June 24, 2004


Are we becoming more stressed at work? (The Telegraph, June 24th, 2004)

New Government figures show that more than £2 billion a year is spent on benefits for people claiming they have been disabled by stress, depression and anxiety.

Critics claim that these benefits are being paid out for vaguely defined disorders that encourage the workshy and artificially lower unemployment figures.

More than 700,000 people - a quarter of all claims - receive up to £84 a week incapacity benefit on grounds of poor mental health, a 38 per cent increase since 1997.

Stress and depression - the two causes showing the sharpest increases since 1997 - now account for 65 per cent of all mental health cases.

Paul Goodman, the Conservative social security spokesman, says that if doctors are signing people off too easily then these figures represent hidden unemployment. He warned of the danger of a "can't cope" culture.

However, figures from the Office of National Statistics show that depression is experienced by 1 in 10 adults at any one time and Mind, the mental health charity, has called for more understanding.

Conservatives tend to be suspicious and see these people as slackers, but why wouldn’t mental health decline in an atomistic society marked by fragile families, social isolation, declining employer-employee loyalty, pessimistic atheism and a destructive cult of impersonal sex?

Posted by Peter Burnet at June 24, 2004 12:18 PM

"declining employer-employee loyalty"

Come on man, do you think employers have ever been loyal to employees (or vice-versa). We're (well, I'm) employed so long as I continue to produce more income for the company than I take away. As soon as that changes the company dispenses with me. To think differently is to be naive. And if someone makes me a better offer, I'm free to ditch the company I work for.

Posted by: Governor Breck at June 24, 2004 12:46 PM


I'm not sure about that, although I'm definitely inducing here. Obviously the employer-employee relationship was never feudal and was always subject to economic imperatives, but I think getting rid of employees, especially longstanding ones, was a much "heavier" and reluctant step in the past, although admittedly not on the shop floor. Today with bright young MBA's restucturing from the moment they arrive, take-overs, amalgamations, etc., personnel departments are kept hopping on the severance front. Another factor is the legal impossibility of favouring breadwinners, which was definitely done in the past.

My father claimed no one was ever fired in the fifties except for gross incompetence. Think of the stability of sports rosters. etc.

It's not an argument for tighter labour laws, but it is one for working for yourself.

Posted by: Peter B at June 24, 2004 1:08 PM

There's an interesting anecdote on Romenesko's Poynter page this morning about a former Chicago Tribune publisher who told his managers to fire 100 people, on the grounds that 100 people had been off work the week before and the paper still came out.

Besides, I thought Paul Goodman promised us in the '60s that by now we'd all be working just one day a week anyway.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 24, 2004 2:46 PM

Hmm, that old Tribune publisher certainly sounds like Old Man McCormick.

The Chicago Tribune was probably the nation's most prominent conservative newspaper under McCormick. He certainly hated FDR from what my dad told me. But the Trib changed editorial policies in the late sixties, and its more centrist now. Tends to endorse GOP candidates, but socially centrist.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at June 24, 2004 2:58 PM

This was a more recent publisher.

A guy who worked on the same Iowa paper I did moved to the Trib. His name was Jon Van Dusseldorp.

The byline wouldn't fit in one column; the Trib used a 9-column format in those days.

The city editor told him, "From now on, you're Jon Van."

That was over 30 years ago, and the columns are wider, but he still is.

My kind of editor.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 24, 2004 4:39 PM

>Today with bright young MBA's restucturing from
>the moment they arrive...

You know how MBAs got started, don't you? They're a Purchased Patent of Nobility so Baby Boomers could jump directly from grad school into the corner offices with six-figure salaries without having to serve any apprenticeship.

No understanding of the business, no identification with the company, no need to show your competence at anything except self-advancement, nothing except piling up the money and advancing yourself through any means whatsoever, because "I'M AN M-B-A!"

Posted by: Ken at June 24, 2004 7:34 PM

"My father claimed no one was ever fired in the fifties except for gross incompetence"

-- sounds like current government/union setups.

from a medical viewpoint, this is complete insanity. while studies demonstrate that clinical depression (5+ of SIG E CAPS) does indeed have a large effect on increasing morbidity after MI and other serious bodily stresses, these brits are taking things a bit too far. i would hardly consider the 'stress' involved with a job in the EU as more than here in the states, and you don't see american employees looking for this sort of loophole.

and they wonder why the EU/Socialist economic system only produces 1% GDP growth (if they're lucky) and 10+% unemployment.

Posted by: poormedicalstudent at June 24, 2004 11:12 PM

poormedstudent - EU jobs can be very stressful because they're like prisons. If you quit, you might be unemployed the rest of your life. You can't be fired, but your boss and coworkers can make your life miserable. If you find yourself in a bad job, with no hope for the future, there's nothing to do but endure. The stress is from frustration. I know several Europeans in this situation.

Posted by: pj at June 25, 2004 10:57 AM

Agree with Pj. Bureaucratic jobs generally can be psychologically and spiritually deadening in that way. It beats working the mines, I suppose, but the popular view of the public that civil servants lead a pleasant, stress free existence is nonsense.

Posted by: Peter B at June 25, 2004 11:27 AM

i could understand that POV if the job wasn't guaranteed. YOU CAN'T BE FIRED. that means you could do nothing but fart around the water cooler all day, and guess what, you still have a job. if coworkers try to make your job crap, turn right around and do the same to them. to me, there's not much stress in a guaranteed paycheck regardless of how much work one does not do.

this is why government/socialist jobs are so damn inefficient.

Posted by: poormedicalstudent at June 25, 2004 4:07 PM