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7 Psychosocial Risk Factors in the Workplace and How to Manage Them

Worker coping with psychosocial risk factors in the workplace.

Psychosocial risk factors can have serious implications for both the mental well-being of employees and the overall productivity of the organization. According to the World Health Organization, globally, approximately 12 billion days are lost annually to mental health disorders, especially depression and anxiety. This represents one trillion dollars per year lost in productivity.

Safety in the workplace isn’t just about preventing physical injuries, rather, it also involves ensuring the mental well-being of all your workers. To do this, you need to identify the psychosocial risk factors that exist in your organization, which is a tough task. Not all factors are obvious.

This article lists the most common psychosocial risk factors in the workplace and tips on how to manage them, to help create an environment that protects the mental health of your workers.

7 Psychosocial Risk Factors Employers Should Be Aware of

1. Workload and Work Pace

We live in a world where productivity expectations are the highest, they’ve ever been. More companies are trying to “do more with less”, which means fewer people and fewer resources. However, the price can be high if workload demands are unreasonable, leading to perpetual stress and increased absenteeism. The domino effect of this leads to project deadlines being at risk.

You can manage this psychosocial risk factor by implementing the following best practices:

  • Have a clear understanding of the time it takes to complete tasks. This can be done by creating a baseline using a simple tool like a timesheet.
  • Help workers prioritize their workload. This will help workers focus on the tasks that need to be completed first and where they should spend the most time.
  • Allocate resources properly. Now that you know how long tasks take, do you have the right amount of people to get them done? If not, you need to invest in adding more workers to the team, even on a part-time basis.
  • Encourage open communication. If a worker is too afraid to tell you they are overworked, you may not know the level of stress they are experiencing.

2. Interpersonal Relationships at Work

Positive interpersonal relationships at work can boost mental health. Conversely, negative relationships can cause stress and lead to a toxic culture. If workers are unable to work as a team, lack respect for one another, lack transparency, or have low levels of empathy, productivity can drop dramatically. And if you work in a high-risk industry, this toxic environment can lead to serious safety risks.

Here are a few tips to help mitigate this psychosocial risk factor:

  • Empathy starts at the top. Creating an environment where employees have a higher degree of empathy toward one another needs to begin with management. From there, determine if your company needs to invest in emotional intelligence training.
  • Encourage collaboration. This is an opportunity for knowledge sharing, learning a new skill, and teams working together with a common goal.
  • Boost employee morale by having a peer reward system. Employees celebrate their peers’ accomplishments, which helps to strengthen relationships.

3. Role in the Organization

If an employee isn’t clear about their role on your job site or front office, this can lead to ambiguity, confusion, stress, and, ultimately, an increased safety risk.

These are a few easy ways to ensure employees have a clear understanding of your expectations:

  • Make sure they have a copy of their job description. This is easy to do and invites conversations about the role and where they may need some clarity.
  • Course correct when necessary. If a worker loses sight of their priorities, ensure they have the support to get back on track to do their best work. If priorities have changed, this needs to be communicated promptly.
  • Check in often. A job description should be reviewed at least once a year. In addition, it’s important workers understand their role in helping a business achieve its goals.

4. Organizational Culture

We know the critical importance of a strong safety culture in high-risk environments. But what about the overall organizational culture? Many safety experts would argue that a company’s safety culture is a direct reflection of the overall culture in their workplace.

To mitigate this psychosocial risk factor, and strengthen organizational culture, try to implement these best practices:

  • Foster a positive work environment. This may sound like a huge task but start with something simple like “there are no bad ideas”.
  • Create an environment of trust between workers and management. Start with ensuring management does what they say they’ll do. Invite open, transparent communication.
  • Revisit psychosocial risk factor #2 outlined above.

5. Work-Related Stress: One of the Most Serious Psychosocial Risk Factors

Some jobs are more stressful than others. Frontline emergency services, high-risk industries such as construction and mining, and healthcare are just a few examples of high-stress jobs. But even these environments can have lower stress levels by implementing the following actions:

  • Proper training will give workers the confidence they need to do their jobs well and safely. And skill-specific training is key. The latest Fatal Occupational Injuries report in the U.S. saw an 11% increase in fatalities for workers in the transportation and material moving occupations. Regular training may have prevented some of those tragedies from happening.
  • Ensure equipment is safe and works well. This is especially important in areas like construction. If there is a piece of equipment that poses a higher safety risk because it isn’t maintained properly, this is a source of persistent worker stress that is easily preventable.
  • Provide mental health support. Burnout is real, especially in high-stress environments. The most effective wellness programs support workers when they need it, without compromising your organization’s productivity.

6. Violence and Harassment

Violence and harassment are serious psychosocial risk factors that can sometimes be invisible until they get reported. Victims need to feel safe to report any incidents that pose a safety risk, either physically, or mentally. Furthermore, not only are the victims dealing with this stress, but also other employees who are aware of the harassment and do not see any action from management to stop it.

Here are a few measures you can take immediately to help mitigate this psychosocial risk:

  • If you don’t already have one, implement a workplace harassment and violence policy. Many jurisdictions around the world require businesses to have this. In Canada, all employers working in a federally regulated industry or workplace are mandated to have a policy in place. It needs to outline your commitment to protect employees, define violence and harassment, and the process workers take if they witness or experience violence or harassment on the job.
  • Sometimes workplace violence is a result of personal stress an employee brings to the job site. That’s why it is important to have wellness programs available for workers to easily access to get help in working through challenges they may be facing outside of their job.

7. Lack of Work-Life Balance

A recent anonymous quote says, “in 10 years, nobody will remember the amount of overtime you worked except your kids”. Whether your workers have children or not, this quote resonates with everyone. Most jobs require occasional overtime to hit project deadlines. If you have created a supportive environment of collaboration and teamwork, these short spurts of overtime can be fulfilling and give workers a sense of value in helping to get a project over the finish line.

However, persistent overtime, with or without compensation, can be demoralizing and a source of stress. Here are a few ways to help prevent this psychosocial risk factor:

  • Ensure open communication. This is a common theme among all risk factors but it’s important workers feel secure in letting you know, without repercussions, they’re feeling burnt out.
  • Implement health and wellness programs. This can be something as simple as a free app for workers to access on the go, to help them maintain physical and mental health.
  • Encourage boundaries. Communicate to employees that they need to take breaks, empower them to have conversations with management if their workload becomes unmanageable, and show them appreciation for their hard work.

Leveraging Technology Can Help Manage Psychosocial Risk Factors

Implementing measures to mitigate the above-mentioned psychosocial risk factors will promote a positive work environment and are crucial for maintaining a productive workforce. But it needs to start with a workplace assessment. This will allow management to identify gaps and areas of concern and then prioritize measures to put in place.

In addition to these risk factors, companies can reduce stress in the workplace by ensuring employees have the tools they need to do their jobs properly. Leveraging technology increases efficiency, and accuracy, and reduces stress because there is less room for error. Veriforce can help by customizing a software solution to meet your needs. Plus, being part of the Veriforce network provides additional benefits such as access to employee wellness programs at a reduced cost. Let’s work together to reduce psychosocial risk factors in the workplace.

Contact us today to learn more.

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