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I was once a trustee of a charity which changed its name from the Mental After Care Association to the more modern vibe, Working Together for Well Being. We were ahead of the curve as a large tech company recently advertised for a ‘Wellbeing Manager’, to provide support’ for its ‘internal employee wellbeing proposition’. They could also do with an English teacher.
‘Wellbeing’ is not new as, in fact, it has been with us since Tudor times. And a lack of well-being or shall we call it Bad Being, has more recently been a worry for workers at the coal face of capitalism. Brex-stress, the stress caused by uncertainty, is going to make it worse.
City workers have long been prey to Bad Being. Allow me some personal history. My father in law, William La Tourette, reached the upper echelons of the coal face as a very successful New York stockbroker in the 1970s. He got up before 6 a.m. every day to commute from Upper Saddle River, a wealthy New Jersey suburb. He had his first heart attack in his late thirties. He gave up smoking, but he did not give up his job -or drinking.
William came to dislike his job and eventually brokered – and broker is the word – a deal where he worked three days in Wall Street and then flew to Texas where he became a professor of economics. He taught Thursday afternoon, Friday and then flew back home. After 3 months of this punishing regime, he had a fatal attack and died in the shower of his hotel room in Texas. I think of him every time I think of the stress in the City.
Cary Cooper, the professor of organisational psychology at the Manchester Business School, has made many studies of how stress affects those who work in the City. Well-being does not just make psychological sense, according to him, but economic sense too. The unhappy worker is an unproductive worker. And unhappy workers sometimes try to turn their brains round with drugs. It has been estimated that thousands of City workers suffer from stress – and many use drugs to cope.
“It might feel counter-intuitive at a very deep level for some managers that need to scale back overly long hours and high pressures in order to improve performance, but the well-being agenda isn’t just about making work feel good.” Cooper invokes the concept of resilience, of how we cope with stress and even trauma. Sir Michael Rutter’s work on that is relevant.
Cooper adds that his research shows that “high resilience levels mean lower sickness absence and higher productivity – but it’s about sustaining that resilience over a long period, supporting employees so that they’re not regularly suffering burn out at work.”
Karl Marx would not have been surprised. He wrote at length about alienation and its crippling psychological consequences. Today’s capitalists would do well to read those bits of Das Capital to remind them of the need to keep the workers, and even the City workers, happy and effective as they flounder in the confusions of Brex Stress.
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