The health of its employees is fundamental to the performance of a company. New developments, in particular regarding digitalisation at the workplace, are changing established ways of working and require a very high degree of flexibility, which can lead to psychological stress. Since 2013, employers in Germany have been required by law to assess psychological as well as physical risks at the workplace and put suitable measures in place. This is a huge challenge for small and medium-sized businesses in particular, since they already experience difficulties in setting up systematic and comprehensive occupational health management.
Regional networks – Advantages for small and medium-sized businesses
In light of this, researchers in the Public Health working group at the Institute and Outpatient Clinic of Occupational, Social, and Environmental Medicine (IPASUM) at FAU started the RegioKMUnet project in January 2016 in conjunction with the Medical Service of the Statutory Health Insurance Providers (Medizinischer Dienst der Krankenversicherung) in Bavaria, the Grundig Akademie and Peter Brehm GmbH. The aim of the project, which is being funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), is to develop a holistic concept for implementing occupational health management schemes tailored especially for small and medium-sized businesses. A total of eleven companies and seven municipal employers from Middle Franconia and the Bavarian Odenwald with between 40 and 450 employees have formed two regional networks in the project. ‘We wanted to investigate whether exchanging information and mutual support could promote occupational health management’, explains Amanda Voss, sociologist at IPASUM.
The structure of an occupational health management scheme is heavily dependent on the size of a company. Small companies usually do not have enough employees to enable one person to be responsible for occupational health management on a full-time basis. It was also not possible to use company medical officers as coordinators during the project. The task given to the partners in the network during the project was to define a specific contact for occupational health management, if they had not already done so, in the personnel department or directly on the management board.
Digitalisation not the primary cause of stress
Two employee surveys were conducted during the course of the project that focused on mental health. Even though employers are legally obliged to identify all risks associated with work and to implement suitable health and safety measures, assessing the risk of psychological stress has not yet been established in all companies, and especially not in smaller businesses.
The surveys revealed that digitalisation as a source of stress and pressure to adapt only plays a secondary role in the small and medium-sized companies that took part. ‘We discovered that the most common causes of psychological stress are problems in work processes and organisational structures’, says Wolfgang Fischmann, who is responsible for the psychological aspects of the project at IPASUM. ‘Employees also mentioned poor leadership qualities of superiors, such as a lack of subject knowledge or a bad attitude towards errors.’
Conference on 10 April
The project is scheduled for completion at the end of April 2019. The researchers are currently evaluating the latest results of the survey. They have already been able to gain four main findings from the RegioKMUnet project:
1. Awareness of psychological stress was raised in the companies which took part.
2. The project successfully communicated to those responsible the relevance of employee surveys for analysing needs and for drawing up suitable measures.
3. The project provided the impetus for long-term occupational health management.
4. Forming regional networks makes it easier for companies to implement such occupational health management schemes.
A conference about occupational health management called ‘BGM – dazu gehört doch noch viel mehr’ will take place on 10 April 2019 to mark the end of the project. A series of presentations and workshops at the conference will show how occupational health schemes can be implemented and offer an in-depth view of new sources of stress and issues related to it for discussion. Detailed information on the conference is available at www.regiokmunet.de.
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