The Eurocadres blog

10 October – Let’s talk about mental health in the workplace


Mental health in the workplace is the theme of the World Mental Health Day 2017, which is observed on 10 October. To focus on the workplace is key to combat the global rise of mental health disorders – many of which are caused by stress.

1 trillion USD is the estimate annual global cost for depression and anxiety disorders according to a recent WHO-led study. In European data from a few years ago the estimated cost was 240 billion Euros per year. Both figures are difficult to comprehend.

The past few years the European Commission has had some focus on the issue of mental health in the workplace. Manage stress was a big campaign by EU-OSHA, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, that ended in 2015. Also, the current campaign of the same institution, Healthy Workplaces for All Ages, has a link to psychosocial health risks.

The EU Compass for Action on Mental Health and Well-being, and the project that preceded it, includes the workplace as a priority. The Commission involvement in those activities has been from the Directorate General for Health. We have from Eurocadres pointed out that it is essential that Health and Employment can work well together. To try to improve mental health in Europe without having any focus on the workplace will not be easy, if possible at all. At the same time, it is hard to see a focus on mental health in the workplace without any link to health policy in general.

In January 2017 the Commission launched an initiative on occupational health and safety, mostly offering guidance, but also making some clarifications on what is the state of play in existing EU level legislation: Employers are obliged to protect workers from psychosocial risks and these risks must be considered in the risk assessment process.

Psychosocial risk assessment and prevention is not working well enough in the workplaces across Europe.

Psychosocial risk assessment and prevention is not working well enough in the workplaces across Europe. That the Commission is trying to offer more guidance, especially for SMEs, small and medium sized companies, is good. But it is not enough. We are from Eurocadres convinced that it is time for a specific directive on psychosocial health risks. And we are happy that ETUC, the European Trade Union Confederation, agrees with us on this issue.

Only in some member states there are any legal provisions on the issue. For employers the law is important, very important. A study from EU OSHA last year confirmed that “fulfilling legal obligation” is the top reason for why employers address health and safety. 85 per cent of the respondents in the ESENER-2 survey gave that response. Clearer legal obligations should therefore be of help to improve the situation. For trade unions it would also be extremely useful to get better tools to work with to persuade employers to assume their responsibility.

“fulfilling legal obligation” is the top reason for why employers address health and safety

From a purely financial perspective, it makes a lot of sense to improve mental health prevention, and to ensure a good psychosocial work environment. The losses are astronomical and the business case is very attractive to both business and politicians. But the money is of course only one side. Minimising the long-time suffering and even loss of lives is a matter of basic human decency.  We live a large proportion of our lives in the workplace and the workplace should not make us ill.


The author

Martin Jefflén
President of Eurocadres