A Day to Remember

Forget-me-not

28 April each year is International Workers’ Memorial Day (#IWMD20 #IWMD2020)

This year International Workers’ Memorial Day has a special poignancy. Like many people, last Thursday I took part in #ClapForCarers joining friends and neighbours, each on own doorsteps, to applaud NHS staff, key workers and carers. These are people for whom the risk of going to work has risen significantly in recent weeks.

Yet they still go.

Already, 82 NHS workers have died helping to save others, and recent reports from care homes demonstrate an increased risk there as well. However, we shouldn’t forget pharmacy staff, utilities workers, delivery drivers, refuse collectors, people working in food supply and retail, and many others, putting themselves at risk keeping essential services running.

Right now, taking adequate time to assess and mitigate against work related risks has rarely been more important.

In recent years, increasing numbers of people have described taking precautions to prevent work activities from injuring people as “health & safety gone mad”.  However, that view disrespects the aim to make sure people go home as healthy as they were when they arrived at work.  In spite of those measures, Health & Safety Executive statistics for last year make stark reading:

From: HSE Health & Safety Statistics 2018/19

And that’s in the UK where we’ve had the Health & Safety at Work Act in place since 1974.

Covid-19 aside, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), across the world:

  • Each year, more than 2.3 million men and women die as a result of work-related accidents and diseases
  • Workers suffer approximately 340 million accidents each year and fall victim to some 160 million incidents of work-related illnesses
  • One worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide. 6,000 workers die every day.
  • More people die whilst at everyday work than those fighting wars.

International Workers’ Memorial Day is a reminder not to be complacent, to avoid seeing common sense anticipation of ‘accidents’ (and taking steps to stop them from happening) as an unnecessary imposition.

But, right now, IMWD is an opportunity to bring to mind everyone who is at risk, for whatever reason because of their job, and thank those who gave their lives in the past as well as those who continue to risk theirs for the rest of us.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this subject, so please leave a comment, but if you’d like to discuss this topic more directly please contact me at malcolm@strathesk.co.uk or give me a call on 07736068787.

Bullying at work shouldn’t be hidden by ‘playground’ stigma

This is Anti-Bullying Week 2018 (#ABW2018), with a series of events, articles and publications aimed at making the problem of bullying something about which we all know more and are better equipped to stop.

As is inevitable, many websites and much of the Anti-Bullying Week 2018 material focuses on bullying amongst children, particularly in schools.  However, that doesn’t mean we can forget that for many people, bullying is a reality of their day to day working lives.  If you think you’re being bullied, please don’t feel you’re alone.  TUC commissioned research in 2015 found that in the UK almost a third of people experience bullying at work (and another 30% have witnessed it). 

This year’s theme is “Choose Respect” (#ChooseRespect), but bullying behaviours can go far beyond a lack of respect.  Agency Central describe bullying as encompassing:

  • Exclusion
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Verbal insults
  • Rumour spreading
  • Purposely preventing career advancement
  • Threats in relation to job security
  • Humiliation
  • Being overly critical

These are all aggressive/passive-aggressive actions, but take care also of the “charismatic bully” who may be more difficult to spot:

This type of bully will not rely on physical force to intimidate their targets, but rather will use subtle manipulation to exert their power over others.

In recent months I’ve advised several individual clients, each of whom has experienced bullying at work, on how to tackle the problem.  Although they are based in very different parts of the UK, there are key similarities in their situations:

  • Each knew they weren’t happy with their interaction with their manager;
  • Each has been exposed to 2 or more of the behaviours mentioned above;
  • In spite of this, each failed to recognise that they were being bullied.

With smaller employers, many of the problems have arisen from the lack of management structure, but even companies with great policies in place can face problems.  In 2 of the cases, the employer is large and has excellent Equalities, Bullying & Harassment and/or Dignity at Work polices.  With a bit of guidance on how to pull together and present evidence that their treatment falls outwith those policies, they’ve made real progress towards solving the problem.

Of course, sometimes there’s a deeper problem.  I have advised several employers over the years where inappropriate behaviours have become a part of their managerial culture.  The reasons behind these behaviours are too many and varied to go into here, but this recent article from Psychology Today provides a pretty useful exploration.  And underlying all of this is our ongoing economic and political uncertainty.  In 2015, ACAS stated:

as we look ahead to 2016, one finding in our recent paper especially resonates: the strong correlation between restructuring and organisational change and increased rates of workplace bullying.

Now, unless I’m reading the commentary wrong, uncertainty, restructuring and organisational change aren’t going away any time soon, so there is real merit in taking measures to prevent bullying from taking hold.

At the same time, there is increasing evidence of significant detrimental impact on personal and organisational performance.  Indeed, more research from ACAS estimated the cost of workplace bullying to the UK economy as £18 billion. 

In other words, for business to be successful, and for the economy to grow, this is an issue where increased awareness, and real efforts to curtail bullying, simply aren’t optional.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this subject, so please leave a comment, but if you’d like to discuss this topic more directly please contact me at malcolm@strathesk.co.uk or give me a call on 07736068787.

