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first_img Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Turning the corner on staff turnoverOn 21 Oct 2003 in Personnel Today Highlevels of stress in public sector organisations – the NHS, police and localgovernment – has been the biggest single factor in staff turnover. But allthese organisations have now taken giant strides to identify and eliminatestress as far as possible.  Paul Tyrellreports LastSeptember, the Audit Commission published a report, Recruitment and Retention,which found that stress was the biggest single factor causing resignations fromthe public sector. Those who had left were polled on what had prompted them toleave, with the following results:–80 per cent blamed bureaucracy and paperwork, saying they had been given toomany targets and their work was increasingly driven by what could be measuredinstead of what mattered to service users–70-plus per cent blamed a lack of resources, excessive workload and long hours;and many were stressed out by the sheer pace of change, coupled with a sense ofbeing undervalued by government, managers and the public–All of those 70-plus per cent rated these problems higher than low pay or lackof career progression, although–36 per cent said pay was an important reason why they left, and–24 per cent said better pay would have encouraged them to stay.Whatwith high exposure, low rewards and, in many cases, everyday tasks that are inthemselves stressful, traumatic or dangerous, is it any wonder the publicsector is caught in a vicious circle of stress? We asked the professionalsresponsible for developing anti-stress strategies for the public sector howthey are coping.TheNational Health ServiceAllNHS employers must have a policy in place on work-related stress supported bywritten risk assessments of work-related ‘stressors’. They have been helped inthis since 2000 by a best-practice model called ‘Improving Working Lives’(IWL), where all NHS organisations were required to achieve accreditation byApril this year. Reducing stress wasn’t the only goal of IWL, but it hasundoubtedly been a spin-off for many people.Inmany parts of the NHS, this has given rise to team-based self-rostering;annualised hours; carer and childcare support; and career breaks. TheDepartment of Health (DoH) says it is “changing the long-hoursculture”. It claims “access to occupational health services is nowthe norm rather than the exception it was just a few years ago”. And itadds that “we are giving staff the freedom to manage their own work-lifebalance, to be in control. And being in control is a major contributor toreducing stress levels”.TheDoH seems to be on the right track. A recent survey of staff, including nurses,junior doctors and consultants, found their leading stressors included anerosion of autonomy, a lack of control over their work and a lack of work-lifebalance, as well as the usual suspects such as poor management support, lowresources and overburdening administration.Soare these issues really being tackled? Elaine Way, president of the UKAssociation of Healthcare Human Resource Management (AHHRM), and chiefexecutive of Foyle Health & Social Services Trust in Londonderry, NorthernIreland, feels progress is being made in a few areas at least.”Difficultiesin recruiting to certain key posts can impose stress on team working and AHHRMwelcomes the very significant progress made in recruiting new staff,particularly nursing staff, over the past year,” she says. “TheEuropean Working Time Regulations will also improve the situation, especiallyfor doctors.”Wayhails the closer ties made with trade unions – AHHRM is supporting a Unisoninitiative called Zero Tolerance Zone, designed to raise public awareness ofthe violence faced regularly by NHS staff. This is an obvious and major causeof stress, and to raise staff awareness of the need to report such incidents. Wayalso praises local initiatives such as stress-busting sessions, trainingmanagers to identify and manage stress, and access to confidential counselling.”Mytop tip to other HR managers would be to try to identify stress at the earliestpossible opportunity, and by this I mean stress likely to affect theindividual’s ability to be effective,” she says. “One method we areconsidering is allowing employees to have a day out to release pressure beforethe situation reaches breaking point.”Soin a nutshell, prevention is better than cure.–Find out more about Improving Working Lives at www.doh.gov.uk/iwl/index.htmThepolice”We’rejust at the start of recognising we have a problem with stress, and that weneed to do something about it,” says chief superintendent Mike McAndrew, aspokesman for the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales(PSAEW).”Alot of cops may not want to talk to their local HR managers, who are employedby the organisation, because they feel they are admitting weakness when the jobrequires them to be tough on a daily basis. So part of the process needs to beexternal,” he said. “We need to have a safety net, and to makeofficers recognise that it isn’t abnormal to suffer stress when you are doing adifficult job.”McAndrewis part of a Home Office steering group that includes the PSAEW and the PoliceFederation of England and Wales. In August, the group proposed the introductionof regular psychological