By: Kayly Lange
Sospes Contributor
Kayly Lange is a freelance writer who specializes in technology and its impact on business.

Psychosocial Risks in the Workplace: A Hidden Threat

Stress and burnout have long been an issue that plagues organizations when their workers are juggling too much in their personal and professional lives. In fact, the World Health Organization officially labeled “Burnout” as an occupational issue in 2019 that affects both a worker’s output and their quality of life.

However, COVID brought these issues to a head, as more people saw intense pressure in and out of the workplace. While some stress is normal, chronic and acute stress can severely impact both the worker and the company. Some of the consequences of stress include:

  • Lower engagement
  • Decline in performance
  • Absenteeism
  • Turnover
  • Lack of motivation

In response to the escalating issue of employee psychological wellbeing, a new ISO 45003 standard seeks to incorporate into the ISO 45001 management system. The new standard provides organizations more details on the psychosocial health of workers, including the risk factors, symptoms of poor psychosocial wellbeing, and its effects on both the worker and organization, plus advice on how to manage these risk factors.

What Are Some Psychosocial Risks?

Psychosocial risks, or work-related hazards of a psychosocial nature, can come from various internal or external issues to the organization. Most commonly, the risks come from work organization and design, social factors, or the company culture and work responsibilities.

While any of these risks can contribute to potential work hazards, there can be a combination of one or more that compound the effects of stress and disengagement.

Here are some of the areas that can contribute to these risk factors:

Work Design and Organizations

  • Control or autonomy on the job
  • Transparency in roles and job expectations
  • Workload and workplace match
  • Job security
  • Work hours and consistency
  • Job location, including remote or isolated work

Social Factors

  • Company culture
  • Transparency in organizational hierarchy and clear leadership
  • Work/life balance
  • Recognition, reward, and the potential for upward career mobility
  • Internal and external support and training
  • Harassment, civility, and workplace violence
  • Interpersonal relationship
  • Clear and effective leadership

Work environment

  • Workplace conditions, such as space, noise, ventilation, and lighting
  • Reliability and availability of equipment
  • Extreme or hazardous work conditions

Signs of Psychosocial Risk

While many companies seek to maintain rules and structure to avoid these risks, sometimes it fails to be implemented efficiently. Plus, external events, such as COVID-19, can contribute to psychosocial risk.

Certain behaviors can indicate an issue, either with an individual, group, or organization as a whole. Some symptoms of psychosocial risk include:

  • Poor work quality
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Lack of engagement
  • Frequent group conflicts and avoiding team efforts
  • Increased staff turnover
  • Rise in incidents and errors

Consequences of Psychosocial Risks

Psychosocial risks come with significant employee and company consequences. For workers, psychosocial risks can manifest in both poor health and unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Research has found that psychosocial issues result in an increased risk for high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, insomnia, chronic pain, and early death. It also puts them at higher risk of substance abuse, financial problems, and social isolation.

For companies, the cost of the symptoms of psychosocial issues can be high. For example, absenteeism costs companies $225.8 billion a year in lost productivity. In addition, disengaged employees cost employers $3,400 for every $10,000 of salary.

Human error can be even more costly. Research shows that 80-90% of serious injuries and accidents were due to human error. It is also the top cause of data breaches, which costs U.S. companies an average of $6.71 million per breach.

Organizations that ignore the psychosocial risks can face significant disruption to their business.

How to Prevent and Mitigate Psychosocial Risks

There are a number of steps workers can take to prevent potential psychosocial risks or mitigate them if they see signs of it in their workers. Open communication is critical to engage with workers and identify issues in the workplace. Genuinely listening and encouraging workers to speak up can help them to be honest without fear of pushback.

Many employees are nervous to talk about these issues because psychosocial issues are sensitive by nature. This honest communication can help leadership understand the underlying factors that contribute to workplace hazards.

Once these issues are identified, leadership should use a risk assessment process to deal with them. Document the potential psychosocial hazards and negative consequences and establish a process with objects that consider the employee’s needs and expectations. It may entail dedicating resources and time to accomplish these objects and address any potential risk.

EHS programs are critical for managing psychosocial risk, including during the planning, implementing, reviewing, evaluating, and improving stages. Open communication between employees and leadership is foundational to the success of any business. Keeping an open dialogue without retaliation can help lower employee stress and improve companies by reducing risks across the organization.

How to Manage Psychosocial Risks Without an ISO 45001 Management System Structure

ISO 45003 is not the only guidance for managing psychosocial risk in an organization. The CDC outlines all the elements in implementing an ISO management system in Total Worker Health. It is a flexible approach from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that utilizes five elements:

  • Leadership commitment to employee health and safety at every level.
  • Eliminate or reduce health hazards with the intentional design of work.
  • Encourage employee engagement during program design and application.
  • Safeguarding the privacy of workers.
  • Integration of related systems that promote worker wellbeing.

Want to know more about developing a management system that promotes psychosocial wellbeing? Reach out to one of our consultants today to see how we can help!

Fill this out for answers to all your EHS software questions.