August 31, 2022

Psychosocial risks at work: definitions and categories

Psychosocial risks at work: definitions and categories
Source: Dares "Working conditions-Psychosocial risks" survey, 2016, 2019

When talking about psychosocial risks, it is important to differentiate between the factors of PSR, the psychosocial risks and their consequences on the health of the employees but also on the company. In this article, we will address all these aspects, while proposing methods to combat PSR.

What are the possible psychosocial risks? 

Psychosocial risks or PSRs are among the occupational diseases that negatively affect mental health and can manifest themselves in different forms: 

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

Psychosocial risk factors at work 

Psychosocial risks are in most cases related to a stressful work environment, tension, and a form of mental oppression of the employee. It is important to understand that psychosocial risks can be combined: in this context, the stress and anguish linked to the work favour the development of tensions between employees, which naturally lead to a bad atmosphere at work.

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

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

Consequences of psychosocial risks at work 

Exposure to this diversity of situations has numerous impacts on several levels. There are two main types of consequences: 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 and depression disorders.

What impacts the employee is reflected on the proper functioning of the company, we then witness the appearance or the accentuation of : 

  • Absenteeism,
  • Non-respect of schedules,
  • A decrease in productivity,
  • A deterioration in the social climate and the appearance of tensions between employees,
  • An increase in work-related accidents,
  • Demonstrations and social strikes.

How to fight against psychosocial risks? 

Combating psychosocial risks requires, above all, prevention work that must be carried out 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 appeared and referred to "all measures aimed at avoiding or reducing the number and severity of diseases, accidents and handicaps". 

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

Here we give you the three forms of prevention in detail: 

  • Tertiary prevention of PSR 

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

This type of prevention is mainly focused on psychological support, the creation of discussion workshops as well as measures to adapt working conditions (such as the reorganization of working hours). It can also lead to reintegration programs for employees who have experienced burnout and are back in the company. 

  • Secondary prevention of PSR

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

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 the primary working conditions of employees, i.e. the environment in which they work and interact with each other, in order to minimize their exposure to risks and reduce risk factors.

This type of prevention mainly involves organizational methods such as team management or the assignment of tasks and missions. We note here the importance of the manager who plays a central role in the management of the team and in the structuring of the work. 

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

The work environment can sometimes be a source of stress and anxiety for employees, which has consequences for the entire organization. It is therefore important to pay more attention to the organization of work, the distribution of tasks, or the time requirements to prevent RPS, this is how you will manage to fight them and achieve a healthier and balanced environment!

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