Mental illness is the leading cause of disability claims in Canada. Is this because stress is now more widely recognized or is it because largecorp’s Senior Management Team mismanagement has created an increasingly stressful environment? I’ll vote the latter.
In a recent study of the Canadian workplace by the employee benefits consulting firm Morneau Shepell it was found that 43% of managers and 34% of employees reported suffering from extreme levels of organizational stress with both groups ranking workplace stress over that of personal stress.57% of both these groups indicated that they are currently suffering or have in some point in the past suffered from a mental health issue or sleep related disorder. The clear majority of respondents felt employers should take an active role in supporting distressed employees.
So why is largecorp to blame for workplace stress? I think it is often to be found in a previous chapter where we discussed what it takes to advance up in the ranks of largecorp. These same events are frequently the events that cause stress for the largecorp employee.
If downsizing was a form of magic the employee downsized would be dispensed with like a junkie’s syringe at a safe injection site and that employee’s job function and task would mysteriously disappear. However, the job function remains without an employee to perform it. Someone must fill in for the departed employee! Impeccable logic demands that these functions be transferred to the remaining employees.
Now imagine after successive rounds of downsizing the unassigned work just adding up and being “reassigned” to the remaining employees. Is this a neutral emotional and physical event? Or is it an event that heaps more responsibility, work and stress on the survivors of downsizing? The answer appears quite apparent. Load them up and hope they don’t buckle is the hope of the compassionate and caring Senior Management Team of largecorp.
Trust me on this but there is a breaking point for everyone. I think the SMT’s strategy is to let the weak ones be culled and quit or go on long-term disability. As most long-term disability programmes are funded by insurance companies retained by largecorp severe employee burn out is no longer an out of pocket expense of largecorp unless stress claims skyrocket and insurance premiums payable by largecorp increase! Largecorp pays short term disability but usually for 10-20 weeks but after that it progresses to long term disability which most often is paid out of the insurance company’s pocket.
At first blush one would think outsourcing might reduce stress as the job function is removed to a foreign jurisdiction. However are the outsourced employees in these foreign jurisdictions not also subject to stress albeit at a cheaper cost to largecorp? Stress is transferred not eliminated.
And given the different time zones of the outsourced destinations the difficulty in managing this at “head office” is not easy. Staggered supervisory shifts are required at “head office” subjecting the supervisors to the night shift stress factor previously thought restricted to the industrial night shift worker.
- The unhealthy work ethic
Largecorps, particularly those with head offices in the United States, have a very unhealthy work ethic. Slavery may have been abolished in the United States but there remains a slavery-based work ethic that drains and depletes. Americans are the highest forfeiters of vacation in the world and what is good for America is good for Canada or whatever branch plant or office largecorp has on the go.
In my experiences at Up Up and Away America many of my American counterparts worked throughout their vacation. Mobile phones were always at hand. To hell with family commitments. The attitude was pride at being shortchanged and manipulated by Up Up and Away America. Dummies. And of course, heading out for lunch is a deadly sin. Chained to your desk was in vogue at Up Up and Away New York but never fully embraced at Up Up and Away Toronto.
I remember receiving many a mobile phone communication at early morning hours over a “big deal” for an “important client”. Time is always of the essence unless it was your time in which case it had no value for largecorp.
- The do-it-yourself mentality and the “liquidation” of administrative assistants
You know when I started with CRAP and Up Up and Away Toronto there were omnipresent “admin assistants” to assist you whether it be photocopying, printing, processing expenses, making travel arrangements and often CYA. These admin assistants were liquidated over the years and suddenly you as a lawyer or senior manager were stuck with performing administrative tasks that were not germane to your function. You spent more time on functions not related to your job and had less time to accomplish your tasks. Put crudely you were paid $200 an hour to do $15 an hour tasks but expected to continue doing the $200 an hour tasks as if you still had a $15 an hour admin assistant doing those $15 an hour tasks. Incompetence of the SMT. Talk about a waste of resources. Where on earth were these SMT members educated? Perhaps at the in the pocket schools of business funded and controlled by a cabal of largecorps?
Illogical and stupid yet these folks at the SMT are almost immune from corporate hits so what do they care about heaping admin assistant’s jobs on overworked employees? An example of cost saving being an unwise decision but as we know bad management decisions are the hallmark of an SMT. Is it right you spend half a day trying to process expenses for a $1,500 three-day business trip on a faulty based expense reporting system monitored by poorly trained employees in Mumbai?
