A breakthrough in tackling stress and bullying/harassment

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2019 Local Government Service Group Conference
21 February 2019

Conference understands that work-related stress is a top concern of local government members. The 2018 TUC survey of safety reps confirmed that stress, bullying/harassment and overwork were the biggest three health and safety concerns.

Conference notes that stress is not an inevitability; it is a consequence of the way work is organised and the way people are managed in local government. The solution lies in prevention, with the HSE Management Standards approach to tackling stress, which refers to six primary causes:

1)Demands including workload;

2)The control people have in the way they do their work;

3)The support people get from line management and colleagues;

4)Relationships at work;

5)How well they understand what’s expected of them;

6)How change is managed.

The approach involves an anonymous staff survey, and then focus group discussion of the results leading to action plans to address the issues identified. It recognises that the solutions best stem from the people affected.

The breakthrough is in full branch involvement in the process; joint working with the employer, significantly improving the effectiveness of the approach. Trust in the branch means we can carry out a confidential survey, which includes people’s names, jobs, teams, and locations. We can build a much more accurate picture, identifying hotspots, where things are really bad, and the specific causes behind them. Full branch involvement will also improve survey response rates, focus group discussions, action plans, monitoring of implementation, and staff and employer confidence in the whole process. Bullying and harassment will be addressed along with all the other causes of stress such as violence at work.

In the Northern region the health and safety committee have been leading a stress project which has brought together branches and employers to undertake detailed analysis and to find joint solutions to address the issues raised. Several branches have used the stress survey developed with members and we are keen that the value of such initiatives is shared across the union.

Conference understands this solution will be valuable wherever stress is a serious problem for members, wherever high sickness absence rates are a serious concern of the employer and wherever they are willing to work with us. Where employers have had doubts over the Management Standards approach, this is an opportunity to show that, by working with us, it is very effective.

Conference notes that experience from branches shows that this work:

a)Is a very real support to our members affected by stress;

b)Helps prevent the harm that stress can cause;

c)Helps develop partnership working with employers;

d)Demonstrates the union effect;

e)Represents a considerable opportunity for the recruitment of members and reps;

f)Will help improve our public services.

Conference understands that full branch involvement in tackling stress is a long-term commitment, and that branches will need the appropriate financial and physical resources to help develop the capability and capacity required. Developing capability will involve the provision of training resources and mentors, to help develop the skills, knowledge and confidence required. Developing capacity, the time required, will stem from discussions with the employer over the business case and the significant savings to be made from reduced sickness absence etc.

Conference calls upon the local government service group executive (SGE) to wholeheartedly grasp the opportunity to develop and support this work, to provide the necessary training, materials, advice and assistance to help make this approach available to all branches.

Building on work done to date, conference calls specifically on the SGE to:

i)Identify appropriate financial and physical resources to develop appropriate training resources and materials for branches;

ii)Identify appropriate financial and physical resources to develop and provide training for those involved with delivering training and assistance at regional level;

iii)Ask regions to fully back this work, providing the training and advice for branches, and facilitating the sharing of experience between branches;

iv)Ask branches to consider leading on this development in their area, electing a branch project lead, and discussing it with employers;

v)Work with the NEC, regions and branches with a view to ensuring that employers at local and national level may develop a greater understanding of how tackling stress more effectively will reduce costs and improve productivity, as well as improving the health of workers;

vi)Ensure that UNISON continues to lobby local government employer organisations, the Westminster government and health and safety executive for clearer guidance and stronger enforcement action regarding the implementation of the stress Management Standards;

vii)Campaign with the aim of establishing illness resulting from work-related stress as an industrial injury, acknowledging that stress is always a ‘process’ rather than ‘event’.