Stress levels of Scotland’s college staff reaching breaking point, says UNISON

A UNISON Scotland survey 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%). Almost half thought not enough staffing resources.

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.”

John Gallacher, UNISON Scotland’s lead officer for further education, said:

“As if support staff in colleges didn’t have enough to contend with. They’ve watched as colleagues in lecturing go off on six weeks’ holiday to spend the pay rise they received from the employers, while they are forced to ballot for industrial action over the employers’ failure to offer them the same pay offer – it is as shocking as it is damning. College employers are ignoring the damage their approach is having on the health of our members.”

Other findings from the survey include:

• Almost three quarters (71%) of respondents were female
• More than a third (37%) of respondents were unaware of anti-stress or bullying policies at work
• 35% say they have experienced bullying by senior managers directly and 63% by other managers.
• Almost half of the respondents (47%) thought bullying was as a result of organisational culture while more than half (53%) felt it was a result of an abuse of power. The vast majority (78%) thought ineffective skills played a role.
• Half of respondents (50%) cited unsympathetic management as affecting work life balance and 46% cited having to work over more than one campus. Half of respondents (50%) said flexible working hours would help and 43% said home working would help.
• 61% said uncertainty over future roles had a detrimental impact on their sense of happiness in the workplace and 59% cited management approach. Two thirds (66%) cited lack of pay offer.
• More than three quarters (76%) said they had suffered sleep disturbance resulting in fatigue caused by stress and/or bullying in the workplace. While more than two thirds (65%) experienced anxiety and over half (58%) said they were de-motivated.
Notes to editors

1. UNISON is currently balloting its further education members for industrial action after college bosses failed to deliver a fair deal for support staff. They have been offered £230 in comparison to the £450 settlement already paid out to teaching colleagues. See this link for more information:

2. This year’s pay claim, which was rejected by college employers, asked for a national flexitime agreement. It followed a request earlier in the year which asked for a bullying and harassment workgroup to be set up in February to produce a final report for implementation in September. The employers have yet to agree dates or move this forward and blamed a lack of time and internal employer re-organisation. Last year’s pay deal included a promise by employers to agree a national annual leave entitlement across the sector by March. The employers again missed this deadline and failed to reach any agreement with UNISON.

3. UNISON Scotland’s report ‘Learning the Hard Way’ can be found online: