Identification and evaluation
Among the most important tools for managing psychosocial workload factors are systematic surveys and analysis. By analysing sources of work-related strain, employers can
- identify the factors that can put employees’ health at risk
- determine what action needs to be taken, and
- decide on which actions are the most important and the most urgent.
The same principles and processes apply to identifying and evaluating psychosocial workload factors as other risk factors in the workplace.
Identifying psychosocial workload factors
The first step is to identify as many of the factors that contribute to employees’ psychosocial workload in the workplace as possible. The aim is not to identify individual members of staff who might be suffering from work-related strain but workload factors that can have an adverse impact on the health of the work community as a whole. Sources of work-related strain vary according to the nature of the work, which is why employers should focus on identifying the factors that can contribute to their employees’ psychosocial workload in particular and that are associated with the work tasks that they perform.
There are a range of tools (such as a psychosocial workload questionnaire in the Centre for Occupational Safety’s handbook on risk assessment in the workplace) that employers can use to identify typical workload factors and that can help them to choose the right factors to evaluate. Employers can also identify sources of work-related strain by means of human resources surveys or by interviewing employees’ representatives. In addition, information about workload factors can be collected from documents such as the occupational health care provider’s workplace survey reports, records of working hours or minutes of performance reviews.
Employers also have a duty to evaluate risks relating to their employees’ working hours. More information about the role of working hours in risk assessments is available in the occupational safety and health administration's release for workplaces No 2/2013 (pdf, in Finnish).
Employers also need to be prepared to identify workload factors that can potentially contribute to work-related strain within a specific department, unit or profession in order to ensure that all workload factors are taken into account. However, employers are not expected to consult every individual employee, and instead the information can be collected on a group basis. Employees’ contribution to the identification of workload factors is important, as they ultimately know the demands of their job better than anyone.
Evaluating the magnitude of risks
The second step is to evaluate which of the identified psychosocial workload factors can have a harmful impact on employees’ health, what the potential effects on health are, and the likelihood of the potential adverse effects on health. Employers can use the results of the assessment to identify the workload factors that require urgent action to lower the associated risk and those that do not need to be prioritised. Alternatively, the assessment can show that the existing arrangements are enough to manage the identified sources of work-related strain.
It can be difficult to evaluate the effect of workloads on health, as psychosocial workload factors typically only begin to impact on health over a longer period of time. The symptoms of employees suffering from work-related strain can also vary considerably from one individual to the next. The evaluation should therefore be seen more as a general risk assessment aimed at evaluating how likely the identified workload factors are to have an impact on employees’ psychological or physical health.
Occupational health care professionals’ contribution to risk assessment
The workload factors identified in the course of the risk assessment then need to be compared against existing information on employees’ health, such as records of sickness absences and the occupational health care provider’s records of employees’ work ability and functional capacity, as well as general information on the impact of work-related strain on health. The magnitude of the associated risks also needs to be evaluated taking into account the characteristics of the work community, such as the age distribution of employees.
Evaluating the impact of psychosocial workload factors on health is often left to occupational health care professionals, as the process requires in-depth knowledge of the medical significance of work-related strain.