Sat. Jun 25th, 2022
Brussels, 14 June 2022

Employment Committee MEPs want to prevent techno-stress and over-connection in order to tackle mental health issues and boost the benefits of working from home.

On Tuesday, the Employment and Social Affairs Committee adopted, with 38 votes to 2 and 1 abstention, a report on Mental Health in the Digital World of Work. MEPs underlined the positive consequences of working from home such as increased flexibility and autonomy but warned against the significant health risks stemming from over-connection, a blurring of the lines between work and private life, higher work intensity or technostress.

Key threats in a digital workspace

MEPs listed key risks to workers’ mental health and the right to privacy such as technology-enabled control and surveillance through software and AI tools, remote real-time monitoring of progress and performance and time-tracking. They pointed to increased stressors such as financial insecurity, fear of unemployment, limited access to healthcare, isolation, as well as changes to working hours and inadequate work organisation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis. Finally, they highlighted discriminatory treatment, including in recruitment processes, due to gender, racially and ethnically biased algorithms that contribute to mental health problems experienced by workers.

From a different perspective, MEPs pointed to the impact that the shift to teleworking has on the mental health of those at risk of digital exclusion. They stressed the importance of fighting against the digital divide in the EU and the necessity of retraining younger and older people in order to ensure that all workers have a sufficient level of digital skills.

Preventive measures

MEPs call for mental health issues to be tackled urgently through cross-sectional and integrated policies, as part of an EU Mental Health Strategy, a European Care Strategy and a European Year of Good Mental Health in 2023. They also stress that member states do not share legally binding common standards and principles regarding psychosocial risks, which leads to de facto unequal legal protection for workers. To this end, they call for the EU to act within its remit. The EU institutions and member states should recognise the high levels of work-related mental health problems that exist across the EU and commit to regulating digital work and protecting mental health, though social protection rights and with employers and workers’ representatives including trade unions. The Commission and the member states should also include the impact of mental health in their health crisis and pandemic emergency response and preparedness plans.

Finally, MEPs called for the Commission to propose, in consultation with social partners, a directive on minimum standards and conditions to ensure that all workers are able to exercise effectively their right to disconnect and to regulate the use of existing and new digital tools for work purposes.