Adam Taylor from Gateshead UNISON Local Government Branch is leading a project that could help thousands of stressed-out workers across the UK.
UNISON Branch Health & Safety Officer Adam Taylor has dealt with his members facing verbal abuse, physical attacks, even a plague of rats – but the greatest challenge in the workplace is stress. “It’s the biggest issue by far,” says Adam. “But if we can get to grips with it, it’s a real opportunity to support our members.”
Using the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) approach to tackling stress, Adam is inviting employees to complete an in-depth survey on the issue. The detailed results enable managers to make informed, targeted changes – changes that lead to a healthier, happier, more productive workforce.
The HSE breaks down the causes of stress into six areas: workload demands, the control people have over how they work, management and peer support, relationships, how well people understand their roles and how change is managed.
Survey results are colour coded: green for good, yellow for poor and red for bad. The first team Adam surveyed in 2014 had results that were off the chart – and not in a good way. “We had to come up with a new colour!” says Adam. He chose purple (and later discovered that Google maps uses purple to flag traffic jams, which seems apt).
There was shock at the survey results, but they were also quite reassuring for staff. “They could see that stress was a collective issue – it wasn’t about their own capacity or resilience,” Adam says. “There was only one direction we could go in: for management to address workloads.”
Adam ran the same survey with the same group of staff in 2017 and the results improved. “It’s still not brilliant but we’re making progress,” says Adam.
Trust in the union branch means workers are happy to fill in the survey confidentially rather than anonymously – and this means Adam can build a more detailed picture of what’s happening where. “We can run through the results and see that in one team, roles aren’t properly understood, while in another team, change isn’t being managed well. So managers can come up with targeted action plans to put things right.”
Adam is currently busy surveying about 1500 employees and sharing his learning with other health and safety reps from across the region. Many are keen to use the survey to benefit their own members. Ultimately, Adam hopes the development will be taken up nationally by Unison and perhaps by other unions too.
In 2016, the project helped Adam win the Unison health & safety rep of the year award. And because it shows the union is active on behalf of its members around a hugely significant issue, it’s been a good recruitment tool too. As Adam puts it, “When we ‘do the business’ for our members, we can build a stronger union.”