Putting Mental Health in its Proper Workplace…

Lochnagar in a dark mood

Last Wednesday was World Mental Health Day 2018.  The day aims to raise awareness of mental health and the issues around it, particularly those that arise from mental ILL-health.

I even put out a post on LinkedIn to publicise it, asking followers of my posts “are you going to do anything to mark it?”.

At that stage, I was planning to write a blog post covering one of the ‘hot’ topics around mental health.  I envisaged something that covered:

  • mental health being wider than mental illness
  • the need for employers to take work-related stress (and other mental health issues) as seriously as they take physical health & safety
  • the equal need for workers to also take work-related stress (and other mental health issues) as seriously as they take physical health & safety
  • the growing, and increasingly expensive, trend towards presenteeism
  • etc.

It felt like it would be an article that would almost write itself, with a wealth of research and worthy opinions to which I could refer.

But I didn’t write that article

OK, the immediate question is WHY didn’t I write the article, but to answer that, I need to give some context.

Back when I was in my 20s, I went through a period of around 6 years during which I struggled seriously with depression.  I started having strange emotional reactions to events and situations, sometimes feeling almost numb to things that should be upsetting, then finding a quiet corner to cry in over irrelevant small events.  I eventually recognised this wasn’t right, and went to see my doctor, not sure what was wrong.  He was excellent and openly explored both the problem and my treatment options.

That’s not to say I felt down all the time

I found I could hide from the symptoms with adrenaline, so I flung myself into work projects and put in loads of unpaid overtime, because although I felt stressed, it felt normal to be stressed under that pressure.  Indeed, I might have gone on like that for considerably longer had the project work not eased off.

Around this time, I remember a poster campaign by the Samaritans that really struck a note.  There were 2 posters, one said “Can’t face going to work?”, the other “Can’t face going home?”.  At the moment I noticed them, I recognised I was stuck in the limbo in between.

After resisting drug treatment for several months, I eventually agreed to take antidepressants.  It took 3 attempts to find one that worked well enough and that didn’t give me significant side-effects, but I realised I’d found the right one when, after 3 weeks or so I woke up feeling ‘normal’.  It wasn’t uniform, but the world wasn’t the uniformly dark place it had become and I started to re-emerge.  Luckily, I was able to re-engage with the talking therapies I’d already tried, though this time I was able to understand and work through the underlying reasons I felt the way I did.

It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t until I was well into my recovery that I felt able to share with friends and colleagues what I was going through.  The fear of stigma has a basis in reality, but the obstacles to being open seem insurmountable when you’re in a ditch.

So, why didn’t I write that article?

It’s simple.  Although I’ve recovered from my depression, and haven’t been there for more than 2 decades, there is a slippery slope towards mental ill-health that I have learnt to recognise and avoid.  The several days running up to World Mental Health Day were crazy, with too much travelling, a heavy workload and not enough down time to recover.  I recognised that, to write it, I would have to risk compromising my own mental health. 

In the end, I made a pragmatic decision: I marked World Mental Health Day by NOT writing that article.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this subject, so please leave a comment, but if you’d like to discuss this topic more directly please contact me at malcolm@strathesk.co.uk or give me a call on 07736068787.

Are you dying to go home?

An accident waiting to happen? Every year more people are killed at work than in wars

 

28 April each year is International Workers’ Memorial Day (#IWMD18 #IWMD2018) so, for 2018, it falls on Saturday.

It’s hard to believe that the world of work is still so dangerous.  Many of us underestimate the risk of the things we do each day. How many people in the UK treat driving along the road as the single most dangerous thing they do?  Yet every day 5 people die doing just that.  The same goes for many of the activities we do every day at work – lifting and carrying heavy boxes, walking up and down stairs (especially while talking on your mobile phone), etc.  There’s a long list of things we all do in our working day, often without thinking, that are significantly more dangerous than we ever give them credit.

Some people describe taking precautions to prevent such activities from injuring people as “health & safety gone mad”.   However, that view disrespects the aim to make sure people go home as healthy as they were when they arrived at work.  In spite of those measures, 142 people in the UK still died after going to work in 2014/15.  Even more worrying are the estimates of 13,000 people dying each year because of past exposure to harmful conditions at work, 8,000 people dying of occupation-related cancers and 4,000 from exposure to dust, fumes or chemicals.  And that’s in the UK where we’ve had the Health & Safety at Work Act in place since 1974.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), across the world:
  • Each year, more than two million men and women die as a result of work-related accidents and diseases

  • Workers suffer approximately 270 million accidents each year and fall victim to some 160 million incidents of work-related illnesses

  • Hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually – asbestos claims 100,000 lives

  • One worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide. 6,000 workers die every day. More people die whilst at work than those fighting wars.

International Workers’ Memorial Day is a reminder not to be complacent, to avoid seeing common sense anticipation of ‘accidents’, and taking steps to stop them from happening, as an unnecessary imposition.

IMWD also provides an opportunity to reflect, to remember the people in the UK and across the world who have died trying to support their families and possibly to attend one of the many events to mark the Day across the country.

 

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this subject, so please leave a comment, but if you’d like to discuss this topic more directly please contact me at malcolm@strathesk.co.uk or give me a call on 07736068787.