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How Should Employers Manage Stress in the Workplace?

Oct. 13, 2014
There is a complex relationship between stress at work and health, and a new report offers examples of European workplaces that “get” it when it comes to reducing or eliminating stress for employees.

One-quarter of workers in Europe report feeling stressed at work all or most of the time, and a similar proportion say that work affects their health negatively. They say that psychosocial risks – for example, monotonous tasks, high work intensity, tight deadlines, work-life unbalance, violence and harassment from the public or from colleagues – contribute to work-related stress.

“Psychosocial Risks in Europe: Prevalence and Strategies for Prevention” was published as part of a Europe-wide campaign called “Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress” and gives a broad overview on psychosocial risks at European workplaces. The report suggests ways to move forward at the government level as well as the company level – all illustrated with real-life examples and case studies. Although aimed at an audience of European employers, many of the examples and case studies are appropriate for an audience of American employers and EHS professionals.

Published jointly by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Working and Living Conditions (Eurofound), the report acknowledges the complexity of the relationship between health and work and recognizes that practical support is needed to bring about change. It provides a snapshot of working conditions and the incidence of psychosocial risks in Europe, discusses how to manage those risks in the workplace and outlines policy interventions.

EU-OSHA Director Dr. Christa Sedlatschek, described the report as an excellent example of ways employees and employers can work together to reduce a workplace risk. “One of the key messages of our 2014–15 Healthy Workplaces Campaign is that psychosocial risks, although more sensitive, can be tackled in the same systematic way as ‘traditional’ workplace risks,” said Sedlatschek. “By combining their strengths, EU-OSHA and Eurofound have produced a state-of-the-art review that will make an important contribution to the success of this campaign in getting that message across. In the same way, by working together, management and employees can tackle workplace stress effectively.”

The report is being launched in Brussels on Oct. 16 at a seminar that brings together policy-makers, occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals, researchers and representatives of employers and trade unions from across Europe to discuss and share approaches for supporting workplaces across Europe in managing psychosocial risks at work.

In the context of longer working lives, reducing the prevalence of psychosocial risk at work is essential. Policy-makers should consider specific psychosocial risks for different groups of workers, including women, to improve working conditions for all.

“Reducing psychosocial risks and protecting workers from these risks is critical for allowing longer working lives and preventing early labor market exits,” said Juan Menéndez-Valdés, director of Eurofound. “Evidence shows that policies are not developed to the same extent in all European countries, which can be explained by the different traditions of social dialogue and different governmental approaches, often related to the importance the country gives to psychosocial risks. We hope that our joint report will provide practitioners and policy-makers with both the insight and incentive to overcome these challenges of psychosocial risks in the workplace. Research shows that the role of social dialogue and social partners is relevant to raise awareness and implement interventions.”

Although fewer people report working long hours, as presented in the report, job insecurity has increased across Europe, and in some countries work intensity has risen in companies struggling in the economic crisis. Work-related stress often is seen as a “sensitive” or “difficult” area, a perception that can differ from one country to another. In particular, managers of small companies find it difficult to tackle psychosocial risks because of lack of resources or expertise.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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