Today’s workers deal with a number of external stressors that were virtually non-existent in previous generations. When pressures in the workplace combine with problems in an employee’s private life, threatening the employee’s ability to meet his or her needs, psychosocial hazards develop. The hazards may be manifest in a variety of ways, including physical, mental and emotional issues, and they can spill over into the potential for physical harm.
Recent acknowledgment of psychosocial hazards placed responsibility for the prevention and management of those conditions on the shoulders of employers. Through improved employee outreach programs, monitoring of employee health, and a commitment to reducing work-related stress, employers can eliminate many of the root causes of psychosocial hazards.
In most cases, employees will voice concerns that indicate an increased risk of psychosocial hazards. Any one sign on its own is concerning, but when several appear together, employers must evaluate their practices and procedures.
One of the first signs of stress is a heightened sense of conflict or a “short fuse”. Employees who were once easy going or non-combative who suddenly seem to have problems with every other employee are likely in the first stages of destructive psychosocial hazards.
Stress almost always manifests itself in physical pain or discomfort. Over time, employees at risk of psychosocial hazards will complain of fatigue or headaches. If an employee starts to complain of “burnout”, it’s time for employers to take definitive action.
When workplace stressors begin to weigh heavily on an employee, that person’s motivation to continue working erodes quickly. Employees become increasing dissatisfied with their work, and soon their level of productivity drops to reflect the change in their mood. In extreme instances, employees will feel so unmotivated that they cease coming to work altogether. On the other hand, companies can deal with the issue of presenteeism. This is where a worker shows up to work but and illness, medical condition, or fatigue hinders their performance.
Most workplace accidents are the result of employee errors, either by neglect of safety protocols or inattention. Stress at work or at home causes the employee’s mind to drift away from work, and the lack of concentration can and will lead to an increase in the number of accidents and injuries on the job.
Failure to heed the initial warning signs will only lead to more serious complications in the future, especially if the behavior leads to costly workers compensation claims.
Employers play a role in the development of psychosocial hazards through the working environment that that create for their employees. The International Labor Organization points to several areas of the workplace that have a direct impact on the presence and severity of psychosocial hazards.
The tone of the organization affects every person, from the highest executive, to entry level employees. Psychosocial hazards often form when employees feel they have been treated less than fairly by the company. Employees believe their trust in the company has been misplaced, and that the company does not value loyalty to its employees in the same way that it demands loyalty from its staff.
Strong leaders and a well-defined chain of command foster a positive workplace, because employees are clear about their responsibilities and duties. A failure of leadership causes employees to develop psychosocial hazards as members of the staff come into conflict over who has the authority to make decisions. The lack of leadership also means that employers do not have eyes on the ground to monitor the early stages of psychosocial hazards, allowing minor issues to become major problems.
Environmental factors play a significant role in workplace stress. Work areas that are poorly lit or ventilated appear dangerous to employees, causing them to feel anxious or stressed. Constant loud noises from machines and overly crowded workspaces further contribute to negative environmental factors.
Finally, when employees feel undervalued or underappreciated, psychosocial hazards become a real threat. Perception from the staff is that they are not being treated with the proper level of respect, and the company only cares about them as a working commodity, not a human being. This negative attitude poisons all employee interactions with each other and with management, and soon dangerous psychosocial symptoms enter the workplace.
To combat psychosocial hazards, employers must make a concerted effort to address the underlying issues, and not just the symptoms. A commitment to tackling workplace stressors can yield incredible returns, and it does not require a tremendous investment of money or resources from the company.
The best way to tackle the underlying problems is to use a two pronged approach. First, employers must foster a culture of communication between employees and their supervisors that allows open dialog about workplace stress and dissatisfaction. When employees feel their supervisors are listening and not judging, they are more inclined to talk about their issues instead of letting them fester. Second, employers must make changes to the organization that better distributes the workload and creates a calmer working environment. Overwork is a leading cause of stress in the workplace, so employers should spend time evaluating how tasks are distributed throughout the company, and the best way to allocate resources so one group of employees is not more burdened than every other group.
It is vital that employers stay on top of the warning signs for psychosocial hazards, and take steps to reduce the cause of work-related stress. By making employee care a priority, employers will receive greater productivity, lower turnover, and a happier workforce.
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World Health Organization
International Labor Organization
Intervention Strategy For Workplace Stress
Causes Of Workplace Stress