The Eurocadres blog

Mental health situation calls for action


The social partners need to take on the issue of mental health at work. Mental disorders are very common in Europe and are a major burden on society: WHO estimations show that every fourth citizen is affected at least once during their life, and more than 10% of the EU population during any given year. What come to workplaces, we know that 80 per cent of managers express concern about work-related stress. Also, over half of all lost working days in the EU can be attributed to work-related stress.

office working

For the past three years, the EU-wide Joint Action on Mental Health and Well-being has been developing work packages in different areas. One of the packages is Mental Health at workplaces.

The recommendations in this package focus on cross-sector cooperation on local, regional, national and European level and on action in the fields of prevention, workplace health promotion and care and reintegration/return to work.

One of the clear conclusions is that there is a need for closer cooperation of health and labour policy. Looking at the Commission end of things there should be a clear link between DG SANTE (Health and Food Safety) and DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion on the issue.

In 2004, the social partners signed the autonomous framework agreement on work-related stress. The follow up concluded that the agreement mainly acted as a catalyst for action and awareness.

Mental health on the table of social partners

With the deeply worrying trends in figures describing the situation of mental health and work, including stress, Eurocadres believes it is time for the social partners to once again address the issue. It is also evident that there is a need to clarify in legislation that occupational health and safety at work is not only about the physical workplace.

there is a need to clarify in legislation that occupational health and safety at work is not only about the physical workplace

Already in the communication of 2004 from the Commission on the implementation on the directive, it was stated that “There is hardly any consideration of psychosocial risk factors and work organisational factors.” And still to this date, we do not have any clarification in the directive on these aspects.

Psychosocial health risks must be in the directive

The directive mentions first aid, fire-fighting, chemicals, machinery, apparatus, tools, dangerous substances, transport equipment and other means of production – but one has to look really carefully to even find a reference to work-organisation.

“There is hardly any consideration of psychosocial risk factors and work organisational factors.”

Adding specific mentions in the directive on the need to assess the psycho-social health risks, in particular when reorganising and restructuring, would clarify both in the national implementation and also for those reading the directive. But, as with most legislation, the directive text is no magic wand that will automatically change the situation in European workplaces. In particular, with regards to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the Commission has been pushing the Better Regulation agenda hard. Aiming at removing administrative burdens it is reassessing a lot of legislation, and also occupational health and safety is now up for revision.

Worker protection is not red tape

For SMEs there exists of course special challenges. An SME rarely, in particular in microenterprises, have the opportunity to have dedicated HR staff that works on risk assessments, following developments on new regulations etc. Authorities monitoring compliance must be oriented towards compliance. Offering easy-to-use tools to conduct risk assessments, for example online questionnaires and guides, is one key to success in assisting SMEs in this situation.

Not many would argue against removing unnecessary red tape. It must, however, be clear that protecting the of health of workers, including professionals and managers, is not red tape. In terms of psychosocial health risks, the protection must be improved instead.


The author

Martin Jefflén
President of Eurocadres