Work-related stress – low job control

This guidance may help employers manage the risks of work-related stress associated with employees' low job control.


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.

Low job control

Low job control can be characterised by situations where:

  • employees have little influence in how they meet work demands and how they perform their work in general. This might be described as a lack of 'autonomy'
  • there are unnecessary levels of supervision and surveillance
  • there is excessive responsibility with little authority or decision-making capability
  • there is little or no say in how work is done
  • work is not meaningful and lacks variety
  • workload or pace exceeds capacity or staffing resources
  • low control over workflow

Ensuring appropriate levels of control

Employers need to decide what risk control measures they will use in the workplace. Practical solutions to address low levels of job control should focus on job design, the work environment and working conditions. Risk control measures should address levels of self-direction, allowing input into decision-making, developing consultation and communication, and appropriate supervision.

Ensuring that supervisors and teams use communication and consultation strategies appropriately can increase employees’ input into and control over their work.

Choice and self-direction

An employee's tasks should be meaningful, varied and allow for an appropriate degree of self-direction. To enable choice and self-direction the employer could:

  • allow employees to have a say in how their work is organised
  • allow employees to have input on –
    • how job tasks should be completed where the order and timing of tasks is not critical to the outcome
    • how problems should be tackled
    • the pace of their work
  • ensure employees have the skills required to achieve their goals and, where skills are lacking, discuss opportunities for development
  • use performance reviews as an opportunity for employees to have input into the way they do their work, rather than focusing only on performance
  • provide opportunities for job rotation to enable skill development and job variation

Input into decision-making

Everyone in an organisation should feel they have some degree of input into their work, not just those in senior positions.

There are various ways an organisation can encourage a cooperative approach to management and ensure everyone contributes to decision-making. Ways to encourage participation include:

  • regular team meetings during which employees can have input into decisions that concern their work
  • involving employees in the allocation of responsibility for tasks within teams and in deciding work objectives and anticipated outputs, roles, timeframes and resourcing
  • providing training to develop supportive leaders who delegate and encourage participation and welcome new ideas

Consultation and communication

Employees can experience stress if they feel they have little control over their work and their work environment, or they feel unsupported in their workplace. Communicating with employees and seeking their participation in the decision-making process, including regarding the allocation of tasks, can change this perception.

Ways to improve employee participation and input into their work and work environment include:

  • knowing when it is appropriate to consult with employees and ensuring consultation outcomes are communicated
  • communicating with employees about how and why decisions are made and, whenever possible, seeking team involvement in making these decisions
  • developing and maintaining a working environment where employees are consulted and can provide feedback on changes affecting their work
  • developing a system that enables employees to have input into broader organisational issues

Remember, consultation on workplace health and safety matters must involve any health and safety representatives (HSRs).

Appropriate supervision

The management and supervision of employees can have an impact on whether an employee experiences work-related stress.

Employers should:

  • ensure managers are competent supervisors, including providing support and training
  • consult with employees when developing performance-monitoring systems and procedures for reviewing and monitoring employees
  • develop team-based targets which help build effective teams and allow the measurement of team performance against organisational goals
  • when assigning work, negotiate objective and reasonable standards to increase employees' ownership and control over their work and ensure work is allocated evenly
  • allocate or arrange workload in a way that is appropriate for staffing levels
  • avoid asking employees to regularly stay after hours without prior discussion and agreement
  • develop a clear policy on appropriate monitoring that is not excessive or punitive

Employers should also regularly review and revise risk control measures to ensure they control the risk, so far as reasonably practicable, including when requested by an HSR.

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.

More about your legal obligations

Related pages

This information is from 'Preventing and managing work-related stress: A guide for employers'. The complete guide is available in two formats.

Website version PDF guide