Should your JTAs include the psychological and cognitive demands of the role?

It’s common practice to outline the physical demands of a role when doing a job task analysis (JTA). With mental health and stress claims consistently on the rise, should it be standard practice by now, in 2023, to document the cognitive demands of a role?

What is a JTA and when should it be used?

Any job within a specific department or area can be broken down into a set of major functions. These functions can be further dissected into tasks, which are analysed as part of a JTA to ensure the demands of the job role are clearly understood and communicated. These demands are recorded alongside other details pertaining to the safe completion of the specified tasks and generated into a finalised JTA.

A JTA has several important applications. It can be used to:

  • Identify high-risk areas, and understand where a more detailed risk assessment is required
  • Assist with developing a training and induction strategy
  • Assist with pre-employment screening
  • Design better candidate and employee experiences
  • Inform induction and training programs
  • Understand existing skill gaps
  • Reward hard work more fairly
  • Create a more comprehensive approach to return-to-work (RTW), including identifying alternative duties and informing rehabilitation programs
  • Minimise the risk of injury by identifying tasks with a high physical demand

High levels of physical effort that are needed to do a given job are usually more obvious on observation, and the JTA allows these types of job demands to be made explicit. What is often more subtle is the level of mental or emotional effort that goes into a job, or the degree to which a job is demanding from this perspective.

What are the cognitive and psychological demands that a JTA could include? 

The JTA is used to identify different types of demands placed on an employee and relative severity of such demands. High job demands of any nature can become severe when prolonged or occurring frequently. This is as true of cognitive and psychological demands as it is of the more commonly acknowledged physical demands.

High mental or cognitive demands may include:

  • Not having the right skills or training for the task (e.g., junior employees given complex tasks)
  • Not having systems to prevent individual errors, particularly when they may have high consequences (e.g., expecting employees to memorise complex processes and not providing written prompts).

High emotional or psychological demands may include:

  • Exposure to aggression, violence, harassment, or bullying
  • Supporting people in distress (e.g., giving bad news)
  • Displaying false emotions (e.g., being friendly to difficult customers/clients).

Low job demands – where sustained low levels of physical, mental, or emotional effort are needed to do the job – can be equally taxing. It can therefore also be hazardous for employees to experience:

  • Long idle periods, particularly if employees cannot do other tasks (e.g., while waiting for necessary tools)
  • Highly monotonous or repetitive tasks (e.g., packing products or monitoring production lines
  • An inability to maintain their skills (e.g., not enough role specific tasks to keep competencies).

What type of hazards (and subsequent demands) should your workplace consider?

Having a JTA that accounts for the cognitive and psychological demands of a role is one way in which your workplace can manage the risks associated with psychosocial hazards. This not only protects employees, but also decreases the disruption associated with staff turnover and absenteeism and may improve broader organisational performance and productivity.

Psychosocial hazards may cause psychological and physical harm and can arise from or in relation to:

  • The design or management of work
  • The working environment
  • The use of machinery, equipment, implements or tools at a workplace
  • Workplace interactions or behaviours.

More specifically, these could be present as:

  • High job demands
  • Low job control
  • Poor support
  • Lack of role clarity
  • Poor organisational change management
  • Inadequate reward and recognition
  • Poor organisational justice
  • Traumatic events or material
  • Remote or isolated work
  • Poor physical environment
  • Violence, aggression, or bullying
  • Harassment of any kind
  • Conflict or poor workplace relationships or interactions.

These kinds of psychosocial hazards can create stress. This stress is the body’s reaction when an employee perceives the demands of their work exceed their ability or resources to cope. Including the extent of these demands in a JTA means that they can be considered when seeking to satisfy the function of a particular job role.

Why are cognitive demands important when it comes to JTAs?

Cognitive demands assessed as part of a JTA might include:

  • Concentration or the need to be observant
  • Decision-making or problem-solving as part of the task
  • Following instructions
  • Communication
  • Multi-tasking
  • Working when fatigued
  • Reading/writing or processing information
  • Training activities.

Effective cognition plays greatly into optimal performance. It is becoming increasingly important to draw attention to the above cognitive demands on employees as part of their job. Being armed with the knowledge of these demands will ensure that situations like recruiting the right candidate or planning a safe return to work for an injured employee are less daunting undertakings.

Contact Bodycare to help you analyse the physical and cognitive demands of the job roles in your organisation and develop a well-rounded JTA process.