable.
Although their onset affect employees’ performance, it is not always easy to find the root cause of the discomfort or dissatisfaction at work.
Over time, these particular psychosocial risks have been called wicked problems because of the difficulty in finding evidence and solutions to solve them. The well-known wicked problem that affects current working environment is the ‘burn-out syndrome’, a combination of physical and psychological breakdowns that result in exhaustion and affecting workers in all industries and countries.
4. What is a ‘wicked problem’?
The term ‘wicked problem’ is defined by two Australian researchers as “problems in society that are marked by unclear cause-and-effect relationships as well as complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity in the problem-solving process”.
Consequently, to ease the approach toward intangible issues, the authors put together a list of ten characteristics that define ‘wicked problems’:
1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
2. Wicked problems have no ‘stopping rule’, thus no definitive solution.
3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad.
4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
5. Every (attempted) solution to a wicked problem is a ‘one-shot operation’; the results cannot be readily undone, and there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error.
6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways.
10. The planner has no ‘right to be wrong’; there is no public tolerance of experiments that fail.
These ‘wicked problem’ characteristics show the complexity of emotional behaviors. There are no indicators to understand the challenges involved in managing emotional psychosocial risks. Therefore, the search for solutions to address them is far from over.
5. How to measure emotional psychosocial risks
Although this area is difficult to evaluate without measurables, here are three approaches to manage emotional psychosocial risks within an organization:
- In their empirical study, three authors suggest carrying out an internal emotional psychosocial risk-evaluation to assess the needs. This is usually done through individual interviews or questionnaires while respecting employees’ confidentiality. The workforce assessment provides evidence that may be integrated into the company’s risk management process.
- The PhD thesis of a Danish scholar offers a thorough analysis of psychosocial risk management where she suggests that the auditor’s competencies are the core element when dealing with such delicate matters within an audited organization.
- In my article about emotional intelligence, I suggest that the control of emotional risks within the auditing context starts with self-awareness. Emotional intelligence is a skill and therefore can be learned and measured; therefore, it is up to certification bodies to train their auditors with the knowledge needed to distinguish and address emotional psychosocial risks during an audit.
Emotional psychosocial risks are understood as complex, with multi-causal effects that go beyond the occupational health and safety measures in place. The difficulty lies in the evaluation process used to assess them because it does not consider wicked problems, “characterized by unclear cause-effect relationships and uncertain solutions”.
The evaluation of rational and emotional psychosocial risks, and their consequences on the workforce, cannot be objectively solved with a sole technical approach.
Emotional psychosocial risk-evaluations must go beyond the measurable results of an audit standard to understand the psychosocial stressors: they require one-on-one interviews with employees to assess the gaps in abilities to manage complex psychosocial working environments. Once the auditor has the competencies to understand a company’s rational and emotional psychosocial risks, a complete psychosocial evaluation can be carried out.
One of the challenges to reach this goal is to transform “audit principles into audit practices”; suggestions will be presented in upcoming articles on IMAGO.AUDITING.
Fear has always been around. What is peculiar is that the emotional state activating fear is also involved in positive reactions, such as happiness or excitement. What changes is the wiring.
This is a view of Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on new year’s eve: thousands of people dressed in white gather to salute the new year and watch firework. This tradition may or may not survive the COVID 19 pandemic now that mask-wearing, social distancing and hygienic precautions are everywhere.
What is the relation between this photograph and the title? Fear. Behaviors changed in 2020 around the world and the most striking change noticed since this onset of the pandemic is the omnipresence of fear. It is everywhere in people’s faces, in their behaviors and their actions, which become aggressive, impatient, intolerant or fearful.
What is fear?
“Fear may be as old as life on earth. It is a fundamental, deeply wired reaction, evolved over the history of biology, to protect organisms against perceived threat to their integrity or existence. Fear may be as simple as a cringe of an antenna in a snail that is touched, or as complex as existential anxiety in a human.” 1
1 Javanbakht, Arash & Saab, Lina. Oct. 27, 2017. What happens in the brain when we feel fear? Smithsonian Magazine.
Fear affects everyone
The bad thing about fear is: DO NOT try to defeat it. The good thing is that you can change the effect fear has on you. Fear is a human emotion emerging to protect us from danger. The trait peculiarity is that the emotional state activating fear is also involved in positive reactions, such as happiness or excitement. What varies is the wiring that is influenced by the context.
Two examples with different outcome
- A walk on the edge of a cliff can cause a sudden acceleration of the heartbeat in the face of imminent danger: this causes an immediate reaction of retreat as a protective measure.
