Letters

This
week’s letters

Job
design and avoiding the risk are key to fighting stress

I
totally disagree with Professor Scase’s view (Opinion, 21 October), where he
writes off many staff complaints of working in a culture of fear and
consequently falling ill with stress as ‘nonsense’.

He
was referring to staff having to work under new management sometimes brought in
to improve an under-performing company. What Scase doesn’t point out, is the
stress that staff in such situations have to go through when they are not even
given the basic tools to carry out their new roles – such as training.

Your
editorial aptly points out that HR professionals can do a lot about
work-related stress – for example, in addressing the design, organisation and
management of work. The Personnel Today and Health & Safety Executive’s
survey is an important contribution in this field, and its findings highlight
the significant impact of stress on business. Even if 51 per cent of employers
believe that only half of the sickness absence attributed to stress is genuine,
more must recognise the impact of stress on their business.

Heather
Falconer’s article in the same issue (Features, 21 October) rightly points out
that since the Court of Appeal ruling in Sutherland v Hatton, staff claiming
psychological harm from stress at work have had difficulty in establishing that
the employer could have reasonably foreseen the harm.

She
also points out the crucial role that work-related stress (WRS) risk
assessments play in prevention. It is encouraging to see that 69 per cent of
respondents to your survey state that they already have work-related stress
risk assessments in place. These will be even more important in legal claims
soon, as the exclusion of civil liability clause (regulation 22) is being
removed from the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. This will
mean that civil claims will not be limited to actions in negligence or
contract, as actions for breach of statutory duty will also be allowed.

As
important as the legal implications are, the greatest cost of not managing
stress at work is in terms of human suffering. I have witnessed this in my
clinical practice, and I have also witnessed managers who have never believed
in stress, who – in my experience – fall the hardest when they finally succumb
to pressure. Their lack of insight makes it difficult for them to relate to
their physical symptoms, performance problems and inability to cope, which
delays their recovery.

It
could be argued that organisations should employ senior executives who do
believe in stress, as they would not be as vulnerable to the condition
themselves.

Dr
Jacques Tamin
Medical director and chief occupational physician, Interact Health
Management

Sick
to death of all the staff excuses

Following
your sicknote survey (28 October), I am writing in with tales from my own
company. One person takes sick leave every half term holiday (the firm does not
seem to have worked this one out yet). Another person used to take sick leave
because of ‘piles’. His wife would phone in on his behalf saying "it’s the
dreaded grapes of wrath again". Somebody else has phoned in sick with a
hernia (in the neck!).

Details
supplied

Moving
the notes around is dud idea

I
read with horror the sicknote article (28 October) and have been prompted to
write.

Of
course GPs wish to get rid of signing sick certificates because it puts them in
direct conflict with their patients. However, to dump this onto occupational
health (OH) professionals will only add to the burden for companies.

Already,
employees often disagree with opinions of OH and in this situation GPs will, I
suspect, be ‘recruited’ to support the patient’s viewpoint. They will end up in
conflict with OH. And OH  may have to
write to GPs for many more reports (costing on average more than £60, purely for
information on medical diagnoses and treatment).

If
a patient disagrees with OH, how will this be handled? I can imagine the
patient will go through every appeal process in the organisation, and,
ultimately, to an industrial tribunal.

The
only sensible way forward is to have sick certification from a totally
independent body. Transferring the problem from GPs to employers will certainly
move the political football away from GPs, but will, as usual, place the burden
on employers.

I
agree with GPs who say that sick-notes are a complete waste of professional
time. Presumably they don’t feel this applies to specialist occupational health
people who will be faced with exactly the same problem?

Dr
Colin Thomas
Senior medical officer, BBC

Is
it a definite case of US and them?

Diversity
practices and equal employment opportunities (for all) appear to be alien
concepts in the City of London, at least among major US companies located there.

I
witnessed this after spending 10 long months on a job search with US companies
in London. I am 48, American and black.

