Minimisation of work-related strain

Psychosocial workload factors can be managed just as systematically as factors relating to the physical work environment.

Risk assessments provide employers with information on what corrective action needs to be taken and how urgently. Employers have a duty to minimise the risks associated with, and the harmful effects of, psychosocial workload factors.

Every workplace is different, and there is no such thing as a quick fix. Careful analysis and assessment of sources of work-related strain help employers to identify the psychosocial workload factors that require the most urgent attention. The rule of thumb is that factors that affect the most employees and that pose the biggest threat to employees’ health should be prioritised.

How to alleviate work-related strain?

The ways in which employers can help to reduce their employees’ workloads can be grouped according to their objective. Employers can

  1. eliminate or minimise harmful workload factors
  2. provide employees with tools for managing their workloads, and
  3. set up a support network for employees suffering from work-related strain.

The harmful effects of psychosocial workload factors can be efficiently prevented by combining actions with different objectives. As a rule, all workload factors that pose a significant risk must be addressed in one way or another. If the risk is low, providing employees with appropriate tools and putting efficient procedures in place for dealing with employees who are suffering from work-related strain can be enough.

Targeting the root of the problem

If a risk assessment reveals psychosocial workload factors that pose a significant risk to employees’ health, the most important goal is to identify the underlying reasons in order to be able to target corrective action at the root of the problem. This is the most effective way to prevent the problem from putting employees’ health at risk. Corrective action can be aimed at ensuring the availability of human resources, simplifying processes, better planning and a more efficient distribution of responsibilities, improving management practices, creating new communication channels, or giving employees a stronger voice.

 

Workload factor Examples of ways to prevent adverse
effects on employees’ health
Unreasonably high workloads - reorganisation or redistribution of work tasks
- better division of responsibilities
- introduction of simpler processes
- more efficient prioritisation
Lack of support from management - clearer job descriptions for managers
- more managerial resources
- managerial training
- clearer managerial procedures
- better tools for managers
Shift work - reduction of shift work
- introduction of a better shift-work system (e.g. a rapidly rotating shift-work system)
- better shift planning
- introduction of procedures that allow employees to plan their own shifts

Ways in which employees can manage their workloads

Work is inherently straining, and it is not always possible to avoid or eliminate sources of work-related strain. For example, employees in customer-service roles cannot avoid difficult customers altogether, and employees in the transport sector need to be vigilant at all times. However, employers have a duty to provide these kinds of employees with means to manage their workloads, such as training, flexible working hours, proper breaks, emotional support and feedback or other benefits.

It is the employer’s responsibility to provide their employees with proper training and instructions. Employees must be given

  • enough information about psychosocial workload factors in the workplace; in the case of shift work, for example, employers have a duty to ensure that their employees understand the impact that shift work has on health and know how to prevent the harmful effects of shift work
  • education and instructions on safe procedures in order to prevent the harmful effects of work-related strain; for example, employees responsible for information processing can be given advice on time management and the use of tools for managing e-mails or memory capacity, and
  • instructions on how to let their employer know if they are feeling overwhelmed.

Ways to help employees suffering from work-related strain

Employers also need to be prepared to deal with employees whose workloads have become an issue. It is the employer’s responsibility to make sure that cases in which work-related strain is impacting on an employee’s health are detected at an early enough stage to allow the employee to continue working. It is also the employer’s duty to agree on procedures for maintaining employees’ work ability with their occupational health care provider. Such procedures can include, among others,

  • early-intervention policies
  • procedures for reintegrating employees into the workforce, and
  • rehabilitation.

Follow-up

Risk assessment is an ongoing process in which following up on the success of any corrective action taken plays a crucial part. It is the employer’s responsibility to monitor whether their employees’ workloads have become more manageable and whether further action is needed.

Any changes in the employees’ working conditions also need to be taken into account. A new risk assessment must be carried out and the report revised whenever circumstances change to a material degree.