Claude DURAND, a life dedicated to interpreting

If I remember well in which mood I was in June 1974 after I passed my final exam at ESIT in Paris, I felt a sigh of relief at the thought that I had finally reached the end of a very demanding training path, but in the back of my head I feared that this decisive step would only mark the beginning of a new challenge; in a word, I was wondering whether embarking on a conference interpreter’s career would enable me to grow and make my dreams come true.

Now that I am soon to retire as a manager from the largest interpreting service of the world, I look back on all these years with a deep sense of satisfaction and thankfulness towards this profession and all the wonderful people who have accompanied me along this exciting journey, starting with my first mentors such as the late and regretted Danica Seleskovitch.

As a young student I had often been fascinated by the discrete but pivotal role which interpreters would play in facilitating intercultural communication between statesmen, business managers, scientist or simple citizens. They would apply their language knowledge and skills to the discussion of all sorts of burning topics and at the same time contribute to giving a positive turn to “globalisation”- though this concept hardly existed in the 70s. As a graduate, I was eager to join this strange family of language mediators who followed the never-ending movement of the modern world and learned new things every day with each new professional experience.

I was given the opportunity to embark on this trail when I was recruited in 1977 as a permanent staff interpreter by the European Commission in Brussels. There could not have been a better place for me to witness how efficiently a genuine form of international cooperation can create a virtuous circle between states or people and how strongly the accelerating pace of change pushes us professionals to constantly try to adjust to new situations and challenges.

I was also very lucky because I was permitted or even encouraged to diversify my tasks and activities while working as an interpreter. Very soon I became involved in training new recruits for the European Commission at a time when an intense in-house scheme allowed us to transform rigorously selected graduates into skilful interpreters within a period of six months under the supervision of experienced professionals. Drawing lessons from a regular face-to-face with young trainees, I developed an interest in defining, structuring and fine-tuning training methods for would-be interpreters and I realised on the way that there was nothing more rewarding in life than passing on knowledge and know-how to the next generation.

I left the booth in 2004, after 30 years as a practising interpreter and started a manager’s career but in all my successive tasks and responsibilities I always maintained a close link with the interpreting profession which gave me so much pleasure and opportunities. With the help of other talented professionals, I inter alia contributed to creating new e-learning tools such as SCICtrain – a fascinating adventure which I shared with Lourdes de Rioja and a group of dedicated DG SCIC trainers – and to assisting interested students in better understanding the process and techniques of interpretation.

Today just as 40 years ago, becoming a good conference interpreter remains a demanding challenge. This profession requires excellent language skills, a rich general knowledge – Wikipedia will not save you when you are struggling with a rapid and sophisticated speech to be interpreted in simultaneous mode! -, a taste and talent for communication and exchange in all spheres of society, a lot of hard work…and a real passion for it! This passion has inspired me during my whole career in European institutions and I sincerely hope that it will be as present and vivid in the next generation.

Claude DURAND, DG SCIC, European Commission.

29 May 2015

English is enough, right?


The internationalisation of English has begun to provoke a two-fold enervation. In many societies, imported English, with its necessarily synthetic, ‘pre-packaged’ semantic field, is eroding the autonomy of the native language-culture. Intentionally or not, American-English and English, by virtue of their global diffusion, are a principal agent in the destruction of natural linguistic diversity. This destruction is, perhaps, the least reparable of the ecological ravages which distinguish our age. More subtly, the modulation of English into an ‘Esperanto’ of world commerce, technology, and tourism, is having debilitating effects on English proper”.

George Steiner “After Babel”, 1973.

Why proper English rules OKby Simon Kuper, Financial Times.

There are several ways to overcome the problem of communication between people who speak different mother tongues. None of these ways is ideal. One solution, obviously, is that one of the interlocutors speaks the language of the other. Problems may arise: the knowledge of the language may not be adequate, one side is making a concession and the other has an immediate and significant advantage, there are possible political implications, it may be difficult to apply in multilateral diplomacy, etc. A second possibility is that both sides use a third, neutral, language. A potential problem may be that neither side possesses full linguistic knowledge and control, leading to possible bad misunderstandings. Nevertheless, this method is frequently applied in international practice because of its political advantages. A third formula, using interpreters, is also very widely used, particularly in multilateral diplomacy or for negotiations at a very high political level – not only for reasons of equity, but because politicians and statesmen often do not speak foreign languages.

