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Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier
State sheriff being accused of crimes continues epidemic
When a tenth of the members of the S.C. Legislature were indicted on corruption charges in the federal Operation Lost Trust sting, the question was how, not whether, lawmakers would overhaul the state's anemic ethics law and enact other reforms to reduce the chance that their colleagues would succumb to temptation.
Yet nearly a third of South Carolina's sheriffs have now been accused of committing crimes, and the response from the Legislature is crickets. This despite the fact that there are some obvious and easy changes lawmakers could make to reduce the temptation for sheriffs to break the law.
Colleton County Sheriff Andy Strickland's arrest on Nov. 9 on charges of criminal domestic violence brought to 14 the number of S.C. sheriffs in the past decade accused of breaking the law while in office. Nine have been convicted - most recently Greenville's Will Lewis, less than three weeks ago - one died before he could be indicted, one was accepted into a pretrial intervention program, and three are awaiting trial.
Unlike most of those sheriffs, Mr. Strickland wasn't charged with abusing his position for personal or financial gain. But as reporters Tony Bartelme and Joseph Cranney have documented, Mr. Strickland clearly has taken advantage of his position: This summer, he charged the county for an extra room for his kids when he took them to a sheriffs' conference in Myrtle Beach.
And his public responses to criticism of that incident are consistent with the type of crime he's now accused of committing: He tried to bully a county official who had the audacity to ask for documentation for the $1,500 bill from the trip. And he threatened to fire any employees who didn't support his reelection campaign.
We have no way of knowing whether Mr. Strickland was a bully who became sheriff or a sheriff who became a bully, but we know that S.C. law teaches sheriffs to think they're above the law. It gives them the power to arrest people and fire employees at will, no direct supervisor, little oversight and access to multiple funding sources that aren't well-scrutinized.
Obviously, sheriffs must have the power to arrest people. And there's nothing inherently wrong with letting them fire employees at will. What's wrong - what's producing South Carolina's epidemic of criminal sheriffs - is allowing them to have that sort of power without significant oversight.
The Times and Democrat
Microsoft program could help with stress at work
A study conducted by TermLife2Go found that South Carolina's No. 1 mental health concern is stress at work.
The study looked at the most googled health concerns across the nation and found that internet addiction, major depressive disorder and memory loss were the top three concerns for the nation as a whole compared to each state's concern.
- South Carolina, Arizona and Maryland residents googled "stress at work," while Georgians and Pennsylvanians searched for info about "stress headaches."
- Utah's most googled concern was postpartum depression. That's not surprising, considering the CDC routinely places Utah in the top 10 states for the highest birth rates.
- Alcoholism is the top mental health concern for internet searchers in Minnesota, New Mexico and Wyoming.
South Carolinians - and Americans in general - are serious about work. A Gallup report from 2014 estimated the average full-time worker in the United States works 47 hours a week, one of the highest figures in the world, and significantly higher than rates in Western Europe.
And in a poorer state such as South Carolina, too many people are working more than one job, meaning even more hours - and stress.
Against that backdrop, the people and businesses of South Carolina should find insightful the results of a pilot program conducted by none other than giant Microsoft. The program was put in place in Japan, which has a culture of overwork. Per a CNN report, "The problem is so severe, the country has even coined a term for it: Karoshi means death by overwork from stress-induced illnesses or severe depression."
Microsoft introduced the "Work Life Choice Challenge," which shut down its offices every Friday in August and gave all employees an extra day off each week.
The results, according to Microsoft, were dramatic cuts in time spent at work while productivity - measured by sales per employee - went up by almost 40% compared to the same period the previous year.
In addition to reducing working hours, managers urged staff to cut down on the time they spent in meetings and responding to emails, with meetings cut to a maximum of 30 minutes. Employees were also encouraged to cut down on meetings altogether by using an online Microsoft messaging app.
More than 90% of Microsoft's 2,280 employees in Japan said they were impacted by the new measures - presumably positively if productivity is the measure.
With the government of Japan looking for solutions to stress in its culture of overwork, including encouraging workers to leave early from work on the last Friday of every month, the Microsoft program is promising as a model. Perhaps even in South Carolina.
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