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Workplace stress keeps counsellors busy

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Dijana Damjanovic, Amy Corderoy

Seasonal stress ... people are overloaded, disatisfied and increasingly anxious in the workplace.

Seasonal stress ... people are overloaded, disatisfied and increasingly anxious in the workplace. Photo: Louie Douvis

SEASONAL stress and the poor global economic circumstances are causing a less than merry Christmas for thousands of workers.

People are overloaded, dissatisfied and increasingly anxious, figures from Australia's largest provider of workplace counselling services show.

The chief executive of Davidson Trahaire Corpsych, Michele Grow, said Christmas was a time of year when workers increasing felt family and financial pressures, which are now combining with pressure from workplaces under economic strain. An increase in companies making staff redundant around the middle of the year was beginning to take its toll, she said.

''Of course, redundancy impacts the people who go, but there is generally a much bigger impact on the people who stay," she said. "When an organisation downsizes, it is very rare the work has gone away.''

In the approach to Christmas this year, the company has recorded an 87 per cent increase in calls related to workload issues and a 73 per cent increase in workplace satisfaction issues compared with the same period last year.

Calls about work/life balance, issues with superiors, personal stress and financial issues have also increased.

Davidson Trahaire Corpsych receives more than 200,000 calls each year, and Ms Grow said the nature of the calls tended to change during the festive season.

''Particularly in December, we see an increase in perceived harassment behaviour from end-of-year events," she said. And the hangover continues until January, when calls about family, relationship and financial problems pick up.

The chief executive of beyondblue, Kate Carnell, said beyondblue's helpline was also experiencing more calls.

"People are all under increased stress, and stress is a major precursor to depression and anxiety," she said.

She said workplace stress could reduce productivity, and depression alone caused 6 million lost work days every year.

Beyondblue has created three online programs, available through its website, that are aimed at helping people identify mental health problems, and support colleagues.

She said when they launched the programs last January they had expected about 350 businesses to use them in the first six months - but 2000 did.

"I think it shows that a lot of workplaces are really concerned about these issues," she said.

Ms Carnell said while beyondblue did not receive more calls around Christmas, the nature of the calls changed.

"We certainly get an increase in the number of people who are doing it tough, particularly with family issues … people who are divorced and aren't with their kids or people who have lost someone in the last 12 months," she said.

The Minister for Mental Health, Kevin Humphries, said on Wednesday people should be mindful of the stress some people feel at Christmas.

"If you know someone who'll be alone over Christmas, give them a call and let them know you're thinking about them," he said.

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