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."
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.