Tackling Stress, Bullying and Harassment

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2019 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2019

Conference understands the huge scale of harm being caused to members by work-related stress, including wrecked lives and relationships, debilitating mental and physical illness and sometimes, tragically, death. Such misery is often compounded by the insensitive treatment of victims by some employers who, far from acknowledging their own responsibility for causing excessive workplace stress, seek to punish the victims of their negligence.

Conference understands that work-related stress is a top concern of 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. The solution lies in prevention, with the Health and Safety Executive (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.

One possible 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.

This approach involves and utilises full branch involvement and joint working with the employer, which significantly improves the effectiveness of the approach. It also builds staff and employer confidence, meaning it is possible to carry out a confidential survey which includes people’s names, jobs and team locations. It can build a much more accurate picture, identifying hotspots, where things are really bad, and the specific causes behind them, and also improve any survey response rates, focus group discussions, action plans, and monitoring of implementation. Bullying and harassment will be addressed along with all the other causes of stress such as violence at work.

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, they can be 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. 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, whilst developing capacity will involve discussions with employers over the business case and the significant savings to be made from reduced sockness absence.

Conference calls upon the National Executive Council to 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 National Executive Council 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, electing or nominating a regional project lead, 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 service groups, 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 the 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’

viii) Work with Labour Link to ensure these issues and policy aims are given full consideration by the Labour Party as it develops its manifesto for the next general election;

ix) Give increased support to the UK Work Stress Network whose annual conference is an excellent opportunity for networking, learning and inspiration.