If you are at work and feeling irritable, tired and depressed – don’t panic. Research has shown that one in every four workers experiences work-related stress, leading to up to half of all sick leave days.

But despite this strain on worker health and productivity, Malta continues to lag behind in implementing and reporting on strategies to reduce stress in the workplace.

The Occupational Health and Safety Authority wants to change that and yesterday opened a framework agreement on work-related stress to consultation with social partners.

If signed, the framework agreement would commit social partners to raise awareness and promote workplace strategies to prevent, identify and properly manage incidents of work-related stress.

OHSA CEO Mark Gauci acknowledged that stress, while fairly straightforward to identify, was harder to link directly to work-related causes. He was speaking at a conference about work-related stress organised by the OHSA.

Dr Gauci pointed out that despite a 2004 framework agreement between European social partners about work-related stress, Malta was one of five EU countries to have failed to report on its implementation of the agreement.

Richmond Foundation CEO Dolores Gauci presented the findings of a study into mental health at the workplace carried out by the foundation in 2011.

Half the full-time workers interviewed as part of the study said they found their jobs stressful or very stressful – and the more hours they worked, the more stressed they said they were.

The study also found that more than one in every 10 workers had taken time off work due to stress during the previous five years, with one in every five saying their work had caused them emotional or health problems at some stage.

But many of those interviewed said they were reluctant to disclose stress-related concerns to their employer for fear of being stigmatised.

Maltese society, Ms Gauci said, still had some way to go in understanding and accepting mental health issues and human resources departments were generally ill-equipped to deal with cases of work-related stress.

According to psychologist Roberta Zahra de Domenico, “stress is inevitable”.

“It’s what you do with it that makes a difference.”

She explained that while stress could be helpful in small doses, when it accumulated it could become crippling and destructive.

The conference was opened by Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia, who used his keynote speech to drive home the point that stress varied from one person to the next.

He also reminded his audience of unionists and employers that stress, aside from harming employees’ health, also stunted productivity.

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