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Managing high or low job demand stress

Queensland’s new Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice provides practical guidance for duty holders on obligations to eliminate or minimise risks to psychological health at work. The code does not create a new WHS duty or expand existing duties but explains how to meet these duties and comes into effect in April 2023.

There are 14 common psychosocial hazards outlined in the code, one of which is High and/or low job demands. High job demands refer to sustained or intense high levels of physical, mental, and/or emotional demands. They become a hazard when they are excessive, unreasonable, or chronically exceed worker capacity. It is not just ‘being a little busy’.

Sustained very low levels of job demands (e.g., monotonous work) can also be a hazard when severe, prolonged, or frequent. It is not just an occasional shift where work is slow. High or low job demands may cause harm when severe, prolonged or frequent.

What are some workplace examples?

Situations that may impact time pressure and role overload include:

  • allocating tasks beyond a worker’s competence or capacity
  • placing excessive expectations on workers to learn new tasks quickly
  • giving unreasonable deadlines for work tasks or being pressured to complete work tasks outside of work hours or while on leave
  • a lack of resources to complete tasks (be it people, financial or physical resources)
  • absence of team members
  • needing to quickly evaluate complex situations and make decisions under pressure, such as in medical or policing work.

Situations that may impact emotional demand include:

  • dealing with complaints or delivering bad news to customers, clients or workers
  • engaging in performance talks with underperforming workers or undertaking disciplinary processes
  • providing support to people who are emotionally distressed
  • job requirements that specify workers can only express organisationally approved emotions while at work (flight attendants being directed to always be happy and smiling while on duty).

Situations that may lead to challenging work hours or shift work include:

  • frequent night shifts or long shifts
  • unpredictable shift patterns
  • regular or unplanned overtime
  • shifts with little time for sleep and recovery
  • workers prevented from taking breaks from work tasks
  • where there is an expectation of out of hours responsiveness and availability.

Situations which may lead to low job demands include:

  • having little mental stimulation or problem solving
  • repetitive tasks with little variety
  • monotonous work
  • vigilance or sorting tasks (sorting fruit, monitoring CCTV cameras, stop/go machine operation)
  • allocation of tasks well below a worker’s competence or capacity.

These demands can cause psychological or physical harm or injury, and/or fatalities.

As a worker, you must take reasonable care of your own health and safety in your place of work, and the health and safety of others affected by your actions. You must follow any reasonable instructions given by the PCBU or employer.

As a PCBU, you have a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of your workers and others in your place of work. You must provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a safe and healthy work environment and talk with your workers (and other PCBUs) about WHS issues. Following a four-step risk management process will help your business meet its responsibilities.

More information

The Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work code of practice 2022 provides practical guidance on applying the risk management process to psychosocial risks and hazards, responding to complaints, incidents or reports of psychosocial hazards, and issue and dispute resolution.