So, which language is the diplomatic one? The answer is not simple at all. To start with, there is no single diplomatic “lingua francathat could be inscribed in the above-mentioned catchphrase. In the past there were periods when one language or another served as a common, widely-used means of inter-state communication, although usually limited to certain geographic areas or political groups of countries. Such a role was played by Acadian (Asyrian-Babilonian), by literary Chinese, by Greek “koin`e” (a mixture of dialects, based mainly on Ionic and Attic), and later by mediaeval Greek, then Latin, Arabic, Turkish, and yet later by Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Italian, Dutch, German, French, and recently, more and more, by English. Very often attempts have been made to impose one language or another, with the argumentation that it is “clearer”, “more flexible”, “more expressive”, “more eloquent, subtle or refined”, “most suitable for international negotiations”, etc. The mere fact that historically such a role has been taken in turns by so many languages proves that linguistic or semantic reasons are not decisive. On the contrary, it can be said that the dominant role of one language or another in diplomacy has resulted from the political, strategic, economic, cultural or other domination of one power or another in international relations.

J. Kurbalija and H. Slavik, Language and Diplomacy, 2001.

A consecutive demo: los locávoros


Gemma and I are both interpreters and we were asked to do a speech and consecutive for you to show you just one example of how an interpreter’s consecutive notes are used to convey a message in a lively way, so that the interpreter is taking real ownership of the speaker’s message. As we did not have much time for filming, Lourdes suggested we met beforehand and ran through the speech together to see if there might be any potential stumbling blocks for my notes, as that was the focus of her video this time. So this was not a real test situation (as I was not hearing it totally for the first time) but I had NOT taken notes from it the first time so the film shows me actually taking notes from a speech having heard the story once before. The speech was not read. It was a story that Gemma was telling and she did not necessarily say exactly what she had said when I heard it the first time earlier that day. So it was very close to being a real consecutive situation but not quite!

In a way that is more like a meeting as you would be aware of the subject and vocabulary beforehand and would be conveying arguments which are less unpredictable than in a test or an open competition. The speech was not that difficult and only lasted about five minutes, I think. In a test one might be asked to do a speech of seven or eight minutes and that is perfectly possible when one has been trained to do it.  As conference interpreters we mostly do simultaneous interpretation so consecutive is sadly not such a frequent occurrence but I believe it is the best possible way of learning to be a good interpreter because your powers of analysis and understanding have to come to the fore. You cannot allow yourself to get hung up over one word or the way to say something. The great advantage is that you have the time to listen to the whole speech before you render it in your mother tongue so you are in almost the same position as the speaker and can really try to put across the whole message. That is why I think consecutive interpretation is actually a great deal more satisfying to do even though it never stops being a bit nerve-wracking ! Adrenalin is never a bad thing though and I really recommend all student interpreters not to be scared of consecutive and even to try to enjoy it!”

Anne and Gema are both staff interpreters at the SCIC, DG INTERPRETATION, European Commmission.

European Commissioner Vassiliou, about languages and interpretation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is an important moment for languages in Europe. As we continue our celebration of the European Day of Languages, we have one eye on the past and one on the future.

Ten years ago, in Barcelona, European Union leaders set out an ambitious vision of language-learning and its contribution to every child’s education. The aim was clear: to improve the mastery of basic skills, in particular by teaching at least two foreign languages from a very early age.

Today, it is only natural that we should try to take stock. How useful was the Barcelona target? How much progress have we made so far? Where do we go next? These are some of the questions we will be discussing today and tomorrow.

But before we talk about what needs to be done, I think we should pause to reflect on where we all stand today. To be more precise, I believe this is an opportune moment to consider the place of languages within the European Union. To put it bluntly, do languages still matter, and why?

I would offer a simple response: the day when Europe ceases to speak its many languages is the day that Europe – as an idea, as a project – ceases to exist.

In spite of a profound economic crisis, which has rocked the European Union to its very foundations, our fundamental objective remains the same: to work together for a better society while fully respecting our differences. We continue to believe that freedom, equality, solidarity and diversity can be reconciled in a common endeavour.

Language is essential to this mission. If we no longer take the trouble to learn our neighbours’ language, then we are less likely to understand their concerns, and even less likely to lend a helping hand. Experience tells us that we are more willing to make sacrifices for those that we know and trust. Today as much as ever, culture and language remain potent factors of our sense of community.

I believe the role of language goes even deeper than this: it is about our relationship with our fellow human beings and how we empathise with them. Today, science helps us to understand the workings of the human mind, and one phenomenon is especially interesting for any discussion of language-learning: the act of imitation.

I think many of us would recognise how imitation helps us to learn a new language. Is it not both pleasurable and curious to see how we try, quite instinctively, to imitate the sound of the other’s voice – the accent, the intonation, the style. Imitation is one of the most vital human skills, and the new sciences of the brain are helping us to understand just how important it is.

The scientist and former teacher of English, Iain McGilchrist, has developed this idea. McGilchrist says:

“Human imitation is not slavish. It is not a mechanical process – dead, perfect, finished – but one that introduces variety and uniqueness. The enormous strength of the human capacity for imitation is that our brains let us escape from the confines of our own experience and enter directly into the experience of another being.

