Mental health during the pandemic and beyond
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on mental health and well-being. Now, more than ever, binding legislative measures are needed to address psychosocial risks at work. The problems were already on the rise before the global outbreak, and have only accelerated since then.
Nice words and empty promises have to come to an end: we need a directive on psychosocial health risks now! Existing legislation does not live up to the standards of modern working life and digitalisation. We own it to our workers to have clear legislation on psychosocial risk factors at work. Only legislation encourages employers to react: 89% of employers state that complying with the legislation is the main reason why they manage occupational health and safety.
The EU Strategic framework of health and safety at work 2021-2027, adopted by the European Commission on 28 June 2021, contains a lot of good analysis of the occupational health and safety situation in the EU, but it is clearly lacking in action, in particular on psychosocial risks.
The increased use of digital mobile tools which allows for work regardless of time and place is intricately linked to today’s rapid changes in work organisation. Workers have more flexibility and autonomy over the work they perform. However, being constantly connected can blur the boundaries between time on and off work and puts the right to disconnect under pressure.
We need to promote healthier work culture by changing the perception that “everything is urgent”. Such unhealthy work culture brings challenges to work organisation and management, and needs to be tackled from an organisational, rather than an individual perspective. Expectations to always be available and act urgently lead to increased mental health risks including burnout and affects professionals and managers hard, with line managers being in a particularly difficult situation.
While the right to disconnect is in some countries negotiated via collective agreements between social partners at the workplace, only six EU countries currently have legislation on the right to disconnect: Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Slovakia and Spain, but a few others are debating the issue. We need regulation on the right to disconnect in all member states.
The consequence of teleworking from home is the blurring of boundaries: working time and leisure time easily become mixed up, leading to increased psychosocial ill health. Work-life balance is a right that needs to be protected. For many managers it comes as a sudden new challenge to manage teams not physically present in the workplace. Less social interaction with colleagues seriously contributes to reducing the sense of meaning and purpose at work.
Eurocadres continues to fight for an end to the stress epidemic in Europe. The EndStress.EU campaign will continue until we have a directive which addresses psychosocial risks, violence and harassment and improves work organisation, including by requiring training on psychosocial risks in particular of line managers.
 Third European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER 3 2019), European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 20/11/2019.
 Right to disconnect: Exploring company practices, Eurofound, 2021, p.7.