European Agency for Safety and Health at Work

Calculating the cost of work-related stress and psychosocial risks


1. Introduction

Work-related psychosocial risks and stress, together with their associated negative health and business outcomes affect a remarkable number of European workplaces (EU-OSHA, 2014a, 2014b). Significant changes affecting workplaces over the last several decades and resulting in new occupational safety and health (OSH) challenges include global socio-political developments such as increasing globalisation and the establishment of a free market, advances in information and communication technology, new types of contractual and working time arrangements as well as significant demographic changes (EU-OSHA, 2007). In a wider sociological context, working life is affected by the general acceleration of the pace of life, contributing to work intensification, constant time pressure, multitasking and the need to learn new things just to maintain the status quo (Rosa, 2013). In addition to these structural and long-term changes, the current economic crisis is placing increasing pressure on both employers and workers to remain competitive. 

Many of these changes provide opportunities for development; nevertheless, when poorly managed, they may increase psychosocial risks and result in negative health and safety outcomes. The research literature has been consistent in finding that workplace characteristics affect the level of stress and number of health problems experienced by workers (Sparks et al., 1997; Sverke et al., 2002; Stansfeld and Candy, 2006). According to the EU Labour Force Survey, in 1999–2007 nearly 28 % of respondents, corresponding to approximately 55.6 million European workers, reported 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 %). Among workers with a work-related health problem, ‘stress, depression or anxiety’ was reported as the most serious health problem by 14 % (European Commission, 2010). Moreover, in the 5th European Working Conditions Survey (Eurofound, 2012), around 45 % of workers reported having experienced, during the previous three years, some type of organisational change affecting their work environment, and 62 % reported working to tight deadlines. Managers are also aware of this issue, with the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER; EU OSHA, 2010a) finding that 79 % of European managers are concerned about stress in their workplaces. At the same time, less than 30 % of organisations in Europe have procedures for dealing with workplace stress, harassment and third-party violence. ESENER showed that more than 40 % of European managers consider that psychosocial risk is more difficult to manage than ‘traditional’ OSH risks (EU-OSHA, 2010a).

Employers have a legal responsibility to reduce risks to workers’ health and safety stemming from the Framework Directive (89/391/EEC), and this also includes psychosocial risks. Nevertheless, in many organisations there is an erroneous perception that addressing 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). ... 

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