Risk factors

Organizational Risk Factors

Several studies show that factors linked to the organization play an important role in work-related mental health problems. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that individuals spend more than a third of their life at work, and on the other, because work-related performance, efficiency and effectiveness criteria are constantly on the rise. Regardless of whether these elements are found in the work environment, the conditions in which the work is being carried out or in the work situation itself, they are all an integral part of the organization.

Demands related to tasks and roles

Demands related to tasks and roles in the organization are the sources most often reported as being responsible for work-related mental health problems. Several studies have shown a significant link between work overload and mental health problems as well as certain physical disorders such as heart disease and high cholesterol.


Quantitative overload, qualitative overload and mental effort

Individuals are in a quantitative work overload situation when they have the impression that they are working under pressure and have too much work to do in too short a time. This form of overload has been much more common for the last few years as many organizations have slashed jobs.


In addition to carrying out a greater quantity of work, employees must often put in extra effort to accomplish their tasks. This is because more and more individuals are frequently interrupted by the telephone, co-workers, email, and so on. In such circumstances, they must invest considerable mental effort to return to their tasks. It has been demonstrated that work interruptions have a negative impact on the well-being of individuals, requiring that they make extra effort to avoid a deterioration in their performance.

Individuals are in a qualitative work overload situation when they feel that they are unable to perform their tasks because they lack the knowledge or skills needed. However, as research by Karasek et al. has shown, work overload may be less harmful to workers' health if they have a degree of control over the demands made on them. Consequently, a high level of demand, when combined with increased control or latitude for employees in their work, is less likely to undermine employees' mental health


Insufficient work

While work overload may be harmful to workers' mental health, the same can be said of situations where there is insufficient work. Repetitive and monotonous jobs, because they require few skills and generally make use of a limited range of physical and mental functions, provide little stimulation for certain employees. Consequently, they are likely to give rise to boredom and to decrease motivation and satisfaction at work, thus increasing absenteeism rates.


Role conflicts and ambiguity

Role conflicts and ambiguity can also have harmful effects on workers' mental health. Moreover, various studies have shown that there is a relationship between role conflicts and ambiguity, on the one hand, and absenteeism, low levels of work performance and job dissatisfaction, on the other. In addition, they are closely linked to anxiety and the intention to leave the organization.

Role conflict occurs when individuals are faced with incompatible or contradictory expectations by their superiors or co-workers, or even when these expectations contradict the employees' values, beliefs or goals. For example, this is the case with hospital managers who may find it difficult to reconcile their mandate to cut jobs with the duty to provide quality care to patients. Finally, role conflict may arise when the materials and resources needed to properly perform the work are not available.

Role ambiguity occurs when individuals do not know what is expected of them, what tasks to perform, or what their responsibilities are in the context of their work. For example, they may not have any intraining about the goals to be accomplished, or they may be unaware of how to meet clear expectations, or they may even be unaware of the consequences-and-extent associated with performing their work.

Participation in decision making

The degree to which individuals participate in the organization's decision-making process is an important element in their psychological well-being and the effectiveness of the organization. Some researchers maintain that a lack of participation in decision making could be linked to higher levels of stress, alcohol abuse, depression, and physical ill health as well as low levels of self-esteem and job satisfaction. Greater involvement of workers in the decision-making process gives them the opportunity to have access to more intraining concerning the organization, which consequently allows them to exercise greater control over their work and environment, and thus to decrease their level of insecurity and tension. In addition, encouraging discussion and interaction between the organization's members improves communication and fosters social support within the organization.

Physical environment and working conditions

An unhealthy physical environment and difficult working conditions have also often been associated with work-related mental health problems. The level of psychological tension of individuals may increase if they have the impression that they are working in conditions that are dangerous for their health or safety. Whether this involves easily detectable factors such as high levels of noise or heat, or more insidious factors such as pollution, humidity, poor lighting, an inadequately configured workstation or continuous work in front of a computer screen, these factors can have negative effects on the level of performance, satisfaction and motivation at work.

