Society and communities
Informing policy development to promote employee wellbeing in Europe and beyond
Data since the early 1990s has demonstrated the negative social and economic impact of psychosocial risks associated with work organisation and management. These risks, which include harassment and bullying at work, affect the workforce, organisations and society through the experience of work-related stress and poor mental health. Work-related stress is believed to be the cause of almost half of all working days lost to ill health in the UK. The picture in the rest of Europe is not much better, with one in four workers believed to be affected at some stage in their lives, costing the EU around 3-4% of GDP annually.
Since 2003, researchers at the University of Nottingham have been involved in a multi-million-pound project tackling the issue. Their work has involved studying the risk factors that can lead to workplace stress and the promotion of an increased focus on workers’ mental health.
Dr Jain and Professor Leka have had a leading role in the research programme, which has resulted in the development of a European framework designed to help safeguard workers.
The European Framework for Psychosocial Risk Management (PRIMA-EF) sets out key policies, principles and best-practice suggestions for employers and has been adopted by the World Health Organisation, the European Commission, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), the British Standards Institution, the Canadian Standards Authority, the International Standardisation Organisation, and national agencies in various countries.
It has also been successfully used by a number of corporate businesses, including Equinor (formerly called Statoil ASA), a major Norwegian gas and oil company.
Dr Jain said: “When we talk about psychosocial risks we are looking at possible negative psychological, physical and social outcomes that can arise from issues at work. These risks usually come about from poor organisational management and can include things like excessive workload, time pressures, a lack of support or harassment and bullying.
The impact these risks can have on workers and organisations cannot be underestimated and includes poor health and wellbeing – e.g. musculoskeletal disorders, mental health problems and cardiovascular disease - as well as a negative effect on organisational innovation and productivity.”
"The impact these risks can have on workers and organisations cannot be underestimated and includes poor health and wellbeing as well as a negative effect on organisational innovation and productivity."
The framework was drafted following a comprehensive review of existing knowledge, policies and practices in work-related stress prevention and promotion of mental health at work. This took the form of interviews, focus groups, case studies, surveys and analysis of existing data and involved a wide range of stakeholders, from managers to trade unions and government institutions.
PRIMA-EF guidance has been incorporated in several other key documents, including WHO guidance in 2008, and a policy consensus paper on mental health in the workplace has been adopted by all EU member states.
Both PRIMA-EF and the consensus paper were promoted by the World Health Organisation on 2017’s mental health day, and are now included in the WHO’s mental health in the workplace information sheet.
Furthermore, PRIMA-EF was incorporated in the first British standard on the management of psychosocial risks in the workplace, launched by the British Standards Institution in 2011, and the first international standard on psychological health and safety in the workplace (ISO 45003) which was launched by the International Standardisation Organisation in 2021.
Professor Leka said: “Tackling work-related stress requires a multidisciplinary approach. PRIMA-EF has achieved impact internationally because of its comprehensive nature and applied focus. The shared expertise from the University of Nottingham’s schools of Medicine and Business was key in developing a framework that can be applied in any context and will be useful to both employers and policymakers in developing a healthy psychosocial work environment, post-Covid-19.”
Aditya Jain is Associate Professor in Human Resource Management and Head of the Organisational Behaviour/HRM Division, Nottingham University Business School, Faculty of Social Sciences
Stavroula Leka, is Professor of Work & Health Policy, Centre for Organisational Health and Development, School of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences