Work Stress Week
Elyse Nijsse

Every year during Work Stress Week, TNO release the statistics on work stress in the Netherlands. Damning numbers that continue to confirm what we’ve known for years: work stress is high, and the culprits remain the same — excessive workload, time pressure, lack of autonomy, and a lack of role clarity. And yet, what do we do? 

Perks Do Not Equal Health 

If your company is still throwing fruit, gym classes, and sleep pods at work stress, let’s be clear: you’re missing the point. And you’re not alone. As the numbers show year after year, businesses are still resorting to band-aid solutions. 

Let me say it loud and clear for the people at the back: Perks do not equal health. Wellbeing isn’t a free lunch or a yoga class. It’s not travel benefits, car leases, noise cancelling headphones, or a monthly bonus that your team will never reach due to unattainable KPIs.

The promotion of perks as a wellbeing strategy trivialises the industry. 

And I get it, perks are fun, but no perks will ever protect your people from work stress. So let’s talk about that.

Workload: The Largest Contributor to Work Stress

As the latest Work Stress Week statistics will undeniably confirm, yet again, the root cause of work stress comes down to some fundamentals: workload, lack of autonomy, time pressure, and lack of role clarity. Address these issues, and you’ll see a real change in your team’s wellbeing. Ignore them, and no amount of vrimibos or ping pong tables will solve your problem. Seems simple right?

For those who are serious about confronting the causes of work stress, you need to look at the psychosocial hazards at play. There are a dozen recognised hazards to consider, but you can read about the most prominent ones on the EU-OSHA Psychosocial Risks and Mental Health factsheet. As mentioned, the most prolific hazard is high workload (job demands). 

In fact, at 37% workload stress is the largest contributor to preventable absence in the Netherlands (TNO 2022). 

How To Target Workload

The first step to targeting work stress is to create an open and regular dialogue with your team about their workload, so adjustments can be made when necessary. Teams with higher emotional granularity in regards to their work are more successful in managing their mental health at work.

To build these skills employers are encouraged to invest in programs that focus on workload specifically, such as The Workload Project. The twelve week data program trains teams to identify and respond to a variety of workload stress patterns. And at the same time, the program trains companies to not cause it. Programs such as The Workload Project are of the few in the Netherlands providing more than band-aid solutions to these deep rooted stress issues.

Although tempting to indulge in the fun stuff, your wellbeing budget needs to be spent where it will count. It makes a huge difference to the sustainability of your wellbeing strategy and your ability to prevent chronic stress & burnout when you compare the two.

Invest in your people, not in things

So as Work Stress Week rolls around, delivering its sobering statistics once more, it’s time to take a long hard look at how we reduce work stress, and what programs we choose to invest in our people. Let this be the year we go beyond surface-level fixes. The year we say, enough is enough. The year we finally prioritise our teams’ genuine wellbeing over short-term, superficial solutions. 

About the author: Elyse Nijsse is a Psychosocial Safety Specialist steering the conversation towards the future of workplace wellbeing through innovative, data-driven approaches that redefine how we manage and understand work stress.

Click here if you want to read more about The Workload Project and the work of Unless.