Emerging Psychosocial Risks in the Workplace
New ways of working are giving rise to new psychosocial risks. The world of work tends to adopt ways of working that reflect the progress of society. Such changes have an impact on the organization of each company, but they also have the potential to generate harmful consequences on the physical and mental health of employees.
The types of illnesses and accidents in workplaces are also changing. In the most advanced countries, over the years, accident rate statistics have been reduced in terms of traditional physical risks (falls, landslides, poisoning, etc.). However, others of a psychological and social nature are increasing.
“Psychosocial factors can favor or harm people’s work activity and quality of working life.”
Psychosocial risks in the workplace are directly related to working conditions. They tend to be derived from high demand, temporality, or inflexible hours. They can either favor the development of the individual or limit it. When they have negative effects they become risks. These must be taken into account and identified in order to be prevented.
Work conditions become risks when they acquire the capacity to generate both physical and psychological damage to the employee. Moriano-León (2019) claims that psychosocial risks:
- Impact the fundamental rights of employees.
- Induce changes in the mental health of workers.
- Have legal coverage.
“A psychosocial risk is stress, workplace harassment, sexual harassment or work-family reconciliation.”
Certain factors are key when it comes to preventing risks of a psychological and social nature. Firstly, the way in which the workplace and its organization are designed, like schedules, and rigid or flexible work shifts. Secondly, the contents of the tasks to be performed or the amount of work they entail. Thirdly, the way in which they’re managed. This includes the leadership style and decision-making processes.
Emerging psychosocial risks are closely linked to technological, scientific, and political advances. They’re emergent because they arise in response to changes in processes or the technology employed.
It can also happen that, despite the fact that the psychosocial factor has been identified and studied, there’s new research that changes the way in which it’s perceived. For instance, a deterioration in mental health as a consequence of certain work conditions.
Furthermore, employees may be increasingly exposed to certain risks that previously only affected a small percentage of the population. For example, employees who work on screens whose prolonged light can impair vision. Moriano-León (2019) groups them into the following blocks:
Changes in the ways of hiring people
“I’ve been given a temporary contract”. “This month, I’ve had seven different contracts”. Do these statements ring a bell? Today’s reality is full of people who, despite having good qualifications tend to veer from one precarious contract to another.
In fact, the insecurity generated by this precarious kind of hiring is a new psychosocial risk. Among its consequences is the fact that employees tend to perform riskier tasks. In addition, the lack of stability in the workplace, and in the contractual sphere in particular, becomes a source of discomfort and stress.
Today, the age of retirement age is increasing. However, in old age cognitive abilities are far from being the same as when we were young. Deficits occur in memory, processing speed, attentional capacities, and even in the most basic functions of perception.
As a result, this segment of the population is more vulnerable than ever before to stress and the mental and emotional load derived from work. This is another example of an emerging psychosocial risk. And, despite having been identified for some time, it’s now being intensively reviewed, not only from a health perspective but also from a political one.
Increase in work intensity
In the past, jobs were mainly manual. Instead, today, employees handle data, often in truly overwhelming quantities. Consequently, the workload can reach levels that overwhelm an employee’s coping skills, thus fueling their feelings of helplessness.
“This risk is particularly present in highly competitive fields where workers may fear that their efficiency and performance will be more closely evaluated, and therefore tend to work longer hours to complete their tasks.”
There are two factors that can reduce the stress derived from an excessive workload. Firstly, social support from colleagues and supervisors. And, secondly, remuneration in the form of greater flexibility in terms of work hours.
This is an emerging psychosocial risk that’s particularly relevant in the health sector. In fact, work in the health profession is often so demanding, it produces compassion fatigue syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by an emotional overload produced by excess empathy.
The more demanding the job is, the greater the emotional workload of the health employee. For instance, if they’re forced to attend to more patients in less time, they’ll have less time for rest. Consequently, the negative impact of the psychosocial risks will be greater.
Today, programs are being developed to promote mental health at work. Their objective is to prevent its deterioration. One such example is the Great Place to Work program. Its mission is to increase the quality of life in the organizational context of the 21st century.
“The deterioration of health occurs not only when the threshold of discomfort and disease is crossed, but also when there is a loss of levels of well-being and quality of life.”
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
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López Núñez, M. I. (2020). Riesgos psicosociales emergentes: el conflicto trabajo-familia.
Moriano León, Juan Antonio. Alcover de Hera, Carlos María. (2019). Manual de Psicosociología aplicada a la prevención de riesgos laborales. Sanz y Torres.
Gil-Monte, P. R. (2012). Riesgos psicosociales en el trabajo y salud ocupacional. Revista peruana de Medicina Experimental y Salud pública, 29(2), 237-241.
Sánchez Gil, I. Y., & Pérez Martínez, V. T. (2008). El funcionamiento cognitivo en la vejez: atención y percepción en el adulto mayor. Revista cubana de medicina general integral, 24(2), 0-0.
- CAMACHO RAMIREZ, Adriana and MAYORGA, Daniela Rocío. RIESGOS LABORALES PSICOSOCIALES. PERSPECTIVA ORGANIZACIONAL, JURÍDICA Y SOCIAL. Prolegómenos [online]. 2017, vol.20, n.40 [cited 2023-01-19], pp.159-172. Available from: . ISSN 0121-182X. https://doi.org/10.18359/prole.3047.