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25 Apr 2023
by Jazz Croft

How to take the risk out of psychosocial hazards

Poor mental health is a leading cause of workplace sickness absence, but can be prevented

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The release of the ISO 45003 in the UK, legislation in Australia and WHO guidelines mean psychosocial hazards will be topping agendas in 2023 and beyond.

Psychosocial hazards are aspects of work that could have a negative effect on psychological health and safety. Exposure to them is a driver for mental health. Research shows low levels of social support, high job strain and role stress all substantially increase chances of developing mental health difficulties

Poor mental health is a leading cause of workplace sickness absence in many developed countries. What's more, these difficulties are treatable and, in many cases, preventable. 

The best ways to manage risk

The question is: what are the most effective ways to manage risk and drive positive change? Here, we look at the evidence base around training, culture change and data insights to focus and enhance your action plan.

Expert-led training

Across frameworks for psychosocial hazards, there are two dominant sources of psychosocial risk: poor colleague relationships and lack of support from management. Research shows that expert-led training to support team-level wellbeing can tackle these challenges.

Across the workforce, there are promising results that mental health training reduces stigma, increases confidence in spotting signs of mental health difficulties and connecting co-workers to help. 

For managers, a review of studies found that mental health education had a statistically significant effect on increased knowledge and improved behaviour when supporting employees experiencing difficulties. 

For employees and for each level of level management, dispelling common misconceptions around mental health can help reduce stigmatising attitudes. When employees know where to seek help and feel empowered to do so, workplaces have improved access to support through training. 

There’s also a wealth of evidence to show that leadership styles are strongly associated with employee wellbeing. This means that leadership training that focuses on motivating, considerate and inspiring leadership can also reduce team-wide exposure to psychosocial risk.

Clear internal communication, technical support for online training and leadership buy-in all maximise the effect of training on work culture.

Company-wide culture change

As the Wellcome Trust highlights, engaging with culture is central to better mental health at work. Delivering training in the context of inclusive policies, open communication and stakeholder engagement will drive culture change.

What’s more, these changes can boost the effect of individual, employee-level support by forming a comprehensive, organisation-wide approach to mental health.

Workplace culture generally refers to how we experience working life. The ISO 45003 breaks culture into three areas where measures can be implemented to minimise hazards:

  • Workplace measures (eg defining work roles, consulting workers on change)
  • Social measures (providing wellbeing information, increasing awareness of psychosocial risk)
  • Workplace environment (protecting employees from threats of violence, use of appropriate protective gear)

While we look at the extensive range of factors the ISO 45003 covers, their resources cover a wide range of ways of reducing psychosocial risk and have a measurable impact on culture.

Data that demonstrates impact

How do we measure the impact of interventions that aim to improve culture and drive down psychosocial hazard exposure? By using data and collecting information about employees’ experiences at work to monitor changes over time. 

Studies have shown that levels of increased sickness absence are predicted by measures of workplace culture including working relationships, organisational support, and leadership quality. Which shows just how important employees’ experiences of working are for organisational performance. 

Safework Australia recommends reviewing records, including exit interviews, staff turnover and any workforce surveys can help build a picture of what is, and isn’t, working for an organisation. 

But this doesn’t tell us what aspects of working culture may be exposing employees to psychosocial hazards. By measuring exposure to psychosocial hazards, we can see how working culture directly impacts absenteeism, turnover and organisational performance. 

Developed by Unmind’s in-house psychologists, scientists and industry consultants, our Workplace Index captures aspects of workplace culture that drive wellbeing outcomes. Using these measures, organisations can access actionable insights and take expert-backed steps to minimise risk. 

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