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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 114 - Scottish public sector staff seem particularly afflicted


SOME offices, as desk-bound toilers know, are not only places where bucks are passed, people can be promoted beyond the level of their incompetence, and boardrooms are riddled with intrigues rivalling those in 16th century Florence but are also a mixture of coffee bar, dating bureau, fashion catwalk, betting agency, sweat shop and gossip hothouse where, among pot plants, the grapevine is lovingly tended.

From stately domes of corporate enterprise housing the priests of high-profit margins to the humblest back street office hovel, the work ethic is observed. For a definition, consult the Victorian harrumphing historian, Thomas Carlyle, "Work is the grand cure of all the maladies and miseries that ever beset mankind," or Noel Coward, entertainer and playwright, "The only way to enjoy life is to work. Work is much more fun than fun."

There are people - and not just office staff - who are so fond of work, or have such an exalted view of their position in the job jigsaw, that, despite feeling ill and looking as pale as a vampire on a vegetable diet, still stagger to desks, production line, shop floor or executives’ meeting, the last, perhaps, to discuss revivifying subjects such AS cash-flow estimates or boosting the return on assets ratio.

I have seen them lurching to their desks with the faces of suffering saints, emitting coughs sounding like peeved lions and sneezes like calico tearing and probably engulfed in a miasma of highly-contagious germs that will quickly infect less work-dedicated staff and cause them to go "on the sick" with complaints ranging from vague malaise to suddenly-stricken bronchial tubes and upper respiratory tracts.

I DON’T know whether to admire or pity these people who, once, would have arrived for work in an iron lung with drip-feed attached and today would be happy to be at a desk-cum-oxygen tent with office paramedics on stand-by.

Japan, land of the rising sun, is also the nation of rising mortality among overworking employees. In Britain, a government-funded study of the nation’s occupational health by scientists at University College, London, examined the fitness of 10,308 civil servants, across Greater London over ten years and concluded that "presentees" who dragged themselves to work despite suffering afflictions, including flu and colds, risked workplace stress leading to later-life coronary heart disease.

While no employers want staff on other-worldly relocation and, as a result of the study, might consider urging sickly employees to take time-off, there already exists a sick-note culture in Britain indicating employees ever ready, beyond duty’s call, to look after themselves.

In Scotland, sick notes, deep, crisp and even, are falling with increasing frequency on employers’ desks, with the average worker taking 8.4 days off each year compared with 7.1 in the rest of Britain. Scottish public sector staff seem particularly afflicted.

According to a newspaper report, a Scottish Executive survey found staff took an average of 9.9 days off sick compared with the United Kingdom average of 9.2 days resulting in an Executive-driven review into sickness absenteeism among staff.

WHILE workplaces can be a pulsating centres of pride, passion and profit, as well as emotional and intellectual fulfilment, they can also be as fearful as a once well-known, central European laboratory with bosses, showing all the finesse of Frankenstein attempting to make social contact with knees-knocking peasants, telling staff that their work will be outsourced to an automated call centre on an orbiting space station but displaying sophisticated redundancy techniques such as: "You’re history; scram."

There is also the frustration factor caused by sluggishly co-operating colleagues who seem to take unannounced holidays in ten-minute increments and sudden spikes of stress driven into the psyche when one forgets to hold the laptop upside down and shake it before it will reboot and moments of job security significance when staff get 3D coloured pie-charts showing unexplained rises in their expenses.

Many staff, however, enjoy their work. To show it could be a mistake; some managements regard job happiness as emotional theft and, if they could get away with it, would consider charging admission to the office.

Meanwhile, some staff, even at tether’s end, will continue to work. If they find themselves in a dark tunnel with a bright light ahead and hear ancestral voices, they should write a sick note and take a break as soon as possible.


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