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by Christelle Chabaud

Stress – The Work-Place Killer

Translated Thursday 24 April 2008, by Claire Scammell

Work-related stress is alive and well, you’ll be glad to hear. According to a barometer established by the CFE-CGC (The French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff), the degree of personal stress which executives attribute to their jobs, (6.3 on a ten-point scale) is now at its highest level since March 2004.

This study confirms the urgency with which we must take account of the psycho-social risks of work-related stress. Under pressure from the Minister of Labour, Xavier Bertrand, unions and management have entered into new negotiations with the specific intention of inscribing into French law a European agreement of 2004, which puts an emphasis on preventative action, and on the responsibility of employers. But for Bernard Salengro, head of the CFE-CGC, “the minister of labour cannot be satisfied with a game of smoke and mirrors where he merely passes the issue back to unions and management; the government must face up to its responsibilities and stop, for example, reducing the number of occupational physicians”.

Departmental malfunction, managerial ineptitude, inertia in the face of a real need for change…In businesses, pockets of stress are harmful. Yet, as is highlighted by the sociologist Jean-François Chanlat, “there is still a real reluctance to recognise psycho-social risks in management training. At France’s elite business and engineering schools, the issue is brushed aside as if there were no inextricable link between the economic and the social”.

However, from workers to doctors, everyone has denounced the way that work-related stress has been systematised by a CFE-CGC panel which met in Paris on Tuesday. Factors identified were the open-airing of organisational conflict (“causing staff to require ear-plugs”), a one-way communication channel, “from the top down”, an absence of an “informal” forum for open-discussion, a total loss of autonomy and of “perception of business principles." According to Jean-Claude Delgenes, head of the expert study group at CHSCT, the French Committee for Hygiene, Safety and Working Conditions, there are three grades of symptoms: “to start with, there is the increase in the number of requests for extensive training, more and more employees opting for reduced working hours and more time being taken as sick leave. Then there are the accusations of victimisation and finally, suicide”.

In their advisory report delivered to Xavier Bertrand in mid-March, the psychiatrist Patrick Légeron and the economist Philippe Nasse call for the creation of an INSEE (1) indicator for measuring psycho-social risks, “in order to ensure employers take an approach which looks beyond individual circumstances”. A business will never profit from wearing down its employees.

(1) INSEE - The French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies.

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