A
UK headhunter with American clients openly asked inappropriate questions about
my age. In one instance, I was urged to "be less eager as an American and
be more reserved like the Brits". Sadly, after visiting more than 30 US
companies, I saw only one black person in a managerial role. I was even
rejected for the role of diversity director at an elite US investment bank, a
job title I once held in the States for almost five years.

Amazingly,
in London, the American companies I visited were (and are) the very same ones
that preach diversity and inclusion in the US, yet do not export this practice
to their London locations.

Their
HR/recruiting staff don’t even look at all like they do in the States –  in London they’re almost all white and
young. When I visited those firms for my interviews, I felt I had entered a
time warp and had been transported back to a lily-white corporate terrain.

US
companies operating in England must extend equal and fair employment practices
to their London offices. And England’s equal and fair employment laws must be
monitored and enforced vigorously.

UK
recruiters seem to have no hesitation in asking personal/non-job
description-related questions about age (and family). Age questions are illegal
in the US, and federal and state laws prevent a lot of employment
discrimination.  

I
have a degree, an advanced banking diploma (with honours), and an MBA in
finance and management. Since 1977, most of my career has been in recruiting at
several large New York banks, beginning at the Chemical Bank in New York as the
director of MBA minority recruiting in HR.

I
moved to England after marrying a UK citizen, but left in disgust after failing
to get a job for 10 months. I soon landed a position in Chicago with a firm as
recruiting director.

John
Torrance-Nesbitt
Director in HR – staffing, Monsanto

Stress
survey only tells half the story

I
read the findings from the Personnel Today/HSE Stress in the UK Workplace
survey with interest, particularly that 51 per cent of employers think half of
all stress claims are bogus (21 October).

Although
there may be some validity in this, it only tells half the story. For every
employee that takes advantage of the rising profile of stress as a management
issue, there will be another genuinely pressurised individual, who feels unable
to discuss their stress levels with their manager for fear of repercussions.

I
have included some statistics from a study of 450 business professionals
conducted by my company earlier this year:


76 per cent of survey respondents think their career prospects would be damaged
if they complained of stress, and managers confirmed they were right to think
this


79 per cent of managers said they would be less likely to employ a candidate if
they suspected they were prone to stress


87 per cent of managers said they would be less likely to promote an existing
employee if they had doubts about their ability to handle stress.


Although 49 per cent of respondents think their line manager would be concerned
or sympathetic if they complained of stress, 24 per cent believe their line
manager would become irritated or annoyed if they raised stress as an issue


Only 34 per cent of respondents said that stress was recognised as an issue in
their workplace


27 per cent said their organisation had a formal process for handling
grievances or concerns relating to stress.

Stress
can affect all of us, so staff shouldn’t be made to feel as if they should
suffer in silence. I am very much of the opinion that employers either don’t
yet fully appreciate the risks associated with stress, or are taking a
calculated gamble that stress won’t affect them.

Whatever
the case, the situation needs to be remedied. Management needs to know where
stress exists in an organisation and how it is manifesting itself. They should
be open to what a stress audit might find, as it could turn out to be
surprisingly positive in many areas, revealing only a limited number of stress
‘pockets’ that need to be dealt with.

Barry
Spence
Chief executive, Cubiks

Time
to review rules on overseas recruits

The
World Health Organisation is calling for tighter controls on recruiting foreign
doctors, but we think the existing controls need to be looked at first.

As
health recruitment specialists, it is our view that the Department of Health’s
guidance on so-called ethical recruitment is ambiguous. For example, what
constitutes a ‘developing country’, and why are we allowed to recruit from the
Philippines and not from South Africa?

Commentators
are quick to blame agencies for recruiting abroad when NHS trusts are happily
giving work to overseas candidates. Surely trusts that employ overseas medical
staff – and in some cases, ride roughshod over the Department of Health
guidance – should at least share the criticism with agencies?

The
criticism of agencies is largely unfounded. We do not believe it is unethical
to recruit from overseas. The vast majority of overseas medical staff that we
place in positions in the UK are working holidaymakers exercising their right
to travel. These candidates benefit from their experience in the UK, and take
that experience back home after a couple of years. They are better doctors and
nurses as a result.

Julia
Fraser
Managing director, Medics Incorporated

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