Stress and psychosocial risks

Stress and psychosocial risks should not be confused with a healthy, stimulating but supportive work environment in which workers are highly motivated and encouraged to perform to the best of their ability.

When considering the job demands, it is important not to confuse psychosocial risks such as excessive workload with conditions where, although stimulating and sometimes challenging, there is a supportive work environment in which workers are well trained and motivated to perform to the best of their ability. A good psychosocial environment enhances good performance and personal development, as well as workers’ mental and physical well-being.

Workers experience stress when the demands of their job are greater than their capacity to cope with them. In addition to mental health problems, workers suffering from prolonged stress can go on to develop serious physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease or musculoskeletal problems.

For the organisation, the negative effects include poor overall business performance, increased absenteeism, presenteeism (workers turning up for work when sick and unable to function effectively) and increased accident and injury rates. Absences tend to be longer than those arising from other causes and work-related stress may contribute to increased rates of early retirement, particularly among white-collar workers. Estimates of the cost to businesses and society are significant and run into billions of euros at a national level.

How significant is the problem?

Stress is the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe.
A European opinion poll conducted by EU-OSHA found that more than a half of all workers considered work-related stress to be common in their workplace. The most common causes of work-related stress were job reorganisation or job insecurity (reported by around 7 in 10 respondents), working long hours or excessive workload and bullying or harassment at work (around 6 in 10 respondents). The same poll showed that around 4 in 10 workers think that stress is not handled well in their workplace.

 

In the larger Enterprise Survey on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) around 8 in 10 European managers expressed concern about work-related stress in their workplaces; however, less than 30% admitted having implemented procedures to deal with psychosocial risks. The survey also found that almost half of employers consider psychosocial risks more difficult to manage than ‘traditional’ or more obvious occupational safety and health risks.

 

What can be done to prevent and manage psychosocial risks?

With the right approach, psychosocial risks and work-related stress can be prevented and successfully managed, regardless of business size or type. They can be tackled in the same logical and systematic way as other workplace health and safety risks.

Managing stress is not just a moral obligation and a good investment for employers, it is a legal imperative set out in Framework Directive 89/391/EEC, supported by the social partners’ framework agreements on work-related stress and harassment and violence at work.

Furthermore, the European Pact for Mental Health and Well-being recognises the changing demands and increasing pressures in the workplace and encourages employers to implement additional, voluntary measures to promote mental well-being.

Although employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that workplace risks are properly assessed and controlled, it is essential that workers are also involved. Workers and their representatives have the best understanding of the problems that can occur in their workplace. Involving them will ensure that the measures put in place are both appropriate and effective.

EU-OSHA provides a wealth of information and practical help on identifying, preventing and managing psychosocial risks and work-related stress.

Work-related stress is the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe — after musculoskeletal disorders. Around half of workers consider it to be common in their workplace.

50–60% of all lost working days can be attributed to work-related stress.

In a recent European poll conducted by EU-OSHA the most common causes of work-related stress cited were job reorganisation or job insecurity (72% of respondents), working long hours or excessive workload (66%) and being bullied or harassed at work (59%).

The same poll showed that around 4 in 10 workers think that stress is not handled well in their workplace.

Typically, stress-related absences tend to be longer than those arising from other causes.

According to EUROSTAT data, over a period of nine years, 28% of European workers reported exposure to psychosocial risks that affected their mental well-being.

The good news is that psychosocial risks can be prevented and managed regardless of business size or type.

 

Visit https://www.healthy-workplaces.eu/en  for further reports and resources