It’s a well known fact that charities have far less money to spend than companies in the private sector, so it’s hardly surprising that it was charities that were hit hardest by the recession. Paid hours have been cut for many charity workers in a desperate attempt for charities to save money. As a result, charity workers -women in particular- are feeling the strain of their jobs; as well as the overwhelming amount of stress that comes with it - more than ever before.
Stress is taking its toll on charity workers, but the underlying problem is that they are afraid to speak out about the stress they are suffering from. There is still a general feeling in the work place that taking time off work for stress is an excuse and an invalid reason to leave work. Being stressed is regarded as a confirmation that you are incapable and not in control of your job. Due to the growing awareness of stress-related illnesses, there is deep scepticism from company bosses and managers over whether employees are suffering for stress or simply trying to skive off work.
Public opinion on stress has gone from bad to worse by an article written by Steve Doughty, journalist from the Daily Mail (September 12th 2003), who says:‘Stress has become the most common excuse for taking time off sick’. Doughty then goes on to claim: ‘And it is most often cited by public sector workers, rather than those in high-pressure private sector jobs.’
Let us ask ourselves: are private sector jobs the most stressful? I certainly don’t think so. Perhaps the reason less people taking time off work for stress in private sector jobs is because the workers are under less pressure!
Strangely, Doughty fails to mention that public sector jobs such as teachers, doctors and bus drivers happen to have jobs that are equally tiring and stressful as many jobs in the private sector. Furthermore, he does not mention the huge amount of stress placed on workers in the third sector.
The stress charity workers must deal with has surmounted to a whole new level.
According to research, women are more prone to be affected by stress than men. Apparently, hormones are to blame. However, Dana Becker from the Washington Post believes otherwise. Becker insists there are other factors which explain the gender differences in responses to stress.
Scientists now have evidence of a link between the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin and stress.
“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” author John Gray has said household chores and looking after children are “oxytocin-producing” for women and helps them relieve their stress.
Dana Becker responded to Gray’s claims by stating: ‘I don’t think many women find it relaxing to cuddle up to the refrigerator at the end of the day, but maybe I’m living on Saturn.’
There are, in fact, many other reasons to blame for women suffering more stress than men. Women tend to have fewer and often worse job opportunities, smaller salaries and less job security than men. On top of that, women often need to balance their working hours -they may not have the choice to chose when they work -with looking after the family, which, it could be argued, is more stressful than work.
Cutting work hours has had a drastic effect on workers, particularly in the Third Sector. Fewer government grants and less public funding have led to charities fighting for survival. In this struggle, many charities have chosen to cut the working hours of their employees to save money, but at the price of further negative implications for the workers. With a lower salary and less time to complete a list of endless tasks, charity workers are constantly under pressure. Small teams of fundraisers are expected to raise unrealistic amounts of money with fewer available resources, which often proves challenging. Lower incomes have increased the stress levels of many workers, who have less money to spend on household expenses, bills and paying off debt. Unfortunately, workers also have far less time to spend with their families.
If stress has such a life changing effect on charity workers, what can organisations and government do to protect and support them?
For a start, under the Duty of Care Act, Non-Governmental Organisations must show more support to their stressed employers. Even speaking to workers about their problems could help them relieve their stress, instead of employees suffering in silence. Knowing they have encouragement from their employers could help lift off at least some of the pressure.
In addition, the Contract of Employment Act and labour rights protect workers from being exploited or forced to work longer hours with no extra pay. The Equality Act protects workers from being unfairly treated in a working environment.
The government, instead of cutting costs, should spend more money on the Third Sector to help charities reach their potential and minimise the stress of the workers.
Although many charity workers have had their paid hours cut, they tirelessly and unselfishly continue to commit themselves to an honourable cause, without expecting and asking for the recognition that they duly deserve.