Colleges lose thousands of work days due to stress

On average, each Scottish college has 23 members of staff off with stress every year

Julia Belgutay

Scottish colleges lost tens of thousands of work days due to staff being off sick, a survey has shown.

Over 50,000 working days have been lost due to stress in Scottish colleges alone over the last three years, a union has said.

According to a new report, published today by Unison Scotland, work related stress is having a severe impact on FE’s non-teaching staff. The report, entitled SOS Stressed Out Staff, Scotland’s Colleges Stress Report 2019, found 1,500 staff listed stress as one of the reasons for sickness between April 2014 and March 2017 - a 37 per cent increase compared to the three years up to March 2017.

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'Financial challenges' for

Almost two thirds of staff said they felt their workload was high or extremely high, while 56 per cent reported stress directly linked to workload. Meanwhile, 69 per cent of respondents felt that their stress issues were not dealt with in a satisfactory way and college management had failed to take work related stress seriously.

The vast majority felt college management had not discussed Group Stress Risk Assessments and had never discussed work levels and stress with them. On average, each college has 23 members of staff off with stress every year. Despite that, only just over half of colleges in Scotland have a specific policy to avoid stress, according to Unison.
The survey follows Audit Scotland’s annual report on the state of the sector last Tuesday, which raised concerns over college finances. The gap between income and expenditure was widening, it said, and most colleges would be facing recurring deficits.  

Unison is calling on colleges to commit to working with the trade unions to address what it calls the stress crisis in Scotland's colleges and is urging the government to intervene and direct employers to create a national avoidance of stress policy.

Chris Greenshields, chair of Unison Scotland’s further education committee said: “This report shows that workplace stress has reached critical levels in Scotland’s colleges and is still on the rise. Our members are struggling with workloads while continued cuts to staff numbers are being sustained as a means of finding ‘savings'. 

“We warned colleges in 2016 about staff stress levels and the colleges have singularly failed to address this.  We are now calling on the Scottish Government to intervene to direct the employers to begin discussions on creating a national avoidance of stress policy and procedure.”

Vice chair Collette Bradley added it was astonishing that colleges deliver health and safety training, yet failed to implement the most basic of protections against workplace stress for the staff to whom it has a duty of care. 

“Colleges are not even following their own procedures in ensuring that staff complete ISRA returns with only 10 per cent completion rate and 73  per cent our members reporting that their managers have never had a discussion about stress and workloads – all the more concerning when 50,000 days have been lost due to stress in Scotland’s colleges over the last 3 years -  a rise of 40 per cent.”

Heather Stevenson, interim director of Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association, said: “The mental health and wellbeing of staff in the college sector is a very important matter.  That is precisely why colleges work proactively with members of staff and their representatives to help establish a positive working environment which is conducive to a healthy work-life balance.

“We would like to work with the trade unions to help address any issues arising from the survey.”


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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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