Burnout, depression, anxiety: Psychostress pushes more and more working people into early retirement. But what actually is mental stress in the workplace? How can it be identified? And above all: what helps against mental stress? Three young researchers at the University of Potsdam have begun to tackle psychostress by developing an online tool to quickly and reliably identify mental stress in the workplace. An innovative idea that the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy considered worth an EXIST start-up scholarship. In 2019, their start-up “Humangold” should be in place.
Dr. Robert Brauer describes himself as “home grown at the University of Potsdam”: He studied psychology in Golm. He then went to Leipzig to do his doctorate before moving back to Potsdam - to the chair of work and organizational psychologist Prof. Doris Fay, where he had written his diploma thesis in work and organizational psychology Prof. Fay and Prof. Rothe. While Prof. Fay is the official mentor of the project, Prof. Rothe, meanwhile emeritus professor, still supports the project on the analysis of mental stress in the workplace.”
The second member of the founding team contributes his expertise as an economist: Patrick Bröker studied biochemistry in Hanover and did his doctorate in pharmacology. He earned his living selling medicinal products until he was inspired by the start-up atmosphere in Golm. His key question - “What do you have to do to keep the staff permanently motivated?” - was the basis for the application, with which the scientists have raised the EXIST start-up scholarship.
The two call the third member of the team their “creative mind”: Luca Camastro is the youngest; he is still studying computer visualistics in Magdeburg and has programmed the online tool. With their start-up, they want to offer mental risk analyses, primarily for small and medium-sized businesses.
“We offer a fully automated, digital system that makes it easy for companies to identify mental health issues at each workplace,” says Brauer, explaining the business model. “We have a questionnaire that is completed online and can then be sent quickly and securely. Both the information entered by the employees and the evaluation by the start-up team are absolutely anonymous. “This is to help build confidence. In addition, the app from Potsdam is priced significantly below the competitive offers, reports Bröker. The app is being tested at the University of Potsdam. The founders hope for a lively participation of the administrative departments. “If you want, you can take part – everything is voluntary,” says Bröker. “In the end, it would be great to come up with the University of Potsdam as a reference.”
The market for the business model of “Humangold”, however, has not existed that long: In 2013, the German Occupational Health and Safety Act was supplemented with a passage clarifying that not only incorrect work clothes or a shaky shelf but also psychological stress can lead to workplace risks. According to the act, the work “shall be shaped so as to avoid, as far as possible, any risk to life and physical and mental health”. “Since 2014, the mental risk assessment has been mandatory pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act,” says Bröker. Only 20% of all employers, however, take this paragraph of the law into consideration. According to Bröker, every job must be judged according to whether employees are overstrained with their tasks, whether the causes be time pressure, night work, a lack of breaks or too few social contacts during work.
According to recent studies conducted by health insurance companies, the non-productive time due to mental illnesses has increased by 80% over the past ten years. This translates into costs amounting to 35 billion euros per year – and they are still rising, Bröker says. “On the one hand, the therapies for the ‘burned-out’ employees have to be paid for; on the other hand, the companies are confronted with indirect costs, for example, due to the increasing number of early retirements.” Nevertheless, not enough has happened so far in terms of risk analysis. “Our approach is to inform and break down barriers so that as many companies as possible take their employees’ health seriously,” says psychologist Robert Brauer. “We are currently working on recommendations for action based on the analysis that we can provide to companies. However, we still have to check whether the employers understand this added value and whether they want it.”
The founders are struggling with many content-related barriers because psychostress is often used in the workplace as a means of pressure for the career. When psychological stress is signaled, supervisors may say, “Don’t you have your team under control?” Before they have to justify themselves, many bosses prefer not doing anything and leave their team alone with the problems. “Again, our app is an offer,” argues Bröker. “The anonymous approach does not focus on individual employees, and you can place a special focus on finding solutions. There are no hidden costs,” he continues. And the questionnaire of the founders has already been indirectly evaluated by TÜV Rheinland. “That’s the seal of quality we’re looking for.”
“Humangold” is a start-up in its initial phase. The team has developed a system that can effectively analyze mental stress in the workplace. Using the expertise of the start-up service of Potsdam Transfer, the team was able to get an EXIST scholarship and intensively prepare the launch of “Humangold UG”, which will commence its business activities in 2019.
Dr. Robert Brauer worked as a graduate work and organizational psychologist in labor organization and wrote his doctoral thesis about the acceptance of novel technologies in companies. Due to his experience as an independent consultant and coach as well as his psychological know-how, he is responsible for product development.
Dr. Patrick Bröker (MBA) worked in start-ups. Later he assisted over 35 start-ups during their market entry as a start-up advisor. As an economist, he is responsible for finance, marketing, and sales.
Luca Camastro is studying computational visualistics and is responsible for translating the psychological know-how into the innovative and digital platform.
Text: Dr. Silke Engel
Translation: Susanne Voigt
Published online by: Agnes Bressa
Contact to the online editorial office: onlineredaktionuni-potsdamde