This is the way in which we bridge the gap, share in what another person feels and does, and what it is like to be that person.”

I believe that these ideas have major implications for the debate on language-learning and its place in European society. Science is beginning to tell us new things about our mind and how it manages important social functions such as language and our relations with other people.

To put it very simply, if we begin to lose interest in learning other people’s languages – and if we no longer try to imitate our neighbours in this very natural and healthy way – then we no longer enter into their world, and do not empathise with their thoughts and feelings. This, I believe, is the most profound and urgent reason why Europe, perhaps more than ever before, must encourage its people to learn new languages. It continues our historic mission to bring peace to our peoples.

Having briefly looked into the workings of the human mind, let us now return to the global stage and the workings of international relations. When we debate the importance of learning new languages, we are speaking about the European Union’s place in the world. And it is here that I find much of my optimism.

I believe that if this twenty-first century is to be marked by further economic and technological integration, the continued expansion of our communication networks, and greater mobility among our peoples, then the European Union may be better equipped to prosper in this new world than many people believe.

Europe has a long history of managing its own diversity, including its cultural and linguistic variety. Of course, this has not been one long success story. Far from it. The European Union was, at its birth, the response to a catastrophic failure to resolve conflict. Still today we cannot ignore the spread of populist and sometimes xenophobic sentiment in our national politics.

But I believe we can and will overcome these tensions precisely because our diversity has become such a central part of who we are. It’s part of our DNA. So much of our political debate, both national and European, grapples with the question of how we reconcile liberty, equality and solidarity in a multicultural society. This is a permanent conversation across Europe, which has already existed for many years and will continue for many more, and it defines who we are.

The European Union today is home to 23 official languages – Croatia will take it to 24 next year – and around 60 minority and regional languages, not to mention well over 100 migrant languages. Some will always be spoken more widely than others, but we value all of them equally. Each and every language embodies a unique cultural identity, and none should be sacrificed on the altar of efficiency.

At this point, I would like to pay tribute to the translation and interpreting services of the European Commission and Parliament, whose Director Generals are here with us today. No other organisation in the world functions in as many languages as we do, and we should be proud of the excellent service that we provide to our citizens day in day out, often under the most trying circumstances.

Our commitment to cultural and linguistic diversity belongs to the unique political model that the European Union has offered to the world over the last half-century. Europe’s openness both among its own nations and towards the rest of the world, I believe, constitutes the core of our ‘soft power’ for the years to come.

Of course, I am not naïve. I recognise that today’s economic crisis has raised serious questions about the future of European integration. I accept that our sense of solidarity is being stretched to its limits, and that many people question the benefits of a globalising economy. But in spite of these worries, I am convinced that Europe’s unique historic response to the question of diversity prepares us well for the knowledge-based society that has arrived.

At this point, I would challenge the idea, as others have done recently, that the rise of English as the global lingua franca is inevitable and without limits. Certainly, for many years to come, the dominance of English in global affairs seems set to continue. But history tells us something about the uncertainty that accompanies such trends.

In the words of the eminent linguist, Nicholas Ostler:

“None of us live long enough to see the course of development of a global language, although we may witness some of the salient events in one, such as the revival of Hebrew in Israel, the abolition of Russian from schools in the Baltic, or the growth of competence in English in Japanese students.

This inevitably gives the impression that these relatively sudden changes are where the action lies. By contrast, we are led to believe that a development that has taken centuries, such as the rise of English, is ultimate and unstoppable. These impressions are deceptive.”

Next to the question of Europe’s place in the world comes that of our economic future. Beyond today’s urgent task of solving the eurozone crisis, we must also address the deeper imbalances between our economies, and think carefully about the sort of economy we want to build. And this brings us to the question of education.

The European Commission estimates that, by 2020, around 15 million new jobs in Europe will require high-level skills. In 2020, about one third of all jobs will demand such skills. This is how the knowledge-based society translates into real needs and political choices.

The question facing the European Union is simple and stark: will we invest sufficiently in the modernisation of our education systems so that we can empower all our young people, irrespective of their social background and financial means, to develop their full potential as human beings?

Education now occupies a central place in the European Union’s economic policy-making. Many of you will be familiar with ‘Europe 2020’, our road-map out of the crisis and onto the path of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Among its five headline targets, ‘Europe 2020’ calls on Member States to expand tertiary education to 40 per cent of young people, and reduce the number of early school leavers to below 10 per cent.

Now, every year, the European Commission recommends policies to all of the Member States, advising them how to address the most urgent challenges to their economy, including through education and training.

