What Are Psychosocial Hazards and How Can Workplaces Better Manage Them?

By Relationships Australia

Gone are the days where you’re expected to suffer workplace stressors in silence – that’s the hope anyway, with a greater commitment being made to look after employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
As of 1 April 2023, employers are now legally required under the Work Health and Safety Act to manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

What are psychosocial hazards? 

What these hazards look like varies from workplace to workplace, though key areas of focus tend to be the quality and responsiveness of leaders, job size, clarity, security and expectations, team and relationships, and self-care.  

Stressors such as unrealistic deadlines, poor support, inadequate recognition, as well as traumatic events and material you may encounter at work, are now expected to be better managed by employers, rather than having to be shouldered by employees. 

Employees should expect a genuine, comprehensive and holistic approach when issues arise, says our CEO, Elisabeth Shaw.  

“And more importantly, employers should anticipate and plan for events or circumstances that could compromise workers,” says Elisabeth. “Significant community events, such as floods, are also times when organisations should actively look to support and commit to affected staff care.”

Psychosocial hazards in action

Jess has been working in the same role for the same company for five years. Despite an increased workload due to staff lay-offs, Jess has not had a pay rise or any acknowledgment of her greater responsibility.  

Having picked up the workload of past employees, Jess feels overworked and unappreciated. As a result, she is finding it harder to unwind after work and dreads returning to the office each day. 

What a healthy workplace looks like

What makes some workplaces healthier than others? A workplace that manages psychosocial hazards well tends to have clear roles, reasonable workloads, understood expectations, regular performance reviews and remuneration covered.  

Employees should feel safe in their workplace, both from a physical standpoint and a mental health perspective – free from harassment, bullying, aggression or intimidation.  

Employee assistance programs (EAP) also have a place in ensuring employees have an outlet to talk about their stressors in a confidential setting. An EAP enables staff to access counselling for free and not have to face the long queues associated with other mental health services. 

Putting the intent into action 

Actions speak louder than words, as the saying goes, so while it’s a great step for a workplace to have an EAP program, it won’t have a great uptake if management covertly discourages use of it or doesn’t promote the service.  

Equally, a leader who is vocal about the importance of employee care but who has bullying tactics behind closed doors won’t do much for the cause.  

“An organisation’s culture and safety will be harmed if things are said but not done; where there is open hypocrisy in messaging and action,” says Elisabeth. “This leads to low trust, cynicism and disengagement.” 

“There needs to be clear expectations about workplace culture, relationships and behaviours from the top, with clear messaging about the care and safety of the employees, encouraging a culture of speaking up,” she adds.

Understanding workplace culture 

“Research shows that many people will turn to colleagues rather than an EAP or HR when struggling with mental health issues,” says Elisabeth. “So this means investment in the so-called ‘soft’ skills of effective people leadership, valuing and fostering good team connections, and making sure that unproductive or destructive workplace behaviours or hazards are managed.” 

Being aware of workplace culture is an important part of managing psychosocial hazards, as employee unhappiness can spread. Understanding team dynamics and being aware of any issues can reduce the impact of interpersonal conflict, which is a common psychosocial hazard. 

Regularly communicating with employees is another way an employer can be aware of any issues and also foster a greater openness across the organisation. Asking for employee input is a great way for management to get ideas for how they can keep workers happy, and also serves to make employees feel heard and therefore valuable.

Individual responsibilities 

While this new code puts more responsibility on management, Elisabeth says it shouldn’t be one-sided.  

“It’s important to note that all employees also have a responsibility to look after and keep themselves safe,” says Elisabeth. “If we hand over responsibility to our employer, it can breed helplessness. We need to be alert to how we are individually travelling in relation to exhaustion, mood, morale and have a plan for self-care.”  

Speaking up when things at work are not ideal – rather than starting to ignore or overlook issues – is also key to being responsible for your workplace wellbeing. 

“Unless you see yourself as part of the equation, you are at risk of resentment and [end up] even leaving,” says Elisabeth. “If you recognise workplaces are made up of people and therefore collective action, then the possibility of change may still be within reach. 

If you feel like you need extra support navigating challenges in your workplace, Relationships Australia NSW also offers a range of services that can help. Get in touch with us today.

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