With the increased automation of simple, routine and physical tasks in our workplace, employees are increasingly left with the more mentally demanding roles. This includes interacting with the ever-advancing systems of work and the more complex aspects in our worker environments such as interactions with other humans (which AI has not quite perfected…yet).
This shift in the type of work has led to a new wave of workplace factors known as psychosocial (psychological + social) hazards that are having a detrimental impact on worker mental and physical health. So how do we reduce the risk of these hazards occurring? And when we can’t get rid of them how do we minimise their impact on health? First, we need to understand them so let’s break them down.
Here are the top 7 psychosocial hazards that may be putting your worker’s health at risk:
- Excessive, unreasonable, or inappropriate job demands
- Emotional demands
- Physical demands
- Organisational change
- Bullying and harassment
- Inadequate resources
- Lack of support
Talk to us today about how we can help you identify hazards in your organisation, or find out more about each of the top 7 psychosocial hazards:
1. Excessive, unreasonable, or inappropriate job demands
Workers need to have enough time to complete their tasks and goals so that they can feel a sense of satisfaction. So be realistic about work pressure and make sure you set achievable timeframes. Also consider if what you are asking your workers to do is reasonable. There are risks involved with some work tasks such as remote locations, unsociable hours, or poor environmental conditions. These work-related factors will impact health and need to be minimised where possible and supports provided where practical to reduce the risk of harm. Also consider if the tasks you are setting are appropriate for those workers’ skills, expertise, position, and pay. Placing workers in roles where they don’t have the appropriate skills to manage can create stress, as can underutilising their existing expertise.
2. Emotional demands
Being exposed to emotionally challenging situations is a known hazard and should be minimised and supported to reduce harm. But don’t forget that interpersonal interactions with coworkers, colleagues, customers, clients and patients that require your workers to suppress their genuine emotions is also a demand creating a risk to their health and wellbeing.
3. Physical demands
Physical demands such as heavy lifting and repetitive work, are still a factor that needs to be managed in many workplaces. But now we are also seeing workers being required to sit or stand for long periods of time, which is known to take a toll on their health. These task related demands cannot always be removed, but just like any hazards that pose a risk to worker health there needs to be acknowledgement it exists, processes to minimise exposure, and systems for support should exposure occur.
4. Organisational change
I am often told that organisational change is a constant in modern workplaces. This is probably due to technological advances and new knowledge generation occurring at rapid pace. These advances can provide workers with many advantages like updates to systems to increase efficiency or safety. But it needs to be considered that any change you implement is adding to your worker’s mental load, so try to have breaks in between changes to work processes (when possible) and manage change well because poor organisational change management will contribute to poor worker health outcomes.
5. Bullying and harassment
Many factors contribute to perceptions of bullying and harassment. For instance workers under higher levels of work pressure with less supports will more likely perceive bullying and harassment in their workplace because they are lacking the cognitive resources to cope. Communicate what appropriate workplace behaviour looks like and clarify expectations on how to manage inappropriate behaviour if it does occur. If your workers know appropriate behaviour is a priority for senior management then workers will feel confident that they can address these issues at the time it arises. Early intervention also reduces the chance of escalation and long term harm.
6. Inadequate resources
While job demands can have a direct impact on worker health, job resources can buffer that impact and increase motivation. Several types of resources are required for workers the thrive. Higher levels of job control can assist workers with managing job demands. Rewards are also important and although they include financial rewards, it can also involve respect, recognition, and investment in career development. And make sure the resources you are providing match you workers’ needs, otherwise they are not being allocated efficiently and can impact productivity. Also don’t forget to promote time for recovery in between work tasks and work shifts. Role modelling work-life balance, encouraging short breaks during shifts, ensuring they take their allocated break times to rest and limiting contact outside of work hours shows workers you value their recovery time. Workers can then recharge, attend to their individual needs, and have quality interactions outside of work which is important for maintaining mental health.
7. Lack of support
Supervisor support is always related to worker health so make sure your leaders have excellent interpersonal skills and are clear about their role in protecting workers from psychosocial hazards and know how to assist staff if they do occur. Leaders need to know what resources exist to minimise exposure to work-related factors. This may be different to resources for workers due to external factors. While co-worker support can also be very beneficial it can become a concern if workers are seeking support from each other to compensate for lack of other resources in their environment. This can in fact become an additional emotional demand.
How do you know if these hazards are a risk in your workplace?
A good psychosocial risk assessment tool will capture the underlying mechanisms that create a mentally healthy workplace. Look for tools, like The Opus Centre’s PRC16 tool, that provide clear information about the potential for these hazards to occur, and likelihood that if they do occur that they will cause harm.
Talk to us today about how we can help you identify risks in your organisation.
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