Let me be clear. This new promotion of education within European policy-making is momentous. For it is precisely as a central pillar of education for the knowledge-based society that we want to position the learning of new languages.

This explains why the European Union’s future programme for education and training, ‘Erasmus for All’, includes language-learning and linguistic diversity as one of its six objectives. And I am happy to announce that in their negotiations on ‘Erasmus for All’, both the European Parliament and the Member States fully support this new, enhanced status for languages.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You will have the opportunity over the next two days to discuss ‘Erasmus for All’ in more detail, and I will only say a few words about the programme now.

Above all, we plan to finance three types of activity, and each of these will promote language-learning and linguistic diversity.

First, mobility. Since its creation 25 years ago, the ‘Erasmus’ programme has allowed more than two million young Europeans to study abroad. With a new budget that Member States are negotiating this autumn, we hope to expand this opportunity so that a much wider group of people can study, train or work abroad.

‘Erasmus for All’ therefore creates an historic opportunity to boost language-learning across the European Union. By 2020, as many as 900,000 people every year could be enjoying an EU-funded exchange, as pupils, teachers, students, trainees, youth workers or volunteers. Our ambition is to integrate language-learning into every mobility experience for all sectors of education. If we can achieve this, then we would dramatically increase the number of people of all ages who are exposed to new languages.

The second pillar of ‘Erasmus for All’ will support cooperation and partnerships between organisations. Our goal is innovation. Transnational projects encourage openness and excellence, and facilitate the exchange of good practice between institutions.

We will continue to support pan-European networks for language-learning and linguistic diversity. It is here that we must explore how languages interact with numerous other policy objectives in education. From early childhood education and care to ICT, language-learning should play a central role.

The third pillar of ‘Erasmus for All’ will support policy reform. One of the great strengths of European policy-making is our ability to learn from one another. The EU cannot interfere in national education and language policies – the Treaty forbids it – but we can help to identify policies that work. We can guide Member States and propose new ideas to them.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have concluded with a more practical vision of languages within the European Union. Our new approach to education and training, embodied in ‘Erasmus for All’, responds to the urgent needs of European society and the desperate situation of Europe’s youth.

But let me be clear about one thing. Our attention to the economic role of languages in no way undermines our commitment to linguistic diversity as an objective in its own right. On the contrary.

Today, the European Union’s duty to protect and promote diversity is enshrined more securely than ever before. Our Charter of Fundamental Rights forbids any discrimination based on language, and declares that the Union must respect linguistic diversity.

It is our responsibility to ensure that our pride in these values is matched by an equal commitment to their realisation in daily life. I can assure you that the European Commission stands ready to do precisely that, and, in ‘Erasmus for All’, we will have a powerful tool.

Ten years after Barcelona, this is a moment to measure progress and draw lessons, and at the same time look to the future and imagine new opportunities. I believe we can do so with a sense of purpose and optimism.

This year saw the first-ever European Survey of Language Competences as well as a major poll of public opinion – the Eurobarometer. These two surveys have created a vast and comprehensive body of research, which will help us to design a new European benchmark on language-learning. The Commission plans to launch the benchmark in the near future.

The Eurobarometer and the Survey of Language Competences tell a fascinating story, and you will have the chance to explore them in more detail tomorrow.

The most important message that I took away from the research is that we all have a lot of work to do if Europe is to become more multilingual, but the general public recognises the importance of the task.

At the start of my presentation, I asked the question of whether language`s still matter. In the eyes of our citizens, languages have never been as important as they are today. The European Commission could not agree more.

Thank you“.

Commissioner Vassiliou, 27 September 2012
Limassol, Cyprus.

Cristóbal OSUNA: Trabajar en Naciones Unidas

Cristóbal OSUNA is Head of the Spanish Unit, Interpretation Services, United Nations, Geneva.

The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.

Due to its unique international character, and the powers vested in its founding Charter, the Organization can take action on a wide range of issues, and provide a forum for its 193 Member States to express their views, through the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and other bodies and committees.

The work of the United Nations reaches every corner of the globe. Although best known for peacekeeping, peacebuilding, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance, there are many other ways the United Nations and its System (specialized agencies, funds and programmes) affect our lives and make the world a better place. The Organization works on a broad range of fundamental issues, from sustainable development, environment and refugees protection, disaster relief, counter terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation, to promoting democracy, human rights, gender equality and the advancement of women, governance, economic and social development and international health, clearing landmines, expanding food production, and more, in order to achieve its goals and coordinate efforts for a safer world for this and future generations.

The official languagesused at the United Nations are:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • English
  • French
  • Russian
  • Spanish

The working languages at the UN Secretariat are English and French.

