Saturday, 1 September 2007

Cancer warning for stressed-out men

Prostate cancer kills one man in Britain every hour and 10,000 each year - the equivalent of a Lockerbie air disaster every week. But Professor Roger Kirby, chair of Prostate Research Campaign UK, said that many of these cases could be related to intolerable stress at work.

The warning should be directed to employers. I don't have Canadian data to hand but I would suspect it is similar or maybe worse. The workplace became a lot more stressful in the 40 years I have been at work. And it did not start off as stress free either. But the Thatcher revolution in Britain, and its counterpart in North America, meant that all the workplace security that we used to enjoy has been stripped away. That is why the big issue in the current Vancouver civic workers strike is job security. Just as was for the bus drivers a few years ago.

Everybody has seen their workplace downsized, outsourced, contracted out - whether they work for the public or private sectors. The old social contract, that in return for dedication, training and increasing job skills you could expect a job for life and a pension at the end has gone. It is now expected that an individual will have four or five different careers in a lifetime.

Many jobs are contracts - with no benefits. And the pay is much worse in real terms. Very few jobs have kept the real value of the wages. The minimum wage has not been increased despite increasing prosperity, better business conditions and in many trades shortage of workers. Employers are bleating that they cannot recruit people to, for example, pick fruit, but it never occurs to them that perhaps hours of back breaking manual toil for less than minimum wage is not exactly an appealing proposition.

People who do have jobs are expected to keep their heads down and not complain, while management treats them as disposable as tissues. They are not consulted, they are not expected to think, nor are they treated with even common courtesy. One employer expects his workers "on call" to be responsible for coming to the place of employment just in case they might be needed. NO phone call or web site. Both would cost the employer a tiny sum of money. Much better to put the onus on the worker.

The government has gradually pulled back from its pro-active stance to protect workers' rights. Only the WCB seems to have kept its guard up. And labour lawyers will tell you flat out that you may be right, but suing is not an option since the employer has far more resources than you do, and can keep a case going for years with no result, just to exhaust the complainant and his bank account.

Men bear the brunt of this because they still think of themselves as the breadwinner. They still identify themselves by what they do at work. And they still are anxious about not getting fired for standing up for what they know to be right.

Small wonder that it is nearly always men that "go postal". And for every one that does there are thousands "living lives of quiet desperation"

According to Kirby, men need to change their approach to work so that they operate more like their female colleagues. 'Women tend to work less competitively than men, don't get as aggressive, stressed or allow their anger to flare up.' he said.

He could be right. But maybe we should look first at what has happened to our workplaces under the pressures to produce. To look solely at the bottom line, or some artificial "target". To ignore the personal cost that delivering ever increasing returns to the shareholders, or more to the performance target, has imposed on us as rounded human beings.


Mercutio said...

Actually getting fired for being crap is quite hard. The stress is the lack of control I think. Do something badly or well is immaterial. It is all decided by stock markets and big wig executives over booze filled lunches.

Which is a shame really as everyone suffers. Pride in one's work is lost - as bad or good you still get downsized at a whim and so pride in one's self is lost - as we are very largely defined by what we do not who we are.

What you do is utterly worthless, as if you fit carpets, make coffee grinders or shuffle paper no one really cares - should "the city" think you are worth something then all is good, should it decide, based on a stray media report your are not, suddenly jobs are cut.

And this I think is a global thing.

Men hence feel emasculated and hence I would postulate infantile behaviour increases and no takes responsibility and it all spirals out of control with less and less pride in what we do.

What else would a safety inspector not bother with an inspection as he wanted to go home early.

And we all get stressed as nothing is done properly and nothing we do has any impact of the world around us.

Anyway - my coffee break is over and I do have work to do.

Stephen Rees said...

I found that the only way to motivate the people who reported to me was to give them some sense of "ownership" over their work. It was their project, their report or whatever. I made sure they got any credit for it, but I took the blame for any shortcomings as the responsible manager. This was the reverse of the culture where I worked, but my staff always surprised me by how well they did. There are some people who still take pride in their work, since no one can take that sense of achievement away from them, even if I was not in a position to give them much as a tangible reward.

The worst thing that happens in workplaces is that some people start to believe it does not matter how they perform: it makes the job seems pointless. And yes that is widespread but not, I think, universal. And it may be behind the the growth of the small business - working for yourself can be very satisfying even if it not well paid.

There is also a growth in "wikinomics" which appears to threaten the corportae culture which I will post about later