The benefits of minimizing psychosocial hazards and risks in the workplace are many, from decreasing stress to improving an employees’ mental health and overall performance. There is a strong correlation between psychosocial safety and better corporate performance, but that’s easier said than done.
A survey performed by EU-OSHA among European companies revealed the conviction that psychosocial hazards and risks are more complex and harder to manage than „traditional” risks to health and safety in the workplace and therefore an increased awareness is needed, as well as simple, practical instruments to facilitate the approach to stress, violence & harassment at the workplace.
This article highlights practical recommendations to help companies minimize risks and build a safer working environment and details the causes and consequences of psychosocial hazards and risks on employee mindset.
What are psychosocial hazards and risks?
Activities that are poorly conceived, organised and managed, in combination with an inappropriate social context at the workplace can lead to negative effects of a psychological, physical or social nature, such as stress at the workplace, exhaustion or depression.
• excessive workloads;
• conflicting requirements;
• lack of clarity as to the employee’s role;
• lack of involvement in corporate decisions that affect the employee;
• lack of influence concerning the manner in which activities are conducted;
• poorly managed organizational changes;
• workplace uncertainty;
• inefficient communication;
• lack of support from management or co-workers;
• sexual and psychological harassment;
• third party violence (collaborators, clients, etc.).
Negative consequences range from poor general economic performance, to an increase in absenteeism, in the numbers of injuries and accidents, in early retirement and in the stress rate among employees. Absences tend to be longer than those rooted in other causes, and stress in the workplace can also contribute to an increase in early retirement.
Not only that, but an estimate of costs incurred by companies and society due to stress in the workplace reaches an amount of billions of Euros at national levels. Another consequence of prolonged exposure to stress is that employees can develop severe physical illnesses, such as heart diseases or musculoskeletal disorders.
Taking measures isn’t an easy task, but prevention and management of psychosocial hazards and risks are paramount. A preventive, global and systematic approach is the most effective in managing these risks.
The European Pact for Mental Health and Welfare recognizes the issue of changing demands and increasing pressure in the workplace and encourages employers to implement additional voluntary measures to promote mental well-being.
Although the legal responsibility for ensuring proper risk assessment and control in the workplace lies with employers, it is essential that employees are also involved.
Stress management is not only a moral obligation and a good investment for employers to make, but a legal requirement, set out in Framework Directive 89/391/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work, as modified by Directive 2007/30/EC).
What can the employer do to minimize the psychosocial risks and stress of employees?
• tasks and time management training;
• creating personalized ways of working per employee or per category of employees;
• allocating sufficient resources;
• implementation of an ergonomic workspace that does not cause physical discomfort;
• understanding of personal issues;
• support related to childcare, commuting or other external factors;
• measures to combat harassment;
• promoting positive thinking to avoid conflicts;
• positive and transparent management of stressful situations;
• correct, complete and efficient communication, related to any aspect of the organization;
• creating flexible work schedules (e.g., teleworking);
• employers need to carry out a risk assessment at work and establish appropriate measures, especially in the light of the pandemic.
De lege ferenda:
We deem that an important step would be the elaboration of a normative act that recognizes stress and its impact over the employees. Such an enactment should provide at least:
• professional stress content;
• minimum of requirements for its prevention and protection of employees.