A Proactive Approach
Employers have a legal responsibility to protect their workers by managing hazards and risks in the workplace. This responsibility has now been specifically expanded to include psychosocial risks in the workplace as a result of new national and state/territory legislation and regulation in 2022/2023.
Current approach to psychosocial risk management in Australia
All states and territories have now included psychosocial risk management requirements in their respective OHS legislation. Employers are now required to identify and manage psychosocial hazards and risks, just as they would identify and manage physical hazards and risks. This requires that they:
Identify any psychosocial hazards and risks;
Assess all identified hazards and risks to consider their impact on workers;
Control risks by eliminating and minimising them as much as possible; and
Review any control measures implemented, to ensure they are effective.
So what are the psychosocial risks/hazards that now need to be managed?
Below is a list of some common examples of psychosocial hazards you should consider when identifying psychosocial hazards in your organisation. The list and the examples in the descriptions are not exhaustive. Employees are likely to be exposed to a combination of psychosocial hazards; some risks may be constantly present, while others arise sporadically.
Some hazards by themselves may cause serious harm, such as experiencing workplace violence. In most circumstances, it will be a combination of psychosocial hazards which together may cause harm. Harm can be caused by a single instance or over time with repeated or prolonged exposure.
Hazards can be grouped or described in different ways. How they are categorised is less important than ensuring you and your employees have the same understanding of what is happening and how it may be causing harm.
As you review the range of psychosocial hazards that can occur in the workplace, it becomes important to consult with or survey employees and managers to understand the specifics of your business, in terms of where the greatest risks are. Only then can you develop and implement an appropriate and prioritized action plan to demonstrate improved control of these hazards and risks.
Intense or sustained high mental, physical or emotional effort required to do the job.
Unreasonable or excessive time pressures or role overload.
High individual reputational, legal, career, safety or financial risk if mistakes occur.
High vigilance required, limited margin of error and inadequate systems to prevent individual error.
Shifts/work hours that do not allow adequate time for sleep and recovery.
Sustained low levels of physical, mental or emotional effort is required to do the job.
Long idle periods while high workloads are present, for example where workers need to wait for equipment or other workers.
Low Job Control
Workers have little control over aspects of the work including how or when the job is done.
Workers have limited ability to adapt the way they work to changing or new situations.
Workers have limited ability to adopt efficiencies in their work.
Tightly scripted or machine/computer paced work.
Prescriptive processes which do not allow workers to apply their skills and judgement.
Levels of autonomy not matched to workers’ abilities.
Tasks or jobs where workers have inadequate support including practical assistance and emotional support from managers and colleagues, or inadequate training, tools and resources for a task.
Lack of Role Clarity
Uncertainty, frequent changes, conflicting roles or ambiguous responsibilities and expectations.
Poor organisational change management
Insufficient consultation, consideration of new hazards or performance impacts when planning for, and implementing, change.
Insufficient support, information or training during change.
Not communicating key information to workers during periods of change.
Inadequate reward and recognition
Jobs with low positive feedback or imbalances between effort and recognition.
High level of unconstructive negative feedback from managers or customers.
Low skills development opportunity or underused skills.
Poor organisational justice
Inconsistent, unfair, discriminatory or inequitable management decisions and application of policies, including poor procedural justice.
Traumatic events or material
Experiencing fear or extreme risks to the health or safety of themselves or others.
Exposure to natural disasters, or seriously injured or deceased persons.
Reading, hearing or seeing accounts of traumatic events, abuse or neglect.
Supporting victims or investigating traumatic events, abuse or neglect.
Remote or isolated work
Working in locations with long travel times, or where access to help, resources or communications is difficult or limited.
Poor Physical environment
Exposure to unpleasant or hazardous working environments.
Violence and aggression
Violence, or threats of violence from other workers (including workers of other businesses), customers, patients or clients (including assault).
Aggressive behaviour such as yelling or physical intimidation.
Repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. This includes bullying by workers, clients, patients, visitors or others.
Harassment including sexual harassment
Harassment due to personal characteristics such as age, disability, race, nationality, religion, political affiliation, sex, relationship status, family or carer responsibilities, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.
Sexual harassment - any unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, in circumstances where a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would anticipate the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.
Harmful behaviour that does not amount to bullying (such as single instances) but creates a risk to health or safety.
Conflict or poor workplace relationships and interactions
Poor workplace relationships or interpersonal conflict between colleagues or from other businesses, clients or customers.
Frequent disagreements, disparaging or rude comments, either from one person or multiple people, such as from clients or customers. A worker can be both the subject and the source of this behaviour.
Inappropriately excluding a worker from work-related activities.
Strategies for Immediate Implementation
At first glance this list of potential psychosocial hazards can seem overwhelming.
There are some simple and immediate strategies every business could implement to start to demonstrate a proactive approach in responding to the new legislation. These could include:
Educate managers, supervisors and employees on the range of psychosocial hazards that could exist in their workplace;
Implement an appropriate OHS policy specifically addressing psychosocial risk management;
Consult with managers, supervisors and employees on psychosocial hazards that they have identified, complete risk assessments and record, prioritise and implement risk minimisation actions;
Use anonymous surveys on at least an annual basis to assess improvements, alignment and employee satisfaction and identify any new hazards or risks;
Observe work and behaviours and identify psychosocial hazards as they arise;
Review data and records, including: workers compensation claims; employee complaints and investigations; excessive work hours; excessive accrued annual leave; absenteeism, employee resignation rates and exit interviews;
Implement an appropriate Employee Assistance Programme and support and monitor EAP utilisation;
Ensure all employees are trained and supported in their role and duties confirmed by their authorised Position Description(PD); and
Ensure all managers are trained and complete appropriate and timely performance coaching of all team members.
HR Coach network members have been working with Australasian businesses for nearly 20 years to improve the management of these (new hazard) items (and another 125 measures) through pragmatic, anonymous assessments and reporting which has allowed business owners and their employees to build and implement plans to resolve these items.
We have been doing this to improve the profitability and sustainability of SME businesses. Ensuring employees are aligned with business strategy just makes good business sense. This alignment leads to extremely high business performance, improved leadership and management performance by managers, and, ultimately improved employee satisfaction and personal performance and ownership. Ie. Good alignment of people activity with business strategy actually reduces psychosocial risks, particularly when partnered with consultation and plan development.
Anecdotal evidence also provides employers confidence that employee dissatisfaction items which are both identified and resolved in a consultative and constructive manner, lead to a significant reduction in mental health claims.