Understanding the concept of mental load
Nowadays, there is a lot of discussion regarding increasing mental load in the working environment. However, mental load is not automatically harmful, nor should it be equated with mental illness.
© Uwe Völkner, Fotoagentur FOX
First of all, mental load refers generally to the totality of external factors that affect us mentally. Unlike in its everyday meaning and somewhat counter-intuitively, mental load has to be understood as a neutral term.
Referring to work, therefore, mental load is the combination of requirements arising from work activity and, as such, occurs in all activities and affects every individual. With this in mind, the aim is not to get rid of or eliminate mental load, but rather to shape it in terms of human work design.
The effects of mental load on individual workers are referred to as strain and can affect people in different ways. How well or badly a person copes with mental load depends on several factors. Besides the type, length, timing and intensity of mental load, individual’s preconditions and coping strategies also influence whether effects are positive or negative. There are stimulating or impairing effects either way. In the best case scenario, mental load leads to positive impacts of strain and contributes to individual’s health, well-being and professional development. In the worst case scenario, mental load results in adverse impacts of strain and jeopardises for example well-being and health, if it persists for a longer time.
Data from representative studies conducted by BAuA have shown that high levels of time pressure and pressure to perform are widespread among employed persons in various areas of work. BAuA therefore focuses its research on the factors of work intensity and recovery. At the same time, it is also analysing the impact of flood of information from digital media on employees and the design approaches that can be used to counteract this.
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