Organizations are doubling down on efforts to support employee mental health and wellbeing. Often, employers look at employee mental health needs through the lens of how stressors in an employee’s personal life may affect their ability to be present and productive in the workplace. However, it is just as important to understand and address the impact of psychosocial risks that occur at work. Keep reading to learn more about common psychosocial risks, the impact they have on employees and employers, and how organizations can create a healthy workplace by reducing the presence of psychosocial hazards.

What are Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace?

Occupational hazards, as identified by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), primarily refer to physical risk factors present in the workplace,1 including physical safety, biological, chemical, and ergonomic hazards. There are many laws in place to protect employees as well as rights employees can exercise if they are exposed to or affected by occupational hazards.

On the other hand, psychosocial hazards2 include “any occupational hazard that affects the psychological well-being of workers, including their ability to participate in a work environment among other people.”

Psychosocial risk factors typically fall into one of three categories: work design and organization, social factors, and work environment (which overlaps with the physical concerns associated with traditional occupational hazards).3 Let’s take a look at each of these areas and the risk factors that can affect employees psychological and physical well-being.

Work design and organization

  • Lack of clarity of roles and expectations
  • Frequent organizational change
  • Job control or work autonomy
  • Remote and isolated work
  • Hybrid remote and in-person work
  • Unreasonable work demands (i.e. setting unrealistic deadlines or tasks beyond a worker’s ability)
  • Working hours and work schedule
  • Job security

Social factors

  • Lack of clear leadership
  • Lack of effective supervision
  • Interpersonal relationships at work
  • Organizational culture
  • Civility, harassment, workplace violence
  • Recognition and reward, and career development paths
  • Support (internal and external), and training
  • Work-life balance

Work environment

  • Inadequate or lack of necessary equipment, equipment reliability, and maintenance
  • Working in extreme or hazardous conditions
  • Excessive noise
  • Extremes of temperature
  • Lack of space
  • Poor lighting
  • Poor air quality

The Individual and Organizational Impact of Psychosocial Risks

Psychosocial workplace issues are often referred to as simply “stress” and, while stress itself is not an illness, it can cause serious physical and mental illness if not addressed. Though psychosocial stressors have varying effects on employees, depending on an individual’s mental health, personal life, and ability to cope with stress in a healthy way, there are common symptoms that indicate the presence and impact of stress in your organization.

Individuals affected by workplace stress may exhibit signs of deteriorating relationships with colleagues, irritability, indecisiveness, and reduced work performance, and/or an increase in unhealthy behaviors like smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug use and abuse.4

At the organizational level, the impact of psychosocial hazards can be seen in high staff turnover, increased absenteeism, reduced work performance (presenteeism), customer complaints, decreased employee satisfaction and morale, and changes in worker behavior, including lack of engagement at work, avoiding working with others on a team, and frequent conflicts with others.4

What can Employers do to Prevent or Mitigate Psychosocial Risks?

The people who are central to an organization’s success—and their collective knowledge, skills, and experience—are referred to as “human capital.” Quite literally, this means that the employees of any organization are measured in terms of the value they provide.

To keep the value of human capital high, employers must ensure the psychological wellbeing of its employees by creating a healthy work environment that mitigates and prevents psychosocial hazards.

This can be done by establishing a clear and supportive organizational culture; reducing stigma around mental health and stress; ensuring clarity of roles and responsibilities; giving employees the autonomy to perform their work in a way that works for them (including work hours, remote work, and work-life balance); training leaders to effectively and proactively address mental health concerns; and offering comprehensive, easily accessible EAP and mental health benefits that support employees in managing and reducing the impact of psychosocial hazards at work.4

If a company is interested in tackling psychosocial risk factors, the first step is conducting an evaluation to identify the presence of any of the above effects of psychosocial stress. The next step is to put a plan in place to prevent and mitigate existing psychological occupational hazards5—for the health of your employee’s and your organization. Surveys and focus groups can also be a useful tool in analyzing psychosocial risks.

Yes, addressing psychosocial hazards in the workplace requires an investment of time, energy, and resources, the ROI will be well worth the effort. Increased employee health and wellbeing, both psychological and physical, will impact everything from attrition to innovation—helping your organization remain an industry leader, known for being a place employee’s love to work.

If you’d like more resources on creating a healthy workplace, check out our on-demand webinar, How to Have a Thriving Workplace in Turbulent Times, discussing steps to creating a healthy workplace.