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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Workplace stress: Are you suffering?
About 500,000 people are believed to be suffering from work-related stress or depression in the UK and they take 6.5 million days off sick every year.
According to new research by the Health and Safety Executive, nearly 150,000 workers have taken at least a month off sick because of stress-related illness, costing British industry an estimated £370m a year.
Teachers and nurses are the most stressed-out professions.
The HSE believe that "work-related stress is a huge occupational health problem, inflicting a heavy toll both in terms both of financial cost and human suffering."
How stressful is your job? Could your employer improve the situation?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Technology and marketing are the joint evils of the modern workplace. More and more things have to be done in less and less time. The only reason more technology pours into the workplace is because you can have it - and your competitors can have it. The truth of the matter is that we'd all be much better off without it, and nobody really wants or needs it.
There are many factors at work here.
A long, crowded commute can be as disheartening as an oppressive work environment. The sooner the government invests the substantial sums necessary to improve public transport and roads, the better we shall all be. Staggered working hours would also be a big plus. If I start work at 10am instead of 9am, my journey time is halved.
One cause of stress and depression rarely mentioned is bullying and improper behaviour from colleagues and bosses. Companies need to make more of an effort to stamp out workplace backstabbing and petty politics. I, for one, am sick and tired of some of the behaviour people get away with in the workplace and more should be done by business to stamp it out.
Dave Elwood, UK
This story makes me feel a little more normal! I am clearly a textbook case. I was 37 when I was driven to a nervous breakdown and developed heart trouble because of a boss who behaved exactly as described in this report: bullying, making impossible demands, never giving any praise to anyone. Like a fool, I returned to work after a three-month break, working on a non-contract basis. Then he found an excuse to sack me when I'd been there for one year and eleven months, so I wouldn't get the full employee rights that come with having been in a job for two years and couldn't sue. I'm now unemployed - but much happier. Ah, the joys of being part of the "flexible workforce" Tony Blair talks about so enthusiastically!
The human "chains" of the 21st century are called "happiness". I refer to the compulsory "Don't worry - be happy" mask that we are all supposed to wear at work and everywhere. Image is so powerful! People see you for five seconds and they instantly form an opinion about you. You either are "OK, no problem", or you are "not happy - too stressed". Being stressed is a problem. I mean, it is YOUR problem, it is YOU who is not coping well. They might be able to look at the situation and try to improve things, but it is so much easier - and quicker - to just get rid of you and replace you with a "happy" person.
Conclusion: Happiness is compulsory. If you are stressed, try to hide it, it may put your job at risk. If asked "how are you?", the right answer is "I am very happy with everything". If you are really not happy, the safest thing is to just write it in your diary at night and not show it to anyone until you retire.
I am so fed-up with teachers complaining about stress levels. I am a school governor and my husband is support staff within a school. They work shorter hours than their contemporaries in the private sector, they have more holiday in the summer than most get in an entire year and yet still complain. They are an unbelievably precious bunch who would not survive the pressure and competitiveness of the private sector for five minutes.
Stress related illness is very real and can be very severe. Stress over time in some people leads to the related illnesses of depression, panic disorder, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder and other anxiety related illnesses. Many people suffer life changing consequences - sometimes having to quit work or move house. I myself have been through such an experience. Anyone starting to suffer from what might be any of the above should see an understanding GP straight away, as it is treatable through a combination of medication and adjustments to lifestyle. Don't listen to anyone who doubts the validity of stress related illness.
Dan Marino, UK
The greatest cause of real stress is inadequate or poor management. What is the link between stress and bullying at work? The introduction of 'performance management' has been one of the key aspects of stress and bullying. If one does not perform to unrealistic targets, one is threatened with the sack. Employment law is useless unless you have the backing of a union or lots of money!
Isn't it time that the CBI and the Institute of Personnel did something about bad management practice rather than attack the workforce all the time?
Dan Thompson, England
What a load of rubbish!! I've worked for 12 years, 10 years of it in the City and never had time of ill, certainly not for stress. How come this is a relatively new thing, I don't remember people talking about stress 10 years ago. Can't be a coincidence that now we all have to be 'PC' more people are able to be off work "ill" with stress!
Stress is not the employee's inability to cope with excessive demands and excessive workloads; stress is a consequence of the employer's failure to provide a safe system of work as required by the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974).
G. Simpson, UK
The work culture in the UK is currently at unsustainable levels. We compete with our colleagues to see who can get to their desk the earliest and who is last out of the building in the evening. Employees in the UK do not take a long relaxed lunch to unwind but simply grab a sandwich to eat at the desk to prevent wasting valuable time. It's no wonder we're all stressed and the biggest joke of all? When the average salary is calculated pro-rata over the number of worked hours, we're all on less than the minimum wage!
Our society is definitely under too much stress. You see it in the divorce rates, the increasing unemployment figures, the market place, and in a general dissatisfaction of people with their lives. You see it because people are not focused on what is most important in life. They are moving too fast and don't take time out to be truly human or alive.
We are not
using adequate conservation of our natural resources or insisting that corporations
honour and respect their workers. The younger
people have no idea of what it would be like to live in a society that was built on the principle
that being a part of a "company" meant stability in the workplace. Instead, nobody has any
I am a full-time working mother. It was not until I changed jobs did I realise who much work-related stress I had been under. Since changing jobs my IBS has disappeared, I have lost weight and the family is happy. The two jobs are basically the same, the difference is the company values and the managers attitudes.
