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Wednesday, November 30, 2020

Another Worldwide Pandemic

The fears of a pandemic of bird flu are getting a great deal of publicity. This is justified. Yet there's another pandemic that maybe already here and that isn't getting nearly so much attention. It may even be killing people. It's certainly ruining many lives. It's the pandemic of long working hours and high levels of work stress.

According to China Online, the official Chinese news website, the Chinese Minister of Health has warned that Chinese "intellectuals" are in serious danger of death through overwork. The site reports the average life-span of "intellectuals" is 58 years, ten years short than "common people." (The Chinese haven't caught on to politically-correct terminology, it seems.) The minister blasted the "unhealthy lifestyles," pointing out that the average life of university experts and professors is only 53.3 years. BY his calculations, within a decade 400 million Chinese could be overweight and 210 million will suffer from hypertension. Since obesity is already a national epidemic in the USA, perhaps his words should be taken seriously.

The same site earlier reported the results of a survey of 1,030 residents of Beijing. A third reported they were suffering from health problems brought on by overwork, with employees of foreign-owned businesses most likely to claim problems. It also appears people in Beijing are already working an average of an hour a day longer than their contracted hours.

Japan claimed 143 deaths from "overwork" in 2001, and the real figure, critics claim, should have been higher. Nothing suggests it will have fallen since then. A survey reported in The Age, an Australian magazine, found 45% of the 1500 Australians interviewed reported work "always" or "often" conflicted with home life, causing marital tensions and lowered sexual activity. Few, however, actively wanted to work less. This either says something about their home life, or suggests the habitual nature of overwork — or maybe just the general willingness of people to trade comfort for more money and job security. Papers in India and Sri Lanka have also carried lengthy articles recently on overwork and the spreading culture of workplace stress.

A recent comment here on the Slow Leadership site is worth quoting in full:
"You hit the nail on the head. I live and work in Bangalore, and you are outsourcing some of your social problems here too. Because of overwork, no one has time to look after those most vulnerable — kids and the elderly. Any society that neglect kids and the elderly is heading for disaster. And we're going there faster than you can imagine. Divorce rates are spiralling, kids have the TV for parents, and grandparents have to suffer in old-age homes. I hope the US stops this overworking madness, becuase it is only then that we will follow suit."

In Great Britain, the BBC reported a survey showing Switzerland and Sweden at the top of the league of European countries reporting high levels of job stress (33% or respondents), with Spain and The Netherlands at the bottom (16%). A survey of 250,000 employed people in Britain itself, conducted by Lancaster University and Manchester Business School, found depression and anxiety were now the most common reasons for long-term sickness. Professor Cary Cooper blamed the trend on "a workaholic culture throughout the UK and Europe — a climate that is impacting negatively in the levels of enjoyment and satisfaction employees gain from their work."

In the USA, a survey by Spherion found 96% of employees agreed that an employer was more attractive when it helped them meet family responsibilities through flextime, work at home options, telecommuting and job sharing. Yet only 24% of employers offer a formal flex-time program, only 12% offer telecommuting and 11% offer job sharing. 60% of workers rate time and flexibility as a key factor in retention, but only thirty-five percent of employers feel the same.

What's your experience? Have you seen this pandemic spreading? Let me know. Post a comment here to share your experience.
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