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March 9, 2009

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Job quality key to improving employees’ health

More attention needs to be paid to the quality of jobs, if real inroads

are to be made in improving the health of workers, particularly men, an

MP has insisted.

The call came days before a further £13m was made available to target ‘credit-crunch stress’ and support unemployed people with mental-health problems back into work.

Debating the issue of men’s health in the House of Commons on 5 March, Labour MP Dr Howard Stoate said that poor quality work among men is linked to low levels of well-being and self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness, and higher incidence of physical and mental illness.

He pointed to a recent skills survey by the Economic and Social Research Council, which showed that between 1992 and 2006 there had been a significant decline in job control across all groups of workers. This decline, he suggested, was partly a result of the growth of IT-based management systems, which forced employees to work in very structured fashions, leaving little room for discretion.

However, he added, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries have poured money into workplace reform — with the result that they all perform much better than the UK in terms of employee autonomy in the workplace.

“The consequence of a decline in job control and task discretion is that employees no longer feel that they are active participants in their organisations,” explained Dr Stoate. “Their sense of commitment diminishes, they feel less responsible for the consequences of their actions, and they feel increasingly dissatisfied. That is not only bad for the health of the business but even worse for the health of the employees.”

Looking at what steps could be taken to help employers improve the job quality of their employees, Dr Stoate suggested a ‘workplace innovation challenge fund’ open to employers interested in introducing programmes of job enrichment, empowerment initiatives aimed at enhancing autonomy, and new forms of work organisation.

He added: “We could also insist that companies provide more detailed information about health and safety performance — including the measures that they have taken to improve job quality among employees — in their annual reports. That would help to focus corporate Britain’s attention on the importance of job quality as a means of helping to improve the health, the well-being and, ultimately, the performance of employees.”

Health under-secretary of state, Ann Keen, welcomed the debate but stopped short of endorsing Dr Stoate’s recommendations. She said the Department of Health does an enormous amount of work to try to spread the healthy-lifestyle message, so that everyone has the opportunity to improve their health and well-being. She also pointed to Dame Carol Black’s review of the working-age population, and the joint Department of Health-NHS review of the health and well-being of the NHS workforce, as examples of initiatives that should make a difference in this area.

Over the weekend, Health secretary, Alan Johnson, and Work and Pensions secretary, James Purnell, announced a further £13m in funding to help unemployed people who are experiencing depression or anxiety to return to work. Measures include: ‘talking therapy’ services to be available in every region by 2010; employment support workers linked to every talking-therapy service, providing job support for people with common mental-health problems, and helping people get back to work; and health advisors on a dedicated NHS Direct phoneline being trained to spot people who might be experiencing depression owing to economic problems, and refer them to sources of help.

Commenting on the package, Purnell said: “When times are difficult, people need more help, not less. We know from previous recessions that simply pushing people on to inactive benefits can lead to a life-time of dependency.

“We will do everything we can to support people during these difficult times. We are working across government to give people with mental-health conditions the help they need to stay in, or get back to, work.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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