Under pressure: How the stress of work is killing us

A woman sits in front of her computer stressed out (energepic.com/Pexels).

The World Health Organization has cited depression as the number one cause of physical disability.

The number one cause of depression currently? Most signs point to work. One in four workers are highly stressed, according to the 2010 General Social Survey. And of those highly stressed workers, six in ten identify work as their main source of stress, above even finance.

Most of us have had to work at least one god awful job. For some, it’s a summer job in that transition time between highschool and higher education. For others, you’re always a stone’s throw away from unemployment and working a job that you hate to pay the bills. In Canada, 53 percent of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque. The number of Americans living paycheque to paycheque is even more staggering at 78 percent. 

I’ve personally worked in call centres on and off since I was the age of 19. Working at a call centre may seem cushy for a slightly above average minimum wage job, but I assure you it is one of the most soul-crushing jobs there is. 

Nevermind the dullness, incompetence of management that the business attracts, or the barrage of insults hurled at you as a telemarketer. You can barely slink away from your desk to get a breath before managers monitor how much time you took to go to the restroom.

Jamie Woodcock, once wrote in a 2017 article for The Guardian, how as a call centre employee you are dehumanized. The modern call centre has been called the “electronic panopticon.” You are constantly monitored. The workplace feels like a literal prison. Your biggest motivation is to escape. 

Quotas are enforced in call centres, and employees failing to meet those demands are sent home only paid for the three hours employers are required to pay by law. This forceful management style creates a culture of precarious work. 

I developed back pain eventually as a result of sitting down for long periods at one of these call centres. When I tried to take time off to get better, I was punished. 

Workers’ rights have been chipped away over time. What would seem like a reasonable request is outrageous to management. Too many workers are forced into difficult positions. They often have to choose between their own physical and mental well-being or paying their bills. 

My mental health declined during the period when I worked at a call centre. I slipped into depression. Suicidal thoughts became a regular occurrence. This decline in mental health isn’t uncommon. Work-related suicide is on the rise. Long hours put a strain on workers. 

Talks of burnout are commonplace. WHO reports that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 Trillion US every year in the loss of productivity. High-stress work environments often see absenteeism. As a result, employers are now looking to “join the conversation about mental health.” Rather than address the systemic issues that lead to worker stress and anxiety, they promote clichés and slogans to motivate employees. 

This current pandemic will be an opportunity for employees to reset and refresh themselves. Canadians lost more than 1 million jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as reported by the CBC. But what kind of workforce will Canadians return to once it’s over? Currently, we are all being asked to prioritize our health over the economy. It seems like a novel idea. Businesses are being asked to grit their teeth. 

Globalization and automation already caused a lot of jobs to go to the chopping block. Many of us have been told we are expendable. For some, being called an essential service is a slap in the face. Call centre employees at Canada’s big banks as of April 1st were still being asked to commute and go into the office, reports Global News.  

Employers and unions now have a chance to rethink what they want the working world to be like after this virus. Hopefully, they reflect on our physical and mental well-being. If not, the virus won’t be the only thing that kills us. 

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Written by
Brian Capitao

Brian Capitao is a feature writer with a penchant for writing about countercultural movements. His work has appeared in The Plaid Zebra, NOW magazine, Panoram Italia, and OntheA.Side. He currently attends Sheridan College as part of the New Media Journalism program.

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