Stress: PwC not buying that for Tenner

'Real partners simply do not get sick,' claims a senior partner at accounting giant PwC.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

So runs this week's entry for 'hardnosed bruiser statement of the week'. This particular slice of empathy was revealed at an employment tribunal yesterday; it came in an email from the managing partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers' Northern Ireland office, after hearing that colleague Colin Tenner had taken two days' stress leave. The wimp.

It's hardly the greatest display of professional understanding we've ever encountered. And it wasn't like Tenner was over-reacting to a little bit of migraine. He claims he was bullied by a client, which contributed to his breakdown back in January 2007 - yet managing partner Hugh Crossey supposedly told him that his ‘personal feelings did not matter'. Tenner said his condition led him to ‘actively research ways of committing suicide'. Hardly the best reward for 23 years of service.

The tribunal also heard that a member of PwC's partner affairs team wrote to the firm's medical team implying Tenner was exaggerating his illness. Colleagues and partners in the office believed he was ‘malingering'. In fact, he reckons his later redundancy, which came in February 2009, was actually PwC's way of getting rid of him because he was mentally ill. The 45-year-old former equity partner is now suing PwC for disability discrimination, claiming 15 years of lost earnings.

We don't know Tenner, so we have no idea how valid his particular complaint is. It could be argued that his colleagues are better placed than anyone to assess his plausibility. Others will undoubtedly feel that when you're in a senior position at one of the Big Four, a bit of stress comes with the territory.

But on the face of it, it does at least seem that Tenner's problems - whether real or otherwise - have been handled with a distinct lack of sensitivity. Now we're not going to come out leading a campaign for joss-sticks, scented candles and whale-song at all workstations. But stress and mental illness are a recognised part of modern working life, and as such you'd expect giants like PwC to take a relatively enlightened approach.

How do you know when someone's genuinely mentally ill? It's hard to say. But when they've worked at one place for a quarter of a century, you'd hope that even the hardest-nosed colleagues would be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, at least to some extent.

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Stress: PwC not buying that for Tenner
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