Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Pressures of Work ...

An item in the news caught my attention during the week. It concerned the health of white collar employees and workers today, and the fact that many are suffering "burn-out" early in their careers. Others are developing serious mental health problems and turning the alcohol and drugs as a way of coping with the stress of their employment. Rising alcoholism and drug abuse in many workplaces is a major cause for concern, but I would suggest that this is no surprise, given the demands placed on employees today.

Many find themselves on a sort of treadmill, where the only way to stay in their current roles and keeptheir income, is to take on ever increasing workloads and responsibilites, for ever shrinking rewards. For most an annual review is something to dread, it seldom results in an adequate reward through a decent rise in salary, and usually simply keeps them 'on board' for the across the board settlement employers and Union negotiators love to haggle over. The trouble is that 2% of the average workers salary is a lot less money than 2% of a Board Members. In real terms the incomes of those at the lower end of the pay scales are often in reverse once inflation and other increases in the Cost of Living are taken into account.

An unintended consequence of the Minimum Wage has been to push wage bills higher, and that has meant employers being forced to do one of two things, increase prices, or cut back on staff. Again, for those on the lower end of the pay scales, the differentials between the salaries paid suddenly vanished as the government pushed the lowest wages upward. Initially, the scales rose to match that, however, increasingly, they don't and more and more workers are on "minimum wage" scales as a result. Once again, the obsession with "across the board" increases based on a percentage of salary, is causing a wodening of the gap between the top and bottom wage scales, something our political masters and their accountant and lawyer friends in various Boardrooms seem unable to grasp. One expects the Union Bosses to be mathematically illiterate on such matters, but it should be obvious to everyone - but apparently not.

Longer working hours mean less time to engage with family or friends, and that is compounded by the "connectedness" of the internet which means that a boss can reach you by email even on a day off. Mobile phones mean you're always available and smartphones mean that you are never away from your email either. Take a look at the world we lived in before the technology revolution and you find that a day off was exactly that. The boss would not have tried to reach you to 'just check' something, it could wait until you came back. Now, of course, thanks to the desire of the Boards of many of the mega wealthy supermarket chains and one or two other companies, we have seven day trading. The politicians handed out assurances initially that no one would be forced to work on Sundays if they wished to observe the day religiously. The reality is that, if you want a job, and the employers says "this is the deal - you'll be on a roster and take two days off in each week, which may, from time to time, be a Saturday and Sunday", you're going to be a pretty determined person to refuse to accept the conditions.

As usual, the assurances of a politician are worthless. The only way it could possibly have been made to work as they intended, was to make the members of the company boards and management work the same way as their staff, but that was never going to happen. In one sense I am relieved to be retired and to no longer face the stresses now being imposed on the younger generations now entering the workforce, or trying to keep afloat in the morass. I am not surprised to read that alcoholism is an increasing problem in workplaces, or that many others are turning to 'recreational' drugs to cope with the pressure. The solution is simple, but I suspect it would take a major revolution in society and perhaps an outright refusal by the workers to continue to labour under these conditions to bring it about.

So, I don't expect to see any change in the forseeable future.

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