SOME perspective is required about the revelation that public sector workers had 350,000 days off in the past year because of stress-related conditions.
These are, largely, devoted individuals who go beyond the call of duty in providing a quality of service that invariably exceeds their contractual obligations to, for example, their school, hospital or police force. This must not be forgotten.
Nor should the fact that public sector bodies, as the largest employers across Yorkshire, have a duty of care to their staff; they must not dismiss these figures glibly. Stress, in its many forms, is a hidden, mental illness that should be treated as seriously as any workplace accident that has health and safety repercussions.
Yet, by allowing absenteeism rates to reach such perturbing levels, it can be argued, genuinely, that pubic bodies are not treating stress with the seriousness that this condition warrants.
There is a world of difference between an individual who has been driven into the ground by workplace pressures or an uncaring boss, and the small handful of workers who use the word "stress" as an euphemism for an extended weekend, paid for by the taxpayer, to suit their convenience. Far more work needs to be done to tackle this differential. Private businesses have a duty, and procedures, to tackle this issue – towns halls and such like, with their vast human resources departments, should not be exempt from a process which should be in the mutual interest of the employer and employee alike.
Likewise, it will perplex many that there is a discrepancy between the stress-related absences recorded by South and North Yorkshire Police respectively. Do they have different ways of monitoring staff sickness, or is South Yorkshire a better run police force which places a premium on the wellbeing of its staff? It is a question that needs answering. For, with the public sector facing the deepest cuts in a generation, the actual process of implementing this spending clampdown is likely to exacerbate stress levels still further – unless the authorities concerned put in place adequate measures to support the staff concerned.