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Europe: Bosch adds healthcare element to flexible working culture

Bosch and employee representatives have drawn up a central works agreement on adding a healthcare element to its flexible work culture in Germany.

The agreement is scheduled to take effect on August 1, 2015.

It provides for additional preventive, rehabilitation, and reintegration measures to supplement the company health management program.

The aim is to identify psychological stress at an early stage, to heighten associates’ and supervisors’ awareness of this issue, and to provide integrated support programs.

The hope is that the agreement will help the issue of mental health to be dealt with more openly.

And although psychological stress can be triggered by events both on and off the job, its effects often manifest themselves at the workplace.

The company regards the new regulations as a contribution to better work-life balance.

Supporting health, preventing stress

“Healthy working conditions help people do their job well and also enhance their sense of well-being outside the workplace,” says Christoph Kübel, the director of industrial relations at Robert Bosch GmbH.

“That is why we want to prevent psychological stress and deal responsibly with this issue in our interpersonal relationships.”

“Such conditions are part and parcel of modern life, but they are often swept under the carpet,” he says.

In Kübel’s view, it is important to create an atmosphere of understanding at the workplace as well, and be able to talk openly about this issue.

Creating understanding and sensitivity

With the new agreement, Bosch is adding to its company health management program, particularly when it comes to preventing mental illness.

The new program element makes use of media such as leaflets, events, e-learning courses, and forums on the Bosch intranet.

In addition, supervisors will receive a special guide to dealing with psychologically distressed associates. “Everyone deals with stress and pressure differently. It’s important for people to know what the sources of stress are, and to work with their supervisor to find a remedy if stress becomes excessive,” says Dr. Falko Papenfuss, the chief medical officer at Bosch.

It is therefore scheduled to make a training program available for all supervisors by 2016 at the latest.

“We hope this measure will make all associates aware of the causes of psychological stress – stress that can have a negative impact and even do permanent harm to health.”

Mental illness in Germany

Although psychological stress may have its causes at work or outside work, its effects may only become evident at the workplace, says Bosch.

In Germany, workers themselves frequently do not recognize psychological stress, and if they do, they will often try to suppress or hide it for fear of jeopardizing their careers.

When consulting primary care physicians, patients will generally describe physical symptoms, but rarely touch on psychological symptoms.

The result of this reticence is that many workers become seriously ill on the job and miss more days of work than others.

According to the 2014 BKK health report, associates with psychological conditions are on sick leave an average of 40 days each year, which is longer than associates with heart and cardiovascular problems, who miss an average of 22 days.

The 2012 Stress Report Germany indicates that healthy leadership behavior protects worker health.

Of those workers who receive support from their supervisor on a day-to-day basis, 17% complain of health issues. In cases when workers seldom receive assistance or none at all, the number of those who fall ill increases to 38 percent.

According to the German Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the total annual number of working days lost due to mental illness increased from approximately 34 to 60 million days between 2001 and 2012.

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