- In the context of a pandemic, behaviors are progressively modified by an omnipresent fear, as is the case with COVID 19. The excess of information, whose objective is initially preventive, transforms our reality into a minefield where fear settles in.
How to tame fear
Remember that fear activates similar emotional states as joy or excitement. Therefore, by analyzing the emotional state fear causes, one way to progressively tame fear is to dismantle it in a conscious effort. The sole awareness of fear emerging triggers a response mechanism, allowing a person to control it: the analytic process decreases the pace of the effects until it is no longer a threat.
When fear emerges, it is advisable to stop your activity and take a break by breathing deeply to interrupt the flow of thoughts that tends to accelerate. To do this, the most effective method is to control your breathing, by breathing in and out deeply several times in a row.
This approach allows you to rationalize the fear by dismantling it, while becoming aware of its presence, and allowing you to confront the danger initially announced.
Three steps to tame fear
It is advisable to follow a rational approach to tame fear and minimize its effects on our body and our ability to think. We begin by analyzing the origin of the fear, before observing its effects in order to take the necessary steps to reorganize our thoughts.
1. Find out what causes fear:
– What triggered fear: environment, person, circumstance?
– Is this a justified reaction? Confirm facts before being alarmed.
– Stay objective, away from negativity.
2. Observe how fear makes you feel:
– Watch your body language: rapid heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, upset stomach, dry mouth.
– Watch your thoughts: rushing thoughts, negative thoughts, impulsive behavior.
3. Manage the feelings:
– Take a break and use breathing techniques to slow your heart rate.
– Evaluate the situation and possible risks.
– Analyze options to move forward safely.
The situation of fear caused by the pandemic
More recently, the Kaiser Family Foundation published an article in June 2020 called “The Nature and Treatment of Pandemic-Related Psychological Distress” stating that 56% of people felt the pandemic affected their wellbeing: “people are living in a chronic state of fear of contracting the virus”. 2
It is certain that, when analyzing the evolution of the pandemic since its beginnings, the tendency is to panic rather than to keep calm, a behavior exacerbated by the media on the lookout for alarming news.
The negative effects of the virus are undeniable and it is up to us to modify our behavior in order to adapt to the context with the least harm.
So how does one find motivation to change a behavior?
2 Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Orgera, K., Cox, C., Garfield, R., Hamel, L., et al. 21 August 2020. The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance use. San Francisco: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Behavior change to tame fear
The omnipresence of fear in our societies is a factor affecting us all and the COVID 19 pandemic exacerbated mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
Once again, it is essential to rationalize fear in order to control it:
1. An action plan is in place to overcome fear: analyze the origin of the fear afflicting you, including its effects and consequences. It is a conscious effort that improves with practice.
2. The rational approach allows the situation to be stabilized while minimizing risks.
3. It is possible to move forward only when the negative effects of fear are under control.
The control of fear for the bullfighter and the astronaut
Fear appears suddenly and catches us off-guard because of the surprise effect and the danger. Here are two examples of professions where mastering fear is essential for survival.
In the case of bullfighting, the bullfighter faces a 1,500 kilogram beast and manages to master his fear while taking deadly risks: his art is to provoke the beast while avoiding it. His only option is to anticipate the bull’s actions to avoid them, dodging the beast instead of facing it 3. This sport requires extensive practice.
For the astronaut, the responsibility of a mission in space includes unforeseen events that have been analyzed and practiced so they no longer cause unexpected fear in a hostile environment. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tells us how he overcame the fear of suddenly going blind during a mission in space: the practice and anticipation of all the details of the mission left no room for the unexpected. The result was a successful mission guided by NASA from Houston, while being completely blind in space.
Fear control during an audit
In my book Journal of a social auditor, chapter 18 describes the difficulties encountered during a social responsibility audit when the plant manager was particularly resistant to the audit procedures. It took a great deal of personal control to get the information I needed in a particularly unfriendly environment. The methodology and tools used during the audit are provided at the end of the book. According to Dr. Lara Boyd, our own behavior is the major factor of change: practice is essential but it takes time, and you have to do the work.
Most professions require self-control, confirming that fear can be tamed. It is a matter of awareness and practice. The American author Napoleon Hill said in the early 20th century that “fear is only a state of mind and a state of mind can be controlled and directed”. The feeling of anxiety that invades a person can be controlled if one manages to master the apprehension and the fear of danger. Gabriel Terrier refers to fear as “one of the worst enemies of success”. It is therefore impossible to succeed personally and professionally without learning to understand and control our instincts so that they do not harm us.