Work is good for us. It provides a way of structuring and occupying our time, physical and mental activity, an opportunity to use and develop skills, a sense of identity and achievement, social support and, of course, money and other resources. But what if work could actually be doing us harm at the same time?
Globalisation, growing competition and austerity measures driven by the recession are creating increasing pressure: having to do ‘more with less’ has become business as usual. Unfortunately, culture and job design have largely failed to adjust.
A 2014 study by Morgan McKinley found that 70% of Irish professionals are working more hours than we are contracted to do. Many people are giving up their lunch breaks, weekends and holidays for their careers. Dr. Carol Linehan, a lecturer in Work and Work and Organisational Psychology in UCC, suggests many workers are caught having to do their regular hours and extra to cover the fact that they can’t complete their work in their contracted hours.
Technology and flexible working options have been promoted as offering greater flexibility to employees who hope to achieve a better work-life balance, but permeate the boundaries between work and home life in ways that often increase rather than reduce the pressure. A single volume of the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology this year had no less than three articles dedicated to topics such as smartphone use and work-home interference, work-family conflict, and the ‘thin line between work and home’.
CIPD’s 2014 Absence and Management Survey found that 40 percent of employers see an increase in reported mental health problems. Harvard and Stanford Business Schools conducted a study earlier this year and found that negative health outcomes associated with work stresses were killing 120,000 people annually in USA. This was caused by long hours, economic insecurity and uncertainty over contracts.
Organisations must think of a solution that addresses the cause, not the symptoms, of these problems. According to the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at Lancaster University, things like fruit and gym membership often top the list of what companies are doing to safeguard their employees’ well-being. However, organisations need to take this seriously by offering a comprehensive strategy that could include, for example, job re-design as a preventative measure, employee assistance programmes, resilience and mindfulness training and support for employees with mental health diagnoses.