Workplace psychosocial risk factors are the non-physical aspects of a workplace developed through workplace culture, policies, expectations and the overall social attitude of an organization (CCOHS, 2017A). Essentially, psychosocial risk factors look at how an employee interacts with their work environment and the demands of their job. If an employee feels there is an improper match between the job demands and how they are expected to meet the demands, the employee will experience negative stress. Stress can contribute to poor mental and physical health in addition to, contribute to the development of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (CCOHS, 2017A).
“Essentially, psychosocial risk factors look at how an employee interacts with their work environment and the demands of their job”. – CCOHS. 2017A
Examples of psychosocial risk factors
(CCOHS, 2017A and CCOHS, 2017B)
- Job demands: What is the workload for each employee? How much time is allotted to complete the demands? Are there changing deadlines or sudden surges in the workload?
- Job Control: How much influence do employees have on the level of work and the outcome? Are employees able to participate in decisions affecting their workload?
- Job Satisfaction: Do employees have opportunities for development and task variation? Are the employees challenged or is there poor skill utilization?
- Support: Is there social and emotional support available from the employer and/or coworkers?
Why are psychosocial risk factors important?
- 47% of working Canadians consider work to be the most stressful part of their day (Government of Canada, 2016).
- 19% of employees have quit a job because of stress (AIS, n.d.).
- 12% of employees have called in sick because of stress (AIS, n.d.).
- Only 23% of Canadian workers are comfortable communicating a psychological health issue with their employer (Government of Canada, 2016).
- As of January 1, 2018, changes in legislation allow for entitlement to chronic mental stress:
Bill 127, Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act (WSIB, n.d.).
Overall workplace stress can cause workplaces to experience a decrease in workplace morale, quality of work produced, general productivity in addition to, an increase in injuries which can also lead to a rise in WSIB costs.
Who is at risk?
From construction, customer service to the healthcare industry, psychosocial risk factors can be present in any work environment. When workplace psychosocial risk factors place demands on any worker that are greater than a worker’s ability to cope, the worker will experience stress.
How does our body react to stress?
The work induced stress causes our body to react in three primary ways that may influence the development of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
- Behavioural Responses: Reponses taken by an individual that they are unaware of, or that the individual perceives may help them cope with the stress.
- An individual may begin to avoid the workplace, for example: increased sick days.
- An individual may begin to use excessive force when performing tasks after becoming frustrated.
- Workplace stress may even lead to the development of a sedentary and dependent lifestyle.
- Psychological Responses: How stress is perceived by the individual, is this positive or negative stress?
- Positive stress is related to challenges a person believes they can accomplish and can increase one’s determination, engagement and interest.
- Negative stress is associated with challenges that we believe we can not successfully accomplish. In this case an individual may begin to feel uncertain, disinterested in their work, bored or experience anxiety associated with work.
- Physiological Responses: How the body naturally reacts to stress.
- An individual may experience increased blood pressure or muscle tension.
- When at work the individual’s body may remain in a heightened state of sensitivity which can strain the musculoskeletal system. A person may lift heavier materials or work at a quicker pace than normal.
- The body can also experience a decreased sensitivity to pain, which can also cause an employee to work beyond their body’s physical capacity.
How to assess psychosocial risk factors?
Two resources that can be utilized are the Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire and the Mental Injury Toolkit developed by the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers. Each resource is objective, confidential and includes symptoms associated with psychosocial risk factors. This will allow a workplace to determine which risk factors are associated with symptoms within their workplace. The Mental Injury Toolkit will also include common causes of mental illness, possible actions, resources and legal frameworks. Below is the link to the Mental Injury Toolkit:
What else can be done to control psychosocial risk factors at work?
(Government of Canada, 2015)
- Support employee participation and decision making.
- Clearly define employees’ duties and responsibilities.
- Promote work-life balance.
- Encourage respectful behaviour.
- Manage workloads.
- Provide training and learning opportunities for employees’.
- Have conflict resolution practices in place.
- Recognize employees’ contributions effectively.
Putting it all together
Stress affects many individuals on a daily basis with work being a primary stressor. In an effort to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders and promote workplace wellness it is essential to control the psychosocial risk factors as well. With proper practices in place, a workplace may experience:
- Improved employee morale.
- Reduced absenteeism.
- Reduced injury costs.
- Increased productivity.
- American Institute of Stress (n.d.) Workplace Stress. Retrieved from: https://www.stress.org
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (2017A). Musculoskeletal Disorders – Psychosocial Factors. Retrieved from: https://www.ccohs.ca
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (2017B). Mental Health – Psychosocial Risk Factors in the Workplace. Retrieved from: https://www.ccohs.ca
- Government of Canada (2016). Psychological Health in the Workplace. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca
- Government of Canada (2015). Mental Health in the Workplace. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca
- Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (n.d.) Measure Workplace Stress App. Retrieved from: https://www.ohcow.on.ca
- Workplace Safety Insurance Board (n.d.) Bill 127: Chronic Mental Stress FAQ. Retrieved from: https://www.wsib.on.ca