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Problems at home `caused by work stress'

Counsellors hired by firms to tackle work-related problems are having to deal with emotional difficulties such as marriage breakdowns, a new study has found.

One in five workers contacting employee assistance programmes were reported to have marital or family problems. A further one in five were in legal or financial difficulty, 4 per cent were suffering from alcohol problems and 1 per cent had a drug-relatedproblem.

Carolyn Highley, who helped to compile the report, said many of the marital problems were related to employment because of the increased stress caused by long-working hours. "Some people work horrendously long hours, which can cause problems at home," she told the British Psychological Society's occupational psychology conference at Warwick University.

Many firms provided a counselling service to "look good" but did not want to tackle seriously work-related problems. "If someone has a marriage problem they can go to Relate or the Samaritans for help. It is daft for a company to pay a counsellor to dealwith it. Employee assistance schemes have grown very quickly in this country but they are not always as effective as they should be."

The schemes, which started in the United States, should be used as a "business tool" to tackle problems such as stress, said the report.

Miss Highley urged companies to seek independent advice before introducing a counselling service. Her report covered almost 150 firms with internal or external schemes available to 800,000 workers.