Psychosocial risks and stress at work

Psychosocial risks

Anything in the design or management of work that increases the risk of work-related stress can be understood as a psychosocial hazard.

While stress itself does not constitute a physical or psychological injury, a stress response includes the physical, mental and emotional reactions that occur when a worker perceives that the demands of work exceed their ability or resources to cope. If prolonged and/or severe, work-related stress can cause both psychological and physical injuries. While pressure is normal in many workplaces, stress may result when ‘pressure becomes excessive or otherwise unmanageable’.

Common psychosocial risks

There are a variety of aspects of work which can pose psychosocial risks to workers. 

Job content/task design

Lack of variety in the work; under-use of skills or under-skilled for work

Workload and work pace

Long or unsocial work hours; shift working; inflexible hours

Job control

Lack of control over job design or workload; limited participation in deciding one’s own work

Environment and equipment

Unsafe equipment and resources; poor physical working conditions (such as poor lighting, excessive or irritating noise, poor ergonomics)

Organizational culture

Unclear organizational objectives; poor communication; culture that enables discrimination or abuse

Interpersonal relationships at work

Social or physical isolation; limited support from supervisors or colleagues; authoritarian supervision and poor line management; violence, harassment or bullying; discrimination and exclusion

Role in organization

Unclear job role within the organization or team

Career development

Under- or over-promotion; job insecurity; poor investment in development; punitive procedures for sickness absence and performance management

Home-work interface

Conflicting home/work demands; being away from home for work

What employers can do?

The key to deal with psychosocial hazards and risks in the workplace is prevention by means of:
  • conducting comprehensive risk assessment, covering all aspects of work, including psychosocial hazards and risks, as it is done with other workplace hazards;
  • adopting collective and individual preventive and control measures;
  • increasing the coping ability of workers by increasing their control over their tasks;
  • improving organizational communication;
  • allowing workers’ participation in decision making;
  • building up social support systems for workers within the workplace;
  • taking into account the interaction between working and living conditions;
  • enhancing the value placed on safety and health within the organization.