New ways of working can affect both
workload and stress at work. Hyperconnectivity adds a new dimension to technostress
by prolonging its effects, which is detrimental to individuals and society.
This is the conclusion of a report on ‘The mental health of workers in the digital era’ commissioned by the
European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee published in
The report is based on a literature review
of 22 studies investigating adverse psychosocial or mental effects associated with
the introduction of digital technologies in the workplace. However, the findings
in the report are only indicative and do not claim to be exhaustive.
Working with new technologies can have a
number of negative effects on workers and society in general. For example, new
technologies may contribute to occupational stress, mental overload, fatigue
and even burnout. New technologies, characterised by their intrusive
properties, can aggravate phenomena such as isolation, technoaddiction, sleep
deprivation, emotional exhaustion and anxiety, and have a detrimental effect on
quality of life. Furthermore, there is a risk of blurring the boundaries
between professional and private life. Work-life balance is the second most
frequently mentioned psychosocial effect in the studies examined.
Many work-related illnesses have their
origins in both work and non-work environments and are not exclusively
attributable to the work situation. For example, the two most prevalent
disorders, namely musculoskeletal disorders and illnesses associated with
psychosocial risks, are often influenced by both work and non-work factors.
However, this does not negate the duty of employers to minimise relevant risks
arising in the workplace or from work practices.
However, the report explicitly states that
new technologies are not inherently harmful, but rather the way in which they
are used. For example, the ability to read e-mails on a smartphone outside
working hours is not per se harmful. However, the expectation that an employee
will do so could be. This issue must be addressed. In many cases, these
negative effects could be offset by suitable organisational measures and, if
necessary, by monitoring their use. In a European Parliament debate on ‘A social
Europe in a digital world’, Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, stated that in a world where new technologies
blur the line between work and private life and cause mental health problems,
the right to switch off and not be online is essential.
In its Conclusions of December 2019 on a new EU occupational safety and health strategy, the
Council pointed out that psychosocial risks and stress at work are among the
greatest and most pressing challenges for occupational safety and health. The Council
has called upon the EU Commission to propose a Mental Health Strategy for the
EU, taking into account the cross-sectoral impact of different policies to
promote mental health, including occupational safety and health. Neither in its
Communication ‘A Strong Social Europe for Just Transitions’ nor in its work
programme for 2020 has the Commission provided a specific timeframe for proposing
the new EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021 - 2027 or the
EU Mental Health Strategy requested by the Council (see article