Australia, Work and the Hidden Epidemic
This week we’ve been reading Johann Hari’s recently published book ‘Lost Connections.’
The book is about depression and anxiety. It’s been called a ‘game changer for our understanding of these complex subjects. Hilary Clinton described it as ‘a wonderful and incisive analysis of the despair and alienation at the heart of our society.’
Believe it or not, Australia is one of the most depressed countries in the world. Depression levels are the worst in Asia Pacific and on par with the USA. (1) It’s been called ‘Australia’s deadly workplace crisis: the hidden epidemic in the job world.’ (2). A massive 20 per cent of suicides are linked to work.
Depression and anxiety issues are the leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia — overtaking musculoskeletal problems in 2013. 5.9% of Australians suffer from depression and one in eleven adults takes some form of anti-depressants to get them through the day (news.com.au and World Health Organisation).
Hari suffered depression for years. His message is that depression isn’t down to some chemical imbalance in our brains, but how we live our lives and how society is failing. To avoid depression, people need to have a sense of belonging, feel valued and have some certainty about the future. These are things society struggles to provide.
Hari talks a lot about work and that only 13% of people are engaged and 87% don’t really like what they’re doing (Gallup).
He discusses research by Michael Marmot, a Professor at University College London (who studied in Sydney). Marmot found that, stress and depression levels in Government departments were higher in the lower grades. Staff were doing the same tasks each day, had no control over their work or say in how it was done. This was the opposite of what was happening at the top of the organisation:
‘The worst stress for people isn’t having responsibility. It’s having to endure work that is monotonous, boring, soul-destroying where they die a little when they come to work each day, because their work touches no part of them. It’s having no say in what they do. Disempowerment is at the heart of poor physical and emotional health.’
Hari concludes that critical factors are having some ‘control’ over the work we do and influence on how the work is done. He says:
"When you have no say over your work, it becomes dead and meaningless. But when you have some control on how you do the work and have influence, you infuse it with meaning. And if there is something at work that is depressing you, and you are in an environment where you are being listened to, you can change things, so they are more meaningful."
So, what about the future? Can we be optimistic that when AI and robots move in, people will do less mundane jobs, have more control and that the epidemic will be halted?
We suspect it might not be that straight forward.
What about the following from the ‘Financial Times’ 19th October 2018? Could it be that in the future of work and the ‘gig economy’ workers will get less control?
Uber is about to diversify its offering. Uber plan to launch an ‘on demand’ model of temporary staff who can work as waiters and security guards. The workers will be drawn from a database of contractors. The company has a large pool of people who could potentially become Works staff. It’s an effort to move away from being a totally transportation company as it goes for a stock market listing.