This week’s letters

Unnecessary GP sicknotes are a major public health disaster

Recently, there have been a number of welcome new initiatives to help
overcome the problem of long-term incapacity. Although they are effective for
many of the individuals they are targeted at, they are a very expensive way of
assisting the thousands of people who are unnecessarily issued sicknotes by
their GPs, never to return to work.

This is a public health disaster. Although the number of people considered
too ill to work again has stabilised, approximately 3,000 people a week go on
long-term incapacity benefits, and only a small proportion will return to work.
While many of these cases are valid, the consequences for those who should be
returning to work are dire.

Heart disease, cancer and depression are all more common among the
unemployed. Being off sick, even if the reason for the incapacity is not sound,
becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. We are in a situation where doctors,
particularly GPs, unthinkingly condemn patients to a future of malaise and
unhappiness. However, sicknotes have proven adverse effects, and need to be
prescribed with the same care and attention as any other treatment.

We need a campaign to create awareness of the danger of walking blindfolded
into chronic incapacity. The Department of Work and Pensions is instigating an
educational programme for GPs, but unless the dangers of sickness certification
are made clear to everyone, it is unlikely that things will change.

We saw how medical practice changed in light of the public’s fears over
drugs such as Valium. Dr Richard Asher wrote a paper on the dangers of bed rest
in 1947, which was a major catalyst for change. Why can’t someone do the same
with sick leave?

Dr Mike O’Donnell
Chief medical officer, UnumProvident

Qualifications fail to get a foot in the door

I currently work as an administrator in a recruitment agency. I funded and
completed the Certificate in Personnel Practice in 2003 (part-time while
working here). I wanted to gain this qualification to further my career in a
specialised area within HR, and to be more than just an administrator.

I cannot progress from my current role because we are such a small company,
so there is nowhere for me to go. Since finishing the CPP, I have been for
several interviews for HR administrator jobs, but have been unsuccessful as I
haven’t got enough experience in HR.

I thought that completing this course would make it a little bit easier to
get my foot in the door, but it hasn’t. I didn’t want to complete the full CIPD
qualification until I had a job in HR, which I cannot get.

Why is it this hard? How can I gain HR experience if no one will give me a
chance to?

Melanie Callaghan
Details supplied

Gateshead’s thunder stolen by Newcastle

Having read ‘Reality check working wonders in the North East’ (Careerwise,
20 April), I was somewhat surprised to see the ‘blinking eye Millennium Bridge’
(as you call it) and the ‘world-renowned Baltic Art Gallery’ described as the
centrepiece of the new Quayside in Newcastle.

In actual fact, The Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the Baltic Centre for
Contemporary Art are both part of the Gateshead Quays development… in

In the article, you commiserate with Newcastle’s failed bid ‘for the
European City of Culture’. The bid for the European Capital of Culture was a
joint bid between Newcastle and – you’ve guessed it – Gateshead.

I agree with the author that businesses have difficulties in attracting
candidates for senior roles in this region. Sadly, our own considerable efforts
to attract high-quality applicants were undermined in your article, accrediting
the council’s proudest achievements to someone else.

Mark Wilson
Senior personnel adviser, Gateshead Council

Disillusioned HR pro is set to change jobs

I am sorry to say that I empathised with all the sentiments expressed by
Ruth Pankhurst in your article which described her swapping the HR profession
for a job as a plumber (News, 30 March).

I, like Ruth, have become very frustrated by the perception people have of
our profession, especially at social events, when a vacant expression follows
my answer to the question: "So, what do you do then?"

I have given up trying to explain the complexities of my job. Instead, I
have come to simply agree with the retorts I receive which, to name but a few,
include: "Oh, so you collect people’s bank details when they start and
stuff", and "Oh, so you go around sacking people, then?"

This would be almost bearable if the role of HR was, if not valued, at least
understood in the workplace. So when recently asked by a senior manager to help
him with some interviewing, but warned not to include "any of that
wishy-washy HR stuff" in the questions or assessments, I reached for the
local paper to look for apprentice opportunities.

Details supplied

Top managers need to take more control

In your story, ‘Shell chief hits out at executive egomania’ (News, 27 April
2004), you report some fine sentiments from Andrew Mather, who argued that
leadership is not about personal ego, but humility. Mather could be referring
to research by Jim Collins at Stanford University Business School, whose book,
Good to Great, clearly demonstrates this argument in the outstanding
performance of companies with humble, yet determined leaders.

I was heartily dismayed however, to read your report of Andrew Kakabadse’s
denial that business leaders are suffering from a lack of integrity, blaming
the pressures for greater shareholder value instead. It was also dismal to read
that Roger Gill concurred with this view, although he quite rightly identified
that the resilience and moral courage of top management was being dented by
shareholder pressure.

Don’t they realise moral courage is an essential component of integrity? If
top managers feel that pressure from shareholders is intolerable, then they
have a moral duty to push back. If shareholders don’t like it, then they only
have themselves to blame if they fire principled leaders and replace them with
lesser mortals who are tempted to cook the books to keep their grimy jobs.

Instead of excusing top management, we should demand equally high standards
of integrity from shareholders and consumers. Short-term investors and greedy
consumers are as corrosive to business integrity as the fattest of fat cats.

Roger Steare
Business ethics consultant, Roger Steare Consulting Limited

Longstanding vacant HR post is damning

Colin Povey’s comments on the lack of HRD talent in the UK are interesting
(News, 27 April).

Any serious professional in our discipline should first and foremost have
developed the skills to attract and retain talent. If Povey can’t fill his HR
director post after six months, then that is rather damning.

Secondly, an HR professional worth their salt should always have an eye on
development from within, or succession. Povey’s career moved from HRD to
commercial director to general manager – all at Carlsberg UK. Isn’t there
anyone from his old HR team with boots big enough for the role? If not, why

Thirdly, if we Brits in HR are all third rate (ha!), why doesn’t Povey
extend his search outside the UK? Bring a foreign superstar on to the side.
Attracting international talent to the UK for director level roles is very

Let’s have less claptrap about ‘engines powering organisations’ and more
good old-fashioned practice, Mr Povey. But I don’t think he’d listen to an HR
person anyway, do you?

David O. Faik
HR specialist, Motability Operations

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