August 31, 2022

Psychosocial risks at work: definitions and categories

Psychosocial risks at work: definitions and categories
Source: Dares "Conditions de travail-Risques psychosociaux" survey, 2016, 2019

When it comes to psychosocial risks, it's important to differentiate between PSR factors, psychosocial risks and their consequences for employee health and the company. In this article, we'll look at all these aspects, and suggest ways of combating RPS.

What are the possible psychosocial risks? 

Psychosocial risks, or RPS, are among the occupational illnesses that have a negative impact on mental health and can manifest themselves in different ways: 

  • stress 
  • burn-out 
  • depression 
  • harassment
  • aggression (verbal and/or moral) 

Psychosocial risk factors in the workplace 

In most cases, psychosocial risks are linked to a stressful work environment, tension and a form of mental oppression of the employee. It's important to understand that psychosocial risks can combine with one another: in this context, work-related stress and anxiety foster tension between employees, which naturally leads to a poor working atmosphere.

We can nevertheless distinguish a list of 5 factors characteristic of psychosocial risks: 

  • Work demands: excessive workloads, unclear tasks or lack of boundaries between private and professional spheres 
  • Emotions at work: the need to hide one's emotions in certain situations 
  • A lack of responsibility and autonomy : lack of autonomy in carrying out certain tasks and a lack of accountability. 
  • A difficult climate at work: poor employee relations 
  • A lack of safety at work : a feeling of lack of safety and comfort at work

Consequences of psychosocial risks in the workplace 

Exposure to this diversity of situations has numerous impacts on several levels. There are two main types of impact: on the health of employees and on the company itself. 

Psychosocial risks can result in a range of pathologies: 

  • Cardiovascular diseases, 
  • Musculoskeletal disorders, 
  • Emotional disorders, 
  • Digestive disorders, 
  • Hypertension,
  • Anxiety-depressive disorders.

What impacts the employee is reflected in the smooth running of the company, resulting in the appearance or accentuation of : 

  • Absenteeism,
  • Non-compliance with schedules,
  • Reduced productivity,
  • A deterioration in the social climate and the emergence of tensions between employees,
  • An increase in workplace accidents,
  • Social demonstrations and strikes.

How to combat psychosocial risks? 

Combating psychosocial risks primarily involves preventive work, both inside and outside the company. 

There are generally three levels of prevention: primary, secondary and tertiary. In 1948, the WHO (World Health Organization) defined this concept. At the same time, a new approach to prevention emerged, referring to "all measures aimed at avoiding or reducing the number and severity of diseases, accidents and handicaps". 

The three levels of prevention correspond to different types of action and intervention methods. 

The three forms of prevention are described in detail here: 

  • Tertiary prevention of RPS 

Tertiary prevention refers to a set of preventive actions called "curative" once the damage has occurred. In this case, the aim is to limit the consequences for employees. From the perspective of RPS, this means, for example, setting up a psychological unit to listen to employees. 

This type of prevention focuses mainly on psychological support, the creation of discussion workshops and measures to adapt working conditions (such as the reorganization of working hours). It can also lead to reintegration programs for employees who have experienced burn-out and are now back with the company. 

  • Secondary prevention of RPS

Secondary prevention encompasses preventive actions aimed at minimizing the impact on employees' health, by helping them to better control high-risk situations. In the context of RPS, this type of prevention can take the form of stress and crisis management training. 

This type of prevention can be combined with the implementation of protective measures, such as personalized support for employees. 

  • Primary prevention of RPS 

Primary prevention focuses on employees' primary working conditions, i.e. the environment in which they work and interact with each other, to minimize their exposure to risks and reduce risk factors.

This type of prevention mainly involves organizational methods such as team management and the assignment of tasks and missions. The manager plays a central role in team management and work structuring. 

Ultimately, the 3 levels of prevention can be summarized in a 3-dimensional diagram: 

The work environment can sometimes be a source of stress and anxiety for employees, with consequences for the whole structure. It is therefore important to pay greater attention to the organization of work, the distribution of tasks, and even time requirements to prevent RPS. This is the way to combat them and achieve a healthier, more balanced environment!

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