Posts Tagged ‘public sector’

Depression in the Public Service has become a “Public Health Crisis”

January 15th, 2010

Public health workers, including nurses, police, teachers, military, and bureaucrats at all levels of government, are suffering from depression at unprecedented rates. So much so, that mental health expert, Bill Wilkerson of Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Mental Health, says that depression has become the country’s biggest “public health crisis.”

Fatigue, stress and burnout are evident in all workplaces. Depression is becoming more obvious, especially in these difficult economic times. But nowhere is the problem greater than in the public service where the impact of mental distress has been called an epidemic.

Mental illness will strike one in every five Canadians at some point in their lives. Depression and anxiety represent up to 90 per cent of such illnesses and cause up to 35 million lost workdays a year in Canada. Experts claim that mental illness costs Canadian employers $51-billion a year (chiefly in lost productivity). It is the leading disability claim for insurers.

In Canada, between 30 to 40% of disability claims are for depression. Among public servants, mental health claims have doubled between 1991 and 2007 and now account for 45% of all disability claims. Given the impact of the recession, I cannot imagine what the numbers would be today.

Leaders such as Michael Kirby, first chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, predict that work overload, job insecurity and financial fears will spark a fresh wave of depression and other disorders. Psychiatrists across Canada are already reporting heavier caseloads. Studies show that about 75 per cent of federal executives feel they are on the verge of burnout or extreme fatigue.  

In my own work, I have found a relationship between depression and spirit at work. As spirit at work (that sense that our work is meaningful, we are able to make a contribution and we feel good about what we are doing) goes up, depression goes down. Emotional exhaustion also decreases.

The good news is that we can increase spirit at work!  Simply by rethinking your work.

Read an earlier blog about how to increase spirit at work: Happy at Home, Happy at Work.

Val Kinjerski, PhD, is a leading authority in the field of employee engagement and on the topic of “spirit at work.” A consultant, agent of change and professional speaker, she helps companies and organizations increase employee retention and boost productivity by reigniting employees’ love for their work. Check out her Spirit at Work Program and Inspired Leadership training at Val is the author of Rethinking Your Work and Rethinking Your Work Guidebook. Available now at 

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Posted in Employee Wellbeing: Refilling the Cup, Getting to Spirit at Work, Spirit at Work in the Public Sector | Comments (0)

Seeing Your Work as an Act of Service: An Antidote to Absenteeism

August 19th, 2009

In our last blog, we talked about helping employees see their work as a noble calling. And how that would help them to feel better about their work and, at the same time, reduce absenteeism. All work matters and all work makes a contribution. When we begin to rethink our work and see it as being important, how we do our work and how we feel about our work changes.

It is not so much about what we do, but how we do it and how we think about our work. Serving others is the path to deeper meaning and fulfillment and spirit at work. We fulfill our deeper purpose by serving — serving others or serving a cause. It is through service that we make a contribution, and that is where meaning and fulfillment come from. As the saying goes, “It is through giving that we receive.”

Shelia’s story demonstrates this well.

Sheila was a graduate coordinator at a university. Among other responsibilities, she fulfilled the role of counselor to students. She dealt with students who ran out of money before their next loan was available, got kicked out of their apartment or ran out of food. Rather than be annoyed with the students, Sheila welcomed them. In fact, she looked forward to helping them. That was her job and she was there to serve. Sheila felt good about being able to help the students solve their problems. She took pride in helping them achieve their goals and was often invited to their graduation ceremonies. She knew she was making a difference. Sheila was very clear about her purpose — to serve.

Sheila’s experience was different than her colleague’s experience. Although they did the same work, Sheila had spirit at work; her colleague was struggling with burnout. What do you think was different? Sheila’s co worker was frustrated with the students and their lack of responsibility. She saw their visits as an interruption to her work rather than as a part of her job. She couldn’t believe that these students could be so irresponsible and working with them took a toll.

Often it is just a matter of our attitude and thoughts, because the work we are doing is already about service. This is the case for many employees and especially for those in the public sector and helping professions. However, if we do not see how we are serving others and do not take time to feel good about serving them, we lose most of the benefits. As did Sheila’s colleague.

What would change if you saw your work as an act of service? What would you do differently? How would it feel to see your work as a noble calling? Start to rethink your work today.

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Posted in Attracting and Keeping Employees, Purpose and Meaning In Work, Seeing Work as an Act of Service, Spirit at Work (SAW) in Action, Spirit at Work in the Public Sector | Comments (0)

Why has the public sector gone from being a noble calling to having the highest absenteeism rate?

August 10th, 2009

Working for the public sector used to be considered a noble calling. Today, Statistics Canada reveals that employees in the federal public service have the highest rate of absenteeism in the country. They are followed by health-care and social service providers, provincial public servants and municipal employees. Absenteeism is lowest in the private sector.

Absenteeism rates have been rising in all sectors since the late 1990s. The average days lost to absenteeism due to sick leave, family demands, and other personal reasons has gone from 7.4 days per worker in 1997 to 10.2 days in 2007. For public service employees, the rated jumped to 16.2 days per worker per year on average.  These days are on top of vacation time, maternity leave and other scheduled time off.

Why the difference? Statistics Canada points to an aging workforce, increased women in the workforce, higher stress levels, and more generous sick and family-related leave policies in the public services.

Others point to low morale as the cause. In a recent poll by Angus Reid, one-third of Canadians think it is more honourable to work in the private sector as compared to 15 percent who believe the working for the government is more honourable. Given a choice, 43% of those surveyed said they would choose careers in the private sector, whereas only 33% would choose the public sector.

Those interested in the private sector are drawn by the creativity, salaries and mobility. Those attracted to the public sector say it is because of the generous benefits and job security. Only one-quarter say they were drawn by a “vocation of service.” I believe that this is the root of the absenteeism concern.

While benefits and job security are important, particularly as we weather the recession, they do not give us that deeper meaning and fulfillment so many of us are seeking. They do not give us the feeling that our work is honourable. We need to know that our work matters, that we are making a difference through our work – to have something we call spirit at work. Others call it work engagement, happiness at work or flow, but it all refers to feeling good about our work and the contribution we are making.

Spirit at work can be developed. I took a team of workers through the Spirit-at-Work Program and it dramatically reduced the rate of absenteeism and turnover. Not only did we see an improvement in retention, our research pointed to an increase in job satisfaction and commitment. Morale improved and the group began working together as a team. Why? Employees began to see their work as a noble calling. They appreciated themselves and the work they did. They began to think about their work differently.

I believe that the answer to high absenteeism rates lies in helping public servants see their work as a noble calling and to feel good about their work. How can they do that? By rethinking work. Here are four ways to begin rethinking your work:

  1. Get to the heart of what matters about your work.
  2. Be on purpose at work.
  3. See your work as an act of service.
  4. Cultivate a spiritual value-based life.

Absenteeism has a huge effect on morale, productivity and profitability. It can and should be halted. We will talk in more detail about these four ways in our subsequent blogs.

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Posted in Attracting and Keeping Employees, Purpose and Meaning In Work, SAW and Organizational Outcomes, Spirit at Work Program, Spirit at Work in the Public Sector | Comments (1)