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Psychological risks

Good work is good for our mental health, but psychosocial risks arising from work can have a negative affect on physical and mental wellbeing.

The mental health of people within an organisation has never been more at risk. Many work environments have changed significantly since the pandemic, and these changes can affect people financially, socially, physically, and psychologically.

Cases of psychological ill health, and work-related mental health issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety (SDA), have worsened since the pandemic.

Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows over one million workers are on zero-hour contracts, an increase of a 250,000 since 2015. 24% of workers describe their work as hybrid, up from 9% in 2021. There are 37% more workers aged over 50 since 2000.

Health & Safety Executive (HSE) statistics now confirm SDA are the leading cause of ill health absence from work in the UK. SDA is responsible for 51% of work-related ill health and 55% of lost working days in the UK. This is a growing risk employers must actively manage if they are to develop and retain a resilient and sustainable workforce.

Psychosocial risks at work – the current situation

Psychosocial hazards arise from the interaction between an individual worker, the tasks they perform, work organisation and management, other environmental conditions, and the worker’s competencies and needs. Someone working under time pressure, with a threat of violence, little training or control over their working environment is likely to be at greater risk than someone in the same situation who has proper training and some autonomy in how work is completed.

While the effects are suffered by individuals, the collective impact is damaging to organisations and the economy. Data can help organisations measure and benchmark their performance. The HSE calculate the average duration of absence caused by SDA is 18.6 days and 2,750 workers of every 100,000 report having SDA.

Mental illness was the reason for claiming on income protection policies in 18% of cases. Even if people do not become ill, poor management of these issues could cause disengagement or drive higher rates of employee turnover. The ONS found average staff turnover was 17% in 2019, but as low as 7% in education and as high as 26% in other sectors. Positively, the ONS dashboard reports that about 58% of workers are mostly or completely satisfied with their current job.

Many ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) frameworks include measures of health and safety, diversity and inclusion and employment practices. The mental health of a workforce can affect these metrics and the reputation of the organisation with potential employees, customers and other stakeholders.

Key Actions

A systematic, risk-based approach to the management of this growing risk can help create a positive working culture that helps people flourish and perform at their best. Organisations should consider:

  • Reviewing Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy and policies to identify gaps between where your organisation is, and where it wants to be. Actions to close the gap should become your strategy, and should be communicated to gain commitment from leaders and employees.
  • Carry out psychosocial risk assessment. The International Standards Organisation (ISO), HSE and World Health Organization all recommend organisations adopt this approach to identify, assess, and manage psychosocial risk even if the organisation does not adopt a formalised occupational health and safety management system.
  • Train managers in Mental Health and Wellbeing. The relationship between line managers and people is perhaps the most critical in determining mental health outcomes in the workplace. Success requires managers to understand how the way work is done, has an affect on mental health.
  • Raise Mental Health and Wellbeing awareness within the organisation. All workers need to be confident and comfortable to reduce stigmatizing attitudes, and to know what support is available to help them flourish. The promotion can include actions taken to reduce the risks people are exposed to and techniques for personal resilience, and sources of support for rehabilitation.

Summary

Good work is good for us. People respond positively to having a sense of purpose and inclusion, to stimulating work, positive relationships, and a safe working environment. Well-designed jobs and effectively managed psychosocial risks can support individuals to flourish at work, perform at their best and promote a sustainable workforce.

There is a clear relationship between psychosocial risk management and employee mental health and wellbeing. The impact on people can be physical, psychological, financial, or social. Stress at work is also associated with heart disease and musculoskeletal disorders as well as mental illness. There is clear evidence that excessive job demands, poor relationships, and effort-reward imbalance are risk factors for psychological and physical health. This is a key public health concern and with clear implications for employers, their duty of care, and their productivity.

We are here to help

If you are concerned about how this affects you and your business and would like support in assessing your needs, we are here to help. Please do get in touch for confidential advice and guidance.

This article was adapted from an article by Zurich which can be found here.

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