I have a stressful job meeting deadlines in the IT industry, occasionally taking decisions with multimillion pound implications for my company. I've not had any time off through illness for over a year. In fact, even when badly food poisoned by an airline, I've still made all my meetings, and, I hope, exercised good judgement. But then, I'm paid by the hour, aren't I? If the decisions aren't made, I'm not paid. I wonder how many of the people having time off get full pay, or even SSP? Furthermore, if I wasn't stressed, I probably wouldn't perform as well. But I don't mean to diminish the problem. I just guess that a large component in it is financial, and suggest sufferers stop feeling like they have to have everything just because it's there. Get your finances in order, and everything else will follow.
I believe stress is self-propagating to a certain degree. I am in a career where I could work up to 18 hours a day 7 days a week, if I let it. But I make sure I do not let work take my life over. I had a brush with death due to a heart attack 9 years ago. This focuses your mind on what is most important in life. Money is not top of the list, which is mainly why we work.
I think most people will agree that the work is ok, the people are ok, but the company you work FOR is terrible.
Here, it seems that the harder you work, and the better you perform, you get rewarded with even more stressful work and bad situations. They don't know when to stop and simply say thank you and realise the amount of pressure you're under.
The Brits are such whingers. Out here we work even longer hours with no benefit system to guard against pink slips. People are happy since they have jobs, an income and can save up for the future. As for the Europeans......
It is stressful in today's world just trying to keep your job. Don't complain. Don't get sick. Don't take lunch breaks. Don't ask for a pay rise. Don't rock the boat. The work itself is probably the least stressful part of work today.
The average US worker in my office wouldn't know workplace stress if it smacked them in the face! I thought this was the land of hard graft but it's snoozeville. Tomorrow will do... 'awh, whatever'!
You can't really separate the nature of a job from the sort of people it attracts - I think there are certain professions that attract people that are prone to stress. I moved from industry to teaching and find it much less pressured and stressful - yet my new colleagues appear to be far more stressed than the previous ones, who seemed to have a lot more to moan about.
Paul, Malaysia (formerly UK)
Workplace stress is on the increase, I have found the working week is becoming more demanding, its especially difficult for those who have to work to a roster only to have it changed at the last minute; and having to work longer hours.
I have suffered from work stress for the last two years. I became very depressed as I worked long hours and was too tired to do anything "social" when I got home. I ended up nearly killing myself, until I finally realised how bad it had all got. I got some professional counselling, but in the end I realise I have to quit work in order to sort out myself. I left work on Friday, I'm taking three months off to relax, travel, sort out myself and find a new job.
Ben Ashley, Paris, France (British)
Getting up every day at 7:00am, getting on a tube train packed with sweaty, irate commuters to start an eight-hour shift of pure tedium. I often find myself thinking - there must be more to life than this?
I work in a banking environment and have to adhere to strict deadlines, although working in the Netherlands is less stressful than in the UK. I worked in a variety of assignments in the UK, and was constantly shocked at how stressful and downright unpleasant the working environment has become. I feel that the poor workers are being flogged to death by unreasonable demands from superiors. It really cannot carry on like this or else we simply will not have a workforce at all.
If you are suffering stress in your job, then it is obvious you are in the wrong job. In the end everybody has to make their own decision and whereas some people can cope with stress, other people cannot and sooner than take time off should seriously reconsider their career. Nowadays too many people subject themselves to stress at work because they cannot forego the material rewards that often are given by employers to compensate for the pressure of work. However it comes down to a simple choice in the end for most people - take the money and the associated stress or else accept smaller rewards and less or no stress. Basically anybody who is suffering from stress at work, in the end only have themselves to blame if they continue to put up with it, rather than put quality of life first.
Well, I'm sick of work if that's what you mean!
Josh Hawes, Wales
Having come to work in London from Germany, I cannot believe how stressful it is. The British work the longest hours in Europe and seem the most miserable for it! No one ever takes the "1- hour" lunch-break they are entitled to. This all contributes to a general atmosphere of tension - no wonder people are falling sick! It's time for the UK to adopt the European Union's Social Charter!
The most stressful thing about work is listening to people whinge on about how much stress they're under. Unless you're facing starvation, torture or imminent violent death, you're under pressure - that's all. Give it a rest, you're driving me mad.
Here's an idea: teachers could take their month of stress-related sick leave during one of their lengthy holidays - this might save the taxpayers a few quid. Without sounding critical of nurses, I would be interested to know how (and why if applicable) the stress figures differ from doctors' since they work in the same environment. I have a job which involves long hours, time away from home, and pressure to work to tight deadlines and to increase very tight profit margins. However, I chose to do the job I do and if the time comes when I can't deal with it any more, I will change careers. I hope some of these people consider what £370 million a year could be used for.
Mark Nutter, England
It is management that sets the level of stress within the work place. 80% of the workplace stress could be removed by adding only one employee: a Social Worker to make little changes that would add little or no cost but many benefits. Unlike America, the employer looking to the needs of the employee is a very British construct, when was this lost?
Normally my job is
not very stressful
but, due to the
need to make job
cuts, me and my
Now that the job cuts have been
completed there is
a complete loss of
esprit de corps.
What a lovely coincidence that this story comes so soon after the one about how much people throwing sickies is costing businesses. So which 'costs' the country more? Avoiding stress by having the odd day off or falling ill after working all hours?
25 Jun 01 | Business
Stress causes 6.5m sick days
19 Jun 01 | Health
'Too stressed to go to school'
19 Apr 01 | Health
Stress 'costs firms £3bn a year'
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