How to prevent psychosocial risk factors within your company

The psychosocial risk factors concern threats for the physical and mental health of employees caused by the work conditions, internal organization and work relations. Prevalent but often neglected, they are a real hazard for both the employees and the company.

The implementation of a procedure for improving employee experience (policies, survey and QWL barometer, etc.), is part of a psychosocial risk factors prevention project. If, over the past few years, well-being has become one of the stakes for HR operations, the current pandemic has only pushed it higher up the list of priorities.

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What are "psychosocial risk factors"?

Psychosocial risk factors are situations that can put the employees mental and physical health at risk: stress at work, burnout, absences...

They are accompanied by a serie of factors of varied intensity that can be cumulative in more serious cases:

  • excessive mental workload, painful conditions at the workstation, lack of autonomy;
  • harassment, value conflicts, degraded social relations;
  • Insults, threats.

If these factors escalate, we can talk about psychosocial risk factors. Increasingly prevalent in companies, they are divided into three categorie:

  • stress (associated with excessive workload, lacking means or autonomy),
  • internal violence (associated with harassment or conflict),
  • external violence (associated with insults, threats or even aggression).

The consequences for employees' health go from burnout to suicide (in the worst-case scenarios), and include anxiety, depression, cardiovascular diseases, etc.

The consequences of psychosocial risk factors for companies

The impact of psychosocial risk factors on employees

Exposure to these work situations has an impact on employees' health, particularly regarding cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal conditions, anxio-depressive disorders, burnout, or even suicide.

The severity of the consequences depends on the employees, but in all cases they reflect a certain lack of well-being in the workplace. 45% of French workers say that they always have to rush, and 25% are afraid of losing their jobs (INRS). Almost 9 out of 10 French workers experience stress, according to a study led by OpinionWay at the end of 2017. These daily sources of anxiety feed psychosocial risk factors.

The effects of psychosocial risk factors on companies

The damages caused by psychosocial risk factors don't solely concern the employees, as they can spread throughout the whole company. Harmful effects can be seen on its financial performance. An employee experiencing burnout doesn't work as efficiently, is less focused, less creative, etc. The impact is therefore reflected in revenue.

The consequences of psychosocial risk factors are particularly costly : absences, reduced productivity, reduced activity, premature deaths, etc

The social cost of stress in the workplace is estimated at between 1.9 and 3 billion euros per year in France. Absences alone cost French companies 108 billion euros each year. If the direct costs of absences (sick leave) are often the first to come to mind, the indirect costs should not be ignored (reduced productivity, team demotivation, need for replacements, etc.) as they are equally as consequent.

Measuring psychosocial risk factors

Detecting the causes of psychosocial risk factors

To detect psychosocial risk factors, you need to identify their causes:

  • socio-economic environment of the company (uncertainties for the future of the company, lack of sense in work, etc.);
  • work relations (authoritarian management, lack of mutual help, etc.);
  • work organization (conflicting demands, unstable work contracts, etc.);
  • task or content of the work to be done (excessive amount of work, difficulties in carrying out missions, etc.);
  • physical or technical environment (unsuitable design of workspaces, physical issues, etc.).
Detecting the causes of absences from work

In 70% of cases, sick leave doesn't last more than a few days, and it is often related to benign seasonal illnesses such as the flu. However, these reasons only justify occasional absences, on an individual scale. It is therefore necessary to understand the reasons for excessively frequent absences of an employee or within a team.

A high absence rate can have several causes:

  • If health problems or physical ailments are generalized amongst teams, you need to probe the associated psychosocial risk factors. A bad back experienced by several employees is perhaps caused by poor ergonomics workstations.
  • If your employees are suffering from physical and psychological ailments, this can be a sign of a lack of well-being in the workplace. So, you will need to identify their root causes. Too much stress at work? Tensions in a team or harassment?
  • Finally, if absences are mostly unjustified, it is possible that the employees are suffering from loss of motivation and disengagement from their work. To solve this, you need to understand the generalized dissatisfaction. Loss of meaning at work? Low-value and low-stimulation missions? Etc.

