Findings from a meta-review of the associations between psychosocial work factors and health outcomes show that imminent attention should be paid to these factors to improve the health of working populations.

The meta-review provided convincing findings for the associations between some psychosocial work factors and some health outcomes, as part of an ongoing ETUI project ‘The costs of work-related psychosocial risks in the EU’. The project analyses data on the number of workers affected by the risks and the associated direct and indirect costs in the EU Member States. 

The comprehensive meta-review included a total of 72 published literature reviews with meta-analysis that have been published within the past twenty years. Based on the high-quality evidence, a combination of high psychological demands and low decision latitude (job strain) and long working hours were significantly associated with cardiovascular diseases (especially coronary heart diseases and ischemic stroke) and mental disorders (especially depression). Other significant associations included job strain with diabetes and physical inactivity, long working hours with obesity, and job insecurity with diabetes, depression, anxiety, and psychotropic medication use. Effort-reward imbalance, i.e. the lack of reciprocity in terms of worker’s efforts and the rewards received in return – is associated with coronary heart diseases.

A subsequent research update shows that taking into account five psychosocial work exposures - job strain, effort-reward imbalance, job insecurity, long working hours, and bullying - overall attributable fractions ranged between 17 and 35% for depression and between 5 and 11% for coronary heart disease. Attributable fraction is the percentage of all cases of a particular disease in a population that is attributable to a specific exposure. The findings are significant.

The exposures to psychosocial work factors are modifiable by preventive policies that address work organisation and working and employment conditions. The ETUC is calling for an EU Directive in the area of psychosocial risks in the workplace, 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. For example, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the right to disconnect for workers as a stress mitigating measure. Further, the degree to which psychosocial risks are included or explicitly mentioned in the legislation varies significantly between the Member States, and consequently, workers are not protected to the same level across the countries.

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Photo credits: ETUC