It is common to believe that psychological well-being is something that is addressed exclusively in clinical settings, such as in health centres or in the psychologist’s office, during psychotherapy sessions.

However, while these areas of intervention are very important for psychologists, their work goes far beyond this kind of specific situation.

One of the most relevant focuses of psychological counseling is found, for example, in companies, the organizational world. And in this context there is no shortage of work to be done: it is estimated that today around 30% of all sick leave is due to psychosocial risks , such as stress, fear of communicating problems, fatigue, low spirits, etc.

In these lines we will see how work is done in psychology to curb psychosocial risks in companies.

What are psychosocial risks?

In the organizational context, psychosocial risks are those patterns of interaction between the individual and his or her environment that increase the possibilities of a deterioration in the psychological well-being of people and in the quality and quantity of their work. Psychological health and performance are elements that go together, and therefore companies that take measures to prevent psychosocial risks enjoy several advantages, as we will see.

Thus, the very term “psychosocial risks” tells us what the nature of this concept is: it is about realities based on interaction, and they are not only found in the work space or in each worker individually.

In other words, psychosocial risks exist in the movement and in the interaction between everything that constitutes it (including its workers), the dynamism with which companies struggle to reach their goals and adapt to the new challenges posed by the environment.

As a psychologist specializing in anxiety and stress problems and in cognitive-behavioral psychology, I have seen that a misunderstood need for dynamism on the part of company management can be totally counterproductive, causing psychosocial risks to the physical and mental health of workers to skyrocket. Being dynamic is not about constantly putting the pedal to the metal, but about adapting to new times and new opportunities.

Why do these harmful psychosocial phenomena appear?

The psychosocial risks to the mental and physical health of a company’s workforce can degenerate into relatively varied problems and disorders: sleep disorders, poor management of anger and irritability, psychosomatic disorders, panic attacks, burnout syndrome… However, there is one psychological phenomenon to be highlighted, and one that is usually present in all others: sustained, excessive stress.

This “pathological” type of stress is that which can cause a worker to begin his or her downhill journey towards significant health deterioration. Being very stressed means feeling insecure in deciding what to do, which causes delays in production. It also often causes insomnia, with the resulting discomfort added to difficulties in concentrating on a task.

The fear of facing the problems to which stress has contributed generates in turn another added problem, procrastination, or the tendency to constantly postpone our responsibilities in order to keep them out of our minds.

And to this we must add that when working in interaction with others, one can also experience fear of communicating bad news, guilt for feeling responsible for a decline in overall performance, and even irritability with those who come to assign new tasks.

And all this, we must remember, can be happening at the same time in many workers of an organization . In the same way that in companies there are many people generating synergies and producing added value thanks to the fact of working in a certain system of coordination between professionals, if this same system of business operation has certain problems, it may be favouring the health of almost all its members.

What to do?

Having seen above what the extent of psychosocial risks can be, it is not surprising to learn that companies that prevent them and know how to tackle them in their earliest manifestations of symptoms are much more competitive and flexible than those that do not. Moreover, it is estimated that companies that maintain this type of psychological self-care are 55% more creative ; certainly, in environments where there is constant anxiety and pressure no one wants to risk going off the rails.

But what can companies do, in particular, to prevent disruption and ensure the overall well-being of workers?

The first step is to allow a “change of chip” in the company’s management , one in which the only objective is no longer frenetic production that can be evaluated in the very short term, an obsolete business model that is gradually becoming extinct in successful organizations that generate great added value. The need to connect empathetically with the workers and to lead without just giving orders must be brought to the table, to prevent problems from accumulating under the carpet because of this one-way street.

When working with organizations and companies, I apply the principles of cognitive-behavioral psychology centered on an ecological model developed by the Albor-Cohs Group, from which three elements are taken into account: the context, the skills and resources available to each person, and the perception of the demands of the environment (in this case, the company). Only on the basis of this global vision of the problem is it possible to respond to the needs of the people and the company in which they work.

In short, everything begins with a diagnosis of the situation that is not only centred on the person or the organisation, but on the whole that makes up the latter, a unit in movement. More than a photograph of something static, a follow-up of the company as a living entity.

Bibliographic references:

  • Rogelberg, S.G. (2002). Handbook of research methods in industrial and organizational psychology. Malden: Blackwell.
  • te Brake, J.; Bouman, A.; Gorter, R.; Hoogstraten, J.; Eijkman, M. (2008). Using the Maslach Burnout Inventory among dentists: Burnout measurement and trends. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology 36 (1): 69-75.