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Stress on rise among college staff

Published 15/05/2015

Working in further education has become more stressful with every passing year, says Sally Hunt of the UCU
Working in further education has become more stressful with every passing year, says Sally Hunt of the UCU

Rising numbers of college workers report feeling stressed and worn-out amid heavy workloads, long days and major changes in the workplace, according to a survey.

Almost nine in 10 (87%) say they find their job stressful, according to a poll by the University and College Union (UCU), compared with just under three in four (73%) who said the same in 2012.

A similar proportion (89%) of the 2,251 union members questioned said they usually feel worn out at the end of the day, while 88% said they find it difficult to unwind.

And nearly half (46%) said they always, or almost always, neglect their personal needs because of work demands.

The union's survey shows that many staff feel under pressure to come in when they are sick and also indicates that many believe they are being forced to perform unnecessary tasks.

Overall, around nine in 10 (89%) said that they have felt the need to go into work when they are unwell on at least some occasions, with many saying this was down to the pressures of their job, lack of cover, or a reluctance to let students down and further burden their colleagues.

Just over two thirds (68%) claimed they had been asked to carry out work they considered unreasonable.

Almost a third (32%) of those polled claimed that they had worked more than 50 hours a week.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said that findings show that working in further education "has become more stressful with every passing year".

"The report details how a lack of stability in the sector is one of the main causes of huge stress for staff," she said. "The sector and the people who work in it desperately need some stability.

"For the first time we explored the problems with the constant changes staff have to deal with and we found that more than two-thirds of staff said too many changes had been introduced in their institution.

"We appreciate a lot of the change has been imposed on colleges from above but this survey also tells us that the way change is being managed and communicated within colleges is a significant source of stress for employees.

"Add to this workloads that many feel are untenably high and a lack of control over working practices and you have a recipe for disaster. The survey shows a stressful working environment is taking its toll on college staff mentally and physically, with high numbers reporting unacceptable levels of psychological distress and exhaustion."

:: The survey, which gathered responses from 2,251 UCU members working in further education, was carried out by researchers at Bedfordshire University for the union.

Marc Whitworth, of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: "Managing change is a priority for college leaders, as is the engagement of the workforce to deliver key services for students. Colleges are being forced to make tough decisions as the further education sector continues to be squeezed by Government funding cuts and policy changes are implemented.

"College leaders are working hard to support their staff, as well as continuing to find new ways of working, improving responsiveness to change and developing new skills. We believe college staff are meeting these challenges with determination whilst prioritising the needs of their students and providing high-quality education and learning experiences."

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