December 7, 2018

6 Key WHS Risk Areas and How They Impact Employee Wellbeing

Ask yourself
When you work in workplace health and safety (WHS), ask yourself these three questions, to assess health and safety in your workplace:
  • Does your WHS management system include psychosocial risks?
  • Does your health and safety management system focus on the source of burnout in a systematic way?
  • Do you really know what your employees value in wellbeing?
The primary duty in any risk management is to initially attempt to eliminate or minimize it at the source. This has been highlighted by a leading specialist who has warned employers that contrary to popular belief, building workers’ resilience to make them ‘tougher’ isn’t a solution for preventing the adverse health effects of a poor workplace environment.
The research
The International Labour Office (ILO)  defined psychosocial factors/hazards in 1984, in terms of “interactions between and among work environment, job content, organizational conditions and workers’ capacities, needs, culture, personal extra-job considerations that may, through perceptions and experience, influence health, work performance and job satisfaction”. Why are we still struggling to grapple with this in 2018?
Professor Leiter, an industrial and organizational psychologist at Deakin University told the Australian Psychological Society congress in Sydney he was concerned about suggestions that if workers are stronger, healthier and more organized they won’t suffer from burnout.
For employers, the “CREW solution” offers an intensive process for workgroups to create fulfilling, supportive work environments, emphasising “Civility, Respect, and Engagement with Work.” Leiter also noted.
“Workers who experience the phenomenon, a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal job stressors, are indicators that things aren’t quite right in the workplace.”
To manage this the preference should not be to only manage the response to the stressors, but to remove the source of those stressors. Leiter, suggests that some workers might be able to learn the skills and attitudes that define resilience and adapt to a tough work life, but that still requires employers to improve workplace flexibility and responsiveness, and provide workers with stability, resources and control by sharing decision-making and ensuring timeliness of information.
6 key risk areas
The UK regulator HSE has for some time,  created a systematic approach to improving the fundamentals rather than managing the response which is also needed.  They look at 6 key risk areas and follow a management systems approach:
  • 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

Professor Leiter suggests that people want to have a sense of agency and autonomy at work, to feel like they’re a part of causing things to happen, not simply being affected, they want to be effective. According to him, there are limits to what traditional individual and organizational interventions and initiatives can achieve in reducing burnout due to employee push backs and the risk of the underlying message being ignored.
An integrated approach to improving workplace civility and community, by increasing positive interactions and decreasing negative ones, can eliminate burnout levels and improve worker engagement and fulfilment.
Any interventions should involve group sessions covering: acknowledging respect in the workplace; promoting the positive; responding to disrespect; and working with the things that can’t be changed.
What you can do
Weaving in the HSE’s key 6 areas into policy, functional role evaluations, employee reviews and training along with leadership in staying congruent with this, is all part of the approach.
Corporate wellness plans which also focus on fundamentally limiting the source of psychosocial risk; whilst embedding services such as employee assistance programs and corporate message can show direct commitment and can be ‘felt’  by staff.
These fundamental factors should be targeted as part of a long-term approach. See below for a review of what employees value compared to what they receive, in relation to wellbeing which is extremely valuable information.

I challenge you to do a deep dive and take a preventative approach to employee wellness as turning around dysfunctional workplaces is an arduous task and people deserve to be growing positively while at work and it is leaders and risk managers roles to ensure that, along with physical risks the human element is equally imperative.

Eddie Foord - Youphoria Group - Feature Writer

Eddie Foord, CEO & Founder, Youphoria Group
Eddie Foord is a forward-thinking, positive, output driven practitioner of environmental and health and safety management with a highly successful track record in identifying, managing and improving organizations environmental and health and safety aspects. He has experience in working with large multinationals and also small local organizations in a range of sectors.

He is the CEO and Founder of Youphoria Group, which is a Management Consultancy focused on protecting, preventing and relieving suffering to an ever greater number of organisations and clients through targeted effective problem solving, empowerment of men and women, conscious retail & funding suffering alleviation projects internationally.

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