Is stress still taboo if you are not a politician or CEO?
Despite satisfaction surveys showing that stress is a widespread problem, it is still taboo in the financial sector. This is the experience by Charlotte Hansen, Case Administration Officer at Finansforbundet Nordea.
“My new manager doesn’t know that I have had stress. And I don’t want him to know.”
This is how some react when Charlotte Hansen speaks with members with a history of stress about coming forward and sharing their story to put focus on this enormous challenge in the financial sector.
Finansforbundet’s most recent satisfaction survey from October thus showed that almost one in four members risk developing debilitating stress. Even so, it is apparently still taboo to say that you suffer of have suffered from stress.
“Conversely, we see more and more public figures come forward to talk about stress incidents. For example, many members of parliament have told their stories. At Finansforbundet our president, Kent Pedersen, has also talked openly about experiencing stress,” says Charlotte Hansen.
What will the manager say?
Apparently, it is more difficult to share your story about stress and moving on if you are in a less visible position, notes Charlotte Hansen.
As a case administration officer at Finansforbundet Nordea, she has assisted many members with stress and seen many of them wait too long before throwing in the towel:
“People still feel shame about not being able to cope in the job; many blame themselves. And those who return from stress-induced sick leave may worry about what their new manager will say – will you be perceived as weak or vulnerable, will you lose interesting tasks, will your colleagues show understanding?
Returning is difficult
Although Nordea has gradual return-to-work plans for those having suffered stress-related illness, it may be very challenging to return to the work routine.
“It is highly individual for how long the gradual return should last – and if the tasks should be the same as before the stress-induced breakdown, if the tasks should be adjusted, or if it should be an entirely different job,” says Charlotte Hansen, saying that there are many success stories.
“Nordea is well aware that this isn't something that can be fixed in a fortnight. People affected by stress are taken good care of.”
A success story herself
Charlotte Hansen can tell her own success story. It has been almost 11 years since she suffered stress when job assignments and sick parents formed a wall that she could no longer climb. Others could see it, but she did not listen to them or her own body.
“I was used to speaking with members who were terribly ill with stress, and I didn’t believe that stress was what I had. It was very difficult for me to realise it, and I was afraid of how ill I would get if I let go. It wasn’t until the morning when stress prevented me from opening my eyes that I understood.”
Knowing now that she ought to have been on sick leave for longer than three months, Charlotte Hansen still managed to return to work gradually and in good form. She followed a gradual return-to-work plan for a long time, had a very understanding manager and good colleagues.
“I came back to the same job, but the tasks were now shared by more people. Before, I had to handle way too many assignments myself. I am still negotiating collective agreements – with just as much success as before.”
The case administration officer, as she says, has also learnt to say yes and no:
“I also know that the minute I feel a prickling sensation in my eyes, that's when I need to be careful. I know myself better now.”
Almost one in four of the 11,000 members who participated in Finansforbundet’s satisfaction survey felt stressed often or all the time.
– and one in five men
in the satisfaction survey are stressed
The young are most stressed out
Twenty-six per cent of the members under 40 years of age report feeling stressed, compared to 12 per cent of those aged 65 and over.