Psychosocial risks in workplaces
Adopted November 2019.
Eliminating psychosocial risks at the workplace is a key demand for Eurocadres. Occupational health and safety must tackle both physical and mental wellbeing. The ILO already set out in 1984 that “[p]sychosocial factors at work refer to interactions between and among work environment, job content, organizational conditions and workers’ capacities, needs, culture, personal extra-job considerations that may, through perceptions and experience, influence health, work performance and job satisfaction”. Today, exhaustion and burnout from work-related stress are the biggest modern occupational diseases of our time . Work-related stress is also a well-known risk factor for ischemic heart disease. Being constantly available and reachable as a professional or managers emphasises the risk of being overburdened with work.
What do the statistics say?
- More than half of all lost working days in the EU is due to work-related stress.
- 4 in 5 managers express concern about work related stress.
- More than one in six people across the European Union are affected of mental health problems during any given year.
- 85% of European employers say that “fulfilling legal obligation” is the main reason for why they address health and safety. Even so, legal provisions on psychosocial health risks only exist in a few member states.
What are the risk factors at the workplace?
- Increased pace and amount of work, including performance pressure, often causing burnout etc.
- Lack of real pauses during working time that decreases the worker’s possibilities to recover from work; sometimes caused by jobs with global networks and time zones
- Challenges brought by the digital working environment like telework and mobility, and malfunctioning software systems
- New forms of work create new forms of management, which sometimes leads to unclear leadership
- Unclear mandates and responsibilities
- Inability to influence and participate on practical and strategic issues
- Lack of social support by the working community; poor management skills, problem-solving mechanisms etc.
- Pressure on professionals and managers to implement decisions regardless of their ethical, technical and legal implications
- Bullying, violence and harassment, including sexual harassment
- Precarious work and unfavorable labour market terms that lead to employees accepting bad working conditions and high workloads for lower wages or with weak social protection status (i.e. freelancers or self-employed workers)
- Growing trend towards a 24-hour society which causes staggered work schedules and isolates the workers from their social relationships
Who should be concerned?
Everyone should be concerned, because psychosocial risks sweep across all workplaces as the biggest epidemic of today. Focusing on the wellbeing of all employees leads to healthier workplaces and less sick days. Precarious work increases the risks as well as working in certain professions. Studies have shown that some groups are at greater risk than others. Today women, and especially young women, are more vulnerable and this is mainly explained by women working in sectors where they are more exposed to psychosocial risk factors, such as healthcare and teaching. It is also known, that men, when being exposed to the same risk factors, are at higher risk compared to others. Besides, female managers are at higher risk, partly because of higher expectations from employers and bad work-life balance. Even though the risks are higher in certain groups and sectors, they exist in most occupations and need to be urgently dealt with.
What needs to be done?
One of the biggest obstacles concerns the stigma around psychosocial health and it needs to be broken. Employers are careful in making risk assessments and employees are afraid to bring them up. A preventive approach, focusing on the organisational and social work environment helps to get over the stigma. Then we can shift focus away from the individual’s capacities or vulnerability. We are convinced that in many member states it is simply not clear enough what an employer needs to do regarding psychosocial health. Figures tell us that 42% of all managers find it more difficult to deal with psychosocial health rather than other occupational health and safety work. It is not only the job content, or the number of hours people work that increase the risks, but also not allowing time for recuperation. Tools for larger risk prevention and mitigation are needed at workplaces.
The ILO Violence and Harassment Convention (C190), adopted in 2019, is a breakthrough as it acknowledges that violence and harassment at work exists and affects, amongst others, a person’s physical and psychological health. Therefore, it sets out a direct link between exposure to harassment and suffering of psychosocial consequences. On EU level, the targets regarding working environment must focus on challenges of modern working life in the knowledge-based labour markets and should include legislative initiatives, e.g. an Ergonomics Directive. Furthermore, the framework directive on occupational safety and health includes psychosocial health risks but is not specific enough. This needs to be changed and we believe that the best way forward is a dedicated Directive on Psychosocial Risks. Pushing for a directive on the issue will probably not lead to any quick wins, but if it ever is to happen, a good time to start is now with a new Parliament and Commission. This situation will not change without active trade union involvement and a political pressure.
 Research on work-related stress, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2000, p. 69.
 The European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2010, p. 36.
 OECD/EU (2018), Health at a Glance: Europe 2018: State of Health in the EU Cycle, OECD Publishing, Paris. https://doi.org/10.1787/health_glance_eur-2018-en, p 19 & press release OECD 22 November 2018, https://www.oecd.org/newsroom/mental-health-problems-costing-europe-heavily.htm
 The main reason for addressing health and safety in establishments, Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER-2) Overview Report: Managing Safety and Health at Work European Risk Observatory, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2016, p. 60.
 Psychosocial risks in Europe, Prevalence and strategies for prevention, A joint report from the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014, p. 48.