Robyn Benson, PSAC

Should it come with a health warning?



manager under stress.jpg

…Federal government employment, that is. You don’t have to take the unions’ word about working conditions in the public service any longer. Managers, too, are in a bad fix, according to a comprehensive study carried out by the Association for Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX). This informative article by the Ottawa Citizen’s Kathryn May is well worth a look, if you haven’t seen it already.

The CEO of APEX, Linda Lacroix, doesn’t mince any words: the workplace, she says, is making executives sick. Mental health problems have doubled since 2007. 20% are on medication for depression, anxiety or sleeplessness.

The workplace is toxic. 22% of managers have been verbally abused by their superiors. 10% report “discourteous behaviour such as not sharing credit, breaking promises, getting angry, telling lies, blaming and making negative comments.”

One major stressor is over-centralization of decision-making under Stephen Harper. It’s making managers feel powerless, says Donald Savoie, a professor of public administration. They’re “frustrated, stressed and sick…turning cranks that aren’t attached to anything.”

Small wonder that, as the study reveals, more than half of them frequently consider getting out. And managers as a whole are taking twice as much sick leave as their counterparts in the private sector.

Any of this sound familiar, folks? It should. Mental health advocate Bill Wilkerson points out the glaringly obvious: if executives are harassed, “you can bet the rank and file employees feel harassed.” We all know what rolls downhill.

But somehow it’s cold comfort to learn that Public Service managers are suffering the same sort of thing as our own members, even if they are validating our concerns. The entire workplace, it seems, could use the healing touch.

What an odd coincidence of timing, though. There’s Treasury Board President Tony Clement, complaining out loud about public workers (meaning union members) taking too much sick leave. He’s vowed to crack down on alleged abuses. Why, he said, we take more than our private sector equivalents!

Eventually, Statistics Canada put the lie to that, pointing out that, as PSAC has been saying all along, apples were being compared to oranges. When adjustments are made for unionization, gender and age, the gap between public and private sectors shrinks to about a day per year.

Non-union workers, of course, take time off at their peril. Some have no sick leave at all. So they tend to stagger in to work no matter how they are feeling. But bringing illness into the workplace is no good for anyone, says Nicole Stewart of the Conference Board of Canada, who recently authored a report on workforce absenteeism.

She goes on to note that absenteeism is a problem everywhere, but good workplace conditions tend to bring the rates down. It took a study to reveal that?

In any case, public service executives aren’t unionized. So when they take considerably more sick leave than private sector managers, unionization is an irrelevant concern. Furthermore, because their private sector counterparts aren’t unionized either, public-private comparisons are more apt.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? Statistics Canada has shown that rank and file public workers are actually taking little more sick leave than their private-sector equivalents. Executives, however, are, to repeat, taking twice as much. We aren’t questioning the need for such leave by public service managers, by the way, not by any means: we all know what the workplace is like. But maybe—and I do say this with a twinkle in my eye—our members should be taking a little more?


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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on October 1, 2013 8:29 AM.

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