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  • 28 May 2024
  • 2 weeks

Risk mitigation: Managing Psychosocial Risks in the Workplace

Nour Bandali

EAP Counselor

Risks to safety and wellbeing can emerge both at work and outside of it. It is important to consider the influence of psychosocial risk factors when planning holistically to support employee wellbeing. Psychosocial risk factors can be defined by multiple terms — in general, psychosocial risks refer to the combined influence of environmental, social, and health-related circumstances that may threaten or impose risks to an individual’s wellbeing. The Irish Health and Safety Authority (HSA) defines the term “psychosocial” in this particular context to be a form of a “hidden workplace” embedded beneath the organizational culture (HSA, 2023). This hidden workplace incorporates personal mindsets and views (e.g. individualism or collectivism, ethical beliefs and values) along with the social and cultural dynamics that exists in the workforce (e.g. communication patterns, collaboration and connectedness, enforcement of authority/power, workplace politics). The intersection of these psychological and social elements can be hazardous towards employee wellbeing. Such hazards can include high workload, personal or ethical conflicts in a team, workplace bullying/harassment, and a lack of organization cohesion/connectedness (HSA, 2023).

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD, 2023) reports that high workload, unsupportive management, and a hyper-productive work culture are among the most salient psychosocial risks to employee wellbeing. These factors tend to place an employee at high vulnerability for burnout or work-related stress and anxiety. As such, these findings emphasize the importance of effective occupational health management in creating working conditions that are conducive to healthy functioning and wellbeing at work.

A lack of awareness and edification around psychological health and its associated supportive factors places barriers to effective wellbeing practices at both the individual and organizational level. Additionally, a lack of sociocultural awareness in management, human resource and occupational health practices can even increase the risks of poor mental health at work. Therefore, it is important to appropriately and consistently educate stakeholders on the risks and protective factors associated with the organization’s specific context.

The International Organization of Standardization (ISO, 2021) defines psychosocial risk factors to be those that place individuals at heightened vulnerability for work-related ill-being and ill-health. Therefore, the management of psychosocial risks must be thoroughly planned and implemented to safeguard employees’ mental and physical safety to the highest extent possible. If left unmanaged,  the resulting repercussions can be dire. According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), a stressful (and therefore high risk) workplace is birthed when the demands it imposes on their employees inhibits their sense of autonomy and control, and lacks the support necessary to assist in navigating these demands. Therefore, employees’ capacity for coping constricts, placing them in a psychosocial hazard zone. This can lead to burnout, fatigue, demotivation, and disengagement from work. In severe and critical cases, this can also lead to depression, anxiety, traumatic stress, and suicidality.

From an occupational health standpoint, minimizing psychosocial risks operates both proactively and reactively (ISO, 2021). That is to say that organizations have a responsibility to implement a robust safety plan with specified interventions for every risk factor. Preventive measures are equally of the essence and strive to protect employees from suffering the repercussions of psychosocial hazards. These preventive measures include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical safeguarding practices (e.g. emergency contact procedures, providing the necessary health and safety equipment or materials for the job)
  • Creating a harmonious and reasonable hierarchy of responsibility (e.g. well-balanced division of labor)
  • Fostering an ethical and respectful organizational culture (clearly defined and communicated codes of conduct)
  • Accounting for cross-cultural differences and implementing cultural awareness practices
  • Effective education around occupational health and wellbeing at every level of the organizational structure

Overall, psychological health and safety has become increasingly prioritized in employee wellbeing plans and practices. It has become more well-documented and understood that mitigating psychosocial risks and hazards involves a holistic intervention. These may combine situational interventions, such as psychological first aid and critical incident management, as well as proactive plans that aim to pre-empt the existence of salient psychosocial risks in a work environment. Managers and occupational health specialists should be encouraged to gather data from their workforce itself and explore the perspectives of their employees on what makes the work environment a safe place for them, both mentally and physically.

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. Contact us to learn more. 

Sources:

Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (2023). Managing psychosocial risks in the workplace. Retrieved from https://www.cipd.org/ie/views-and-insights/thought-leadership/insight/managing-psychosocial-risks/

International Organization for Standardization (2021). Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks. Retrieved from https://www.iso.org/obp/ui/en/#iso:std:iso:45003:ed-1:v1:en

Birkbeck, J. H., & Hupke, M. (n.d.). Psychosocial risks and Mental Health at work. Retrieved from https://osha.europa.eu/en/themes/psychosocial-risks-and-mental-health

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