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Stress at the workplace: risk assessment of psychological stress

The average German citizen spends six hours a day – 40 hours a week – 160 hours a month – 1920 hours a year at work (cf. TNS Emnid, 2019). you spend A lot of valuable time at work in the course of your life. For this reason, working hours should also be a pleasant or at least bearable time. But nowadays it is more and more noticeable that people become ill through their work – mentally ill. One reason for mental illness is work-related stress. In their health reports, several health insurance companies report an increasing trend in mental illnesses. This is a worrying and serious trend not only for employees, but also for employers. As a result, there is an urgent need for action on the issue of stress at work.

For the time being, the question arises as to what stress actually is. In the world of work, the term is often defined in a reaction-oriented way, as people react to certain work-related stresses and thus feel stress. According to the European Commission (2002, p. 7), work-related stress is “the totality of emotional, cognitive, behavioural and physiological responses to adverse and harmful aspects of work content, work organisation and working environment”. Stress in the workplace is caused by stressors, also known as stress triggers or potential stress factors. These are “all external stresses or demands that lead to a stress reaction” (Nagel, 2014). The reasons for stress at the workplace are varied, complex and, above all, individual.

The Techniker Krankenkasse health insurance provider has conducted a survey on the question, “What stresses Germany at work”.  According to this survey, most employees feel stressed by too much work. Time pressure and hectic workdays are also often perceived as psychological stress. Every second respondent feels stressed by constant interruptions and disturbances at the workplace. In order to be able to counteract these stressors efficiently, they must be recognised at the time. The risk assessment of psychological stress, called GPB for short (German for “Gefährdungsbeurteilung psychischer Belastungen”), can be practised, for example, with the short questionnaire for work analysis. The following case study explains how to proceed with such a GPB. In order to be able to judge psychological loads on the job, work areas within the enterprise must be specified first. The activities of the persons of a group should be as similar as possible. Examples of possible work areas are administration, reception and apprentice administration (cf. Kummer; Klein; Lewerenz, 2014, p.21). Once the groups have been formed, stressors are determined by means of a short questionnaire. The following topics are asked about: room for manoeuvre, versatile work, holistic work, social backing, cooperation, suitable content requirements, suitable quantity of work, suitable work processes, suitable working environment, information and participation, development opportunities and work-life balance (Kummer; Klein; Lewerenz, 2014, p. 24).

If sufficiently completed questionnaires are available, they must then be evaluated. The assessment should be carried out by a group of experts consisting of competent persons, such as works or personnel councils or external experts (cf. Management of the GDA work programme Psyche c/o Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs 2017, p. 5). The evaluation is carried out separately for each area of work. The assessment criteria and the subject areas can be used to determine in which characteristic areas the respective burdens could have a negative impact on the mental health of the employees. Thus it is possible to develop concrete goals and measures for the prevention of mental stress. According to Germany’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, these should “contribute to the prevention of accidents at work and work-related health hazards, including measures to make work more humane” (§2 Para. 1, Arbeitsschutzgesetz, p. 2). On the basis of the results of the GPB, the expert group develops a target and action plan. (cf. Head of the GDA work programme Psyche c/o Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs 2017, p.12) Possible examples of such measures are “further training for managers on the subject of task clarity or workshops for employees on teamwork” (ibid., p. 34).

Once concrete goals and measures have been formulated, they must be implemented. When implementing the measures, care must always be taken to ensure that the developed action plan is adhered to exactly. Even small deviations can lead to negative changes in effectiveness. In order to determine whether the action plan was successful, the effectiveness must be reviewed after a fixed or reasonable period of time. It must be kept in mind that the changes take time to become effective. There should therefore be sufficient time between implementation and evaluation. An effectiveness check can, for example, be carried out through workshops (cf. Kummer; Klein; Lewerenz, 2014, p. 36). If no positive impact is discernible, the action plan must be revised, adapted or redefined.

In summary, it can be stated that psychological stress at the workplace is not fundamentally a matter for the employee, but also for the employer. In order to work against the psychological loads at the job, there is the GPB. However, this can only be effective if employer and employee work together cooperatively and both pursue the common goal of coping with stress. If one feels overworked on the job, one must seek a dialogue with the employer and work together against the excessive workloads.  Nobody is forced to put themselves under this stress for years. There are ways to assess the risks and combat them effectively. For this reason, no one should take stress at work for granted or as unavoidable.

Works cited

Arbeitsschutzgesetz. i. d. F. der Bekanntmachung vom 7. August 1996 (BGBl. I S. 1246), zuletzt geändert durch Artikel 427 der Verordnung vom 31. August 2015 (BGBl. I S. 1474).

European Commission. Stress am Arbeitsplatz – Ein Leitfaden, Würze des Lebens – oder Gifthauch des Todes? European Community, 2002, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/resource.html?uri=cellar:9f53b8c2-75a1-404a-851f-65d4b826d528.0008.02/DOC_2&format=PDF

Kummer; Klein; Lewerenz. Handlungsanleitung – Gefährdungsbeurteilung psychischer Belastungen und Betriebliches Gesundheitsmanagement. Deutsche Rentenversicherung Bund, 2014, https://www.deutsche-rentenversicherung.de/Bund/de/Inhalt/2_Rente_Reha/02_reha/05_fachinformationen/02_infos_fuer_arbeitgeber/downloads/gefaehrdungsbeurteilung_psych_belastung.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=4

Leitung des GDA-Arbeitsprogramms Psyche c/o Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales. Arbeitsschutz in der Praxis: Empfehlungen zur Umsetzung der Gefährdungsbeurteilung psychischer Belastung. 3rd revised edition, Leitung des GDA-Arbeitsprogramms Psyche c/o Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, 22. November 2017, https://www.gda-psyche.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/empfehlungen-zur-umsetzung-der-gefaehrdungsbeurteilung-psychischer-belastung.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=1

Nagel. Stress: Stressoren (Stressauslöser, Stressfaktoren), Onmeda, 24.03.2014, https://www.onmeda.de/psyche/stress-stressoren-(stressausloeser,-stressfaktoren)-16447-2.html

Techniker Krankenkasse. Entspann sich, Deutschland -TK-Stressstudie, Techniker Krankenkasse. Oktober 2016, https://www.tk.de/resource/blob/2026630/9154e4c71766c410dc859916aa798217/tk-stressstudie-2016-data.pdf

TNS Emnid. Wieviele  Stunden arbeiten Sie durchschnittlich pro Woche? Statista GmbH, November 2010, https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/167582/umfrage/durchschnittliche-arbeitszeit-pro-woche/