A delegate may speak in any of the official languages, and the speech is interpreted simultaneously into the other official languages. Most UN documents are also issued in all six official languages. At times, a delegate may choose to make a statement using a non-official language. In such cases, the delegation must provide either an interpretation or a written text of the statement in one of the official languages.

Interpreter’s mid-career crisis

In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it; they must not do too much of it; and they must have a sense of success in it.”

John Ruskin

How do work patterns affect us?

Jobs often used to be for the best part of someone’s working life. They provided security, stability and structure. However, people can now expect many changes in the course of their working lives. These may include changing employer, re-training, periods of unemployment, and even complete changes of occupation. More and more, people have short or fixed-term contracts, or work on a self-employed basis, and have career breaks. Individuals usually have to construct their own career paths, which can lead to uncertainty about the future, as well as unrealistic workloads for some and no work for others. And while it’s possible to embrace an alternative point of view, and thrive without paid employment, unemployment generally leads to poor physical health, poor mental health and poverty.

So being in paid employment is generally considered to be a good thing. It is no longer just a way of earning a living: it provides identity, contact and friendship with other people, a way of putting structure in your life and an opportunity to meet goals and to contribute.

Having said that, work stress is now more of an issue than ever: every year, millions of work days are lost because people experience illnesses caused or made worse by their work.

The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as ‘The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them.’

Some of the symptoms of stress are:

  • physical – fatigue, indigestion, headaches, appetite and weight changes, joint and back pain
  • psychological – anxiety, tearfulness, feeling low, mood changes, indecision, loss of motivation, increased sensitivity
  • behavioural – increased smoking and drinking, withdrawal or aggression, lateness, recklessness.

What causes stress at work?

The job

Job demands that can lead to stress include: having too much or too little to do; work that is too difficult or too easy; being under pressure to meet deadlines; shift work; and physically demanding work. People doing repetitive tasks, at a high pace, with little freedom to take decisions are especially at risk. Lack of control over the pace of the work or how to get the job done is one of the most common causes of work-related stress.

Poor working conditions, such as noise or bad lighting, poorly designed equipment, exposure to hazards or witnessing other people’s suffering are all sources of stress. People who are simply in the wrong job for their skills, abilities and expectations are also likely to experience stress.

Your role in the organisation

Problems can occur if people aren’t clear about the scope or responsibilities of their job. Conflicting demands make them feel very torn; for example, the demands of quantity versus quality, or quantity versus safety, or being expected to do things against their beliefs or personal and professional standards. This is made worse if there is a lack of managerial or supervisory support. In turn, managers and supervisors can find that the responsibility to provide this support conflicts with other goals expected of them by the organisation; or they may not receive the training to enable them to offer effective support.

Career development

Feeling trapped in a dead-end job, or insecure, is also very undermining. This may be because there are only limited opportunities for promotion and training, a threat of redundancy through organisational restructuring, or because you are working on a fixed-term contract.

Relationships at work

The relationships we have with our colleagues, can have an enormous effect on the quality of our working life, and can be significant sources of stress or support. Supportive relationships can give protection against other workplace pressures; stressful relationships can intensify them.

Working in isolation from others makes it more difficult to build supportive relationships; for example, for people who work at home or run their own small businesses. But isolation isn’t only physical – it may include being the only man or woman or person of an ethnic minority in a workplace.

Bullying is a major source of stress and is very destructive, to the person being subjected to it and to the organisation itself.

Organisational structures and culture

The operating style or ‘culture’ of an organisation may cause problems. It may include lack of communication, consultation or participation in decision making, and unjustified restrictions on behaviour. If there are no policies in place to cover these matters, there will be no clear standards for the behaviour that is expected, and no system for individuals to challenge racism, sexism or other discrimination or harassment. This promotes the attitude that people should just deal with it on their own. An organisation that runs on fear, or interprets stress as individuals not coping, will simply generate more stress.

Personal factors

What we bring with us to work can also contribute to stress. This may be the conflicting demands of managing home and work life; personal crises, such as illness or bereavement; financial worries; or the psychological factors that can drive us to unhealthy working patterns.

One common pattern is when a person works harder and harder to close the gap between what they are achieving, and what they think they should be achieving. They stop taking breaks, lose touch with their own needs and sense of enjoyment, and feel guilty when they are not working. Working harder brings exhaustion, their performance deteriorates, and they become more and more anxious, because they aren’t making real progress. It leads to loss of energy, emotional exhaustion, poor sleep, indecisiveness, and sometimes increased drinking, smoking, eating or spending. The person ends up feeling trapped, and can become depressed.

How can I tackle stress?

Preventing stress means achieving a balance between demands and the capacity to respond to them. Learn to recognise what you find stressful in the work environment and what helps you work well. Taking action, however small, can improve your life at work and stop you feeling trapped or the victim of people’s demands. You may be free to do some things without reference to anyone else, but some things you will need to negotiate, formally or informally, with colleagues or managers. However, there are many things employees can do for themselves.

