Workers' and employers' agreement is helping to deal with stress at work

The European Commission has published an evaluation of the agreement to ensure a minimum level of protection against stress at work, concluding that it has had positive effects where implemented. In particular, employers' and workers' efforts have led to policy developments in 12 Member States where little had been done before. Although the agreement has not been implemented evenly in all countries, 19 Member States now have legislation or binding collective agreements that address stress or other psychological risks at work.

Over the last ten years, work-related stress has increased in nine Member States and has only fallen in Sweden. Studies suggest that between 50% and 60% of all lost working days are related to stress. In France for example, the cost of stress has been reported to reach at least €2 to €3 billion each year. In the UK it's estimated that 10 million working days are lost due to anxiety, stress and depression linked to work. The direct costs related to stress at work are now estimated to be as high as 4% of EU GDP. In response to these developments, European workers' and employers' representatives reached an agreement in 2004 to ensure a minimum level of protection against stress at work.

The 2004 social partner agreement – concluded by all cross-industry European social partners (Business Europe, UEAPME, CEEP and ETUC) – aims to raise awareness of work-related stress and provide a framework for action. The role of employers is to identify risk factors for stress and to try to match responsibility better with skills; consult workers on restructuring and new technologies; and to provide support to individuals and teams.

The Commission's evaluation of the agreement concludes that the 2004 agreement has successfully triggered social dialogue and policy developments in the field of occupational stress in most Member States. The rules on work-related stress have been enshrined in different ways through collective or general social partner agreements, guidelines or legislation. In many countries, the social partners complemented action with effective awareness-raising campaigns and practical instruments, such as stress assessment tools and training.

At the same time, the agreement has not been implemented evenly throughout Europe. Social partners in Malta, Cyprus, Poland and Slovenia have not reported on the follow-up to their commitments and results in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Estonia have fallen short of expectations. The report emphasises how improvements must be made across the board.