Stress at Work

Testo tratto da: OSH in figures: stress at work — facts and figures

Fonte: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work

Executive summary

Stress at work is common throughout Europe. In surveys carried out every five years by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, respondents name it as the second most common threat posed by the working environment.

Only musculoskeletal problems are seen as more likely to damage workers’ health. According to the fourth European Survey of Working Conditions, carried out in 2005 in all Member States, stress was experienced by an average 22% of working Europeans. In 2002, the annual economic cost of work-related stress in the EU15 was estimated at EUR 20,000 million.

Prevalence of stress in the EU Member States

In 2005, the level of reported stress was lower in EU15 (20%) than in EU10 (30%) or in two Acceding Countries (Bulgaria and Romania; 31%).

However, significant differences were also observed among the countries within these groups.

The highest levels of stress were reported in Greece (55%), and in Slovenia (38%), Sweden (38%), and Latvia (37%), and the lowest levels noted in the United Kingdom (12%), Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands (16%) as well as in the Czech Republic (17%), France and Bulgaria (18%).

Stress prevalence in EU15 in 2000 (28%) did not differ significantly from the levels reported in the previous survey carried out five years earlier.

In 2000-2005 however, stress prevalence in the EU15 diminished. Overall fatigue, headaches and irritability indices also dropped during this time period, with sleeping problems and anxiety remaining at the same level. The opposite trend was identified in the 12 candidate countries, 10 of which became Member States before the end of this period on 1 May 2004. Stress prevalence grew slightly in those countries in 2001–2005 (from 28% to 30%).

Some stress-related outcomes also increased.

Quantitative work demands, which are considered to be an important source of stress, are concurrently affected by two reverse trends: a positive one, shorter working hours, which would be likely to reduce stress prevalence (in EU15); and a negative one, greater work intensity, which generates higher stress levels.

In the EU25 countries, in 2005, fewer people (on average 14%) were forced to work long hours (a working week of 48 hours or more) than in previous years.

At the same time workers were being asked to work faster and to tighter deadlines. Although generally the required speed of work is increasing, there is substantial variation between various Member Countries. In 2005, Sweden, Finland and Denmark had the highest percentage of workers who reported high?speed working “around half of the time or more” (85%, 77% and 76% respectively), whereas Ireland, Poland and Latvia had the lowest percentages (42%, 40% and 40% respectively).

Low job control is recognised as another important source of stress.

In 1990-1995 in the EU15 an increase in control was observed and a smaller percentage of employees reported no control over work method and speed. Figures in the 2000 survey were similar, although levels of job control among the new EU countries were lower than among the EU15.

Another source of work-related stress is harassment. In 2005 about 5% of all workers from the EU25 and AC2 countries said they were subject to some form of violence or

harassment (bullying), and about 2% reported experiencing unwanted sexual attention.

In the EU15, the level of reported violence increased slightly during the 1995-2005 period.

There are significant differences in the prevalence of violence and, particularly, harassment in different European countries. The highest level of harassment was reported in Finland (17%), followed by the Netherlands (12%), and Lithuania (10%); the lowest levels were reported in Italy and Bulgaria (2%).

Stress by age

According to the EWCS (1995-2005) respondents from all age categories report that work affects their health.

However, this opinion is most common in the 45-54 age group, and in most of the Member States there is a statistical peak in middle age in the relationship between age and stress.

The highest stress levels are observed among middle aged workers, and the lowest among older and younger workers.

It is also true, however, that physical violence is most often reported by workers from the 25-39 age group, and harassment and unwanted sexual attention by the youngest group (“24 or less”).

It is also worth mentioning that between 2000 and 2005, stress prevalence in the 40-54 age group decreased by 9 percentage points, from 32% in 2000 to 23% in 2005 (EU15). However, anxiety and irritability indices remained almost at the same level for this age group. Sleeping problems, anxiety, and irritability increased slightly in the 25-39 and +55 age groups. The overall fatigue indicator has dropped in all age categories.

Stress by gender

The figures from the EWCS carried out in 1995, 2000/2001 and 2005 show small differences between men and women’s work-related stress and also in stress indicators.

However, the latest survey (2005) did show that stress is a little more prevalent among men (23%) compared to women (20%).

Stress indicators, with the exception of anxiety, were slightly more prevalent among men. Women are more at risk of harassment than men, but the prevalence of physical violence is similar for both genders.

Stress by sector and occupation

In 2005 stress was most common in the education and health sectors, and in agriculture, hunting, forestry & fishing (28.5%).

The largest group of employees who suffered from anxiety at work were those employed in education and health, public administration and defence and in agriculture, hunting, forestry & fishing. Irritability was most prevalent in education and health, transport and communication, hotels and restaurants, and public administration and defence.

The threat of physical violence was mostly reported by workers employed in education and health (14.6%) and public administration and defence (11.6%), transport and

communication (9.8%), hotels and restaurants (9.3%), and service, shop and market sales (9.2%). Actual physicalviolence – from people outside the workplace – was experienced by 8.8% of workers in public administration and defence and by 8.4% of workers in education and health.

Harassment was more often reported in sectors such as hotels and restaurants (8.6% of workers) and education and health (7.8%). Unwanted sexual attention was reported by 3.9% of employees from hotels and restaurants, 2.7% in education and health, and 2.5% of those in service, shop and market sales.

From 1995 to 2000, the percentage of employees reporting stress at work in most economic sectors dropped or remained relatively unchanged.

The most significant drop was in the agriculture, hunting, forestry & fishing sectors.

The following five years revealed an even stronger falling trend in the percentage of employees under stress at work.

This trend is strong in transport and communication, in financial intermediation and in real estate activity.

The only sectors where stress was rising was in agriculture, hunting, and forestry & fishing.

However, in some Member States the number of workers reporting stress in sectors where its level has decreased in previous years, such as transport and communication, was significantly high (above 40%).

Stress by employment status

The ‘well-being’ scores for self-employed workers are lower than for employed workers: 41% of those who are self-employed consider that work has an adverse impact on their health, and 25% suffer from stress while doing their jobs.

The corresponding figures for employed workers are 33% and 21% respectively (2005). The figures for specific wellbeing indices, such as irritability, overall fatigue, sleeping problems and anxiety were also worse for the self-employed. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the results of the survey from 2001 suggested that stress more often affected the self-employed who are themselves employers (40%), than it did the employed (29%) or those self-employed people who worked alone (24%).

Among employed workers, the type of employment contract they have affects stress levels and detailed stress-related indices.

Among the four contract types – permanent contract, fixed term contract, temporary contract and apprenticeship – workers with permanent contracts displayed the highest stress levels both in 1995 and 2000.

Some detailed well-being indices, such as irritability and sleeping problems, were also less favourable for this group.

National data present a deeper picture of the problem related to work-related stress in some of the Member States.

© European Communities, 2009

Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged.


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