Looking back it’s clear I didn’t cope well with stress. I didn’t
even recognised I was stressed. I don’t know to what I attributed the
frequent headaches so sever I came home from work and went straight
to bed, or the development of a pronounced stutter, something I had
not experienced before or since. When I changed job the headaches and
stutter went away. But I still ended up taking early retirement from a
job I didn’t find particularly stressful following a quadruple heart bypass!
My high blood pressure went undetected until I eventually went to
the doctors with no specific symptoms except having spent most of a
holiday in Portugal sleeping and too tired to do anything including
walking down a flight of steeps to the beach, it was getting back up
to the hotel that was the problem. Tests revealed blocked archeries
and high blood pressure a lethal combination.
I worked excessively long hours but so did my boss. I took my
full holiday entitlement but found it difficult to turn off, my mind
constantly returned to work issues. My wife, who also had a demanding
job, says taking early retirement probably saved my life. However she
also says that I still haven’t left work because I feel this
compulsion to write articles about it. One thing we both agree on is
that our lives have dramatically changed since taking early retirement
this however is as much to do with our grand children as it is not
working. Mind you if we were still working we wouldn’t have time for
the grandchildren. And that’s the real issue here I liked my job, I
liked the people I worked with( well most of them) I liked the status
and enjoyed the sense of purpose and meaning the job gave me. No one
forced me to put in those long hours or to let work dominate my life
but clearly I needed help to see the effect on my health and family.
Unfortunately for me the organisation had an invested interest in a
culture of overwork.
Organisation shouldn’t leave it till the employee goes off with
stress related health problems before they do something. Nor should
they leave it to individual line managers to , “provide help and
support”. How about a Healthy Employee program. The organisation
offers every employee over 50 six monthly cholesterol and blood
It was whilst I worked for a national organisation that my
headaches and stutter developed, I suspect this was linked to the
ridicules amount of mileage I did every week. Travelling up and down
the busy motorways often desperate not to be late for important
meetings was very stressful. Why did no one query my mileage claims
from the point of view of was this healthy?
I always took my full allocation on annual leave but I know
colleagues who struggled to fit it in. The policy was take it or lose
it, surely the failure to take the full amount of annual leave should
be viewed as a health indicator. One of the issues about taking annual
leave was the amount of desk clearing that had to be done before and
the prospect of returning to two weeks worth of emails, requests for
reports that due your absence had moved from important to important
and urgent and a queue of people wanting to talk to you about
something that won’t wait. Problems that wouldn’t exists if the
organisation had not done away with deputy posts.
How about restoring the idea of the lunch hour rather than this
idea that people eat at their workstation because we are too busy to
take a break. Finally how about more consideration from line managers.
I worked for a boss who insisted we held our weekly senior management
team meeting first thing on a Monday morning. The effect of this was
Sunday evenings were spent reading reports. He never took his full
annual leave saying he didn’t like holidays but worse he would ring
the office everyday he was away wanting to speak to a senior manager
,” to see if anything was happening”. But even this was better than
his habit of dropping onto the office whilst on holiday! Not a good example.
Stress and burn out is bad for the individual and bad for the
organisation they work for. Early intervention would help but the real
problem is an organisation culture of over work.
Blair Mcpherson former Director, author and blogger wwwblairmcpherson.co.uk