Stress: the ultimate cop-out for uncommitted employees

being a genuine problem for many workers in the UK, we shouldn’t forget that
concern over the delicate issue of stress is often abused by staff who simply
wish to avoid their responsibilities

all seem to be suffering from stress these days. Public sector workers seem to
be more prone to it than those working for private companies. But in both, the
incidence is high.

recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found
that 38 per cent of NHS workers, 30 per cent of local government staff and 25
per cent of corporate employees find their work either ‘stressful’ or ‘very

how much of this is more fiction than fact? When they take part in surveys,
what do people mean when they say they are ‘stressed’? Do they mean they are
actually having to work for their living? What is wrong with that? Perhaps
‘stress’ is actually a by-product of many employees’ expectations. What they
really want is a boss who will give them an easy life.

know of many under-performing companies that are regarded by their staff as
‘good places to work’. This is simply because they have comfortable jobs and
relaxed bosses.

different management team is brought in – usually because of acquisition – and
jobs are reorganised. New management controls are put in place, and employee
performance targets are introduced. People have to start earning their wages.
What is the outcome? Staff who complain of being bullied and harassed by their
bosses and working in a culture of fear, falling ill with stress.

of this is plain nonsense. It is entirely a result of new managers having to
abolish old working practices for the company to survive.

course, there is harassment and bullying in the workplace. And the direction of
corporate change offers greater opportunities for this to happen.

shift to decentralised and devolved operating structures allows those in charge
to exercise almost total unfettered control over their staff. Still, the abuse
of this autonomous authority is very much the exception rather than the rule.
It doesn’t account for the 30-plus per cent of workers who feel they are
stressed in their jobs.

a major contributory factor for the high incidence of recorded stress is the
attitude of GPs. Many are overworked and stressed themselves. So when faced
with a patient who can’t sleep, can’t concentrate and feels irritable, an easy
solution is to diagnose these symptoms as ‘work-related stress’, issue them
with a sick note and recommend they take a few weeks off work.

the patient’s stress could be caused by suspicions of a partner’s infidelity,
or anxieties about little Jimmy’s performance at school. Is he being bullied?

problem, of course, is that we have no quantifiable, scientific measure of
stress. Instead, we have subjective interpretation.

the former Soviet Union, whole factories almost came to a halt because of staff
taking days off work with backache. Why? Because if they complained they
couldn’t work because of backache, there was little anyone could do about it.

so it is today with stress. If staff complain they are stressed and unable to
work, what can either the medical services or employers actually do?

is another simple little matter that is often overlooked: stress can be a good
thing. Unless I feel under pressure, I under-perform. I must have adrenalin
flowing to be effective in my job.

what is the solution? Obviously, motivational and inspirational leadership can
do a lot. People doing the most difficult and challenging tasks can feel
comfortable if they report to leaders with whom they have an open, consultative

also need clear personal targets. There is nothing more stressful than working
in a job without any clearly-defined goals. Supportive teams encourage
flexibility, work-life balance and problem-solving, which mitigate some of the
causes of what many express as being work-related stress.

can help to put all these things into place. But we have to recognise that many
will still use ‘stress’ as a cop-out, and view it as a strategy for reneging on
their duties as responsible employees.

Professor Richard Scase, Author and corporate keynote speaker

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