So, it’s Monday again. It always seems to be Monday and they never seem to get any better. The Boomtown Rats didn’t like them, still less Brenda Spencer the 16 year old girl whose 1979 shooting spree in San Diego and subsequent blunt explanation inspired their song. Even if most people aren’t drawn to actually shooting their fellow workers, the third Monday in January is the worst, bleakest, most depressing day of the year. This is supposedly because Christmas is a distant memory, the credit card bills need paying, the weather is awful and the next holiday is months away. See this article from Mail Online last year for the full horror story: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-509367/Its-miserable-Monday-How-think-positive-bleakest-day-year.html
Of course, there is feeling down and there is full on mental illness, which is of a different magnitude altogether. Mental illness is still stigmatised and not properly understood. It is a real issue for society as levels of depression and anxiety seem to be increasing. This is particularly so in the workplace. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced statistics for 2008/09 which suggest that;
- In that year 415,000 people in work believed they were suffering from work-related stress at levels to make them ill
- The 2009 Psychosocial Working Conditions Survey said that around 16.7% of all working individuals thought their job was very or extremely stressful
- The Labour Force Survey (LFS) suggests that 11.4 million working days were lost through “self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety” in 2008/09
- GP data collected by a research group called THOR, run by Manchester University, shows that 30.9% of all diagnoses of work-related ill-health are mental health related and the average length of sickness is 26.8 working days
Click here for the full HSE summary. The statistics show that, despite what might be thought anecdotally, the levels of self-reported stress was broadly level throughout the last decade, although THOR’s figures show that Occupational Health Physicians report a clear upward trend over that period (but psychiatrists don’t: they report levels remaining stable). What does this say about Occupational Health Physicians: correctly sympathetic or not applying the right tests?
These are worrying figures and demonstrate that stress at work is a significant problem. However, the first two statistics above only deal with self-reported stress and that must raise concern that some employees exaggerate their symptoms or actively “play the system”. For a combatively worded argument in favour of the latter proposition, please see the letter from Helen Giles, an HR Director in Personnel Today on the 7th January. The central point she makes is that there is a difference between people who claim to be ill from those who actually are;
“Any HR practitioner will … [say] … that in nine cases out of 10 where an employee is told they are facing any sort of disciplinary or capability procedure, they run to the doctor for a certificate saying “work-related stress” and stay off work for several weeks, at the employer’s expense, as a way of avoiding or delaying proceedings”
Strong stuff, but not untrue, although I would query whether the rate is really as high as nine out of 10. Without doubt though, it happens.
What can be done if you’re an employer, or how to deal with stress if you are an employee? I have no magic wand but I’m delighted to announce that I’ve asked Ian Barratt of Mind Strengths Limited, to write his “Seven Top Tips for dealing with Stress” which will provide common-sense ways to keep stress under control. Mind Strengths is a specialist consultancy advising both employees and employers on how to cope with stress at work.
In their own words
“(Mind Strengths) specialise in helping clients identify, reduce and manage the risk of stress in the workplace. In turn, this helps clients save money, reduce absenteeism caused by stress and improve productivity and morale.”
To coincide with “Miserable Monday” Ian’s Seven Top Tips will be published on this blog next Monday 18th January, along with my own tips for employers on how to avoid stress at work claims.
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