The Covid pandemic has negatively affected almost every person in the world in one way or another, but it has also stimulated positive change in the world of work with increased awareness of the importance of addressing employee mental wellbeing.  This has led to the recent release of ISO 45003 – a document providing guidelines for managing psychosocial risks in the workplace.

ISO45003 was published in June 2021 and is designed to be used within an organisation’s occupational health and safety management system, ISO45001, which was published in March 2018.  These guidelines are applicable to organisations of all sizes and in all sectors for the development, implementation, maintenance and continual improvement of healthy and safe workplaces. 

While occupational health and safety has always been considered by most companies when it comes to the physical work environment and risk of physical injury, consideration of the psychosocial work environment and potential risk of psychological harm has certainly not been on an equal footing. 

ISO45003 provides guidance on planning, implementing, reviewing, evaluating and improvement the psychosocial risks in the workplace through a number of clauses.  And importantly, it frequently reminds readers that the success of psychosocial risk management depends on commitment from all levels and function of the organization, especially from top management.  I think this is particularly important when we are talking about psychological harm in the workplace due to the stigma that is often associated with it – with top management on board, this stigma can hopefully be reduced as well.

The psychosocial risks are divided into three categories:

  1. Aspects of how work is organised;
  2. Social factors at work; and
  3. Work environment, equipment and hazardous tasks.

In the first category, aspects of how work is organised, there are eight criteria that should be considered such as roles and expectations, autonomy and job demands.  The social factors at work category has twelve criteria, which include risks related to interpersonal relationships, leadership, and recognition and reward.  The third category, the smallest of the three is work environment, equipment and hazardous tasks, which is included based on the premise that the physical workplace can also induce psychological harm in certain instances.  Here only five factors are mentioned such as poor working conditions and unstable environments.

What I realised as I was reading through the document is that there is some overlap and repetition amongst the different categories and criteria.  For example, “role conflict” under “Roles and expectations” essentially has the same meaning as “conflicting demands and deadlines” under “Job demands”.  There could therefore be some shortening of the category lists although this is purely academic.

What I also realised is that all of the causes (or domains) of Burnout are included in the psychosocial risks listed in the ISO45003 document, namely job demands, autonomy, positive reinforcement, interpersonal relationships, fairness and values.  Although values are not listed as such, this is covered under “civility and respect”, which is a criteria in the “Social factors at work” category.  It should not therefore come as a surprise that failure to identify and manage psychosocial risks in the workplace is likely to increase the risk of employee Burnout.

Let me end this short article by concluding that while there is no legal obligation, by establishing and maintaining ongoing and proactive processes for identifying and managing psychosocial risks/hazards, organisations can expect many benefits including the following:

  • Reduction in turnover
  • Reduction in absenteeism
  • Reduction in presenteeism
  • Reduction in injury and illness
  • Reduction in disability claims
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased morale and team cohesion
  • Improved interpersonal relationships

If you would like to know more about the psychosocial risks in the workplace as covered in the ISO45003, I am doing a short 30-minute presentation of these on three different days at the end of May 2022.  There is no cost to attend these presentations – all you have to do is pick your date of choice from the three below and send me a mail:

  • Wednesday 25 May : 09h00 – 09h30
  • Thursday 26 May     : 12h00 – 12h30
  • Tuesday 31 May      : 16h00 – 16h30

Take care everyone.

Your Partner in Mental Health Matters @ Work,



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