THE BLOG

Why Men Are Dying For Work

27/08/2013 11:29 BST | Updated 23/10/2013 10:12 BST

The death this week of city intern, Moritz Erhardt, was a tragic and pointless loss of a young man's life. More disturbing still is that his death (reportedly caused by a heart attack) is not an isolated incident. Within the last few years there have been five reported suicides at one city site alone. It's time we started joining up the dots.

On a couple of occasions, whilst advising some of the UK's largest organisations on discrimination and ethics, I came across coded data I wasn't supposed to see. There were secret budgets ring fenced for law suits in relation to discrimination (mostly sex and race). In amongst stats breaking down staff attrition along gender lines, I came across a column marked "deaths". In one of the organisations there were 6 in the past 12 months (globally). All of whom were men.

I was told the information was "classified" but gleaned that it related to deaths suspected to be work related. If it was being captured to develop and transfer learnings, it was failing on a gargantuan scale. In one global behemoth an executive had committed suicide while on assignment overseas. Apparently he got extremely stressed before making presentations. Rather than ease up, his manager forced him to "man up". Unable to cope with the stress, away from his family, the night before a presentation he threw himself off the balcony of his hotel room.

Elsewhere an executive who worked notoriously long hours dropped dead of a heart attack. He was in his 30's. The corporations' response? Invest in an onsite gym (keep them on a short leash) for employees to "de-stress in". It was spun, by HR mind, as a fitness issue, completely unrelated to his being pushed by his employer to breaking point. It's not HR's job to look after people, it's their job to optimise their productivity. In my experience though, people are far more productive when they're alive.

Also in the news this week, and linked to this story, is the shameful fact that, forty years after Equal Pay legislation, men earn £150,000 more than women on bonuses. Given most decisions about who should stay at home to take care of the kids, is finance driven, it's hardly surprising it ends up being predominately women. Unless you're part of a wealthy power couple, for most people it's not a "choice" but a necessity.

The career penalties relating to this are well documented. Conversely, little is spoken about the burden this puts on men. As primary bread winner, there is increasing pressure to work ever longer hours in order to garner favour with the boss. HR departments like to hold up stats to show it's only women who avail of flexible working polices. Men, they say, love the cut and thrust of long hours. Really?

When I carried out research on the long hours culture, I asked men with small children (mostly in their 30's) why they didn't request flexible working arrangements to spend more time with their children. All of them responded that it would be career limiting. One said he took a promotion to compensate for the loss of his [more qualified yet less paid] wife's income. He was promised his travel would only increase by 10%. It increased by 70%. He was struggling to cope with the stress and actively looking for a job elsewhere.

It is detrimental to society and the economy to reduce fatherhood to a walk on part whilst at the same time driving women out of the workforce when they become mothers. Families need fathers as well as mothers and UK plc needs women as well as men at the helm. After all, we've got plenty of practice cleaning up after other peoples' mess.

Organisations are structured around the indoctrination of its workforce. The more malleable the better. Conscience and fallopian tubes to be left at the revolving door. The Milgram (electric shock) experiment highlighted the power of blind obedience, which saw 80% of participants continue to administer the maximum shocks despite the screams of pain from those they believed to be genuine recipients. It's in this context that decent people can be persuaded to make unethical decisions. Like sanctioning polices that discriminate against some employees, whilst working those who aren't driven elsewhere, or off sick, to despair and sometimes death.

Despite working the longest hours in Europe, the UK has the lowest productivity rate. Not surprising, as all the studies show that, most people are not motivated by greed but by quality of life. Most people would rather sacrifice some pay than time with their family and friends. Most people think their wellbeing is too high a price for work. Most people, that is, except the testosterone charged dinosaurs that dominate British industry and whose recklessness and depravity is unravelling the fabric of our society.

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