Stress is no reason to delay progress

 

November 21 – My missing IT manager returned to work today, simply to report that he has been signed off for a month with stress.

Now I could definitely be signed off for a month with stress so I asked him to come to see me and explained that I clearly respected his right to have the time off but that we would need him to see an occupational physician urgently in that case and unless there was a clear and agreed programme to set out how he was going to deal with the stress so we were sure he could return in due course without the problem recurring we would only be paying statutory sick pay in the meantime.

Now I guess you could call that stress inducing. But I also think it wholly appropriate. Saying you’ve got stress without seeking a solution is a useless management policy. So I’m being proactive.

He wasn’t happy, but late in the day he called and agreed.

In the meantime, I’m holding meetings to make sure the idea that our manufacturing guys want to take forward makes progress. Being absent is not a reason for objecting to commercial activity making headway.

Comments
Flash Gordon's picture

Wow    4 thanks

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

What a great manager you are. You have no idea what's caused it, no idea what steps he's taking outside work to deal with it and yet you give him the clear message that you don't care & don't believe him by telling him that he'll be getting SSP only unless he jumps through hoops that no doubt will be raised higher and higher at your fancy. You're not being proactive you're being a grade A b*stard.

Maybe he is pulling a fast one but if he isn't then congratulations you're made his problems worse.

Saying you think you could be signed off for a month with stress shows that you have absolutely zero idea what it's like. You may have a heavy workload and pressures of being the boss but you manage to get plenty of holidays in................

I really hope you get taken to a tribunal.

ShirleyM's picture

I hope you approached this problem quite gently    3 thanks

ShirleyM | | Permalink

Did you ask why he was suffering from stress? If it is work related (and it may not be!) did you try to find a solution?

Are you so sure it isn't your attitude (or perhaps your dislike of this person) that is causing his stress. It does appear to be a more likely cause after reading this post!

What's wrong with that?    4 thanks

Cloudcounter | | Permalink

Why should stress be treated differently from any other illness?  What is inappropriate about asking any employee who is ill to see a specialist and arrive at a plan to deal with the illness?

Surely seeing the occupational physician is a clear step towards identifying the reasons for the conidtion and the best way forward.  I really can't see why the flak has been dished out.

Arawn Gryffyths's picture

Unacceptable management    2 thanks

Arawn Gryffyths | | Permalink

I really can't resist commenting on this as it is the most appalling mismanagement.  Faced with someone diagnosed by a qualified physician as suffering from stress you deem it appropriate to deliberately add to that stress?

That actually could be seen as a criminal assault, section 47 Offences Against the Person Act 1861 states that “injury can be psychiatric injury that is more than mere emotions, such as fear, distress or panic.”

If this gentleman's symptoms worsen and your ultimatum is seen to be a contributing factor then a claim for constructive dismissal would succeed as the additional injury was indeed caused by your assault upon him.

Rammstein's picture

Acceptable Management    3 thanks

Rammstein | | Permalink

I would say that you are doing totally the right thing.  He has a problem and you are trying to address it.  You could have just stuck him on basic SSP but you haven't.

Letters from Doctors are not worth the paper they are written on for problems such as this.  They have so little time to see people and if someone says they are stressed, they would get a letter.

Awful misjudgement    4 thanks

srw01 | | Permalink

I too feel the need to comment on this and it will be the first time I've ever posted on this site.

This is a truly appalling attitude. You have taken it upon yourself to dismiss the professional view of his GP, threatened him with a pay reduction and clearly exacerbated whever stress he is under. Would you do this is someone was signed off for chemotherapay? - maybe suggest that they investigate whether an alternative providor could do it quicker and threaten them with a pay reduction if they didn''t ?

You should be deeply ashamed of yourself and let's hope this individual doesn't do anything stupid. I have personal knowledge of an individual in a similar, but not the same, situation who killed themselves in these circumstances.

 

 

 

 

Monsoon's picture

You already know    3 thanks

Monsoon | | Permalink

You already know what I think. I hope you say a prayer every day to give thanks that you've clearly never suffered from any kind of mental health problem, as your lack of comprehension is staggering.

I do understand that trying to take steps to get independent verification and managing his health back into work can be seen as a positive. However, I don't think it's been done in a way that is going to help him; quite the opposite. That is the problem.

 

ShirleyM's picture

@Rammstein    1 thanks

ShirleyM | | Permalink

".... so we were sure he could return in due course without the problem recurring we would only be paying statutory sick pay in the meantime." ""

You obviously didn't notice this part of the opening post.

Measured approach    4 thanks

neiltonks | | Permalink

I’ll try and give a more measured response than some of the other posters.

Stress is a genuine medical condition and can be very debilitating. It can also be a symptom  of depression,  which is a more serious condition. However it’s also true that it’s often used as an excuse by those who just fancy some time off work.

This person is a long-term employee and as you’ve not indicated he’s had previous periods of absence, I’m assuming this is the first instance. This lack of ‘previous’ makes it more likely that he’s genuinely ill – workshy people usually reveal themselves early in a period of employment.

