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Evidence-based interventions for promotion of mental and physical health in changing working environments (post-pandemic workplaces)


The digital and green transitions (referred to as ‘twin transition’) have been changing the workplace at a rapid pace, leading to new forms of work (e.g. hybrid work, gig economy jobs) or changes in the forms of management and work organisation (e.g. through algorithmic decision-making and digital worker performance monitoring) for workers across the spectrum. These changes have varying impacts on the working conditions, income and health and occupational safety both for skilled and unskilled workers. Furthermore, they contribute to the high costs of work-related illnesses and accidents for employers and the European economy in general.

Mental health and ergonomic-related problems affect a significant number of EU workers. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the most common work-related health problems in the EU and workers and managers commonly identify stress, depression and anxiety as serious psychosocial outcomes of workplace exposures. Changes in the organisation of work can bring flexibility that allows more people to enter the labour force, but may also lead to psychosocial problems (for example, insecurity, compromised privacy and rest time, inadequate OSH and social protection, as well as stress due to excessive or atypical working hours, performance monitoring by algorithms and similar AI applications).

Some workplaces have either become exclusively virtual or they have evolved into a ‘hybrid’ model (e.g. multilocational working, home office), some work tasks and processes performed virtually and others requiring physical presence[[The future of working in a virtual environment and occupational safety and health,]]. A significant number of jobs are performed at clients’ premises or require workers to commute long distances and/or cross borders regularly. Such workers are facing additional legal, social, environmental and economic issues. Data on how these affect their mental/physical health and well-being is scarce.

The emergence and persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of change, causing, in some cases, additional challenges for workers’ mental health (differentially affecting certain segments of the working force) and intensifying already existing physical risk factors (e.g. ergonomic risks). The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan[[]] aims to promote a healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment in the EU and relies on Horizon Europe for research and innovation supporting economic and social resilience and sustainability. The EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027[[]] recognises the needs, challenges and opportunities that technological innovation and the pandemic bring for the working population and calls for strengthening the evidence-base for policymaking and implementation.

To address the issues described above, research actions under this topic should include several of the following activities:

  • Provide adequate and robust data on the impact (positive and negative) that the ongoing changes in the workplace are having on the mental and physical health of different categories of workers and working sectors (e.g. teleworkers, cross-border commuters, gig economy workers, and vulnerable groups such as women, migrants and young and older workers with increased demonstrated risk for MSDs), including gender and intersectional analyses, where appropriate;
  • Generate evidence (including data) not only on mental health, but also on mental well-being at the workplace and how changing work organisation due to the twin transitions and the pandemic affects workers’ work-life balance and work ability;
  • Generate evidence (including data) on the importance of risk factors (such as stress caused by new working environments, static postures and physical inactivity, physically strenuous and highly repetitive work arising from the workplace design) in the development of chronic and acute diseases;
  • Increase the understanding of the links between different health-promoting factors in the working-built environment and physical and mental health outcomes, and how these may be mutually reinforcing;
  • Explore the health impacts of changing working times, including excessive and atypical working hours and work in different time zones that blur work from leisure time, limiting recovery. Effects should consider a wide range of diseases;
  • Provide recommendations for effective interventions to prevent occupational risks and support the mental and physical health and well-being at individual (worker), organisation (employer) and policy (government) levels for different sectors/types of work, including an analysis on their cost-effectiveness, sustainability and barriers to implementation at national and/or EU level;
  • Advance the development of a scientific framework addressing Occupational safety and health (OSH) across policies and sectors and support new and sustainable (future-proof) tools, guidelines and policies concerning the evaluation and design of physical and psychosocial work environment;
  • Provide tools and approaches to anticipate new OSH risks, also taking account of lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance in relation to digital technologies and associated new ways of working.

This topic requires the effective contribution of social sciences and humanities (SSH) disciplines and the involvement of SSH experts, institutions as well as the inclusion of relevant SSH expertise, in order to produce meaningful and significant effects enhancing the societal impact of the related research activities. Researchers should carefully integrate distributive considerations in their analysis by considering, where relevant, disaggregated effects for different socio-economic groups.

Projects are expected to contribute to the New European Bauhaus (NEB) initiative[[]] by interacting with the NEB Community, NEBLab and other relevant actions of the NEB initiative through sharing information, best practice, and, where relevant, results.

In order to optimise synergies and increase the impact of the projects, all projects selected for funding from this topic will form a cluster and be required to participate in common networking and joint activities. Without the prerequisite to detail concrete joint activities, proposals should allocate a sufficient budget for the attendance to regular joint meetings and to cover the costs of any other potential common networking and joint activities.

Applicants envisaging to include clinical studies should provide details of their clinical studies in the dedicated annex using the template provided in the submission system. See definition of clinical studies in the introduction to this work programme part.