Health and well-being at work

11 January 2018

Promoting high standards in working conditions, including in the area of health and well-being at work, is a key priority for the EU. The EU Directive on measures to improve safety and health at work seeks to protect workers in their place of work and promote workers’ rights in this area.

The European Commission’s Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014–2020 identifies important challenges and objectives for Member States. This includes improvements to health and safety rules, prevention of occupational diseases and issues relating to the ageing workforce.

In November 2017, the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission formally proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights, which reflects a joint commitment to providing a healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment for workers in the EU. It includes provisions on protection of workers’ health and safety at work, as well as adapting the working environment to enable longer participation in the labour market.

Eurofound’s work

Eurofound has been analysing occupational health and safety since the 1990s and recognises that health issues are a central part of an organisation’s structure and development, for workers and employers alike. Analysis of survey data has been carried out to investigate the links between working conditions and health and safety. This is done in close consultation with the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). Eurofound has a cooperation agreement with EU-OSHA which sets out opportunities for joint activities in this area and for further forms of exchange.

Key contributions

Survey data

Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) is a prime source of information on job quality and its correlation with the health and well-being of different groups of workers. Based on data from the sixth EWCS carried out in 2015, Eurofound will investigate the associations between working conditions and the physical and mental health of workers and absenteeism and presenteeism, in collaboration with EU-OSHA. A report based on the fifth EWCS carried out in 2010 focuses specifically on health and well-being at work. It looks at work-related stress and the psychosocial work environment in relation to health conditions like musculoskeletal diseases and mental health. It also explores quality of work and job security and their links with well-being.

Health and mental health are important components associated with a person’s quality of life and longevity, as well as their ability to work. The European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) covers subjective well-being, health and aspects of individual quality of life including work–life balance and care responsibilities. It investigates the links between having to work while also having care responsibilities and the resulting impact on well-being.

The European Company Survey (ECS) examines the associations between workplace well-being and establishment performance, including absenteeism and its cost to the economy. It looks at practices to improve occupational health and safety and the influence of employee representatives. In the ECS 2013, employee representatives reported having the greatest influence on company decisions regarding occupational health and safety.

Work-related health outcomes

New information and communications technologies have revolutionised work and life in the 21st century. A joint report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Eurofound considers the effects of telework and ICT-mobile work (T/ICTM) on workers in the EU. Although there are advantages to this way of working, it is also associated with longer working hours, interference between work and personal life and work intensification. This can lead to high levels of stress with negative consequences for workers’ health and well-being.

Research has explored issues around making work sustainable over the life course. To achieve this requires devising new solutions for working conditions and career paths that help workers to retain their physical and mental health, motivation and productivity over an extended working life. 

Again, in a joint report with EU-OSHA, research examined the prevalence of psychosocial risks among workers in Europe and the associations between these risks and health and well-being. It also reviewed where action is taken to prevent such risks and described possible interventions for companies.

Role of social dialogue

Eurofound’s study on the impact of the crisis on industrial relations and working conditions looks at the impact on working time arrangements and work–life balance, on work organisation and psychosocial risks, and on health and well-being at work. The annual review of working life from Eurofound’s European Observatory of Working Life also documents the national social dialogue debates centred around health and safety at work in the EU.

An earlier report on the role of governments and social partners in keeping older workers in the labour market looks at initiatives and measures introduced to improve working conditions and to enhance the health and work environment of workers, in order to encourage workers to stay in the workplace for longer.

Other research topics

Other studies have been carried out on violence and harassment at work, absence from work, use of alcohol and drugs at the workplace, work-related stress, and the employment situations of young people with health problems and disabilities and people with chronic diseases.

Sixth European Working Condition Survey

The European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) 2015 builds on the lessons learned from the previous five surveys to paint a wide-ranging picture of Europe at work across countries, occupations, sectors and age groups. Workers were asked a range of questions concerning employment status, work organisation, learning and training, working time duration and organisation, physical and psychosocial risk factors, health and safety, work–life balance, worker participation, earnings and financial security, as well as work and health. The analysis explores the findings using seven indices of job quality – physical environment, work intensity, working time quality, social environment, skills and discretion, prospects and earnings – and categorises workers into five typical job quality profiles. 

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