Tools for measuring psychosocial risk factors: key indicators

There are four indicators commonly used for assessing psychosocial risk factors.

Absence rate (for health reasons)

This psychosocial risk factor indicator is calculated as follows:

Number of days’ leave for illness

Total number of employees

Maternity, paternity or parental leaves, or leave for training, should not be taken in consideration for this calculation.

Turnover rate (or staff rotation):

The rotation rate is the ratio between the number of departures and the average number of staff employed.

This psychosocial risk factor indicator is calculated as follows:

(Number of arrivals + number of departures) /2

Average number of staff employed

The average number of staff employed is calculated this way:

Number of staff employed at the end of each month


Rate of requested visits to the prevention doctor:

This psychosocial risk factor indicator is based on the number of spontaneous requests for the prevention doctor, for 100 employees.

Analyze your psychosocial risk factor indicators

Once the figures have been identified for each given psychosocial risk factor, it's time to analyze them.

For this, several observations need to be made:

  • Evolution over time: how each indicator develops over time? Is there an increase in visits to the prevention doctor or turnover rate? What is the trend?
  • The differences between teams: Do the psychosocial risk factors observed concern the whole company? Just one team? One type of population (e.g. new arrivals, etc.) in particular?
  • The trend in your sector: does your company have a high turnover rate? Compare your rate with the ones of similar companies as it can be inherent to your business sector (warning: it’s not a reason not to want to minimize them).

Preventing psychosocial risk factors

There are several solutions to help employees who don't feel comfortable in their workplace. Prevention doctors or psychologists can help "treat" and reduce psychosocial risk factors. Furthermore, measuring and monitoring tools for employee well-being also serve as preventative measures.

How to prevent psychosocial risk factors

We often attribute responsibility for managing psychosocial risk factors to Human Resources. However, management and employees also play a central role in preventing psychosocial risk factors.

Here is a three steps methodology that will help you identify and prevent psychosocial risk factors:

  • Observe work conditions, particular on the field. Consider also developing a spontaneous feedback culture. When working in a climate of trust and sharing, employees find it easier to express their feelings and needs. This often enables you to take a preventative, rather than curative, approach.
  • Send regular survey to your teams to monitor the evolution of employee experience indicators. You'll get concrete quantitative results.
  • Organize a focus group and specific surveys on more sensitive topics. You'll get qualitative and quantitative feedback on deep-rooted causes of dissatisfaction.

Act concretely to tackle psychosocial risk factors

There are three levers to tackle psychosocial risk factors:

  • Train yourself and the managers about the various symptoms. No symptom should be left unnoticed, and each one should be followed by actions. The quicker they're identified, the easier it will be to tackle them.
  • Work on the meaning of work. Think about developing a vision so that each employee can understand their role and value. This is one of the main levers for employee engagement.
  • Emphasize management's responsibility for combating isolation and promoting social interactions. Workload distribution, celebration of individuals' accomplishments, autonomy must be placed at the heart of the managerial vision.

Furthermore, think about measuring the results of your actions, in order to adjust them little by little. Don't forget that reducing psychosocial risk factors is a long-term task, and its results won't be visible straight away.

Combating absenteeism

To combat absenteeism, start from identifying the source of the absence, then work from there.

  • Establish a climate of trust. Encourage positive management, invite your teams to express themselves, even on difficult subjects… The biggest mistake with repeated absences is creating a punishment-based or meritocracy system.
  • Re-evaluate regularly employees' missions, to avoid boredom and loss of passion. You could, for example, offer skill-building training or develop the employees' missions or role.
  • Offer a flexible working environment. Adapt hours, when the activity allows, to the lifestyle rhythm (picking up kids from school, starting earlier or later on certain days depending on needs, etc.).
Reducing stress in the workplace

In order to act concretely on stress at work, follow these three steps:

  • identify the "alarm signal". Detect weak signals of stress within a team or on a project.
  • Take the time to review the situation. Organize communication with the concerned employees to assess the situation and give each one a chance to express themselves.
  • Implement an action plan. Once the diagnosis is done, you'll need to define the actions to be taken. You can change certain procedures, communicate more internally or allow remote work during intense company periods, for example.