31 July 2008

Striking workers may be depressed

While going on strike is largely perceived as a legitimate means of encouraging organisational change, new research shows that it can adversely affect those involved.

These days, going on strike is a very common occurrence in South Africa. While going on strike is largely perceived as a legitimate means of encouraging organisational change, new research has shown that industrial action can adversely affect those involved.

Dr Jane Fowler, an industrial-organisational psychologist at Griffith University, has examined the psychological impact on members of the United Steelworkers of America while on strike from 2004 to 2006.

She found strikers reported higher levels of depression, anxiety and irritation and lower levels of general mental health than non-strikers.

"This is not surprising when you think about the financial concerns, changing relationships and roles, and uncertainty about outcomes that occur during a strike," she said.

Involvement ups mood
However, the study also found that strikers who were more involved with the union - by being on picket line duty, raising public awareness, or doing administrative work - were not as negatively affected as those who were less involved.

"In fact, the more a member was involved in the union's activities, the lower was their level of depression and anxiety and the higher was their level of general mental health."

"It is possible that the benefits of employment, beyond remuneration, come into play for union members on strike. That is, members who are union active while on strike benefit from the combination of regular activity, daily structure, social contact with other members, and a sense of being part of a collective."

Unions can minimise negative effects
Dr Fowler said unions can be proactive in minimising the negative affects on their members.

She suggested unions advise their members on how to prepare financially and psychologically for a possible strike and provide practical support in terms of financial assistance and access to professional counselling.

"Unions should also encourage active participation by members during the strike as an alternative pattern of daily activities can at least reduce the psychological impact of strike action." – (EurekAlert!)

Read more:
Mind Centre

July 2008


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Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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