Europeans working fewer hours but under greater stress

Feb 22 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Europeans are working fewer hours a week, but the extra pace and intensity of the workplace is pushing stress levels higher, a 31-country study has found.

The study of 30,000 workers by the Dublin-based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions has found that although six out of 10 workers said they were largely happy with their working conditions, a similar number considered themselves stressed

Just a third of workers said they felt their job offered them good career prospects, while a third felt their health and safety was being put at risk because of their job.

More workers than ever were now using computers and the internet in their jobs, yet opportunities for training at work remained limited, the survey found.

However there were big variations in levels of satisfaction and stress across different countries. Workers in Denmark were the most satisfied (93.4 per cent) compared with a European Union average of 62 per cent.

Britain, at 92.7 per cent, was the next highest ranked EU country for job satisfaction, followed by the Netherlands, on 89.2 per cent.

Workers in Romania were the least satisfied, the poll found, with just 56 per cent positive about their work.

Rather surprisingly, meanwhile, workers in Sweden emerged as being the most stressed (85 per cent) Ė with stress in this survey defined as having to work at high speed and to tight deadlines Ė followed by Finland, on 77 per cent.

In contrast, the least stressed were the Bulgarians, on 27 per cent, against the EU-wide average of 59 per cent.

Agency director Jorma Karppinen said, overall, the report showed European workers were positive about their work and appeared happy in their jobs.

"One worrying thing, however, is that stress levels are not reducing and the effects of stress at work are starting to be felt in other ways, such as physical wellbeing of workers," he added.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said the findings highlighted the "need for a new momentum" to European policy on working conditions.

"The results clearly show that poor working conditions have a negative impact on the health and safety of millions of European workers," it warned.

In Britain, the union body the TUC said the report exposed "the myth that workers are quick to use illnesses caused by their work as an excuse to 'throw a sickie'."

The study showed that British workers were the least likely in Europe to complain about the effect of their work on their health, argued TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

British workers were far less likely to take leave as a result of a work-related illness, coming 26th out of 31, and are well below the EU average.

Yet it also showed that British workers were more likely to be subjected to threats and violence at work that any other country apart from the Netherlands.

"This report is a mixed bag for British workers," said Barber. "Worryingly, the high levels of workplace violence reflect the culture within Britain where some people think it is acceptable to threaten staff, in particular those dealing with the public such as paramedics, transport workers and shop staff.

"At the same time it is clear that the image that employers give of British workers who are happy to blame every twinge on their work and use illnesses such as stress and back pain as an excuse for taking time off work, bears no resemblance to reality," he added.