Work-related stress is a major social problem

Marlyn Glen

25 May 2012

The Chief Inspector of Ofsted in England , Michael Wilshaw, recently described how teachers in schools should be treated :

“If anyone says to you that staff morale is at an all-time low, you know you are doing something right.”

In the NHS, in one year in the last decade, the Department of Health in England estimated that “£96 million was spent on replacing staff who have left their jobs due to bullying”

Scotland is not immune from the confrontational macho style of relations at work either.

UNISON Scotland reported earlier this year that almost one in three of their members in Scotland have either have been bullied, or have witnessed bullying in a six month period..

The websites of unions in education such as the EIS, SSTA and UCU, all carry detailed information on how to deal with bullying.

What should be of  major concern is that bullying is occurring in the public sector.

The spirit of the public sector is supposedly one of dialogue, co-operation, dignity at work , and benefit for the common good.

Instead, we see all too often light-touch scrutiny of those at the top, while top-heavy micro-management of those at work.

With the banks now in partial public ownership, the consequences of failure are a bonus for those in command, but P45s for its employees

The higher echelons can accept the rewards that high salaries and secure jobs bring, but they can refuse to accept responsibility or culpability when things go wrong.

The buck stops somewhere else down the line.

Common sense assumptions that  the hazardous consequences of stress for health is mainly the fate of the high-powered in authority who have to take make-or-break decisions are contrary not just to academic research but daily workplace experience.

Those who suffer stress-related illnesses such as anxiety and depression  tend to be those in the lower grades upon whom demands are highest and where control over one’s work is lowest.

Stress also comes with a financial cost to the organisation affected through long term absence, reduced production , and increases in statutory sick pay.

With the public sector still to face much greater cuts in spending than have been  made so far, women face added pressure from job losses, since they make up the majority of most  public sector organisations.

The 2010 British Academy study “ Stress at work” reported :

“Work stress has increased since 1992, especially for women.  In the past year these levels have risen at an alarming rate and there are no effective measures in place to prevent the situation worsening.”

This was its  “disturbing finding”  - a 25 per cent increase in the number of women suffering from job strain over the 14 year period between 1992 and 2006.  ( Link : Stress at work )

The latest TUC survey of union safety reps indicates that stress is by far in the most quoted problem for health and safety at work with longer hours, heavier workloads, less staff and unrealistic targets at its root.

The TUC itself declared that  “ stress is most often found in the public than in the private sector” ( link   )

Meanwhile, the Labour Force Survey found that last year 77,000 people suffered from work-related illness in Scotland , and that the sectors in which stress had been most prevalent in the UK were health, social work, education and public administration

Much more work-related stress seems almost inevitable unless tackling attitudes and behaviour towards preventing stress from taking its toll on the workforce is made a priority.

There are Management Standards produced  by the Health and Safety Executive on how employers should deal with work-related stress.

The TUC says that such standards  “, based on the risk assessment approach, are seen as the most useful method of tackling stress in the workplace”, but that is only because of “ the absence of specific legislation “

The British Academy study emphasises this point by asking,

“With no legislation in the UK specifically on this issue, the report questions the effectiveness of the current voluntary code of practice that is meant to guide employers in matters of work stress.  “

Work-related stress is major social problem.

 Share on Facebook

Back to previous page