Taking control

  • Develop good relationships with colleagues so that you can build up a network of support.
  • Talk to someone you trust, at work or outside, about what upsets you or makes you feel stressed. This is not a sign of weakness, it’s taking responsibility for your wellbeing.
  • Treat colleagues with the respect and consideration you want from them.
  • Communicate if you need help.
  • Be assertive – say no if you can’t take on extra demands.
  • Be realistic – you don’t have to be perfect all the time.
  • Write a list of what needs to be done; it only takes a few minutes and can help you to prioritise, focus and get things in perspective. It can also feel satisfying to tick items off once they have been done.
  • If everything starts to feel overwhelming, take a deep breath. Try and get away from your desk or situation for a few minutes – get a drink or go to the toilet.
  • Try and take a walk or get some fresh air during the day – exercise and daylight are beneficial to mental as well as physical health.
  • Make sure you drink enough water and that you eat during the day to maintain your energy levels.
  • Learn some relaxation techniques.
  • Work regular hours and take the breaks and holidays you’re entitled to. If things are getting too much, book a day off or a long weekend.
  • Try not to work long hours or take work home with you. This may be all right in the short term, if the work has a specific purpose and is clearly defined – a team effort to complete an urgent project may be very satisfying – however, working longer hours does not generally lead to better results.
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance – nurture your outside relationships, interests, and the abilities your job does not use.

Preventing stress with the help of your employer

  • Make your physical work environment as comfortable to work in and appropriate to your needs as you can. If necessary, enlist the help of a health and safety officer.
  • Discuss your workload, or the organisation of your work with your manager or supervisor. Get feedback on your work, and discuss setting realistic targets and how you can solve any problems you are having. If you can’t resolve problems in this way, talk to the human resources department or trade union representative.
  • Ask how your goals fit in with the organisation’s overall aims and objectives so that you can see a real purpose to your work.
  • Discuss the possibility of flexitime (flexible working hours), if, for example, you have difficulty with rush-hour travel, or need to leave work early some days to get to a support group or fit in with child care.
  • Make use of the support already on offer: some organisations provide employee assistance programmes providing free advice and counselling; others have internal systems such as co-worker support.

Organisational culture

  • Be aware of any policies on harassment, bullying or racism, so that you know what behaviour the company considers unacceptable, how to challenge it and what support there is.
  • If stress, work overload, bullying or poor communication are issues for you, they are probably issues for others in the organisation as well. Sharing your concerns with those you trust could lead to more of a joint effort to get your employer to introduce changes; for example, better consultation within the organisation, an anti-bullying policy, a commitment to tackling stress through health and safety policies, or an investment in staff support.
  • If you are aware of bad practice in the organisation (for example, financial corruption or abusive behaviour towards clients or staff) find a way of speaking out about it. Do protect your own position though, and get advice, for example, from the union, employee assistance programme (if your organisation has one) or Public Concern at Work .

Career development: staying or moving on

  • Make the most of any opportunities for training and development offered by your employer.
  • Keep your CV up to date, and plan for the future. It’s worth thinking about your career path, whatever your situation, so that you can be positive about staying or moving on.
  • Use careers counselling or similar expertise if you feel stuck, bored, want a change of direction, or feel your job is doing you harm and you don’t know what you want to do. A crisis can force a change of direction, though it’s probably not a good idea to make major life-decisions when you are in the middle of one. Look at the options, when you are able, so you can act when the time is right.
  • Use whatever counselling or support is available, if you are facing redundancy or retirement.

What if I do become distressed at work?

Anyone can become upset and reveal to their workmates that they are human. People who use mental health services may have particular need for a safe space to express feelings. If someone is going through a mental health crisis or breakdown, whether or not it’s caused by work stress, it will be experienced in their working life.

If you can learn to identify what triggers your stress, this will make it a lot easier to find the right coping strategy. If you do get distressed, keep a diary of what happened, how you felt and how you reacted, so that you can cope better the next time the same type of situation arises; or indeed to learn to avoid that type of situation if at all possible.

Ways of coping

  • A brief time-out period when you are distressed could restore you and allow you to continue working.
  • You may need a quiet place away from colleagues and client to shout or cry.
  • You may prefer someone to be with you to help calm you down or just listen.
  • You could learn specific therapeutic techniques using breathing or meditation, or exercises that improve your energy.

These are just some examples, and it may take a few tries at finding what works for you. But once you know what you are likely to need, you may be able to make or negotiate with your employer, in advance, the conditions that will allow you to help yourself feel better and get back to working.

