Step 1: Learn about low job control

What is low job control?

Low job control is where employees have little or no control over their work including how or when a job is done. Low job control can become a hazard when it is severe, prolonged, or frequent.

Some examples of low job control include:

  • unnecessary levels of supervision
  • excessive responsibility but with little ability to make decisions
  • having little or no say in how the job is done
  • work that is not meaningful and lacks variety
  • wrkload is greater than the employees available

Low job control is linked to poor physical health and stress-related disorders, while greater job control has been linked to increased happiness. Studies link low job control with poor physical health, stress-related disorders and even a 39% increased chance of death.

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.

To manage the risks associated with low job control in your workplace, follow the risk management process below.

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 consult with employees including health and safety representatives (if any), so far as is reasonably practicable, about matters that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect, their health and safety. This includes identifying whether low job control 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 the hazards and risks

A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm to a person. Think of hazards like 'situations' or 'things' 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 being physically injured from tripping on that cable. The same applies to hazards that affect our mental health – these are known as psychosocial hazards.

Low job control is an example of a psychosocial hazard. Exposure to low job control can increase the risk to psychological health. When risks associated with low job control are not effectively managed, this may lead to or worsen psychological injuries.

Examples of situations that may lead to employees experiencing low job control:

  • An employee having little say over when to take their breaks or when to change tasks.
  • Work is micro-managed where employees are expected to do task only in one specific way.
  • There is excessive monitoring of work tasks.
  • Employees are not involved in decisions that affect them or their clients.
  • There are unpredictable working hours.
  • An employee needing to ask permission to undertake a routine or low risk task like ordering standard monthly supplies or sending a low risk email.
  • Strict processes that can't be changed to fit the situation.
  • Employees' level of decision making does not match their role or abilities e.g a supervisor who does not have enough authority to do their job well.

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

Practical solutions to address low levels of job control should focus on job design, the work environment, and working conditions.

Risk controls should address levels of self-direction, allowing input into decision-making, developing consultation and communication, and appropriate supervision.

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 needs 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.

More resources

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