Psychological Hazards in the Workplace

by Victoria Duff Google

Alberta Health Services defines psychological hazards in the workplace as things that cause a worker mental distress or distraction. The following are identified as examples of psychological hazards commonly found in the workplace: Violence, bullying and harassment from co-workers or clients, expected work pace, too much or too little work, individual performance pressure, worker phobias, lack of motivation, lack of leadership and work procedures, fatigue or burnout and shift work. Other hazards are the result of tensions created by mixing genders or races in an industry where no diversity had been the norm.

Workplace Violence

Workplace violence, bullying and harassment are particularly dangerous in a workplace. Occurrences are often the result of personality conflicts between co-workers or between staff and supervisors. The termination or discipline of a worker is an event that often creates resentment in co-workers as well as the person being disciplined. Ordinary daily activities may cause a grudge over a slight, whether real or imagined, and this is made even more problematic when employees are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Personal problems can also result in workplace violence and negative behavior. Relationship problems at home or financial or legal problems can create emotional reactions at work. Personality conflicts, grudges and other personal emotional problems can result in an employee bringing weapons to work, endangering everyone present. The Federal Bureau of Inbvestigation recommends planning procedures to handle workplace violence, conducting regular threat assessments and collaboration with local law enforcement, human resources consultants and mental health workers.


A stressful work environment contributes to mental distress and distraction. Lack of organization, lax procedures, unreasonable work pace requirements and poor leadership all lead to stress for employees. Stress leads to mistakes, and mistakes can result in crisis situations. A department that is always operating in response to one crisis after another is a breeding ground for further mistakes. The solution is to reorganize work pace, procedures and quality control to reduce stress levels. A reduction in the stress level of your department will also improve employee morale and reduce the likelihood of violence, bullying and harassment.


People don't always understand or like each other, particularly if there are different genders, races, cultures or religions involved. Bullying, harassment and sexual aggression are common results. Sensitivity training is a standard solution, guiding diverse workforces to feel more comfortable with change by helping individuals recognize the basic similarities between them, even though there may be differences in skills, work habits, ideas of propriety and lifestyle. Taking a proactive stance and developing cross-cultural sensitivity before problems arise is one way of reducing the incidence of this kind of stressful experience. Workplace policies on bullying and harassment, when enforced, are also useful.


Job burnout is caused by stress and other psychological hazards. Psychological signs of burnout include anxiety, worry, guilt, anger and frustration depression, weight gain or loss as a result of appetite changes, troubled sleep, confusion, problems concentrating and a feeling of being overwhelmed, among other emotional conditions. Burnout shows up in frequent tardiness, frenetic behavior, overreaction to small things, minor accidents and errors, defensiveness or paranoia, evident drug and alcohol use, increased spending or gambling and difficulty communicating or relating to co-workers. Workplace attention to time management, improved departmental procedures and more-effective leadership can take care of some of these problems, but personal use of stress-management tools such as relaxation skills, exercise and rearrangement of unrealistic goals are also necessary for individuals experiencing burnout as a result of workplace conditions.

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