High and low job demands are some of the most common psychosocial hazards. They can also lead to physical injury, with high job demands sometimes leading to workers rushing tasks or low job demands leading to inattentiveness, which can be fatal on some high risk jobs. As with all hazards, your employer must consult HSRs when implementing control measures to reduce the hazard.
High job demands means employers are requiring high levels of physical, mental or emotional effort to do the job. It means more than sometimes ‘being a little busy’. High job demands become a hazard when severe, prolonged, or frequent. Low job demands means sustained low levels of physical, mental or emotional effort are needed to do the job. It is more than just having an occasional slow afternoon. Low job demands become a hazard when it is severe, prolonged or frequent.
High and low job demands could include the following:
|High Job Demands
|Low Job Demands
Long work hours
Too little to do
High workloads, for example, too much to do, fast work pace or significant time pressure
Highly repetitive or monotonous tasks which require low levels of thought processing and little variety, for example, picking and packing products, monitoring production lines
Long periods of attention looking for infrequent events, for example, air traffic controllers, during long distance driving, security monitoring
Regularly undertaking tasks that are well below capabilities, too easy
Emotional effort in responding to distressing situations or distressed or aggressive clients, for example, paramedics dealing with difficult patients or situations
Long idle periods, particularly if workers cannot do other tasks (e.g. while waiting for necessary tools)
Emotional effort required to display emotions the organisation requires when the emotions do not align with those of the employee
Workers cannot maintain their skills (e.g. not enough role specific tasks to keep competencies).
Exposure to traumatic events or work-related violence, for example, emergency employees
|Jobs that involve prolonged sitting.
Shift work leading to higher risk of fatigue
Frequently working in unpleasant or hazardous conditions. For example, extreme temperatures or noise, around hazardous chemicals or dangerous equipment
Having to perform demanding work while wearing uncomfortable protective clothing or equipment
Working with clients with challenging behaviours
Not having the right skills or training for the task (e.g. junior workers given complex tasks), or
Not having systems to prevent individual errors, particularly when they may have high consequences (e.g. expecting workers to memorise complex processes and not providing written prompts).
Long periods of having to monitor for events that do not occur frequently ie. starting at surveillance screens
Working hours that don't allow enough time in-between for recovery
Unrealistic workloads tied to career progression and wage increases.
High cognitive demand
Examples of measures that can be used to control high job demands include:
- Make sure jobs are tailored to employees' capabilities and skills.
- Make sure staffing levels are sufficient for workload.
- Consult with employees when you set performance targets.
- Choose equipment (including plant and machinery) that reduces physical and psychological demands, save time and preserves energy.
- Put work systems in place that:
- ensure adequate work breaks
- require breaks or 'time out' from emotionally demanding work
- support workers with difficult decisions or when challenging situations arise when decisions have been made.
- rotate tasks so that workers are performing a variety of both high and low demand tasks.
- Assert the right to disconnect. Don't let your employer allow you to work unnecessary overtime, answer emails or calls outside of work hours or take work on holidays or home.
- If a task requires sustained periods of attention, make sure your employer has systems in place that monitor fatigue and ensure adequate and flexible breaks.
- Provide job variety and reduce the impact of repetitive tasks by rotating tasks and schedules where possible.
- Implement support systems for workers who make complex or difficult decisions, such as a second person to assist.
- Encourage autonomy whenever possible and give employees some control over the way they perform their work, such as work pace and task order, including flexible working arrangements when possible
Examples of measures that can be used to control low job demands include:
- Employer's rotating workers tasks so that they are not consistently working tasks with low or high demand.
- Assign tasks that complement employee's skill levels.
- Employer's must consult with workers on tasks when the demands are too low and work with them to broad the scope of their job where possible.
- Give workers input on the pace of work, how tasks should be tackled, the order and timing of tasks and ensure that managers are good supervisors that provide adequate support and training.
For more useful information on high and low job demands see:
For action plans on how your employer should address high and low job demands, see WorkSafe's advice on the topic here
For additional information on high and low job demands, see Safe Work Australia's topic page.
Mind Your Head has an excellent database on psychosocial hazards. It breaks down hazards into their impacts and the risk assessment and control measures that can be used. Find it here.
Updated July 2023