High and low job demands

How to proactively manage workload.


Step 1: Learn about job demands

What are workplace job demands?

A job can involve a combination of high and/or low job demands – these could be physical, mental and emotional demands, which can create risks to the health and safety of employees.

High and low job demands are two of the most common psychosocial hazards. While employees need challenging tasks to maintain their interest and motivation, and to develop new skills, it is important that demands do not exceed their ability to cope. Healthy workloads mean employees can respond quickly to problems, because they are not already working at maximum capacity.

Job demands that are either too high, or too low can negatively impact mental health

High job demands refer to sustained or intense high levels of physical, mental or emotional demands. It is more than sometimes 'being a little busy'. High job demands become a hazard when they are excessive or unreasonable, or constantly exceed workers' ability.

Low job demands refer to sustained very low levels of job demands (eg repetitive work or having too little to do). Low job demands can become a hazard when they are severe, prolonged or frequent. A list of high and low job demands is listed below at Step 3.

What are your rights and responsibilities at work?

Employers must provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and free from risks to health, including psychological health, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employees have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety in the workplace, and the health and safety of others. They must also cooperate with employers to create a safe environment.

Step 2: Consult your staff

Consultation can be done in a number of ways. Depending on your workplace, it can be as simple as casually walking around your workplace having a conversation, or as formal as setting up a health and safety committee.

Good consultation has lots of benefits – it leads to better decision making and greater cooperation and trust between employers and employees, who get a better understanding of each other's views.

Consultation isn't just good practice though, it's actually a legal requirement for employers. Employers must so far as is reasonably practicable consult with employees including health and safety representatives (if any), about matters that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect, their health and safety. This includes identifying whether job demands may be a hazard at the workplace, and working out how to eliminate or reduce the risk of it occurring. At a minimum, it must involve sharing information about an issue, giving employees reasonable opportunity to share their views on that issue, and taking those views into consideration.

Learn about your rights and responsibilities, as well as how best to consult

Step 3: Identify hazards and risks

A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm to a person. Think of hazards like 'situations' or 'hings' in the workplace that can hurt someone, either physically or mentally. The risk is the potential of the harm actually happening.

For example, a cable on the floor is a physical hazard. The risk is being physically injured from tripping on that cable. The same applies to hazards that affect our mental health – these are known as psychosocial hazards.

High or low job demands is an example of a psychosocial hazard. Exposure to high or low job demands can increase the risk to health and safety. When risks associated with high or low job demands are not effectively managed, this may lead to or exacerbate physical and/or psychological injuries.

Often multiple hazards can be present at the same time and can combine to increase the risk of harm occurring. For example, high job demands, low levels of job control, and poor support from colleagues or supervisors can combine to increase the risk of harm.

Step 4: Assess the risks

A risk assessment will help you understand the risks to your employees' health and safety, and how to prioritise your efforts to manage them.

It is good practice to identify hazards, both individually and together, that are creating risks to health and safety. Once you have identified the hazards, you can assess the risk of them occurring.

Risk assessment tips

Step 5: Control the risks

A control simply means 'ways to manage' an issue. Controls are things you put in place to eliminate or reduce risks. The list could be endless, but it's really just about taking action, so far as reasonably practicable, to manage the risks associated with high or low job demands.

Risk control measures for job demands should focus on job design, considering the environment and conditions of work. These controls should address things like time pressure, long or irregular working hours and mentally, physically, or emotionally demanding work.

Here are some ways that employers can take action (or 'implement a control') to create a safe workplace.

Step 6: Share, review and improve

A safe and mentally healthy workplace requires ongoing commitment and engagement.

You want to check whether the controls you've implemented are still relevant and effective.

By sharing the outcomes of these reviews, as well as suggestions and recommendations for improvements, you can keep the conversation going. This will continue to build trust and cooperation between you and your employees. Consultation must be undertaken before making any changes to, the workplace, things used at the workplace, or the conduct of work at the workplace, which may affect employee health and safety, and these changes should be communicated to your employees.


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Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.