Survey reveals ‘moderate’ levels of occupational stress

In Luxembourg, around one in four working people experiences a high or very high level of stress, according to the findings of a 2005 survey. The survey examines disparities that emerge in relation to sex, occupational and educational level, and sector. It also identifies diverse stress factors and their impact on stress levels. An important aspect of the study was its focus on people’s perceptions of occupational stress.

At the request of the Luxembourg Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (Onofhängege Gewerkschafts-Bond Lëtzebuerg, OGB-L), a survey of occupational stress (in French, 3Mb PDF) was carried out in late 2005 among a representative sample of the working population in Luxembourg. It revealed that around one in five working people experience a dangerously high level of stress at work. Although the data indicate a lower incidence of stress than has been found in other surveys, they highlight the existence of a real problem. The survey also reveals disparities and diverse stress factors that generally conform to the same overall trends reported by other comparable surveys.

Survey sample

The population sample of the survey (1,230 people) included people living in Luxembourg and also people living across the border in Belgium or France but working in Luxembourg. Around 60% of those surveyed were men and 40% were women. Of the respondents, 34.1% were blue-collar workers, 47.2% were white-collar workers and 18.6% were officials, public sector blue-collar workers and the like. The analysis looked at stress levels in general, but more specifically at the perception of occupational and non-occupational stress.

Survey findings

Overall, the survey respondents present stress levels that are slightly lower than those of the reference populations in other surveys. A total of 20.9% of those surveyed stated that they experience a level of stress that posed a threat to their health. A further 53.5% assessed their level of stress as very low, low or moderate.

Sectoral disparities

However, considerable disparities emerge from the study. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected by very high levels of stress (29.4%, compared with 15.2% for men). Those in blue-collar jobs are nearly three times as likely to be subject to very high stress levels as senior managers (24.6%, compared with 8.6%).

In the private sector, significantly more people experience very high stress levels (22.6%) than in the public sector (13.5%). The sectors showing the highest levels of stress are skilled trades (45% of workers), cleaning (36%), hotels, restaurants and catering, and retail (both 32.4%) – see Table 1. In those sectors, two to three times as many people experience high stress levels compared with other areas, such as manufacturing (13.1%), teaching (13.8%), the public sector (14.3%) or financial services (15.5%). A very low level of educational attainment is closely related to the experience of high stress levels.

Table 1: Stress levels in different sectors
This table shows the percentage of the population surveyed in each stress level per sector
Sector (number of workers surveyed) Stress level (% of those surveyed in each sector)
Low or moderate High Very high
Agriculture (7) 71.4 28.6 0
Construction (109) 53.2 28.4 18.3
Manufacturing, production (175) 55.4 31.4 13.1
Cleaning, caretaking (75) 34.7 29.3 36.0
Skilled trades (20) 35.0 20.0 45.0
Hotels, restaurants, catering, retail (105) 39.0 28.6 32.4
Banking, insurances, financial services (168) 57.7 26.8 15.5
Transport (65) 52.3 30.8 16.9
Information technologies (IT), telecommunications (38) 47.4 34.2 18.4
Teaching (80) 70.0 16.3 13.8
Social and healthcare (92) 52.2 19.6 28.3
Central and local government (130) 59.2 25.4 15.4
Domestic work (14) 64.3 21.4 14.3
Others (145) 54.5 17.9 27.6
Services sector (water, gas, electricity, property) (7) 85.7 0 14.3

Source: Stimulus, Enquête sur le stress professionnel: Rapport complet (3Mb PDF), [Survey on occupational stress: Full report], January 2006

Occupational stress factors

The stress factors to which the study population is most exposed are ‘change’ and the ‘demands of others’ – see Table 2. Moreover, factors such as ‘lack of control’, ‘physical environment’, ‘frustration’ and ‘work organisation’ are also prominent.

These factors are certainly all significant in terms of their impact on individuals’ overall stress levels; however, several other aspects also have a major impact in this regard, such as ‘lack of work–life balance’, ‘lack of support’ and ‘difficult relationships’.

The stress factors are evaluated on a scale from one to 12, and their impact on the level of stress is evaluated by means of a linear regression.

Table 2: Presence of stress factors and impact on stress level
Presence of stress factors and impact on stress level
Stress factor Presence Impact
Lack of resources 2.92 0
Lack of work–life balance 3.07 2.55
Lack of support 3.18 1.02
Difficult relationships 3.55 0.76
Work organisation 4.14 1.89
Frustration 4.39 0
Physical environment 4.44 0.74
Lack of control 4.79 0.81
Demands of others 6.44 2.12
Change 6.58 0

Source: Stimulus, 2006

People working in the skilled trades clearly attribute their stress to ‘lack of support’ and, as noted, represent a vulnerable group with 45% of people experiencing a very high level of stress. In the caretaking and cleaning sector, with a 36% incidence of very high stress levels, the factors of ‘organisation’ and ‘other people’s demands’ best explain the experience of stress.

Perceived occupational stress

Occupational stress features more prominently than non-occupational stress in employees’ perceptions. However, almost a quarter of people surveyed (24.5%) regard their occupational stress as high or very high, which is clearly less than what is usually observed in working environments (40% in the reference populations). By contrast, 29.1% regard their occupational stress as low or very low – nearly twice as many as in the reference surveys.

Overall, the level of occupational stress is regarded as ‘moderate’, regardless of the age group within the population surveyed; however, a slightly higher level is found among those aged 25 to 29 years. Some 8.9% of those questioned reported that they are currently consulting a doctor about problems that they encountered in the working environment and/or in connection with work. In general, individuals consider occupational stress as being more negative than positive for their health. Almost nine out of 10 people believe that their occupational stress level will not decline in the future.

Further information

For more information at European level, see the EWCO topic report on work-related stress (TN0502TR01).

Odette Wlodarski, Prevent

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