More and more people are experiencing work-related stress. RIVM and TNO are expecting societal developments to increase pressure on working people even more.   The researchers studied expected developments in the next 20 years. Key developments include the ageing workforce, more workers who combine their work with informal care and hybrid working. If work-related stress persists for a longer period of time, the risk of burn-out and work disability increases. RIVM and TNO advise the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment to develop additional policies to prevent the expected negative impact on work-related stress. These policies should be developed taking into account the interrelation between developments and with an integrated approach in mind.

Increasing work-related stress

The number of people experiencing work-related stress symptoms is expected to increase further in the next 20 years. Work-related stress can be caused by work pressure, major events and undesirable behaviour. Individual factors like an unhealthy lifestyle may influence the development of stress symptoms as well. If workers have enough time to recover from work and sufficient learning and development opportunities, this will help reduce work-related stress. 

Eight societal developments

TNO and RIVM describe eight developments that are expected to have the biggest impact on work-related stress in the next 20 years: the ageing workforce, the need to combine work and informal care tasks, labour market shortages, flexible contracts, working for online platforms, artificial intelligence, hybrid working and perceived performance pressure.  

Developments will mainly have a negative impact

The eight developments are expected to mainly have a negative impact on work-related stress. For example, there will be fewer workers available for the work that needs to be done. Because of an the ageing population, the need to combine work with the provision of informal care and labour market shortages, for example. Hybrid working could have a positive effect on work-related stress. It paves the way for flexibility in respect of working hours and work location, which could help improve someone’s work-life balance. 

If the negative impact of these developments persist over time, this will increase work-related stress, the risk of absenteeism and work disability.

Collaboration needed to tackle work-related stress

The eight developments are interrelated. They can reinforce, accelerate or actually tone each other down. That is why policies and measures to reduce the causes of work-related stress should not focus on just one of the various developments. The complexity and coherence of all these developments and factors call for an integrated approach in which collaboration exists between the work, care and education domains, for example.  

Part of foresight study

The current study is part of the foresight study on health and safety at work (Toekomstverkenning Gezond en Veilig Werken), which RIVM and TNO are carrying out on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment.