Research: Stress And Burnout In The Workplace 

A Word From The European Union

“It is imperative for organisations and governments to recognise the workplace as both a major factor in the development of mental and physical health problems and as a platform for the introduction and development of effective preventive measures, utilising the coordinated input of external agencies”.  

Investment in occupational safety and health makes a lot of sense. It improves people’s lives by preventing work-related illness and accidents and also has a tangible positive effect on EU economies. It leads to improved business productivity and performance. At the macroeconomic level, it contributes to national competitiveness. Different studies prove that the employer will have a return in double for every euro spent on occupational safety and health”. Joint Action on Mental Health and Well-being, 2016

Costs and prevalence of stress and psychosocial risks in the workplace

Two of our research sources are the EU Research Review: Calculating the cost of work-related stress and psychosocial risks European Risk Observatory Literature Review 2014 and the World Health Organisation and European Union / EU Mental Health In The Workplace In Europe – Consensus Paper – 2014-2020.  Both these sources have brought together all the research from 1997 to 2012, to give us an overview of how we are doing when it comes to improving health in our workplaces. They set out the costs of work-related stress and psychosocial risks in the workplace. We have put together some quotes regarding costs and statistics of stress-related illness and psychological risks in the workplace. 

EU-OSHA (2014) reports that “the total cost of mental ill-health in Europe is €240 billion/per year of which €136 billion/per year is the cost of reduced productivity including absenteeism and €104 billion/per year is the cost of direct costs such as medical treatment”.

“79 % of European managers are concerned about stress in their workplaces”

“40 % of European managers consider that psychosocial risk is more difficult to manage than ‘traditional’ occupational health and safety (OSH) risks”.

“Less than 30 % of organisations in Europe have procedures for dealing with workplace stress, harassment and third-party violence”.

“The research literature has been consistent in finding that workplace characteristics (company cultures) affect the level of stress and number of health problems experienced by workers”.

“Nearly 28 % of respondent’s, approximately 55.6 million European workers report that their mental well-being had been affected by exposure to psychosocial risks. Too little time and too much work was the most commonly selected main risk factor (23 %).”

“Reduced performance due to psychosocial problems may cost twice that of absence. The cost of absenteeism and premature mortality for depression in 30 European countries were estimated to be €109 billion in 2010 while costs for all anxiety disorders accounted for a further €88 billion (Olesen et al., 2012)”.

“Another study by Matrix (2013) estimated that the total costs of work-related depression alone in the EU-27 are nearly €620 billion per year”.

“The major impact is suffered by employers due to absenteeism and presenteeism (€270 billion), followed by the economy in terms of lost output (€240 billion), the health care systems due to treatment costs (€60 billion), and the social welfare systems due to disability benefit payments (€40 billion)”.

“In high-income countries, governments are usually responsible for paying the majority of long term sickness and disability benefits for people absent from work because of poor mental health. As the Matrix analysis indicates, there are substantial costs to welfare systems when individuals leave work because of poor mental health”.

“Employers have a legal responsibility to reduce risks to workers’ health and safety stemming from the Framework Directive (89/391/EEC), this includes stress and psychosocial risks. Nevertheless, in many organisations there is an erroneous perception that addressing stress psychosocial risks is challenging and will incur additional costs when, in fact, the evidence suggests that failure to address these risks can be even more costly for employers, workers and societies in general (Cooper et al. 1996; EU-OSHA, 2004; Bond et al. 2006).”

EU Research 2015-2018: Enforcing EU and Local Government Regulations

In 2018, ‘The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2018’ published their Management of occupational health and safety in European workplaces – evidence from the Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER-2). This report was about how the EU will be monitoring best practises in OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) and PSR (Psychosocial Risk) management in the future, the following are quotes from this publication.

“It was found that the implementation of good practice was highest concerning safety management, followed by health risk management and then PSR (Psychosocial Risk) management”.

“It seems that the majority of businesses now have measures in place, however, these measures tend to be narrowly focused on safety and measures of safety performance in their operation, and as a result pay less attention to work-related health issues, which are far more prevalent partly because it is more difficult to measure the latter”.

The majority of European businesses are still not implementing procedures to protect their workers against work-related stress and psychosocial risks in the workplace. This report specifies three reasons why this might be:

  • One is that, as is well documented, because the manifestations of psychosocial risks are among those that are least visible, they are also among the risks that are most challenging to manage and least amenable to arrangements for workplace health and safety.
  • A second is that, because these risks are often a product of wider work organisation, in practice this is itself beyond the remit of OHS systems. 
  • A third is that, as qualitative studies have demonstrated, managing psychosocial risks, and especially their consequences, is not always the preserve of health and safety management but often a function of human resource management within organisations. Therefore, ‘the person who knows best about health and safety’ in the establishment may not be fully conversant with all the measures that an organisation takes concerning psychosocial risk.
  • One further implication of these explanations, of course, is the indication they provide that there is some separation of the management of psychosocial risk from that of health and safety more generally. This may also imply that, in general, the remit of safety management systems does not tend to extend to the root causes of the increasing levels of psychosocial risk faced by workers.” Management of occupational health and safety in European workplaces — evidence from the Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER-2).

In 2017, the EU produced their last paper on this subject stating their position. In this EU COMPASS FOR ACTION ON MENTAL HEALTH AND WELL-BEING MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE IN EUROPE – Position Paper, They report “The estimates for the proportion of the workforce in Europe that may be living with a mental health problem at any one time range from one in five to two in five (Wittchen et al., 2011, (OECD, 2012) ), with a lifetime risk of at least two in five (OECD, 2012). In the EU-27 it was found that 15% of citizens had sought help for a psychological or emotional problem, with 72% having taken antidepressants”.

“This paper considers psychological well-being and not only mental health problems. This means that attention has also to be paid to sub-threshold conditions of poor psychological health and well-being that may not have yet resulted in a diagnosed mental health problem. For example, issues such as stress are particularly important in these considerations since there is abundant evidence that prolonged exposure to unmanageable pressure can result in stress that might, in turn, result in several more severe mental health problems” (WHO, 2010).

“In line with this evidence, the OECD (2012) stresses that while challenges in helping to reintegrate people with severe mental health problems are one important focus of attention, there is a strong argument for more policy emphasis to be placed on addressing common mental disorders and sub-threshold conditions with more emphasis on preventive rather than just reactive strategies. The workplace is ideal for such preventive actions to be put in place since individuals spend at least one-third of their lifetime at work”.

In its 2015 report on the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020, “the European Parliament drew the Commission’s attention to the importance of implementation, compliance and enforcement of the occupational safety and health legislation as well as the number of increasing or new risks. The report also notably emphasised the need to protect all workers regardless of the size of the employer, type of job or contract”. The European Economic and Social Committee and The Committee of the Regions: Safer and Healthier Work for All – Modernisation of the EU Occupational Safety and Health Legislation and Policy

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