Psychosocial hazards contributing to work-related stress

Guidance to help employers identify features in work design or management that may increase risks of work-related stress and psychological or physical harm.

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.

Common psychosocial hazards

Common psychosocial hazards include the following:

Low job control

Low job control is where employees have little control over aspects of the work, including how or when a job is done. Includes tasks or jobs where:

  • work is machine or computer-based
    • work is tightly managed, such as in scripted call centres
      • employees have little say in the way they do their work, when they can take breaks or change tasks
        • employees are not involved in decisions that affect them or their clients
          • employees are unable to refuse dealing with aggressive clients, such as in police services

            High and low job demands

            High and low job demands occurs when sustained high or low physical, mental or emotional effort is required to do the job.

            High-demand tasks or jobs might include the following examples:

            • long work hours
              • high workloads, for example, too much to do, too many clients, fast work pace or significant time pressure
                • work that is beyond the employee's capabilities or training
                  • long periods of attention looking for infrequent events. For example, air traffic controllers, long-distance driving or security monitoring
                    • emotional effort responding to distressing situations or distressed or aggressive clients. For example, paramedics dealing with difficult patients or social workers dealing with distressed clients with complex needs or situations
                      • exposure to traumatic events or work-related violence. For example, emergency services, mental health nurses and child protection workers
                        • working with clients with challenging behaviours
                          • shift work leading to higher risk of fatigue
                            • frequently working in unpleasant or hazardous conditions. For example, working in extreme temperatures or noise, around hazardous chemicals or dangerous equipment
                              • having to perform demanding work while wearing uncomfortable protective clothing or equipment. For example, nurses and orderlies working in surgery, teachers and educational support staff working in large, noisy open plan classrooms

                                Low-demand tasks or jobs might include where there is:

                                • too little to do
                                  • highly repetitive or monotonous tasks which require low levels of thought processing and little variety. For example, picking and packing products and monitoring production lines

                                    Poor support

                                    Poor support involves tasks or jobs where employees have inadequate:

                                    • emotional or practical support from supervisors and colleagues
                                      • information or training to support their work performance
                                        • tools, equipment and resources to do the job

                                          Poor organisational change management

                                          Poor organisational change management occurs in workplaces where there is:

                                          • not enough consideration of the potential health, safety and performance impacts during downsizing or relocations or the introduction of new technology and production processes
                                            • not enough consultation and communication with key stakeholders and employees about major changes
                                              • not enough practical support for employees during transition times

                                                Poor organisational justice

                                                Poor organisational justice occurs in workplaces where there is:

                                                • inconsistent application of policies and procedures
                                                  • unfairness or bias in decisions about allocation of resources and work
                                                    • poor management of under-performance

                                                      Low recognition and reward

                                                      Low recognition and reward occurs in jobs where:

                                                      • there is a lack of positive feedback
                                                        • there is an imbalance between employees' efforts and formal and informal recognition and rewards
                                                          • there is a lack of opportunity for skills development
                                                            • skills and experience are under-used
                                                              • there is uncertainty about or frequent changes to tasks and work standards
                                                                • important task information is not available to the employee
                                                                  • there are conflicting job roles, responsibilities or expectations. For example, an employee is told one job is a priority but another manager disagrees

                                                                    Low role clarity

                                                                    Low role clarity involves jobs where there is:

                                                                    • uncertainty about or frequent changes to tasks and work standards
                                                                      • important task information which is not available to the worker, or
                                                                        • conflicting job roles, responsibilities or expectations, such as a worker is told one job is a priority but another manager disagrees or priorities are changed

                                                                          Poor workplace relationships

                                                                          Poor workplace relationships occur in jobs where there is:

                                                                          • workplace bullying, aggression, harassment, sexual harassment and gendered violence, discrimination or other unreasonable behaviour by colleagues, supervisors or clients
                                                                            • poor relationships between employees and their managers, supervisors, colleagues and clients or others the employee has to interact with
                                                                              • conflict between employees and their managers, supervisors or colleagues. This becomes worse if managers are reluctant to deal with inappropriate behaviours
                                                                                • lack of fairness and equity in dealing with organisational issues or where performance issues are poorly managed

                                                                                  Poor environmental conditions

                                                                                  Poor environmental conditions involve exposure to poor-quality or hazardous working environments. Examples include:

                                                                                  • hazardous manual handling
                                                                                    • poor air quality
                                                                                      • high noise levels
                                                                                        • extreme temperatures
                                                                                          • working near unsafe machinery

                                                                                            Remote and isolated work

                                                                                            Remote work is work at locations where access to resources and communications is difficult and travel times might be lengthy. Examples include:

                                                                                            • farmers
                                                                                              • real estate agents
                                                                                                • a community nurse conducting visits at night
                                                                                                  • night-shift operators in petrol stations or convenience stores
                                                                                                    • offshore mining
                                                                                                      • fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) employees

                                                                                                        Isolated work is where there are no or few other people around or where access to help from others, especially in an emergency, might be difficult.

                                                                                                        Violent or traumatic events

                                                                                                        A violent or traumatic workplace event is a workplace incident which exposes an employee to abuse, the threat of harm or actual harm and causes fear and distress which can lead to work-related stress and physical injury. Violent or traumatic events are common in groups such as first responders, health care workers, disaster and emergency services, social workers and defence personnel. Examples of violence or traumatic events include:

                                                                                                        • robbery
                                                                                                          • verbal or physical assault
                                                                                                            • assault
                                                                                                              • being bitten, spat at, scratched or kicked
                                                                                                                • being threatened with or without a weapon

                                                                                                                  Understanding these psychosocial hazards is crucial in controlling the impacts on employee health, safety and wellbeing.

                                                                                                                  Work-related stress and your legal duties

                                                                                                                  The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable. This responsibility includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and an obligation to consult with employees and HSRs on matters that directly affect or are likely to affect their health or safety, including hazards and risks associated with work-related stress.

                                                                                                                  Employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of people in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer.