Controlling the risks to mental health and safety

The potential benefits of establishing a mentally healthy and safe workplace are substantial, for both your people and your business.

When workplaces get it right, the benefits can include an increase in employee productivity and morale, and a decrease in the costs associated with mentally ill-health related absenteeism, presenteeism and compensation claims.

On the other hand, failing to adequacy address mental health in the workplace can negatively impact on the performance, productivity and attendance of employees. On top of this, compensation claims for psychological injuries can be some of the costliest, averaging more than three times the amount of those of a physical nature.

Employers also have a duty under Workplace health and safety regulations to manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace to eliminate or minimise the risks to the psychological health and safety of their people so far as reasonably practicable.

Every workplace is different, so what psychosocial hazards exist and how they are managed will depend on many factors, such as the work environment, organisational context and the nature of work performed. Below we have broken down five common psychosocial hazards that can exist in the workplace and the potential solutions for how they can be mitigated or managed.

Five common psychosocial hazards and tips on how to control them:

1. High job demand

High job demand is where the levels of physical, mental or emotional effort are unreasonable or exceed a person’s skills and abilities. This might include:

  • high workloads with unrealistic timeframes to complete tasks,
  • conflicting demands and deadlines,
  • unrealistic expectations,
  • long periods of work and not enough breaks, or
  • working with aggressive or distressed people

High job demand can result employees becoming overwhelmed and at risk of psychological distress. Individuals can be much more productive when there is a good balance between work allocation and their capacity.


  • Review organisational structure against service delivery requirements.
  • Re-negotiate service delivery expectations.
  • Support increased part-time and job share arrangements.
  • Cross develop employees across different areas of the organisation.
  • Ensure workers have adequate rest and recovery times.
  • Roster enough workers on each shift.
  • Ensure there are enough appropriately skilled staff for the work required.
  • Allow enough time for tasks to be completed safely.
  • Set achievable performance targets.
  • Improve the workplace design to eliminate physically demanding tasks.
  • Provide quiet spaces for workers doing mentally demanding work.
  • Have regular discussions with employees to ensure they understood and can manage job demands.
  • Regularly review and update work policies and procedures.
  • Provide training where necessary to ensure workers have the skills required to perform their role.

2. Lack of role clarity

Role clarity is the understanding an individual has of the tasks, responsibilities and expectations required of them in their job, as well as how their role contributes to the broader goals of the organisation. Lack of role clarity may include:

  • unclear roles and reporting lines,
  • role conflict,
  • conflicting or frequently changing expectations and work standards,
  • not being given information needed to do the job, or
  • unclear work priorities.

Having strong role clarity enables workers to better direct their energy to achieve the required results of the job. This leads to a greater sense of achievement and job satisfaction for the individual, and increased productivity for the organisation. However, if an individual has uncertainty around what is expected of it may lead to psychological distress.


  • Provide clear and measurable KPIs/performance expectations.
  • Provide clear position descrition which outline the requirements of each role. Ensure these are updated following any changes.
  • Ensure service delivery responsibilities and timeframes are communicated and adhered to by all.
  • Ensure policies and procedures are communicated and role modeled throughout the organisation.
  • Provide all workers with a thorough induction process.
  • Have regular performance conversations with employees and encourage feedback.
  • Provide performance conversation training for managers.
  • Have clear lines of reporting which are communicated to employees (e.g. detailed in an organisational chart).
  • Change tasks or processes that frequently create conflict, confusion, or result in frequent mistakes.

3. Poor change management

Change can span from small and seemingly insignificant to confronting and life-changing (e.g., changing desks, to large scale organisational change).  How individuals respond to change may depend on their history, personality, span of control, perceived impacts, involvement and more. Poor organisational change management may include:

  • lack of support provided during periods of change,
  • prolonged or recurring restructuring, and
  • lack of or poor communication about changes in the workplace.

Individuals can thrive and positively influence others through change when it is managed and communicated well. However, the risk of psychological distress increases during change if there is uncertainty or fear of an undesirable outcome.  


  • Have a change management plan and make it available to staff.
  • Have a staff communication plan - ensuring communication is regular and transparent.
  • Have genuine consultations with staff on proposed changes (allowing feedback to potentially alter the decision and plans and providing an explanation if feedback and ideas aren’t taken on board).
  • Train managers on how to lead people through change.
  • Communicate change and any impacts it will have to customers and suppliers.
  • Provide emotional support to help workers cope with change and uncertainty (e.g. psycholgical first aid).

4. Poor workplace relationships

Poor workplace relationships can include:

  • poor relationships with managers, supervisors, co-workers, etc.,
  • poor communication,
  • interpersonal conflict,
  • harassment, bullying, victimization or violence, or
  • lack of social support.

Having positive working relationships can contribute to a person’s resilience, engagement, job satisfaction and general wellbeing. However, there is an increased risk of psychological distress when there is a lack of, or damage to, interpersonal relationships within the workplace. Personal relationships outside of the workplace may also manifest as wellbeing and performance issues.


  • Have clear values and behaviour expectations which are communicated to and understood by all employees (e.g., via a values workshop).
  • Improve workplace culture, e.g., call out inappropriate behaviour, addresses under-performance, etc.  
  • Have Job and Person Specifications (J&PS) that reflect not just technical expertise and knowledge, but also behavioural expectations.
  • Ensure regular check-ins between peers and manager.
  • Conduct team building activities.
  • Use mediation (informal or formal) to address conflict promptly.
  • Provide staff training on relevant issues, e.g., bullying and harassment, respectful behaviour.
  • Provide peer contact support officers.

5. Inadequate recognition and reward

Inadequate recognition and reward occurs when there is an imbalance between a worker’s effort and the recognition or rewards they recieve, both formal and informal. This might include:

  • unfair or biased recognition and rewards,
  • lack of appropriate acknowledgement and appreciation of workers, or
  • lack of, or unfair and negative, feedback.

When an employee feels acknowledged and rewarded for their work and achievements, they are likely to feel more empowered, have higher job satisfaction and be more engaged, which leads to increased job retention. Alternatively, when an employee does not receive the recognition they believe they deserve, this can result in dis-engagement, cynicism, feeling devalued and burnt out.


  • Have a reward and recognition strategy.
  • Use fair, transparent and meaningful ways to recognise and reward employees efforts.
  • Create a culture of praise amongst teams.
  • Understand the individuals and cohorts within the workplace and what they value.
  • Ensure both formal and informal recognition and feedback occurs.
  • Ensure leader know how, or develop their abilities, to provide constructive feedback and recognise good performance.
  • Provide training for leaders on how to have difficult conversations and how to correctly manage underperformance issues.

It’s important to note that this is not an exhaustive list, you should always use the risk management process to identify what the hazards at your workplace are, assess the risks they create and implement the right controls for your organisation.

Healthy Business have recently partnered with Adaptive Psychology to provide our customers with subject matter expertise in organisational psychology, and to assist with the proactive mitigation and/or management of a range of common psychosocial hazards.  

Find out more about more about the psychosocial hazards we can assist you with here.

When psychosocial hazards are effectively managed to create a menally healthy and safe workplace, organisations can benefit from a happier, healthier and more productive team.

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