Photo credits: AndreyPopov

On 7 June 2023, the European Commission unveiled its strategy to deal with rising mental health problems in the EU – including those caused by work.

First announced during President von der Leyen’s State of the Union address in September 2022, the initiative followed mental health being identified as a major concern by European Citizens during the Conference on the Future of Europe. It describes 20 flagship initiatives funded by €1.23 billion over the current multiannual budget, aimed at supporting EU Member States in ‘putting people and their mental health first’.

EU actions on mental health will focus on three guiding principles: adequate and effective prevention, access to high quality and affordable mental healthcare and treatment, and reintegration into society after recovery. It is framed as a comprehensive approach recognising the multifaceted risk factors of ill mental health. ‘Ensuring good mental health at work’ is listed among the areas of action, through ‘EU-wide awareness-raising campaigns and a possible future EU initiative on psycho-social risks at work’.

‘Around half of European workers consider stress to be common in their workplace and it contributes to around half of all lost working days. It is time we confront the issue head-on for the benefit of our workers and our economy alike,’ said the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights.

The initiative has been met with scepticism by Eurocadres, who has been leading the EndStress campaign together with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). ‘Awareness raising has not delivered results thus far, with no evidence that we are moving in the right direction. While the Commission has referenced a "possible future EU initiative on psychosocial risks at work", for many workers it will come too late,’ said Eurocadres president Nayla Glaise.

Exposure to psychosocial work factors can be modified by preventive policies that address work organisation and working and employment conditions. The ETUC has been calling for an EU directive in the area of psychosocial risks in the workplace for years, as the implementation of the 2004 autonomous framework agreement on work-related stress in the Member States remains patchy, and the scope of worker protection inadequate. More recently, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) also called on the Commission to adopt binding legislation to prevent psychosocial risks at work in its opinion entitled ‘Precarious work and mental health’. The opinion was in line with a recent report published by the European Trade Union Institute, highlighting how psychosocial work factors contribute to the social gradient in health – with women, young adults and workers with a lower level of education being especially at risk. Finally, two European Parliament reports published in 2022 explicitly called on the European Commission to propose a directive on the prevention of psychosocial risks.

‘From left to right, the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee have agreed that a legislative approach is needed. Many Member States have given support to the proposal, with many more willing to have a conversation around what potential legislation could look like’, reads Eurocadres press release.