How can psychosocial hazards impact employee wellbeing?

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A psychosocial hazard is anything that could cause psychological harm. Left unchecked, they have the potential to significantly impact employee mental health and wellbeing.

In this blog, we'll unpack the true definition of psychosocial hazards, share examples, analyse their potential impact, and share expert advice on addressing them.

If you'd like to delve deeper into psychosocial hazards, you can also check out:

What is psychosocial?

Psychosocial means having both psychological and social aspects. In the workplace context, psychosocial factors are characteristics of work that can influence an employee psychologically and/or socially and can have a positive or negative influence on their physical and mental wellbeing.

EAP blog infographics (2)

What are psychosocial hazards?

Psychosocial factors become psychosocial hazards when they have the potential to cause psychological or physical harm.

The potential of these hazards occurring, and the likelihood they will contribute negatively to individual (health, safety, and wellbeing) outcomes and organisational (performance and sustainability) outcomes, is known as psychosocial risk.

"Some hazards may not create psychosocial risks on their own but may do so if combined with other hazards. For example, when workloads are high, the risk may increase if workers cannot take breaks or there is no one around to help. Some hazards may only create risks on their own when severe."

- Safe Work Australia

Safe Work Australia's Code of Practice, Managing psychosocial hazards at work identifies the following 14 psychosocial hazards.

Psychosocial hazards examples

How can psychosocial hazards impact employee wellbeing?

Psychosocial hazards can affect an employee's psychological response to their work and workplace conditions. This can result in poor health, poor health behaviours, reduced productivity, absences from work, and/or attrition.

Psychosocial hazards typically occur when there is a mismatch between job supports (such as leadership support, co-worker support, job control, skill-matching, role clarity, decision autonomy, recovery time allowed between tasks, and reward and recognition) and job demands (mental, emotional, and physical) - which can negatively impact employee wellbeing and lead to, or exacerbate, ill health or injury.

Psychosocial hazards and poor health behaviours

Action planning to address psychosocial hazards

Psychosocial hazards can impact everyone in the workplace. Whether we are experiencing them directly, or experiencing them indirectly via our colleagues, psychosocial hazards are important to address with a sense of urgency because they can negatively impact wellbeing, productivity, and performance across an entire organisation.

The following guidance has been written in collaboration with Dr Tessa Bailey BPsych (Hons) MOrgPsych PhD and Kevin St Mart BBus (Mktg) DipInjMgt, from The OPUS Centre for Psychosocial Risk and originally appeared in our report: How can psychosocial hazards impact employee wellbeing?

1. Reviewing psychosocial hazards

The starting point for any action plan is a review of the current work environment. Large organisations should develop a cross-functional working group to assess the psychosocial hazards that are likely to occur in their workplace. They can complete a hazard register to record these psychosocial factors, and any existing policies and practices that directly or indirectly relate to the management of these factors. This may include existing hazard management strategies, responsibilities, and regularity of quality assurance checks.

2. Determine the level of risk

To prioritise resources and discussions, it's important to determine the level of risk associated with each psychosocial hazard - in the context of your workgroups, organisation, and industry.

💡Sonder tip: One structured way to conduct these assessments is via the use of a risk register that estimates the nature, severity, and frequency of each psychosocial hazard, as well as the extent and effectiveness of current controls in place. You can download a template here.

Assessments should be evidence-based - via consultation, surveys, and measurable observations (e.g. bullying or code of conduct allegations, disclosure of health outcomes, absenteeism, time taken for workers' compensation leave, and so on). You should also be able to demonstrate that all employees have had an opportunity to contribute to the determination of the level of risk for your organisation.

3. Identify and resolve gaps in key controls

The risk assessment process will support the identification of hazards that are not being mitigated by appropriate controls, so it is critical that these gaps are captured and prioritised. Every business will have gaps, so don't be concerned if you have a long list. Further, this will be an ongoing process of monitoring, review and renewal to ensure you are best supporting your team. Common controls include accurate job descriptions, simple and well understood policies, and appropriate support offerings.

4. Create a plan for ongoing evaluation

Whilst a short-term plan for addressing the most pressing psychological hazards through the control implementation outlined is appropriate as a first step, a longer-term plan which includes ongoing evaluation and continuous improvement will yield more sustainable results, and will better satisfy regulators.

Top tips for leaders

1. Prioritise support

The survey in Sonder's Psychosocial Workforce Report highlighted that employees are not receiving the support they need, especially from their leaders. If left unchecked, this may lead to poorer health outcomes, plus other psychosocial hazards. If addressed as a priority, our data confirmed that employee wellbeing scores can nearly double - which could be a game changer for organisational performance.

2. Consider offering after-hours support

Given that external psychosocial hazards can indirectly but significantly impact workplace performance, organisations should consider offering wellbeing support that extends beyond work hours, so people can get the support they need, when they need it.

3. Ensure senior leaders 'walk the talk'

Senior leaders with high levels of interpersonal skills and empathy are well placed to model supportive behaviours. Ensure senior leaders encourage leaders to mitigate psychosocial hazards, motivate people to access wellbeing resources and support, and inspire everyone in the workplace to integrate employee wellbeing into business decisions.

4. Upskill your leaders

Management support is essential to employee health and motivation - but not every leader understands this relationship and/or how to be a best-practice leader. That's why organisations and senior leadership need to build the skills and confidence of their leaders. Good leaders set clear expectations about performance and behaviour, role model those expectations, and address concerns relating to excessive workloads, role conflict, and/or inappropriate workplace behaviour.

5. Act swiftly to complaints of bullying and harassment

Being exposed to bullying and/or harassment is a known hazard and employers should aim for zero tolerance. This includes setting clear expectations for appropriate behaviour at the time of recruitment, throughout induction, and in ongoing training and communications during employment. When bullying and harassment occurs, organisations need to act swiftly and investigate complaints in a timely and appropriate manner to mitigate the risk of any further undue harm.

How Sonder helps to mitigate psychosocial risks in the workplace

Sonder's suite of medical, mental health and safety features provide fast and personalised support for your people, whenever they need it. In this webinar clip, Sonder's Account Executive, Taryn Quarmby, and Head of Governance and Risk, Nick Croser, tackle two common scenarios that pose psychosocial hazards, and share how Sonder safeguards against them.

Speak with our team about how Sonder can help your workforce get psychosocial risk ready. Book a demo here.

About Sonder

Sonder is an Active Care technology company that helps organisations improve the wellbeing of their people so they perform at their best. Our mobile app provides immediate, 24/7 support from a team of safety, medical, and mental health professionals - plus onsite help for time-sensitive scenarios. Accredited by the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards (ACHS), our platform gives leaders the insights they need to act on tomorrow's wellbeing challenges today.

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