Stress At Work – The Facts

WHILST THE government is content to sit back and watch the right-wing
media peddle lies about civil servants, it is well aware of what life is
really like for the vast majority of its workforce.

Bernie Lyons

The PCS civil service union has recently published the Whitehall II
study which sheds light on the findings of extensive research into the
health of over 14,000 civil servants.

University College London (UCL) is carrying out the study, which was
begun in 1985 and was asked jointly by the Cabinet Office and the Council
of Civil Service Unions to produce a plain English version of the findings
to date.

The study quashes the myth that those in the most senior positions in
the workplace are more likely to suffer from stress and other illnesses.

Though there was shown to be a strong relationship between health and
employment status, it is those in the lower grades of employment who are
at far more risk of both physical and mental illness. The more senior you
are in the employment hierarchy, the longer you are likely to live.

Little control

In particular danger are workers who face high demands but have little
control over their work, regardless of the ‘type’ of person they are. The
study highlights employer and manager support as one way to reduce
sickness absence.

Working hard was not considered to be stressful in itself. But high
levels of stress were found in those who were not appropriately rewarded
through esteem, financial remuneration and career opportunities such as
job security and promotion prospects. It showed that those who believe
they are subject to unjust procedures and unfair treatment are also more
likely to become ill.

Organisational change was highlighted as an area which poses particular
risks for the workers involved. It is suggested that change often provides
only limited business benefits, at a cost of reducing loyalty, motivation
and morale in the workplace. Job insecurity was found to affect workers
even after the threat to their job had disappeared. Increased levels of
sickness were related to frequent changes, including reorganisation,
privatisation and threat of redundancy. Temporary employment too was found
to be associated with an increase in premature death.

UCL says that: "Reduction of health inequalities is the current
priority for government". However, the reality for civil servants is
one of massive job cuts and government attacks on the working conditions
of the lowest paid.

This is most obvious in the Department for Work and Pensions, where
Chancellor Gordon Brown has promised that 30,000 staff will soon lose
their jobs. The government has also introduced a performance pay scheme
which discriminates against the most disadvantaged and those on the lowest

Working environment

Of course, the implications of the study extend to other workplaces and
to society as a whole. It concludes that patterns of behaviour are
conditioned by the environment in which people live and work.

It shows evidence that health is strongly influenced by the work
environment, social influences outside work and influences from early
life. As it acknowledges, this: "Leads to the uncomfortable (for
some) finding that inequalities in health cannot be divorced from
inequalities in society."

Of course, the most significant disadvantage for those at low grades is
low income. Those on low pay have far less control over things like the
place where they live, the food they and their families eat and the types
of leisure and social activities in which they can take part.

In other words, low-paid workers experience stress both at work and as
result of it. The effects of the conditions experienced during the working
life, were also found to continue into retirement. Those who are better
off typically report a more satisfying retirement period, with a better
standard of health.

PCS is aware of what the findings of this research means for its
members and is calling on the government to ensure that illness and
work-related stress in particular is avoided in the first place, rather
than attempting to solve the problem after it has arisen. Members of other
trade unions should put pressure on their leaders to do the same and make
it plain to employers that they will not be allowed to damage and
disregard the health of those who do the work for them.

Less Hours, Higher Productivity

A RECENT survey by Deloitte has found that France and Germany, where workers have the shortest working week in Europe, are the most productive economies in Europe.

The growth of productivity in Britain has been slower, now below the EU average.

Productivity is a measure of the output per worker. And output is obviously dependent on the amount of investment in plant and machinery the bosses are prepared to make.

The bosses argue that workers should work longer hours for less money to protect profits.

We argue that working hours are not the problem, it’s the profit system.