FIFO Life Part 22: Psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

FIFO Focus Director Sandra Lam joins Big Al as part of the REDFM series FIFO Life.

In part 22, Sandra talks about psychosocial hazards in the workplace and the importance of managing these to minimise workplace stress.

Workplace stress and psychosocial hazards

We all know that the workplace can cause a lot of stress in our lives. Some stress is good but with prolonged exposure, they can cause harm. Psychosocial hazards are the aspect of the design and management of the work and its interaction with the environment that has the potential to cause psychological or physical harm.

We are essentially talking about an imbalance between “work demands” factors versus “work resources” factors. There are a lot of scientific evidence suggesting that when work demands and work resources are not balanced correctly, it can be classified as a hazards and can cause mental ill health in the workplace. Individuals as well as organisations need to identify and manage or control factors.

In the case of roles within the mining and construction industries, physical hazards are managed and controlled through OHS processes and procedures. From a psychological viewpoint, the pressure of time and rosters are the most obvious hazard that need to be managed. These are the obvious psychosocial hazards. In this post, we will be talking about three work demands and three work resources that are classified as psychosocial hazards.

Main Work Demand Factors

1. Role conflict, clarity and role ambiguity

We are referring to the extent to which the employee’s tasks and duties are clearly defined. Unidentifiable and blurred boundaries are more likely to occur in occupations where tasks and responsibilities are distributed among teams and team members or can result due to poor communication between supervisors and employees. Role conflict and ambiguity has been linked to stress, anxiety and depression.

2. Interpersonal relationships

Interpersonal relationships can be defined as the extent of good working relationships in the workplace. This can also include the presence of bullying and harassment issues. High quality interpersonal relationships at work is essential; organisations depend on individuals interacting and collaborating with one another to complete work tasks. Conflicts in the workplace that are not managed appropriately either by the individuals concerned or by management or can cause a lot of unbearable stress. The style of management also falls under this category. Not managing this factor has been shown to link to increased risk of depression, anxiety, stress, fatigue and psychological distress.

3. Change in the workplace

We’ve also experience some level of organisational change in the workplace and a majority of people would claim this to be very stressful. There are generally two main issues that should be focussed on when managing change, the first is to let employees know and help them to understand the rationale behind why the change occurring. The second issue that needs to be addressed in regular communication. The stress that occurs is more often than not, the fear of the unknown. Once this is alleviated, the stresses associated with change reduced.

Protective factors in the Workplace

1. Peer and Supervisory Support

Social support is one of the largest protective factors in the realm of psychological health at work. It refers to the level of support the employee receives from management and colleagues. There are three main types of support:

1.      Emotional: verbal and non-verbal communication that expresses feeling (i.e. care and concern). This includes colleagues who help out.

2.      Informational: provision of information used to guide or advise. Supervisors who make an effort to keep employees updated.

3.      Instrumental: provision of materials or resources (i.e. transportation). That is having the tools to do your job.

Good social support has been linked with productivity improvements, decreased stress and strain, increase in conflict resolution, decrease interpersonal conflict and a greater perception of work-life balance. All of these positive leads to decreased risk of psychological and physical harm.

2. Organisational justice and fairness.

Organisational justice and fairness refers to the degree to which policies and procedures are applied consistently across different areas of the business or across different people. Perceptions of justice often stem from interactions with supervisors, co-workers, or representatives of the organisation as a whole.

Three key principles to consider regarding organisational justice:

  1. Employees care about fairness
  2. Fairness in the workplace is rewarding in itself
  3. Employees have a natural disgust for unfairness, so much so that they may take all necessary action to address unfairness

It is therefore critical that organisations take steps to ensure justice and fairness if productivity, commitment and job satisfaction are valued.

3. Job control

Job control is described as the amount of authority the employee has over the way they do their job. It also includes variety and ability to apply the skills that they have. Job control is particularly important for employees with high job demands. Low control and high demands at work interact to create highly stressful psychosocial working conditions.

Job autonomy and control contribute to organisational success and are important for sustaining and maintaining employee contribution to the organisation and improves and/or maintains psychological health.

Where to from here?

While a certain amount of stress can improve performance and motivation, extreme stress and prolonged exposure to the work demands and work resources imbalance has a negative impact on health and well-being.

There are also individual differences to also consider. People handle stresses very differently in the workplace. The higher the general well-being of an individual, the more likely they are able to respond to, cope with and manage work stressors. Individual are therefore encouraged to take steps towards building mental resilience.

From an organisational perspective, recognition of these as hazards, assessing the degree to which there are a risk and having controls in place is the way governing bodies, such as Work Safe, expect organisations to manage these psychosocial hazards.

The content in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. We recommend consulting with a registered health practitioner or contacting us for more tailored support.

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