Effective measures

Senior management engagement

It’s important when tackling this subject to ensure that senior management is committed to tackling the issues and providing resources.

Collating evidence of the problem and risk by using data such as absence reports, complaints, staff survey and quantifying this in financial terms (how much is it costing the organisation) is helpful in gaining senior management support.

Other ways to secure commitment would be through explaining the positive business benefits to tackling psychosocial hazards, such as:

  • maintaining business output and performance
  • high staff performance and productivity
  • low staff turnover and less intention to leave
  • high attendance levels
  • high staff recruitment and retention
  • good level of customer satisfaction
  • strong organisational image and reputation
  • lower levels in potential litigations
  • legal compliance (where this is applicable).

It’s important to highlight the effectiveness of internal collaboration as there’s a need for more preventative strategies and better coordination between an organisation’s human resources and occupational safety and health teams, as well as occupational health services (which may be provided externally).

Consultation and participation

Engaging with workers at all levels will make them feel more valued. Setting up working groups or steering groups up with a representative from various departments will help to gather information as well as update workers. The organisation may already have a health and safety committee in place but a separate sub-group may be appropriate to help to steer the process.

Research has proven that self-reporting questionnaires can be a good way to measure psychosocial risks by asking workers how they feel about certain potential hazards. Organisations potentially have access to a wealth of information, such as:

  • sickness absences data
  • presenteeism data
  • number and type of grievances
  • staff attitude survey results and
  • exit interviews
  • one-to-one meetings between managers and workers.

Organisations can use this information to gain an insight into what the psychosocial issues are.

Consultation with workers is key to a healthy and safe workforce. Consulting on psychosocial hazards matters involves:

  • sharing information on hazards and risks
  • giving workers an opportunity to express their views
  • raising issues
  • contributing to the decision-making process
  • advising workers on outcomes
  • protecting workers from reprisals when reporting incidents, hazards, risks and opportunities for improvement
  • removing barriers that may limit workers’ participation
  • encouraging proactive dialogue on all aspects of psychosocial risk management.

Some organisations may already have successful communication channels, in the form of:

  • toolbox talks
  • discussions
  • focus groups
  • surveys
  • committee meetings
  • team meetings and individual discussions.

Organisations are recommended to develop their own measures which can be specific to them, based on local knowledge and information and incorporated into a risk management framework if possible.

Organisations can develop ways of assessing hazards through questionnaires focussing on:

  • observations
  • task analysis
  • job descriptions
  • reports of harm and what they may highlight about the hazards.

This information can be used in determining the need for a separate psychological health and safety policy, which is tailored to the organisation.

Psychosocial hazards and risks can be tackled in the same way as any physical hazard or risk – the elements are the same. Using the plan, do, check, act method is essential in tackling the issue:

  • identify the hazards – what are they?
  • hazards that may affect the workers
  • decide who might be harmed and how – consider all workers but specifically any vulnerable people
  • assess the risks – including their frequency and severity
  • record the findings – document any finding so that the organisation can carry out any necessary work and benchmark figures once a review has been carried out, remembering to communicate findings with workers
  • review assessments and controls – if any controls have been identified, ensure they are working, carry out a review of the risk assessment and see if any of the risks have been reduced following the implementation of the control measures.

Take time to review current risk assessments and make sure the controls are still working. If any changes need to be made, these will need to be communicated to the workforce.

Line managers

Line managers can proactively address potential consequences from psychosocial hazards including work-related stress issues, which will reduce the likelihood of workers suffering from physical and mental ill-health.

Line managers can be the first port of call for workers to turn to when they have an issue, putting them the ideal position to identify and manage issues such as work-related stress.

Line managers can also notice a change in workers’ behaviour, giving a reason to investigate and find out what is causing the unusual change in behaviour.

Line manager responsibilities

  1. Be aware of the potential hazards (and the psychosocial risk factors) and how they can be mitigated.
  2. Engage and communicate with workers about these potential hazards and raise awareness.
  3. Be aware of the organisation’s commitment, policies and procedures on these issues.
  4. Provide support and get involved in organisational initiatives to tackle issues such as stress, by encouraging staff to complete questionnaires, attend focus groups or suggest solutions. This will help workers to feel able to talk openly about any issues to the line manager.
  5. Be aware of and undertake training to improve competencies needed to manage issues and prevent them from developing.
  6. Identify work-related stress early and work with the individual and human resources team to resolve the problem, providing access to relevant support services if required.
  7. Help staff return successfully to work after work-related stress.

Emotional intelligence

A manager should have a high level of emotional intelligence – the ability to perceive, understand and manage their own feelings and emotions. This quality gives individuals a variety of skills such as the ability to manage relationships, navigate social networks, influence and inspire others. This is an important factor for success, influencing productivity, efficient and team collaboration.

Why managers should cultivate their emotional intelligence

  • Self-awareness – being self-aware is a vital skill for managers and gives them the ability to recognise emotions and how they affect others. This enables them to address problems and handle any future complications.
  • Emotional management – this skill gives managers the ability to remain aware of their feelings, regulate themselves and stay in control. It is important for managers to keep their emotions in check as it will help them stay in a position which is respected by workers.
  • Effective communication – managers with a high emotional intelligence are often listened to and can communicate effectively in a way that will motivate and inspire others. This is essential for building and leading successful teams.
  • Social awareness – this is a skill that enables managers to put themselves in the position of the worker, giving them the ability to provide feedback, which is not only helpful to the worker but will also motivate and inspire a team. This also enables them to manage relationships and build networks.
  • Conflict resolution – managers can use this skill end disputes quickly between workers, customers or third parties and provide a resolution if required. Situations like these can affect the efficiency, effectiveness and productivity of an organisation.

Health and safety managers

By proactively addressing work-related issues such as stress, health and safety managers reduce the likelihood of workers developing physical and mental ill health issues.

Health and safety manager responsibilities

  1. Understand psychosocial hazards and risks, including the causes, management and prevention of work-related stress.
  2. Keep up to date with good practice relating to the topic by looking at other organisations and case studies to see how others have reduced work-related stress.
  3. Conduct a review of the organisation on the subject, including any existing policies, procedures and risk assessments.
  4. Use the HSE management standards or equivalent to identify the hazards and extent of issues in the workplace. Explain to the organisation what changes need to be made to improve the workplace. Remember to monitor and review any changes being put into place.
  5. Look for potential triggers which could harm workers’ physical and mental health, for example changes to senior management in the organisation. Workers may require support to help them through the process. It’s good to start by reviewing any current risk assessments on this – if there isn’t one, prepare one for the organisation, using the HSE management standards as a guide.
  6. Communicate and engage with workers by providing information on mental and physical health risks from psychosocial hazards such as work-related stress awareness, and encourage workers to inform their line managers.
  7. Give feedback on any concerns about potential risks from psychosocial hazards in the workplace to board level – remember that it’s important to maintain confidentiality of the worker or workers involved if reporting to senior personnel.
  8. Examine any risks from psychosocial hazards and factors in frequent sickness absence, or workers’ presenteeism or absenteeism.
  9. Work with the human resources team, occupational health, facilities team and any other team or department, if you have them, to support individuals and implement solutions identified by staff to enable a successful return to work if required.

In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) developed six areas of work design that can help manage the psychosocial hazards. Although originally used to manage stress, they can also work with psychosocial hazards.

  • Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment.
  • Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work.
  • Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.
  • Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles.
  • Change – how organisational change, large or small, is managed and communicated in the organisation.