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Health is a (very) serious matter

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After two years in which the attention of politicians and the media has mainly focused on Covid 19 and its effects on the health of populations, now that the pandemic has subsided, there is room for reflection on other themes and other hazards. We had time to observe and analyze the changes induced by the pandemic, but also to reveal pre-existing phenomena that the medical emergency had, inevitably, relegated to the background.

An interesting reflection, leading us in this direction, was published a few days ago in the FinancialTimes. Written by Sarah O’Connor, a journalist who has been interested in the world of work for some time, its title is decidedly thought-provoking: What if work made us sick? O’Connor analyzes the situation in Great Britain, starting from a concrete fact: in one year, from 2021 to 2022, the number of people applying for financial assistance because they cannot work due to mobility problems or conditions that prevent them from managing daily activities, has doubled, after decades in which it had remained much the same. Added to this, the number of people unable to work for health reasons jumped from 2 million in 2019 to 2.5 million, with a more consistent increase in the 25-35 age bracket.

This series of facts has led Andy Haldane, former chief economist at the Bank of England, to declare that the health and well-being of workers is now in decline for the first time since the industrial revolution.

To sum up, the long road to progress, made possible by trade union struggles, making work ever less dangerous for people’s physical health, seems interrupted. It is true that muscular and skeletal pathologies, a consequence of intense physical work, and oncological pathologies, caused by exposure to toxic substances, have decreased. However, we are witnessing a considerable increase in pathologies linked to mental and psychological conditions: according to the same British statistics, depression, anxiety attacks and various stress-related problems were already on the rise before the pandemic and today represent approximately 50% of all work-related pathologies.

It is difficult to provide a single explanation for the phenomenon, also because precise studies on it, which public health authorities should promote, are lacking. Admittedly, the intensification of work rhythms due to technology is partly responsible, as is the perception, increasingly present among low-skilled workers, of having lost control of their own work. A condition that English-speaking authors call stress at work and which can have negative effects on the mental and physical health of workers. These pressures and difficulties appeared in the world of education even before that of work. Data from the latest end-of-semester staff meetings revealed that almost 74,000 students were deemed “unsuitable for examination” because the number of absences was too high to allow an assessment. This percentage has increased from 2.9% in 2019 to 3.1% in the last school year. In other words, we have a small army of schoolchildren who have simply chosen not to go to school, not to go, more often than not, because they are unable to cope with the pressure of being assessed or compared to their peers. This is an alarm signal that should not go unnoticed.

What is certain is that reflection on this subject must be undertaken in both the public and private sectors. National health services should be responsible for studying the impact of new pathologies and finding ways to treat and cure them. Politicians should propose possible answers and provide the necessary standards accordingly. But the business community should also take an active part in the process: uncovering distortions in organizational processes and promoting workable countermeasures are not only part of corporate social responsibility and good practice, but also constitute the best way to ensure competitiveness. It seems that everyone in the organization, entrepreneurs, CEOs and Managers have a very clear idea of ​​what they SAY, less so when it comes to what they DO. This matter cannot simply be “washed away”, as many other outrageous issues have been.

If we don’t address health issues seriously, people will crumble and the whole system will soon follow in their wake.