Work schedules

Work schedules can also contribute to the appearance of mental health problems. For example, irregular work schedules are likely to disrupt physiological rhythms, provoking sleep disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and behavioural problems such as excessive eating, drinking or smoking. In such a context, accident and absenteeism rates are expected to rise. Working long hours is another potential source of tension. In fact, individuals who devote a large part of their time and energy to work may experience difficulties balancing their personal and professional responsibilities. Moreover, some studies have shown that excessive hours of work do not necessarily increase productivity but tend to decrease individuals' effectiveness and efficiency.

Career advancement

The restructuring of many organizations has greatly changed employees' working conditions. For example, the decrease in the number of jobs in many industries has created feelings of job insecurity among employees who fear that they will lose their skills or the privileges associated with their employment. The fear of losing one's job increases psychological stress among employees and can create a competitive climate that undermines the quality of interpersonal relations among workers. These conditions are associated with the appearance of physical and mental health problems in addition to decreasing motivation, productivity and job satisfaction.


The disparity between an employee's current and expected status also constitutes a significant source of tension for many workers. For example, employees who have aspirations related to their career advancement which cannot be satisfied because of the lack of opportunities will be deprived of an important sign of recognition, which may be a source of anxiety and frustration at work. In other words, in exchange for the efforts that they invest in their work, employees expect to be treated fairly, through either adequate compensation, opportunities for promotion or recognition of their work.


Recognition at work is gaining more and more attention as a risk factor linked to work-related mental health problems. Employees increasingly expect that their efforts will be recognized, both through daily signs of appreciation and encouragement as well as wages and career opportunities. Recognition can also be shown by creating a forum for discussion in which individuals can express their points of view about their work. Individuals who do not feel appreciated and recognized in their work, either by their superiors or co-workers, may well develop work-related mental health problems. Moreover, several studies have shown that recognition is linked to motivation and satisfaction at work, levels of psychological distress and risks of cardio-vascular disease.

Decision-making autonomy

Lack of decision-making autonomy is also a factor that can affect the mental health of individuals. Decision-making autonomy includes two facets of work life. First, skills autonomy refers to the capacity to use one's skills and to develop new ones; second, decision authority refers to the ability to choose how to perform one's work and to participate in related decisions. A number of studies have demonstrated that workers with a low level of decision-making autonomy at work show more symptoms of anxiety and depression than do other workers. In addition, it has been found that the under-use of workers' skills and abilities and a low level of participation in the decision-making process related to their work are directly related to a low level of job satisfaction.

Interpersonal relations

The quality of the relations between individuals in the context of their work can have an impact on their mental health. It has been recognized that a climate of trust in which individuals feel supported can decrease tensions and foster job satisfaction and motivation. Conversely, an atmosphere of mistrust and hostility is associated with role ambiguity as well as a low level of communication, satisfaction and psychological well-being. There are generally three levels of interpersonal relations in an organization: relations with peers or co-workers, with management and with clients.


Relations with co-workers

The possibility of obtaining support from co-workers is an important factor in decreasing the risks associated with work-related mental health problems. On the one hand, social support allows individuals to obtain support and comfort during hard times and, on the other hand, it nurtures the sense of belonging to a mutually supportive group in which the individual feels appreciated and valued. Several studies have shown that maintaining harmonious relations fosters satisfaction and motivation at work.


Relations with management

Relations with management, like those with peers, can cause psychological tensions within the organization. For example, a directive management style that does not favour employee participation in decisions about the work they perform, or lack of recognition or feedback regarding the work performed are factors that can increase the level of psychological stress among workers.


Relations with clients

Relations with clients can also have an affect on workers' mental health. The first aspect of these relations is linked to the number of interactions an employee has with clients. On the one hand, individuals may have too few contacts or, on the other hand, too many. The second aspect is related to the context in which these relations are established. Thus, jobs in which individuals must meet the needs of clients in a crisis situation and which necessitate support and assistance are likely to give rise to work-related mental health problems. For example, in carrying out their functions, health and social services professionals, police officers and sometimes teachers are frequently confronted with situations that generate psychological stress.

Information Flow

Open and transparent communication should be encouraged within the organization. For example, holding meetings in which workers are informed of the policies, decisions and functioning of the organization and where the latter have the opportunity to express their feelings and dissatisfactions as well as to ask management and the union questions may decrease their level of insecurity and tension.