College staff union calls for action on stress levels

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Staff working in colleges across Scotland are experiencing unhealthy stress levels according to one of Britains larges public service unions.

A survey by UNISON Scotland has revealed more than four out of five college support workers have experienced stress at work, with one in five becoming so sick they were unable to work.

Support staff from 17 colleges participated in the survey which revealed shocking levels of stress and bullying in Scotland’s colleges.

Some of the key findings include: The vast majority (85%) of respondents have felt stressed in Scotland’s colleges over the last two years; over a third of respondents (38%) have felt bullied; one in five (20%) has taken sick leave due to stress, bullying, anxiety or depression as a result.

The main reasons for stress were cited as too much work (56%) and a de-motivating environment (58%).

The survey was conducted as part of a wider UNISON report into stress and bullying in Scotland’s colleges, due to be published in the autumn. It comes a year on from UNISON’s 2015 report ‘Learning the Hard Way’ which looked at the issues facing staff across Scotland’s further education sector. This report highlighted a chronic decline in services and staffing, and warned of the impact this would have upon the health and wellbeing of college support staff.

Chris Greenshields, chair of UNISON Scotland’s further education committee, said: “The stress levels of college staff are reaching breaking point and the government needs to step in urgently to address these failings. The new national bargaining structures could have, and should have, made progress by now on policies which could have helped address the problems highlighted. Problems which UNISON has raised for some time and employers seem intent on pushing down their list of priorities. Frontline services have never been so stretched and for 85% of support staff to have suffered from stress since the new regionalised college sector was created is nothing short of a national disgrace.”

Shirley Sephton, vice chair of UNISON Scotland’s further education committee, said: “The level of bullying is very worrying for colleges which should be open, relaxed and happy places for staff to work and students to study. The reality is drastically different. It is worrying that over a third of respondents have felt bullied, but perhaps more so is the fact that almost half feel it is ingrained in our organisational culture. This cannot be left to continue. The fact that so many support staff think the new college environments are de-motivating is worthy of investigation alone and is a worrying sign for organisations concerned with the teaching and development of students.”