When we consider workplace safety, most of us are familiar with understanding the physical demands of various jobs, as well as ensuring the physical nature of work, as well as the broader organizational environment is safe when it comes to workers’ physical safety. These same principles apply to the psychological demands of work – which refer to the interpersonal and emotional demands, requirements, and competencies required.
Psychological demands of any given job should be documented and assessed in conjunction with the physical demands of the job. Psychological demands of the job will allow organizations to determine whether any given activity of the job might be a hazard to worker’s health and well-being. When hazards are identified, organizations should consider ways of minimizing risks, for example through work redesign, analysis of work systems, or risk assessment.
The assessment of psychological demands should include: assessment of time stressors; breaks and rest periods; incentive systems; job monotony and the repetitive nature of work; and hours of work (including overtime or shift work requirements).
Why is Attention to Psychological Demands Important?
Interpersonal and emotional competencies refer to skills related to managing emotions and relationships, including effectively solving challenging people problems at work. When there is a strong fit between workers’ psychological skills and strengths and the requirements of the position they hold, physical health complaints and depression are reduced. Workers have greater self-esteem and a more positive self-concept. A strong fit between one’s emotional and interpersonal skills and the job that they do also leads to enhanced performance, job satisfaction and retention. This means that employees not only possess the technical skills and knowledge for a particular position, but they also have the psychological skills and emotional intelligence to do the job.
Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, impulse control, persistence, self-motivation, empathy and social deftness. Of note is the fact that subjective job fit has been found to be more important than an objective job fit, meaning it is more important for employees to feel they fit their job, rather than being assessed and matched to the job.
What happens when there is a misfit between employees’ psychological competencies and the requirements of the position they hold?
When a workers’ psychological capabilities and the requirements of their position do not match, this may result in job strain.
This strain can be expressed as emotional distress and arousal, excessive cognitive rumination, defensiveness, energy depletion and lower mood levels. Organizationally, a misfit between the competencies and requirements of a role is linked to a reduction of applicants in the recruitment and training process, lack of enjoyment and engagement, poor productivity, conflict, and greater voluntary turnover.
An organization with a good psychological demands assessment process for its workers would be able to state that the organization:
- considers existing work systems and allows for work redesign;
- assesses worker demand and job control issues such as physical and psychological job demands;
- assesses the level of job control and autonomy afforded to its workers;
- monitors the management system to address behaviours that impact workers and the workplace;
- values worker input, particularly during periods of change and the execution of work;
- monitors the level of emphasis on production issues;
- reviews its management accountability system that deals with performance issues and how workers can report errors; and
- emphasizes recruitment, training, and promotion practices that aim for the highest level of interpersonal competencies at work.
How Psychological Demands can be Addressed in the Workplace
First, we want to ensure there is a good fit between workers’ interpersonal and emotional competencies and their job-related psychological demands. This means not only determining whether or not a person has the technical skills to perform the task associated with the job, but also has the skills needed to manage interpersonal relationships, including effectively solving challenging people problems at work. These factors should also be taken into account during the promotion process. Not all individuals have the interpersonal and emotional skills to be people leaders, for example.
Ongoing training is also important. People leaders should be trained in order to evaluate an applicant’s potential interpersonal and emotional fit with a specific position and the organization. And all workers should be provided with training to improve their emotional intelligence skills. This is particularly important for those positions that are particularly demanding.
Finally, there should be ongoing communication among teams about the psychological demands of the work. Team members that demonstrate effective emotional and interpersonal competencies and skills should be recognized. Also, those who may be struggling with particular aspects of the work should be provided with opportunities to discuss problems, ask questions, nd seek feedback on their work. Organizations should also provide opportunities, where possible, for internal employees to explore other positions that may be a better fit based on their interpersonal and emotional competencies.
Psychological Demands and Workplace Policies
There are ways psychological demands at work can be addressed within workplace policies. This includes having detailed job descriptions and job ads that clearly describe the required interpersonal and emotional requirements involved in each position. This also includes having a probationary period for new hires to ensure there is a mutually acceptable fit in the position and within the organization. As well as to provide an opportunity to recognize where additional training and supports are necessary.
Final Thoughts on Psychological Demands – Ongoing Improvement
When we think about safety in the workplace, it’s important to not only address the things that impact a worker’s physical safety, but also those that impact psychological safety. The psychological demands in a workplace, or in a particular position, have a significant impact on one’s psychological health. A conflict between the psychological demands of a position and a worker’s interpersonal and emotional skills can lead to ongoing challenges within the work environment. It can also contribute to or worsen existing mental health issues.
It’s important to not only consider the fit between each workers’ skills and the position they are being hired or promoted to, but also to provide all workers, as well as people leaders, with opportunities to develop their emotional intelligence skills.
Psychological Demands is psychosocial factor 5 from the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety (PH&S) in the Workplace (CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013 – Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace). For more information, see also Guarding Minds at Work (Samra et al.).