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Last updated: 21.06.2023

Workloads can be harmful

The right amount of challenge is a good thing: it motivates us and keeps us sharp. Excessive stress is a health risk, and precautions must be taken against it like other health risks.

Bad working conditions cause extra stress for workers. The extra stress may be physical, psychological, or social. 

If the work is too simple and easy, the quality can be said to underload the worker. If there is too much work or the schedule is always busy, the quantity of work can overload the worker. Changes in the work or organisation, competitive procurement, and uncertain continuity add social stress for workers. 

Once the employer has been informed of their worker’s stress, the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires the employer to investigate the stress factors and reduce the resulting risks to health. 

Psychological stress 

Reasonable challenges are part of work and not harmful. The amount and duration of stress are decisive.  

For example, work-related stress that goes on for too long can cause burnout. The symptoms of burnout include fatigue, cynicism, and a lower sense of professional confidence, for example. Workers who are completely stressed out lose their functional ability and no longer enjoy their work. At worst, stress can trigger depression and destroy the worker’s work ability. 

Physical stress 

Physical exercise is essential for human health, but excessive physical stress can harm it, and this harm must be prevented (Occupational Safety and Health Act (pdf), section 24).  

Typical features of service sector work: 

  • lifting and carrying loads 
  • difficult and stressful working positions 
  • repetitive motions 
  • physically demanding work 
  • fast-moving, tight schedules. 

Physical stress is mitigated by good ergonomics that reduce harmful stress on the musculoskeletal system stemming from stressful working positions and motions. 

The principles of ergonomics must be applied when designing working facilities and assessing the safety of lifting work and the strains of load handling. Correct working positions and movements must be included in work guidance and sufficient breaks must be agreed. 

Social stress 

In the service sector, social and psychosocial stress is typically caused by:  

  • tight schedules 
  • difficult customer encounters 
  • long lists of things to remember 
  • a great deal of responsibility 
  • experiences of unfairness. 

Stress may come from expanded duties, insufficient skills, unresolved work community conflicts, and unfair management (inequality). Employers must assess the stress levels of their workforce regularly and respond to worker reports of experiencing stress.  

Assessing work-related stress 

According to the Occupational Health Care Act (pdf), workers have the right to an examination of their work-related stress for justified reasons (chapter 3, section 12, subsection 4). “Justified reasons” refer to situations where a worker suffers physical or psychological symptoms that weaken their work ability and which the worker considers to be work-related. A justified reason exists if these symptoms have required treatment or resulted in absences due to illness. 

The assessment of work-related stress may concern multiple workers or a larger part of the work community.  

Useful links 

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