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Supporting Content Moderator Wellbeing: Moving from resilience towards organizational culture shift

Content Moderator’s work can be challenging – not only do they contend with the normal, everyday stressors of work, but they are also exposed on a daily basis to disturbing, repetitive, or shocking content, leading to a greater potential risk of psychological distress. As part of their complex roles, they enforce policy, assess potential risks of different types of content, analyze patterns or trends in policy violations, undergo continuous learning on evolving policy, as well as adhere to legal requirements and best practice. Furthermore, they operate in environments that can be rigid in terms of job control and autonomy. The core focus of their roles is to remove as much harmful content as swiftly as possible, a task that is noble in and of itself. 

The combination of potential stressors synonymous with this type of work, along with exposure to potentially traumatic material can increase the risk of vicarious trauma. This cumulative effect of stressors and exposure to trauma is also evident in other occupations and research highlights working conditions as a risk factor for occupational PTSD.  

So, how can organizations support Content Moderators in this complex working environment?  

Individual Resilience vs A Systemic Approach 

Resilience is the successful mental, emotional, and behavioral adaptation to difficult or challenging circumstances or demands. It can be mediated by genetics, environment (i.e. stressors) and previous life experiences, such as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). It can also be supported by factors such as good social support and optimism. A resilient workplace is a broader, more holistic approach where individual resilience is supported and strengthened. Yet, in many workplaces, employee resiliency programs can miss the mark by not addressing the impact of the work environment and the effects of psychosocial stressors unique to the organization. Burnout, absenteeism, and high turnover occur as a result and are often indicators of a larger systemic problem.  

According to W. Edwards Deming, an American business theorist and economist, 94% of problems in the workplace are systemic, with only 6% attributable to the individual. Therefore, he suggests that improvements should focus on systems, not on individuals, a statement which has since been supported by research. Examples of individualized interventions include resilience trainings and lunchtime yoga sessions aimed at addressing individual experiences of stress and burnout. However, factors such as poor operational processes, inconsistent management practices, or understaffing may be the root cause of workplace pressure. If these systemic issues are not targeted and addressed, then stress and burnout will persist.  

Individual-level interventions of course still have value however, they need to be nurtured structurally at the organizational level by effective strategy, leadership, communication, resourcing, and recruitment, to give a few examples. Fortunately, we have seen the benefits of taking a systemic approach to psychological health and wellbeing amongst our customers. They have been willing to ask themselves the tough questions, partner with us to identify systemic issues and hazards in the workplace, and oftentimes, are the first to approach us when they feel additional support is needed. These are the types of collaborative engagements needed in a Trust and Safety partnership to ensure the ongoing resiliency and wellbeing of content moderation teams. 

The Shifting Tides 

Trust & Safety organizations, as with other industries, historically focused on individual resilience in supporting content moderators. They have provided general resilience training and EAP or counselling, which acts as a reactive support for those who may be impacted by content or workplace stressors. However, moderation work differs from other corporate industries, with increased risk of harm to mental (i.e. stress, anxiety, depression, vicarious trauma) and physical health (i.e. cardiovascular disease). Therefore, moderators require additional psychological and emotional support throughout their career with proactive strategies and leadership commitment to their health and wellbeing. 

Studies have certainly shown the effectiveness of onsite counselling in the treatment of stress, anxiety, depression, and work performance. In the industry, it is logical and ethical to ensure reactive interventions remain in place due to the ever-changing and evolving needs of the population. Addressing systemic issues by incorporating proactive and preventative interventions, however seek to reduce the risk of harm in the first place. Examples of preventative strategies include Wellbeing Assessments to identify baseline psychological wellbeing and resilience, Psychological Health and Safety Risk Assessments, use of technology to prevent unnecessary exposure, comprehensive resilience training throughout the entire career journey, and recruitment processes that fully disclose risk of exposure so that prospective hires can making fully informed decisions when accepting such roles, therefore reducing psychological risk1. 

The ISO 45003 on Psychological Health and Safety at Work provides a framework for proactively addressing psychosocial hazards through identification of systemic work factors that present a risk of harm to employees, and the overall business in the long run. A Psychological Health and Safety Risk Assessment is an invaluable tool to audit organizational systems and processes against known psychosocial hazards in the workplace. It allows an organization to subsequently assess the level of risk of harm and develop an action plan for accountable stakeholders to reduce or remove these risks. As an objective assessment of work-related stressors that are highly correlated with experiences of stress, burnout, and absenteeism, it ensures that organizations become aware of the hazards, the level of risk associated, and can clearly prioritize risk mitigation strategies for the benefit of content moderators, management, and the organization. 

Drawing from data from our customers, we can see the correlation between taking a systemic approach to build a resilient workplace and the improvements across psychological wellbeing and resilience scores. The tides are shifting, indeed, as Trust and Safety organizations recognize the importance of a wellbeing strategy that moves away from individual resilience towards organizational culture shift.  

If you would like to learn more about preventative, organizational-level interventions, talk to us at Zevo Health. Our Trust & Safety Solutions Directors will parse out your challenges and needs from an organizational perspective to ensure you are doing everything you can to safeguard your content moderation teams. 

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