testing for police officers to monitor how they copewith the mental strain of their jobs. Theinitiative forms part of a £15m Strategy for a Healthy Police Service, approvedlast October by then-Home Office minister John Denham, which aims to reducelevels of sickness, absenteeism and early retirement among officers. Governmentfigures show the number of days lost in the force due to sick leave in 2000-01was more than 1.5 million.Underthe new proposals, all officers should eventually be monitored for signs ofstress, but resources are likely to be concentrated initially on those most atrisk – members of firearms squads, undercover agents or teams investigatingpaedophiles, for example. Regular tests, designed to act as an early warningsystem, would probably involve officers filling in health questionnaires. Ifnecessary, they could get further help and talk face-to-face with occupationalpsychologists.Mostpolice forces in the UK are only beginning to develop anti-stress initiatives,but in Northern Ireland, they have been operating them for about 10 years.”Thisforce, more than any other, has undergone operations that are particularlystressful,” says Ray Phillips, honorary secretary for the Superintendents’Association of Northern Ireland (SANI). “So we’ve built a system forpeople involved in traumatic incidents, such as bombings and shootings, whereour occupational health system will kick in. People will be monitored and, ifnecessary, treated in relation to those incidents with counselling and‘de-stress’ programmes.”Phillips,who 10 years ago was an inspector dealing with terrorist incidents in SouthDown, and trained other officers before joining the SANI, suggests it is vitalto document “a policy that sets out what a traumatic incident is, thecriteria on which you implement that policy, and an occupational health actionplan”.Localgovernment workersStevenSumner is the national health & safety policy adviser to the LocalGovernment Employers Organisation (EO). It is his job to give local authoritiesa strategic steer on how to deal with stress, as well as helping them meet theHealth and Safety Executive’s (HSE) numerical targets for reducing accidentsand ill-health at work.Accordingto EO figures, stress causes 19.3 per cent of all absences. That rises to 34.6per cent in terms of long-term sickness absence. “Careers such as teachingand social work tend to have higher reported rates of stress, but we can findstress anywhere,” Sumner says. “We can’t say any job is immunebecause it depends on a person’s ability to cope with what is placed upon them.”Sumneris currently preparing detailed guidance for local authorities on how toprevent and manage stress, which will be published in the next few months. Heis also involved with the EO’s participation in the HSE’s stress pilotprogramme, which aims to create a best-practice model for stress management inany organisation by this time next year (go to www.hse.gov.uk/stress/stresspilot/index.htm).Sumnersuggests there are three stages where you can intervene to address stress inyour organisation. Primary intervention is where you look at the work anemployee is doing and change it or the organisation to ensure that person isnot harmed in any way. Secondary intervention builds capacity in theindividual, through stress awareness, stress management training, confidentialcounselling and/or help with time management, such as speed reading. “Peopledon’t want to be preached to at work, but they can be given the opportunity ofa healthier lifestyle,” he points out. “Local authorities are wellplaced to do this because they can give staff discounts to leisure facilities.Some even buy in alternative therapies, and provide employee assistanceprogrammes for issues arising outside as well as inside work.” Finally,tertiary intervention puts people back together if they fall apart. This involvescounselling and/or other therapy to help someone recover and rehabilitate.Inthe case of field workers trying to ease the stress of others, Sumner advisesrecruiting the right people. “What one person can cope with, anotherperson cannot. You also need to train them to the right level. They need to beproperly equipped, with training, qualifications and competencies.”–For more information on what the EO is doing to counter stress, log on to www.lg-employers.gov.uk”Difficultiesin recruiting to certain key posts can impose stress on team working and AHHRMwelcomes the very significant progress made in recruiting new staff,particularly nursing staff, over the past year”ElaineWayPresident of the UK Association of Healthcare Human Resource Management (AHHRM)and chief executive of Foyle Health & Social Services”We’vebuilt a system for people involved intraumatic incidents, such as bombings andshootings, where our occupational health system will kick in. People will bemonitored and, if necessary, treated in relation to those incidents withcounselling and ‘de-stress’ programmes” RayPhillipsHonorary secretary for the Superintendents’ Association of Northern Ireland(SANI)”Alot of cops may not want to talk to their local HR managers, who are employedby the organisation, because they feel like they’re admitting weakness when thejob requires them to be tough on a daily basis.”MikeMcAndrewSpokesperson for the Police Superintendents Association of England and Waleslast_img