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How to manage psychosocial risk in the workplace

Work can have a significant impact on our psychological health and wellbeing with 69% of employee’s having experienced mental ill health because of work at some point. The past 2 years has highlighted this even further with 41% of employees having experienced mental health symptoms caused or worsened by work in the last year. (BITC 2021 - What if your job was Good for You Report).

Organisations have a responsibility to protect both the physical and psychosocial health of their employees by identifying hazards and minimising the risks of these. Effective management of psychosocial risk will see greater levels of engagement, motivation, productivity, innovation and lower levels of absenteeism.

To support this a new International Standard, ISO 45003 has been released with an aim to do for workplace mental health what previous standards and legislation has done for physical health, by identifying and mitigating risks inherent in the workplace.

ISO 45003 identifies conditions and circumstances that might impact on psychological health and wellbeing and determines what changes are needed to enhance the working environment. The key areas that are covered are:

  • Design and Organisation of Work which includes; roles and expectations, job demands, how change is managed, working hours, autonomy and workload.

  • Social Factors which include; work life balance, reward and recognition, career development, management support and interpersonal relationships.

  • Environment which includes the working environment, equipment and resources and hazardous tasks.

What exactly is psychosocial risk?

It is the possibility for psychological injury to occur when exposed to hazards, i.e. situations or factors that could increase the likelihood of employees experiencing a stress response or a mental or emotional reaction.

How do you start to evaluate and manage psychosocial risk?

  • Understanding the needs of you employees by speaking to those in your organisation about what might be causing them stress or impacting their wellbeing. This could be done by asking for feedback, running focus groups or sending out anonymised surveys.

  • Having a leadership led commitment to managing psychosocial risk and promoting wellbeing at work in all areas within the organisation. Leaders are fundamental to driving through cultural change and ‘leading by example’.

  • Identifying hazards that might be causing psychosocial risk. This could be through reviewing job descriptions, analysing work loads and tasks or looking at data such as absence or turnover figures as well as consultation with your teams.

  • Carry out a risk assessment to understand the level of risk that the hazards present as well as the likelihood and intensity of exposure to the hazard causing harm. From this there can be a prioritisation to managing those risks that have the greatest impact and are happening frequently.

  • Once risks have been identified, measures need to be put in place to eliminate or control these risks to mitigate the possible impact on employees as much as possible.

  • Embedding new ways of working by putting in place plans which adjust and tailor activities, updating processes and polices and training and up-skilling managers and individuals so it becomes part of normal business operations.

  • Ongoing monitoring and review is really important to understand the effectiveness of the control measures that have been put in place as well as identifying any further hazards or risks to ensure future issues are identified as early as possible.

  • Throughout the process ongoing communications and consultation with employees is crucial to get engagement in the process and seek continual feedback to ensure measures and controls are making a difference.

Proactively managing psychosocial risk supports the research and growing evidence that a strategic, holistic and organisational wide approach to wellbeing is needed. Those organisations that take a preventative view coupled with existing more reactive wellbeing programmes are going to be best placed to recruit, retain, support, protect and engage their most valuable asset, their people.

If you would like to find out more about how we can support you and your organisation, please get in touch on or on 01926 268160.

Gemma Morris, Director of Wellbeing, Next Steps Consulting

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