- Bureaucratization of employee performance reviews as largecorp protection
In my father’s era you did your job and went home. You either did a decent job or bad job. You did a bad job you were fired. You either completed your work or didn’t. If you didn’t you were fired. Clean and simple.
Largecorp, stung by litigation over wrongful dismissal, has developed an elaborate performance appraisal system that at Up Up and Away forced upon all employees on a bi-annual basis using unfriendly and complicated software on an “employee dashboard”. Pardon me but what turkeys developed such an unfriendly and utterly stupid system? Employee goals for Up Up and Away Toronto Legal were set by Up Up and Away in New York with no local input. Do as you are told naughty little foreign boy! No democracy here!
- Silent ageism
Being over 50 at largecorp is a bit stressful unless you are in the SMT. You feel like an outsider and a relic. If largecorp had any compassion it should take a gun to your head like a horse with a broken leg and shoot you to put you out of your misery. Instead to avoid paying out a severance package it will freeze your salary and hope you get so pissed off you’ll quit. Yes, Up Up and Away had a definite unwritten procedure to follow once an employee reached 55 years of age.
- Insufficient resourcing
Quite closely linked to downsizing but not always is insufficient resourcing. We will delve into this a bit later but I can tell you at Up Up and Away Toronto I covered for three disability leaves and two maternity leaves for fellow colleagues in my Legal Department. This caused an enormous strain on me. Sally Self offered no competent resources to assist me despite for the last fill in I had advised her I had been diagnosed with workplace stress and anxiety.
- The urgent need to participate in corporate initiatives
It is the Human Resources Department of largecorp that revelled in promoting totally facile, transparently foolish and timewasting programmes. I have mentioned Global Inclusion and Celebration of Differences as one programme.
Up Up and Away also required all its employees as part of their performance assessment goals to “volunteer” for two philanthropic events each year. A wonderful idea but the software programme to obtain approval was so complicated and flawed it took hours to figure out how to get approval. Why not just ask your boss and get a verbal OK? No, as everything had to be documented so it could be measured and used as a valuable PR tool by Up Up and Away. Despite having to endure the agony of having employees take two days off a year Up Up and Away was trying to convince existing and prospective clients just how community minded it was and it needed some measurable facts to be able to do so. Considering how badly it treated its own community of employees I don’t think it fooled anyone. Most clients really could not care if they were fooled as long as matters looked authentic! Perception as opposed to reality is the name of the game for largecorps.
- Measurable objectives
Intricately linked to part 5 of this Chapter at the end of my tenure at Up Up and Away Toronto the Legal Department in New York and Toronto was challenged by Up Up and Away New York’s SMT to prove its worth in measurable ways. This is not an easy task as Legal Departments do not produce widgets and in-house corporate counsel don’t mine billable hours like law firms do. Horrifically complicated Excel spreadsheets were created to note whether key contractual clauses were contained in negotiated contracts. Contractual phrases were measured like widgets. Were key contractual terms included in each contract? If not, was management approval obtained? It was getting so complicated and time consuming that despite hiring some 50 junior lawyers (at an enormous expense) in New York to help with inputting these contractual terms on the Excel spreadsheet this measurability project was beginning to choke all Up Up and Away Toronto’s and New York’s legal departments. The result was further bureaucratization of Up Up and Away’s legal departments so that a decreasing amount of time was spent dealing with legal issues and more on reporting and documenting what the lawyers had negotiated.
I recall driving into work one night and hearing a radio special on stress in the workplace. The expert interviewed said quite simply stress is an inability to reach a goal due to interruptions. The goal of Up Up and Away’s lawyers was to solve legal problems and negotiating contracts. This contract measurability project was an interruption to these goals. Up Up and Away’s legal departments were operating under extremely high stress levels.
- Yankee imperialism raises its ugly head in Canada
I think I have said I understand that many a largecorp is controlled by Americans. That is fine with me. However, I become uncomfortable when American law imposes obligations on Canadian subsidiaries such as Sarbanes Oxley legislation. U.S. extra-territorial legislation has no place in Canada but tell that to Up Up and Away New York who scrambled like a chicken with its head cut off to have Canada comply with Yankee legislation. And by God yet another round of exhaustive of projects were launched to the point 75% of my time was devoted to “administration” as opposed to doing my core job function. Servicing Canadian clients had no relevance. Obeying Yankee legislators was Numero Uno! A sad by product of American imperialism was subjecting its foreign operations to American law. Having American law apply required a detailed analysis of where it should apply then determine how to make it apply. Hundreds of hours were consumed!