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Annie Hayes



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CIPD speakers warn of stress dangers


Professor Cary Cooper told CIPD delegates that the changing face of the UK’s working culture had raised stress levels among UK managers; a view supported by Karen Seward employment lawyer at Allen And Overy who said that the decision on the Working Time Directive opt-out clause could have a huge impact on employee work-life balance.

Speaking at the annual Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) conference held in Harrogate last week, Cary Cooper professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School said that research involving 25 countries showed that those with the most change suffered the highest stress.

Professor Cooper went onto say that while managers in the UK and US had the same long hours and job insecurity culture those in the US appeared to show less stress.

“The US has always had long hours and jobs have always been unstable, but work has changed in the UK over the past 12-15 years, we’ve become very Americanised,” he said.

Other countries in the long-term study that showed high levels of management stress included China, South Africa and Brazil.

Seward also told delegates that the dangers of working long hours included amongst other issues a poor work life balance, reduced job performance and rising stress levels.

Breaching the rules of the Working Time Directive is also a key concern for those that work beyond their core hours.

The aim of the legislation is to ensure that workers are protected against adverse effects on their health and safety caused by working excessively long hours, having inadequate rest or disrupted work patterns.

Currently the Working Time Directive provides for a maximum 48 hour working week averaged over a reference period. The UK retains the right to opt-out of this requirement.

Seward warns of ‘trouble-ahead’ if the opt-out clause is removed. In reference to official statistics Seward reports that 90% say that long working hours is harmful to families and 80% would prefer to work flexibly.

“There is a growing need for stress audits. A stress policy may prevent future court appearances.”

Employers should compile stress policies based on their own analysis of internal stress audits, Seward went onto say.

An holistic approach is a good solution, employers can offer counselling or flexible working as methods to combat rising stress levels.

When it boils down it though, warns Seward, if you are going to fire an employee for stress related reasons, if for example it is impacting on productivity levels, then it’s best to get straight to it: “Compromise agreements aren’t the answer.”

One Response

  1. Worker Stress
    I was particularly struck by the suggestion from the eminent, respected and wise Prof Cooper that, while US workers also work long hours , UK workers are more stressed, as also in China, Brazil and S Africa.

    I personally suspect this is not really about working hours at all, and having managed businesses all over Europe and Scandinavia, I must declare a possible prejudice that the Working Hours ‘Defective’ does appear to be a) syndicalist inspired and b) politically driven, to try to minimise national economic damage accordingly having lost the local political franchise to suggest otherwise…

    Is this stress not much more about the degrees of self-will and determination as perceived and even manifested in each country’s cultures?

    Yes, the US is a real hire-and-fire culture, with minimal social safety nets by UK/EU standards. But that culture greatly embraces values of private enterprise, individual opportunity and risk taking that we in the UK do not – nor perhaps the other countries he mentions, who also have the added pressures of recent history and national political and economic uncertainty?

    Focusing on the issue of perceived self-determination/realisation, rather than working hours, isn’t this factor further reinforced in its significance by the recently published figures of Public Sector absenteeism in the UK, which far exceeds that in the private sector where worker autonomy and self-actualisation seems to be ‘felt’ to be greater, most especially in smaller organisations?

    Just a thought! But an important one? I know this may appear to have (unintended) political undertones. My concern is economic – after due concern for all us workers too, may I confirm!



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Annie Hayes


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