So what to do? Well by all means get a medical opinion, but be prepared for the distinct possibility that the physician will concur with the guy’s GP. And in the meantime find out why a long-term employee with no previous attendance issues suddenly finds his job impossible to cope with.  You appear to have jumped instantly to a diagnosis that he’s not genuinely sick and this has prevented you doing even a cursory investigation of the situation. Do you know whether he has personal issues outside work? Is he coping with his job or is he genuinely under too much pressure? How many hours does he work? Is he taking his holidays or does he feel he needs to be present all the time because no-one else can do what he does? And if he feels that way, is this actually the case?

And look at your employment contract to see whether you are actually able to only pay SSP. If the contract doesn’t allow you to exercise discretion over sick pay, you could have legal problems.

But above all, hand the case over to someone else to deal with. You’re not being objective and this has probably already made things worse.

@ShirleyM    1 thanks

WhichTyler | | Permalink

ShirleyM wrote:

".... so we were sure he could return in due course without the problem recurring we would only be paying statutory sick pay in the meantime." ""

You obviously didn't notice this part of the opening post.

I think you may have overlooked the part of the OP that says 'unless there was a clear and agreed programme for dealing with the stress...we would only be paying ssp'.

So if there is a plan, then he's on whatever the normal sick pay is at CEO's firm, and there is a chance that the underlying issues (which may not be work related) are addressed in a reasonable time, and as far as they are work-related, they do not recur. It's impossible to know what CEO's manner was in the meeting, but his approach does seem to be constructive, rather than dismissive.

Isn't it possible that identifying the issues and drawing up a plan could be major steps in reducing stress? Once the 'nameless dread' I think we have all felt from time to time can be put in perspective, and some practical steps identified, the clouds may lift. Though I'd agree that it might be better to have someone else manage the process, in case there is eventually a dispute which needs an appeal process.

 

 

 

The whole story    1 thanks

Helen Crowley | | Permalink

As many have suggested already the CEO should proceed with caution, I would say the same should be applied to the comments on here. Bear in mind that we don't know the full facts and that the CEO may not have been too precise in the way that the Blog has been written. I'm not convinced that he has behaved like a bull in a china shop yet and will wait to see what if anything more he chooses to share with us. Let's not be too hasty to judge when we don't know the whole story?

ShirleyM's picture

@WhichTyler & @Helen

ShirleyM | | Permalink

That is fair comment.

I was maybe unduly influenced by the posters criticism of this IT guy, and his dismissive opinion of stress in previous blogs.

Rammstein's picture

ShirleyM

Rammstein | | Permalink

I cannot see where I have criticised the IT guy at all so I don't know why you are trying to justify your comments.  And as for previous blogs, you have got me there as I haven't got a clue what you are on about!

Flash Gordon's picture

@ Rammstein

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

I think Shirley was talking about the CEO!

Rammstein's picture

Apologies

Rammstein | | Permalink

No wonder I didn't have a clue lol!

In the (recent ) past...    1 thanks

WhichTyler | | Permalink

... the CEO said of the IT guy 'overall he's done a good job for us… we don't want to lose him' but  CEO is obviously not pleased that the guy has not raised the issue of how he is coping until the moment when he is called to explain a decision.

It's pretty clear from the history of the blog that CEO likes to be told about problems as long as he isn't expected to supply the solution (and that's a good thing, btw).

If the IT guy has been blocking others progress and not made his ability to cope known earlier he has failed the company, his colleagues and himself in two ways. I would be aggrieved too...

responsibilities

Alan Davies | | Permalink

The CEO has a responsibility to all employees not just the IT guy.  By proposing positive action (and as we don't know either of those involved this may be the best way of making the IT guy respond positively and we shouldn't make judgements) the CEO is protecting the whole company as that should be his primary concern.

FirstTab's picture

My experience

FirstTab | | Permalink

CEO I have dealt with these types of situations before. Please make sure you follow the strict procedure. I was not that different to you with my first time. The case ended up in an Employment Tribunal. I had to answer to the board why I messed up so badly. I had to admit my mistake. They lost confidence in me . I had to seek employment elsewhere. Thankfully I got back on track after this.

Following  this I always worked very closely with my HR manager. I put my feelings aside followed the strict protocal. I made sure the HR manager was with me all the way. He/she made sure I did not put my foot in it.

You are in a difficult position. It is not easy when your role is to look after the organisation as whole. Best of luck.

Vilification

rosj10 | | Permalink

I am surprised by the level of attack on the CEO.  I too have my doubts about how the message was delivered, as documented above, but, given previous postings have been supportive of the IT guy and the CEO seems to take significant pleasure from seeing his team develop, I am prepared to put it down to the tone of writing.

Suggesting that someone see an occupational health specialist at an early stage is not a punishment.  Time off will relieve the symptoms but not address the underlying cause.  It is possible that the IT head was not provided with enough support, given he "fell" into the role, there could be personal circumstances or he may recognise he messed up and be looking for a way to avoid facing the mistake as he is scared of the consequences.  By getting to the root of the problem, remedial action can be taken and that may mean the CEO having to acknowledge he and his team didn't spot a problem early enough.

