European firms failing to tackle work-related stress: survey
Work-related stress is a major concern to most European companies and the financial crisis is aggravating the problem but less than a third are dealing with it, an EU survey said Thursday.
Stress, violence and bullying, which can sometimes leads to suicide, are "psychosocial risks" in the workplace, the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA) said.
The problem often results from changes within a company or organisation that lead to extra work or job insecurity as well as from financial or social difficulties.
The EU-OSHA said it conducted the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks in 31 countries -- the 27 EU members plus Croatia, Turkey, Norway and Switzerland -- in the spring of 2009.
The "biggest workplace health and safety survey" in Europe found that four out of five managers were concerned about work-related stress, making it as important as workplace accidents for companies.
But less than one third are taking steps to confront the problem, it said.
"With the financial crisis in full swing, 79 percent of European managers voice their concern about stress at work, which is already recognised as an important burden on European productivity," EU-OSHA Director Jukka Takala said in presenting the survey in Barcelona.
"But despite the high levels of concern, it is clearly worrying that only 26 percent of EU organisations have procedures in place to deal with stress."
He said the costs for companies are "enormous," estimated at around 4.0 percent of gross domestic product, and 50 to 60 percent "of all lost working days are related to stress."
In addition, the financial crisis "will make life more difficult in companies for workers, not only for people who are becoming unemployed ... but also for those who stay in the company, because their colleagues are kicked out, there's more work, so the stress level is going up," he said.
The survey said 42 percent of management representatives consider it more difficult to tackle psychosocial risks than other safety and health issues.
A total of 53 percent cited "the sensitivity of the issue" and 50 percent "lack of awareness" as the main barriers for dealing effectively with psychosocial issues.
"Physical hazards are easier to recognize and measure" but "psychosocial risks are in people's head," said Eusebio Rial, one of those behind the survey.
The survey said work-related stress is "very acute" in health and social jobs, where 91 percent of companies regard it as of some or major concern, and in education, where the figure is 84 percent.
The survey "highlights the importance of providing effective support for enterprises to tackle stress, which will be crucial in ensuring we have the healthy productive workforce needed to boost European economic performance and competitiveness," it said.
It also noted that companies in northern Europe, such as Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, were far better at dealing with the problem than those in the Mediterranean, with the exception of Spain.
© 2010 AFP