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Psychosocial risks and stress at work

Psychosocial risks and work-related stress are among the most challenging issues in occupational safety and health. They impact significantly on the health of individuals, organisations and national economies.

Around half of European workers consider stress to be common in their workplace, and it contributes to around half of all lost working days. Like many other issues surrounding mental health, stress is often misunderstood or stigmatised. However, when viewed as an organisational issue rather than an individual fault, psychosocial risks and stress can be just as manageable as any other workplace safety and health risk.

What are psychosocial risks and stress?

Psychosocial risks arise from poor work design, organisation and management, as well as a poor social context of work, and they may result in negative psychological, physical and social outcomes such as work-related stress, burnout or depression. Some examples of working conditions leading to psychosocial risks are:

  • Excessive workloads
  • Conflicting demands and lack of role clarity
  • Lack of involvement in making decisions that affect the worker and lack of influence over the way the job is done
  • Poorly managed organisational change, job insecurity
  • Ineffective communication, lack of support from management or colleagues
  • Psychological and sexual harassment, third party violence

When considering the job demands, it is important not to confuse psychosocial risks such as excessive workload with conditions where, although stimulating and sometimes challenging, there is a supportive work environment in which workers are well trained and motivated to perform to the best of their ability. A good psychosocial environment enhances good performance and personal development, as well as workers’ mental and physical well-being.

Workers experience stress when the demands of their job are excessive and greater than their capacity to cope with them. In addition to mental health problems, workers suffering from prolonged stress can go on to develop serious physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease or musculoskeletal problems.

For the organisation, the negative effects include poor overall bussiness performance, increased absenteeism and presenteeism (workers turning up for work when sick and unable to function effectively) and increased accident and injury rates. Absences tend to be longer than those arising from other causes and work-related stress may contribute to increased rates of early retirement. Estimates of the cost to businesses and society are significant and run into billions of euros at a national level.

SOURCE: https://osha.europa.eu/en/themes/psychosocial-risks-and-stress

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