Stress is a real illness (see the share price of Lloyds), as is back pain.  Both are hard to evidence so can be used as an excuse but letting someone go on long term sick without intervention is doing them a diservice as once you have had a month off it is often hard to return.  The National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence, in their report on manageing long term sickness (http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/pdf/PH19Guidance.pdf) state:

"Individuals who are out of work for long periods of time due to sickness experience a drop in incomes which can result in poverty and social exclusion. In addition, the longer someone is not working the less likely they are to return to work (DH 2004; Ministerial Task Force for Health, Safety and Productivity 2004). Someone who has been off sick for 6 months or longer has an 80% chance of being off work for 5 years (Waddell and Burton 2006). "

Are you listening to this, CEO?    1 thanks

mattemerson | | Permalink

I'm not in total agreement with the majority of posters, although their dissatisfaction is understandable.

I think there are two separate issues at play here: the CEOs comments about stress and the action he is taking.

If we look at his comments on stress, it seems clear to me that he has neither personally experienced nor had to deal personally with an incident of mental illness. 'Stress' can cover a number of illnesses and range of symptoms from being irritable all the way through to attmpting suicide. We do not know where on the spectrum his employee sits, but to be signed off ill for a month would suggest that he's not merely a bit grumpy about his workload or the econmic climate. As such, it would seem that the CEO is displaying a profound lack of empathy, something that - having been a long time reader of his blog - is unusual but not unkown. He posted with no little pride recently how it pays to listen to his employees and that he added value as a result. Perhaps he's only listening when they're telling him something he wants to hear.

As to his approach to dealing with his employee's illness, I think he has taken an entirely correct approach. It is not - as one posted stated - akin to challenging someone on chemotherapy. It's more akin to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, but is not being treated for it. If this were a physical illness as opposed to a mental one, asking that his employee go to see a specialist to understand the root cause of their illness would be seen as appropriate. Why shouldn't the same approach be taken to a stress-related problem? What I do disagree with him on is the 'clear and agreed programme to set out how he was going to deal with the stress so we were sure he could return in due course without the problem recurring'.

I'm not sure that a guarantee that the problem will never recur can ever be given. I'm going to use a cancer analogy here - if you've been treated and are in remission/believe you are clear it would appear that the CEO wouldn't let you back to work as no-one would be able to guarantee that the problem would recur. Does that sound sensible? What his employee will hopefully discover is both the root cause of his illness and coping mechanisms to help him manage that illness. There is normally no silver bullet.

If the CEOs still listening, something like this may help his understanding.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/aug/02/depression-mental-health-breakdown

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/dec/27/waht-happened-next-depression-breakdown?INTCMP=SRCH

 

Is everyone too stressed?    1 thanks

stephen_hoare | | Permalink

This has got to be the most comments the CEO has ever received to a blog post since it began (I can still remember way back to the first posts in what was then the FD's diary). The vehemence of some of the posts suggests that there are some very stressed people here who are identifying with the IT guy and transferring their own situation to the one here - taking it personally, in other words. As others have said, the original post from the CEO didn't give enough detail, so a lot of these very upset people could well be jumping to entirely unjustified conclusions.

What is clear to me is that (a) stress is a genuine illness that is not always well managed and (b) sick-notes with the diagnosis of 'stress' are often not worth the paper they are written on. 'Stress' is as often abused by employees as it caused or mishandled by employers.

Monsoon's picture

Not stressed

Monsoon | | Permalink

The drugs take care of that :D

I think it was on the other thread about stress that someone made the distinction between stress and pressure. Work-wise, I thrive on pressure (sadly). However I have a tendency to suffer from stress, depression and anxiety, so need to keep a careful balance. I relate to the IT guy, but I am not stressed myself. I just know how I would want to be treated if I was in his shoes - and how I would like to act were it one of my employees who was suffering.

Yes, stress can be abused by some employees, but if the diagnosis is genuine then it should be taken seriously and treated sympathetically. Unfortunately until you know if the diagnosis is genuine or not, you have to act as if it is, and that means handling with care where mental health is concerned.

MarionMorrison's picture

Carts and Horses

MarionMorrison | | Permalink

There's a bit of an assumption that the IT guy is reacting to the pressures of his situation by building up and manifesting stress because he's beinyg pressured to do stuff outside his comfort zone.  Without the slightest knowledge of the circs or the person, do consider whether or not he is suffering from stress for other reasons entirely and that his apparent resistance to change comes from his suffering from depression.

In other words, his unhelpfulness in the IT workplace is a symptom and not a cause.

I do think the CEO is doing the right thing.  Stress and depression needs looking at to find causes.  The seemingly-universal cop-out of rest is only a help to some people.  For others the removal of the crutch of a workplace can be destabilising.  Each person and diagnosis is unique and the only way to find out is to investigate.

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