Summer boost in prospect for workers’ mental health and wellbeing

As businesses and organisations prepare to adapt to a controlled easing of lockdown restrictions this summer, it seems the pandemic and the prospect of warmer weather have reconnected workers with all the benefits of the office commute.

While bosses and staff alike have missed the human contact, that face-to-face interaction and creative office ‘buzz’, they’ve also hungered for a change of scene, opportunities to shop and socialise, plus the physical and mental benefits that come with cycling and walking into work, including being able to engage more with nature.

Yet because workplaces will continue to be sources of stress and anxiety, the introduction of a new standard to help employers manage psychosocial hazards is also being eagerly awaited this summer.

IOSH, a world-leading body in safety and health, will be one of many voices welcoming the arrival, this summer, of ISO 45003, the first global standard that will give employers practical guidance on how to manage psychosocial hazards for staff in the workplace. These hazards can cause stress, fatigue and bullying/harassment, for example, which can then lead to serious mental health problems.

Stavroula Leka, professor of work organisation and wellbeing at the Business School of University College Cork and co-convener of the working group developing ISO 45003, says: “With mounting data that poor work organisation, design and management is associated with poor mental health, absenteeism, presenteeism and human error, it was felt that a specific guidance standard on psychosocial risks was needed.

According to World Health Organization guidance, psychosocial risk is defined as any risk related to how work is organised and managed – from social factors to aspects of the work environment and hazardous tasks. The assumption is that psychosocial hazards are present in all organisations and sectors, and from all kinds of employment arrangements.

The new guidance is not trying to turn line managers into psychologists. ISO 45003 is not about managing clinical psychological problems,” she adds.

“It’s about how organisations [can] create a positive psychosocial environment. It’s guidance for designing work in a more preventative way so that psychological ill-health issues don’t arise.”

Built on ground covered by ISO 45001, which is designed to prevent work-related injury and ill health and to provide safe and healthy workplaces, ISO 45003 defines a psychologically healthy and safe workplace as one that “promotes workers’ psychological wellbeing and actively works to prevent harm to psychological health, including in negligent, reckless or intentional ways”.

Duncan Spencer, IOSH Head of Advice and Practice, says: “We very much welcome ISO 45003 as a proactive attempt to make good mental wellbeing part of a company’s culture. For too long organisations have focussed predominantly on treating the symptoms of mental ill health in the workplace; this new standard is an important step towards addressing the causes of it too. Protecting the mental wellbeing of staff is vital in building a resilient and sustainable organisation.

A March 2019 research study carried out by IOSH and Management Today found that two thirds of line managers were not getting enough support and training to protect the mental health and wellbeing of staff at work and that they were not recognising signs of poor mental health in their direct reports.

The study, which also found 80% of workers fear stigmatisation and being seen as incompetent in their role, informed an IOSH white paper which gave guidance on the role of line managers in promoting positive mental health. This covered how they can manage fluctuations in workers’ wellbeing, knowing the causes of poor mental health and how to recognise when members of their team may be unwell, how they can help them get support and generally help promote positive mental health in the  workplace.

IOSH President Jimmy Quinn added: “Yes, there’s still plenty to do to convince employers they need to take a ‘prevention first’ approach to managing mental health and wellbeing but the good news is there’s a growing amount of support out there from bodies such as IOSH, including affordable advice and training, while initiatives like ISO 45003 will undoubtedly help.

IOSH resources on workplace mental health and wellbeing

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Jeremy Waterfield
Content Officer +44 (0)748 764 5495
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