Getting help

If you are worried about your mental health, or other people are expressing concerns, you may want to get professional help. This is not giving in, it’s taking action. If you work for a large organisation, they may have an occupational health service. Someone in the workplace is not only easier to access, but has the advantage of understanding the organisation and being a potential ally in dealing with your supervisor. However, if you do not feel secure enough in your job to approach them, or there is no service available, you may want to talk to your GP or a counsellor. You may need time off work; and sickness absence with mental health problems is just as valid as that for any physical health problems.

Making adjustments to how you work

Many of the adjustments that can help with mental health are things you might expect an employer to adopt as a matter of ordinary good practice; some you may be able to organise for yourself; others would require action, or at least agreement, on the part of the employer. The key to negotiation with the employer is to think creatively about what will enable you to do your job effectively. Here are some examples:

  • using voice-mail to take messages (without slowing down the overall response time) if phone calls make you anxious
  • a quiet workspace to avoid distractions and aid concentration, or being able to work from home
  • changing your supervisor, if another would be more flexible
  • restructuring a job or temporarily reallocating some of the duties (for example, ‘front-line’ work)
  • using email when face-to-face contact is too stressful
  • flexible hours to accommodate therapy, medical appointments, rush-hour pressures or the morning drowsiness associated with some medicines
  • on-the-job support, or permission for a support worker to come in or to be contacted during work hours
  • permission to take time out when distressed: this could just be a few minutes away from your workstation, going out for some air, or having a short rest
  • a workstation by a window, or a lightbox, if you have seasonal affective disorder.

You are probably the best judge of what would be most successful for you. If you want to think through some of the possibilities with another person, before negotiating with your employer, or have someone to back up your request, you could speak with someone involved with your care or treatment, a local supported employment organisation, or with a disability employment adviser who are part of Jobcentre Plus. DEAs can give you advice and carry out an employment assessment to find out what assistance you may need. Via the Access to Work scheme, they may be able to help you get funding for changes to premises, equipment, personal support or assistance, or help with extra costs of getting to work.

Should I tell my employer if I have a mental illness?

Some people say you should be open about mental illness. Others advise against it, where there is a choice. Some recommend waiting until the employer has formed an impression of you based on your abilities and character, not on their preconceptions. Some companies have positive policies on disability and equality at work, which ought to mean that being open about your mental health is less of a risk.

An employer only has to make adjustments for needs that they know about. Therefore, if you want the protection of the Equality Act, or simply want your employer to understand your needs, you will have to make sure that someone in a responsible position knows what they are. This could be your manager or the human resources (personnel) department.

If you do decide to tell, think about how and when to do it, how much information you want to give, what kind of information, and who to share it with. For example, the human resources department may know your diagnosis, but they don’t have to tell your supervisor or workmates.

You don’t have to go into personal details; focus on what you need for the job. Employers’ concerns tend to arise out of assumptions about poor work performance. They want to know if you can do the job and will get along with the customers or clients and the rest of the team. If you can show that your objective is to get the job done, this should go a long way to reassuring them. Being straightforward and unembarrassed about your history will help them get it in to perspective.

The potential risks of disclosing something about your mental health history include:

  • not getting the job
  • being teased or harassed by other employees
  • being assumed to be a less productive member of the team
  • having fewer opportunities for career development
  • being treated as more vulnerable than other employees, or having everything (anger, excitement, time off sick, or a grievance) associated with your mental illness
  • coming under closer scrutiny than other employees, and having to work harder to gain the same respect.

The potential benefits of disclosure are:

  • being open about it can encourage others in the same situation
  • keeping it secret may be too stressful, or against your beliefs
  • it gives you a stronger basis for requesting adjustments to your job or work environment
  • it could give you the opportunity to involve an outside adviser or support worker, who could see you at work or speak directly with your employer
  • it could make it easier to go into work at times when your symptoms are greater
  • it enables you to enlist the support of colleagues.


Ana ALVARGONZÁLEZ: Versión Original

La mejor forma de acompañar este fantástico vídeo a mi amiga Ana es la entrevista que os copio a continuación publicada en la Contra de la La Vanguardia a Augusto M. Torres.

“Subvencionar los doblajes es subvencionar la ignorancia”

Ojalá los gobiernos aprovechen los tristes recortes presupuestarios para dejar de subvencionar doblajes al español y al catalán.

¿No son un medio para preservar nuestras lenguas?
Los gestores del cine y la tele catalanas han copiado de los españoles el nefasto doblaje, que implantó Franco en nuestro cine, siguiendo a Hitler y Mussolini. El doblaje no enriquece nuestras lenguas, al contrario, priva a los actores del derecho a mostrar su oficio con su propia voz.

