Preventing and managing work-related stress: A guide for employers

Guidance to help employers identify, eliminate or reduce and manage the risk of work-related stress.

Work-related stress

Stress is not an injury or an illness, however excessive and long-lasting stress can have a negative effect on employees' health, safety and wellbeing and can lead to psychological injury. Work-related stress is recognised globally as a major occupational health and safety (OHS) hazard and can be challenging for employers to prevent and manage. Guidance on the following pages can help employers recognise psychosocial hazards that, if left unmanaged, may increase the risk of stress and psychological injury.

Psychosocial hazards

Psychosocial hazards are factors in the design or management of work that increase the risk of work-related stress and can lead to psychological or physical harm. Examples of psychosocial hazards might include poor supervisor support or high job demands.

Employees are likely to be exposed to a combination of psychosocial hazards. Some hazards might always be present at work, while others only occasionally. There is a greater risk of work-related stress when psychosocial hazards combine and act together, so employers should not consider hazards in isolation.

Psychosocial hazards do not necessarily reveal the causes of work-related stress. Causes are likely to be specific to the employee, work or workplace. Senior management should identify which psychosocial hazards negatively affect employees' health and well-being and take appropriate action to control the impact of those hazards.

Relationship of physical and psychosocial hazards

Work-related physical hazards and psychosocial hazards can be connected and one can affect the other. Employees who do not feel safe at work due to physical hazards can be at risk of developing work-related stress. Employees who are stressed have a higher risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and their concentration and decision-making abilities can be affected, increasing the risk of physical injury.

Definitions and terms

An explanation of some of the terms you will come across in guidance about work-related stress.

Hazard

A hazard is a situation or thing that has the potential to harm a person.

Hazards at work might include, for example, hazardous manual tasks, noisy machinery, a moving forklift, chemicals, electricity and working at heights.

Psychosocial hazards include work-related factors such as repetitive work, high workloads and aggressive or abusive behaviours, including bullying and violence at the workplace.

Individual factors

Individual factors are any attributes or characteristics of the individual that might increase the likelihood of developing a disease or injury.

People respond to hazards in different ways. Individual differences that might make some people more susceptible to harm from exposure to the same hazard include:

  • being a new or young employee
    • having an existing disability, injury or illness
      • having previously been exposed to a traumatic event
        • people experiencing difficult personal circumstances

          Despite individual factors, it is still an employer's responsibility to control risks across individuals and groups of employees, so far as reasonably practicable.

          Risk

          Risk is the possibility that harm – death, injury or illness – might occur when someone is exposed to a hazard.

          Psychological injury

          Psychological injury is a disorder diagnosed by a medical practitioner and includes a range of recognised cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioural symptoms. These might be short term or occur over many months or years and can significantly affect how a person feels, thinks, behaves and interacts with others. Psychological injuries are sometimes also known as mental health conditions or disorders.

          Psychosocial hazards

          Psychosocial hazards are factors in the design or management of work that increase the risk of work-related stress, which can then lead to psychological or physical harm. Examples include poor supervisor support or high job demands.

          Work-related factors

          Work-related factors are factors in the design or management of work that can positively or negatively affect an employee's mental health. Examples include supervision, workload and role clarity.

          Work-related stress

          Work-related stress is the physical and psychological response of an employee who perceives that the demands of their work or workplace environment exceed their ability or resources to cope.

          Work-related stress does not itself constitute physical or psychological harm or injury but can result in an injury if stress is prolonged or severe.