For many HR professionals or business owners the mere mention of ‘psychological risk’ sends a shiver of apprehension through their corporate spine. For so long the realm of psychology has had both an air of fear and been steeped in stigma. For many the word ‘stress’ creates a frantic search for policy and procedural breeches within which they can cloak themselves in to avoid the inevitable lawsuit.

Breaking the mystique

The guidance put out by Safe Work says this about psychological risk: “Factors in the design or management of work that increase the risk of work-related stress which can then lead to psychological or physical harm.”

But what does that mean in a workplace in the real world? Simply put, it is a balance. Some stress has been shown to improve performance and engagement; it is when employees perceive a lack of equilibrium on the following fronts that a stress hazard can become a risk:

  • Job demands (high AND low)
  • Low job control
  • Poor support
  • Poor workplace relations
  • Low job clarity
  • Low recognition and reward
  • Poor change management and organisational justice
  • And remote work

What’s the perfect scenario?

There are too many possible combinations of what might constitute a hazardous environment so let’s look at the ideal scenario.

Joe works in a job where the cognitive and emotional demands match his skills and abilities with just the right amount of challenge; he is given responsibility over the flow of his work and he knows where he sits within the organisation and what tasks he needs to do and who to report to; he has regular and consistent feedback from his supervisor, both work related and emotional; change and decisions about the workplace are clearly communicated and he feels he has some input into the running of the business and when he needs to work remotely he has all the tools he needs and has a close line of communication with his boss.

Now this is an ideal scenario, but it is also not too ambitious for an organisation to aim to achieve with its employees is it?

In subsequent articles I will discuss each of these risk factors in detail.