Psychological hazards in the workplace: How to identify the signs and the risk.


In part 1 and part 2 of this series, we discussed the introduction of psychosocial hazards into the WHS Act 2011, and the associated economic, productivity and people costs, including burnout.

Here’s a quick refresh on what the psychosocial hazards1 are:

“Psychosocial hazards refer to factors that can influence a worker’s psychological health and safety.

They are hazards that:

  • arise from or in relation to:
    • the design or management of work
    • the working environment
    • workplace interactions or behaviours; and
  • may cause psychological and physical harm.

Psychosocial hazards have the potential to adversely affect employees’ mental and physical health if left unmanaged, leading to stress, anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental health issues. Identifying the presence of psychosocial hazards relating to work demands enables targeted approaches to be taken to address their root causes.

How to identify psychosocial hazards

Both psychosocial hazards and burnout arise from the organisation’s systems and structures, culture, and leadership, and therefore require organisational solutions to solve them. The weight of evidence for eliminating both of these factors from the workplace is clear, with significant productivity, performance and economic benefits on offer for those who manage this successfully (described in part 2).

One method of identifying psychosocial hazards is to conduct a risk assessment, which involves identifying potential hazards and evaluating their likelihood of occurring and their potential severity.2  

A second method is to identify the signs of chronic stress and burnout among employees. This requires a more nuanced approach in understanding your team members’ usual attitudes and patterns of behaviour, and recognising deviations from these. And don’t forget, leaders can also experience stress and burnout from psychosocial hazards, so keep an eye out for these symptoms in your colleagues – and yourself!

Here are some of the major signs and symptoms of burnout to look out for:

  1. Exhaustion: physical, emotional, or mental fatigue that does not go away even after taking rest or time off; batteries are constantly flat; unable to manage the work pattern; having difficulty concentrating or completing tasks; decreased productivity
  2. Increased cynicism: a negative and cynical outlook on work, colleagues, and the organisation; an inappropriate attitude; irritability and callousness; low engagement; reduced capacity to connect emotionally, socially or cognitively with clients and co-workers.
  3. Decreased efficacy: feelings of incompetence; lack of achievement and accomplishment; lack of skills to meet demands and an inability to cope; low morale and feelings of failure; a lack of enjoyment; loss of interest in hobbies, activities, or work that was previously enjoyable.
  4. Physical symptoms: can include headaches, gut issues, and muscle pain.
  5. Sleep disruptions: insomnia; difficulty falling or staying asleep; waking up feeling tired even after getting enough sleep; feeling tired-but-wired, in that you’re exhausted but unable to sleep.

How to mitigate the risks of burnout and psychosocial hazards

If the results of your risk assessments have identified work demand-related psychosocial hazards, and/or you have identified signs of burnout in your employees, the next step is to implement strategies to mitigate them.

However, finding the right solutions to mitigate the specific risks in your business, and build employees back to health and performance after they’ve suffered from burnout, can be a daunting prospect, and one that requires a multi-layered approach.

This is why I am partnering with HR leaders and executives to deliver a science-based and data-driven solution to achieve this, by incorporating biometric health data with business insights and people analytics, through education, coaching and consulting services.

What the program involves:

  1. Conducting regular consultations with HR teams to identify leaders at risk of chronic stress and/or burnout
  2. Offering at-risk leaders a 6-month Return to Performance (RTP) or Return to Work (RTW) 1:1 Executive Health Coaching Program – this includes biometric data monitoring using the WHOOPTM device and evidence-based intervention strategies
  3. Collecting psychometric data including Maslach Burnout Inventory profiles, and Areas of Work Life Survey data, to identify the individual and organisational factors contributing to chronic stress and burnout (and relating these back to psychosocial hazards)
  4. Identifying individual wellbeing, and business trends and insights, bespoke to your organisation to help guide proactive interventions.

If you’re ready to take a comprehensive, data-driven and evidence-based approach to mitigating psychosocial risks and burnout in your organisation, then please contact me to discuss how this program can be best implemented in your organisation.


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