An underestimated problem?

SW – 04/2022

On 28 March 2022, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs discussed a draft report by the correspondent Maria Walsh (EPP, IE) on mental health in the digital world of work. The draft contains far-reaching demands on the European Commission to improve mental health at the workplace - especially against the background of the digital transformation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of mental health into even sharper focus and has once again highlighted new as well as existing problems. However, the correspondent believes that the magnitude of the problem is underestimated. The next health crisis will be linked to mental health. The European Commission is therefore urged to develop an EU mental health strategy.

Right of non-availability

With a view to the digital transformation, the correspondent underlines the importance of a right of non-availability. A right to be unavailable is essential to ensure the psychological well-being of workers. The European Commission is again called upon to establish legislation with minimum requirements for working from home. MEPs had previously called for this on several occasions, for example in their Resolution on the right of non-availability with recommendations to the European Commission of 21 January 2021.

The Commissioner responsible for employment and social rights, Nicolas Schmit, in a debate on the Report of the European Parliament on the EU Strategic Framework for Safety and Health at Work on 10 March 2022, reiterated that the European Commission will ensure an adequate follow-up to the resolution. However, he first sees the social partners as having a duty. He said the European Commission is ready to support the social partners in finding joint solutions to address these challenges and encourages them to follow up on their 2020 framework agreement on digitisation.

Dealing with psychosocial risks at work

The correspondent's demands for dealing with psychosocial risks in the workplace are very far-reaching. To effectively prevent such risks, the European Commission is to adopt a directive on psychosocial risks and well-being at work. It also calls on it to recognise anxiety, depression and burnout as occupational diseases, and to establish mechanisms for their prevention and reintegration of sufferers into the workplace. Instead of measures at the personal level, there should be a shift to an approach at the level of work organisation.

While a European legislative proposal aimed at recognising anxiety, depression and burnout as occupational diseases would interfere with the freedom of the Member States to design their social security systems, initiatives and measures to prevent them are to be welcomed, in principle. The accident insurance institutions in Germany already provide comprehensive prevention measures, such as consulting services and qualification programmes with the help of prevention experts.

Costs of mental health problems

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, significant financial costs were incurred due to mental health problems. An Expert Panel that advises the European Commission on efficient, accessible and resilient health systems estimates in a Report on "Supporting Mental Health of Health Workforce and other Essential Workers" that the total cost of work-related cases of depression alone in the EU-27 amounted to EUR 620 billion in 2013. Accordingly, the treatment costs of the healthcare systems amounted to EUR 60 billion, and the costs of the social systems due to disability benefits amounted to EUR 40 billion.

The responsible Committee on Employment and Social Affairs is expected to vote on the report at its meeting on 19 May 2022. A date has not yet been reserved for the vote in the plenary of the European Parliament.