Any attempt to arrive at a better understanding of mental stress in indoor workplaces and the psychological aspects of adverse indoor workplace conditions must be based on a consistent definition of the terms mental stress and mental strain. These definitions are set out in DIN EN ISO 10075-1, where mental stress is deemed to be “the totality of all influences that people are subject to from the world around them and that affect them mentally”. Put simply, employees are subject to influences at work that can stem from the work task, work environment, work organisation, work equipment or social factors.
Having said that, mental stress and the impairing effects that can result from it can come from any aspect of a person’s life – not just their work. This makes it difficult to separate workrelated incidences of stress from those that originate outside the workplace, such as problems at home.
Mental stress can lead both to positive (learning or training effects, activation) and negative (monotony, mental satiation, mental fatigue and stress in general) consequences of strain. The same incidence of stress can produce different strains in different people. Several factors determine whether stress generates impairing or stimulating effects, among them the resources available to the individual.
There is a complex web of causes behind complaints and disorders in employees, in which noxae, attribution and stressrelated impairing strain play a role. There may be overlaps with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome (MCS), Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and Building-Related Illness (BRI) and differential diagnosis will be required.
Group dynamics can have a major effect on the extent and proliferation of complaints and symptoms but real organic illnesses can also be the cause. This aspect must therefore always be taken into account before embarking on time-consuming, potentially counterproductive measurement of possible chemical, biological or physical exposure. If multiple complaints occur following extensive redecoration work, relocation or restructuring, the factors mentioned above may be the cause if there is no evidence of harmful exposure.
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