This framework agreement negotiated in 2003 by the European social partners, covering issues such as how to identify and prevent, eliminate or reduce work-related stress, as well as the responsibility of both employers and workers (and their representatives), will surely help to combat this detrimental and growing phenomenon which potentially can affect any workplace.

Stress is described in the agreement as “a state which is accompanied by physical, psychological or social complaints or dysfunctions and which results from individuals feeling unable to meet the requirements or expectations placed on them.” Identifying whether there is a problem of work-related stress can involve an analysis of factors such as work organisation and processes, working conditions and environment, communication and subjective factors. Signs may be high absenteeism or staff turnover, frequent interpersonal conflicts or complaints by workers.

Work-related stress can be caused by a number of different factors such as work content, work organisation, work environment, poor communication, and so on. Under Framework directive 89/391 on health and safety, all employers have a legal obligation to protect the occupational safety and health of workers. This duty also applies to problems of work-related stress in so far as they entail a risk to health and safety. If a problem of work-related stress is identified, action must be taken to prevent, eliminate or reduce it. This can include various measures, which can be collective, individual or both.

Such measures could include, for example:

  • management and communication measures such as clarifying the company’s objectives and the role of individual workers, ensuring adequate management support for individuals and teams, matching responsibility and control over work, improving work organisation and processes, working conditions and environment;

  • training managers and workers to raise awareness and understanding of stress, its possible causes and how to deal with it, and/or how to adapt to change;

  • provision of information to and consultation with workers and/or their representatives in accordance with EU and national legislation, collective agreements and practices.