Por ejemplo.
¡Richard Burton!… Alan Ladd, Victor Mature… ¡Por Dios: todos los actores! Todos merecen que reconozcamos su arte en la voz.

Pero tenemos excelentes dobladores.
No los juzgo. Digo que el doblaje nos priva también a nosotros de disfrutar de la voz de los actores. El doblaje es una mala farsa.

¿Por qué seguimos doblando después de Franco?
Porque el doblaje, como toda práctica monolingüe, fomenta nuestra innata tendencia a la comodidad. Es más cómodo no tener que leer subtítulos. A cambio, nos priva a nosotros y nuestros jóvenes de la posibilidad de aprender lenguas como el inglés. Y además perjudica a nuestro cine. Los subtítulos reforzarían también la ortografía.

Tampoco sobra el refuerzo.
Que dediquen pues los fondos que hoy subvencionan los doblajes al catalán a producir cine catalán en catalán. ¡Eso sí que es invertir en la cultura de un país! Cada céntimo de euro que se invierte en cultura retorna al contribuyente multiplicado por diez: no sólo en dinero, sino en marca y prestigio.

Toda subvención hoy es sospechosa.
Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona, por ejemplo…

Película desigual para muchos.
Curioso: en Barcelona tiene mala crítica, en Madrid menos, pero en Francia, que se apresuró a imitar la fórmula, ya fue buena y en otros países lejanos, excelente.

¿Fue dinero público bien invertido?
Cada céntimo –empezando por los que hicieron que llevara Barcelona en el título– ha retornado a esta ciudad en hoteles, taxis y tasas de todo tipo: la película ha animado a miles de visitantes a venir a Barcelona.

Un buen filme no necesita subvenciones.
¿Ah, no? Pues fíjese en Hollywood: la mayor industria fílmica del planeta es de las más subvencionadas. Goza de un trato fiscal deferente que envidian las demás industrias. Porque Washington es consciente de que su cine abre la puerta a sus exportaciones y propaga su modo de vida, que al ser imitado, venderá sus productos en el futuro.

Con todo lo bueno y lo malo.
El tabaco, por ejemplo, llegó a España de América dos veces: primero con Colón, pero sobre todo con Humphrey Bogart.

Y después también se lo llevó el cine.
América dejó de fumar empezando por su cine y nosotros, después siguiendo a su cine. Recuerdo en el mayor estanco de Madrid tres fotos –una de Bogart– de tres actores americanos fumando: los tres murieron de cáncer de pulmón. Y también fue Hollywood quien nos llevó al piso en propiedad.

Creía que había sido cosa del franquismo.
Vivíamos tan ricamente en alquiler hasta que las películas americanas empezaron a mostrar gente feliz en su casita comprada.

Con garaje, piscina y jardín.
Cuando aquí el rico prefería la casa más grande, pero en el centro del pueblo. Fíjese si EE.UU. tenía claro que llegaría a su imperio por el cine que, tras ocupar Italia en 1943, una de las cláusulas secretas que impuso a Roma fue obligarle a volver a exhibir todas las películas de Hollywood que habían sido prohibidas por Mussolini.

Algunas eran buenas y otras menos.
El cine español no es peor que el de Hollywood. Y el catalán siempre ha sido –como el teatro– más arriesgado estéticamente y más sofisticado y exigente que el madrileño.

Pues hoy está casi todo en Madrid.
La industria del cine madrileña, salvo meritorias excepciones y algunos genios, ha preferido apostar por la ganancia a corto plazo con comedias de vuelo gallináceo: una tradición de torrentes más o menos lucrativos.

Ahora publica usted 2.500 críticas: dígame cinco pelis que hay que ver.
Le diré las seis que hizo Sternberg con Marlene Dietrich, a quien idolatraba hasta el punto de sacar del reparto a cualquier actor que le hiciera sombra. En especial, recomiendo
El diablo es una mujer.

Tenían buen rollito esos dos.
Una química infernal, efectivamente, que transmiten en pantalla a quien vea el filme ahora mismo. Otra obra que cambia tu modo de ver el mundo es
Anatomía de un asesinato de Otto Preminger.

¿Por qué?
Tras verla no volverá usted a creer tanto en lo que cree haber visto. Magistral. Y le diré otro título para animar a los fracasados…

…Que son los que acaban triunfando.
Ser o no ser de Lubitsch. Fue un sonoro desastre de crítica y público en su estreno y ahora es un éxito para la eternidad.

Desternillante cada vez que la ves.
Nos hace reír sin dejar de hacernos pensar. Para no quedar, en fin, demasiado viejuno le voy a citar a Clint Eastwood.

Tiene razón: Clint siempre es joven.
Sin perdón, porque hoy los espectadores de menor edad menosprecian el western, pero para mí sigue siendo un gran género.