Work-related stress and psychosocial risks

PPE - August 22, 2015 - 0 comments

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work joined PPE for a Twitter chat on work-related stress and psychosocial risks.

A record of the conversation is reproduced below, including the useful guidance, statistics and hyperlinks shared by EU-OSHA.

This page forms a useful introduction to the important subject of work-related stress and psychosocial risks.


Can you please define the psychosocial work environment for us?

Psychosocial work environment relates to work organisation, management & social context of work.

Psychosocial risks: excessive demands, lack of support, violence, job insecurity, poor communication.

Poor psychosocial work environment is not to be confused with a demanding or challenging job.

If workers have enough resources/support, they can cope with challenging jobs & stay productive.

A challenging but supportive work environment stimulates workers & encourages their development.


What are the main drivers of workplace stress?

Work-related stress occurs when demands at work are beyond a worker’s ability to cope with them.

Stress happens if too much is asked in the time available, with conflicting demands or poor training.

Work-related stress is an organisational issue, not a sign of individual weakness.


How does social context influence workplace stress?

Lack of support, poor relationships, harassment or violence all contribute to work-related stress.

Support from colleagues & supervisors prevents work-related stress & increases job satisfaction.


How widespread is the problem in Europe’s workplaces?

51% of workers report that stress is common in their workplace:

72% of workers felt that job reorganisation/ job insecurity was 1 of the most common cause.

66% attributed stress to ‘hours worked or workload’ and 59% to bullying or harassment’.

Framework Directive sets obligation to protect workers by managing OSH risks:

There is a gap between the legal obligations and practice observed in Europe.

Around 4 in 10 workers think that stress is not handled well in their workplace:


What does ESENER tell us about psychosocial risks?

79% of managers in Europe are concerned about stress at work:

Fewer than 30% of organisations manage psychosocial risks in a systematic way:

Over 40% of managers consider psychosocial risks more difficult to manage:

The main obstacles are ‘sensitivity of the issue’ & ‘lack of expertise’:

Desire to reduce absenteeism is one of the main drivers to deal with these risks:


What can be done about it? How to start?

Psychosocial risks can be dealt with in the same logical & systematic way as other OSH issues.

National practical tools and guidance are available:

Walk the talk! Raise awareness and follow up with serious actions!

Don’t start talking if you don’t intend to change things timely. Workers could lose faith.

Managing stress does not have to be expensive, but ignoring it that can be very costly.

Take decisions on necessary changes. Focus groups or questionnaires can identify pressing issues.

Always involve workers in identifying risks and practical improvements.

Managing psychosocial risks should be part of general OSH management.


What can be done to prevent and manage psychosocial risks?

Top-down & bottom-up communication is crucial! Ensure workers participation & management commitment.

First introduce organisational changes, eg reorganise work schedules based on workers input.

Provide additional resources at peak times, establish a ‘zero tolerance for harassment’ policy.

Training & support to enhance staff resilience is only effective if work organisation is taken care of.

Little changes can make a big difference. Involve employees to see what helps them to work well.

Good leadership helps to reduce work-related stress. Train your managers!

Middle managers have a crucial role as they interact with workers on a daily basis.

Social support is crucial at work. Encourage this among colleagues & from the management!

It’s important to feel valued. This can be achieved by simple & positive human interaction.


What else can be done to improve the wellbeing of employees?

Take a holistic approach. Employers can also opt for mental health promotion:

Mental health problems are one of the main reasons for early retirement. Promote health and wellbeing!


What is the effect of the current economic situation?

Organisational changes & restructuring often lead to work intensification and job uncertainty.

In cases of redundancies, workers who lost their jobs & the “survivors” report high level of stress.

Tackling psychosocial risks may look like a burden, but ignoring them can cause real costs to business.

Improving management practices & workload monitoring help to minimise negative impact of restructuring.

Effective communication, participation and support are crucial.


What are the warning signs to look out for?

Increased sickness absence and accident rates are signs associated with stress at work.

Tiredness, mistakes, being late, are effects that stress can have.

Employees feeling stressed can suffer from sleeplessness, irritation, even poor physical health.

Workers affected by stress find it difficult to concentrate, make decisions & learn new things.

Negative outcomes of stress can have an impact on performance long before it results in ill health.

Prolonged stress may result in serious health problems such as depression & cardiovascular diseases.


Why should organisations take the issue seriously?

Taking care of stress pays off & results in an active, motivated and healthy workforce.

Preventing stress and promoting wellbeing leads to better productivity!

Preventing psychosocial risks properly is associated with a decrease in absenteeism.

Stress-related absences last much longer. Can you afford losing staff for a long time?

Many international leading companies are already addressing the issue, including our campaign partners:


How do those good at managing the issue approach it?

Companies having a proper health & safety approach deal more easily with psychosocial risks.

Awareness is the first step but needs to be followed by action!

Worker participation is crucial from the very beginning: assessment, implementation, revision.

Management commitment to the values & approaches taken is important. Live what you preach!


What information is available to help people understand the issue better?

EU-OSHA’s campaign improves understanding & bridges the gap by providing support.

The ‘Manage Stress’ campaign promotes the use of practical, user-friendly tools:

E-guide on managing psychosocial risks in small companies due to in October:

Have a look at the national tools presented on EU-OSHA campaign website:

Good Practice Awards look for examples in managing psychosocial risks:


Closing remarks and links to further resources on work-related stress and psychosocial risks

For more info & resources in 25 languages:

For campaign activities @ the national level, check out EU-OSHA national focal points page:

To keep up to date with the our campaign activities subscribe to EU-OSHA newsletter:

Stress: Europe 2nd most frequently reported work-related health problem (after musculoskeletal issues)

Studies suggest about a half 50–60% of all lost working days can be attributed to work-related stress & psychosocial risks


National figures on work-related stress and psychosocial risks

National studies show:

About 1/5 of staff turnover can be related to stress at work (UK) .

Reduced performance at work due to psychosocial and organisational issues may cost twice that of absence (Germany).

In the Netherlands among employees who state they always work under pressure.

The accident rate is about 5 times higher than those who are ‘never’ subject to pressurised work .

Total costs of mental health disorders in EU (both work & non-work related) is estimated EUR 240billion/year.

Less than half of this sum stems from direct costs e.g. medical treatment.

With EUR 136 billion due to lost productivity, including sick-leave.

The national costs of occupational stress in France were estimated at between 2 and 3 billion euros in 2007.

In the UK estimated around 9.8 million working days lost in 2009–10 because of work-related stress.

In Austria, psychosocial disorders were reported to be the main reason for white-collar workers early retirement.

Calculating costs of work-related stress & psychosocial risks EU Risk Observatory Lit Rev:


The conversation took place on 2 July 2014 at 12.00 pm CET (11am BST) on hashtags #EUmanagestress and #PPEtalk

All original hyperlinks are published to preserve sources, including when duplicated.

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Visit the Healthy Workplaces campaign website. Healthy workplaces manage stress!


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