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Time pressure bigger work environment issue in the Nordics than rest of Europe

Time pressure bigger work environment issue in the Nordics than rest of Europe

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

Psychosocial risk factors are identified as the main challenge by the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work in their second major survey of work environments in European countries.

The previous survey was published in 2009 and ESENER-2 builds on its findings. The survey shows how big trends influence work environments, as seen in the growing service sector and ageing work population. The graphs also bring new information about the differences between the Nordic countries when it comes to work environment issues.

Nearly 50,000 establishments with more than five employees in 36 European countries have been surveyed. The Nordic countries are characterised by:

  • A very high number of employees working from home. In Denmark 24 percent of the respondents said they were employing people on those terms. Only the Netherlands has a higher proportion at 26 percent. 
  • Sweden has the highest proportion of European establishments where more than one in four employees are older than 55. 
  • Sweden also scores high on the number of establishments which say they have employees who have difficulties understanding the language spoken there.

Having to handle difficult customers, patients or pupils is considered by most countries to be the biggest work environment challenge. This is seen as a problem by 58 percent of the European establishments taking part in the survey, followed by tiring or painful positions (56 percent) and repetitive hand or arm movements (52 percent).

Different sectors have different problems

The difficult customers/patients and pupils are mostly a problem for the retail, transport, hotel/restaurant and recreation trades. Within these trades 75 percent of European establishments consider this to be a work environment problem.

Similarly, the risk for accidents involving machines or hand tools is something which concerns both the construction trade (82 percent) and agriculture, forestry and fisheries (78 percent). The one work environment risk which is considered the least prominent in Europe is discrimination because of gender, age or ethnicity. Only two percent of the establishments considered this to be a problem.

At the same time the survey points to the fact that there are major dark spots when it comes to improving the work environment:

“We note with interest that among workplaces which carry out risk assessments and also say they have employees working from home, only 29 percent say these risk assessments also include the home offices,” the survey points out.  

“Here the highest numbers are found within the public sector (40 percent). Even though the results only equal 13 percent of all surveyed establishments, they should be seen as an indication of work environment strategies in correlation with new, growing trends within work organisation.”

With differences between different trends being this large, the statistics from different countries should be treated carefully. But it is still surprisingly large differences between the Nordic countries’ answers in the survey.

Finland, for example, is top out of all the European countries when it comes to the number of psychologists hired to address work environment issues, whether they are hired internally or externally. 60 percent of the establishments use such expertise, while the numbers for Norway and Iceland are 24 and 13 percent. 

“Considerable changes to working life leads to an increase in psychosocial risks. Such risks linked to the nature of the work, organisation and management as well as to the economic and social whole, leads to increased levels of stress and could cause serious deterioration of psychological and physical health,” the survey warns. 

Time pressure a particularly Nordic phenomenon

Time pressure is most common in Nordic workplaces, and there is a gap down to the other countries:

In Sweden and Finland 74 percent of the establishments said time pressure was a problem, followed by Denmark (73 percent) and Norway and Iceland (each 71 percent). 

Then come the Netherlands at 62 percent. The lowest numbers come from Turkey (15 percent), Lithuania (16 percent) and Italy (21 percent). 

The most important reason given by the establishments for prioritising the work environment was that they must fulfil legal requirements. At the same time they say the greatest obstacle for dealing with work environment issues is the complexity of those legal requirements (40 percent of the establishments in the EU-28), followed by the paperwork (29 percent). In the Nordic countries, however, it is more often a question of not having enough time and personnel. 

How fast should one work?

Not everyone gets to work at their own pace. Danish builders taking it easy on a summer’s day (picture above).


The European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-Osha) works to make European workplaces safer, healthier and more productive. The agency carries out surveys, creates and spreads reliable, balanced and impartial information on work environment issues and organises Europe-wide information campaigns. EU-Osha was established by the EU in 1994, has its head offices in Bilbao in Spain and links representatives for the European Commission, member state governments, employers’ and employees’ organisation as well as leading experts from all EU states and other countries. 

ESENER is short for European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks.

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