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Workplace health: What is it? Why does it matter? And what can we do to improve it?

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Workplace health is about more than providing a safe working environment for staff; it is about supporting and promoting both physical and mental health and making the workplace a rewarding and positive place to be. Building on Sue Owen’s recent blog on supporting staff to be happier and healthier and the offer of Charity for Civil Servants, I wanted to write about the links between health and work, what the Civil Service is doing to improve workplace health and, not least, what we can do as individuals.

The big picture – what is workplace health and why does it matter?

Our health can be affected by a huge range of issues both within and outside the workplace, including relationships with colleagues, workload, change and the physical work environment, and alcohol and drug abuse, debt problems, marriage breakdown and eating and exercise patterns.

Ill health doesn’t just affect the individuals concerned; it can affect family, community and colleagues as well. We also know that long-term sickness absence can pose risks to the individual. For example, the longer a period of sick leave extends, the greater the risk of mental illness being a factor in the illness.

Statistically, those off work for more than six months have only a 20% chance of returning to work in the subsequent five years1. People tend to be healthier (both mentally and physically) if they are in work, so encouraging return to work, with appropriate support and at the right time, is a positive thing for the organisation and the individual.

Logo of the The Charity for Civil Servants
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The two biggest causes of sickness absence are mental illness and musculoskeletal problems. As of the end of 2014 Q1, the level of sickness absence within the Civil Service was 7.3 average working days lost per year per member of staff, which was the lowest reported figure since 1999. Several departments have run initiatives to help boost staff engagement (linked to lower rates of staff absence) or to help staff return to work. Within and outside the Civil Service we continue to learn more about the best ways to build on these programmes to improve staff health.

All departments are working to improve the support offered to staff who fall ill, whatever the reason for the illness. In the first instance managers should be able to provide support directly and signpost where appropriate, for example to occupational health and employee assistance programmes, and the Charity for Civil Servants.

The Civil Service – one size fits all?

There is sometimes a perception that we all spend our time sitting at desks or in meetings, yet the jobs we do are very diverse and our workplaces are similarly varied: most civil servants have public-facing roles, many spend their working lives outdoors and a lot of us spend a fair amount of time travelling. So the Civil Service cannot operate a ‘one size fits all’ approach to support the health of civil servants.

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I know that all of my colleagues who lead departments want to do everything possible to help staff keep healthy and we care a lot about work being manageable and satisfying. We want our staff to know and feel that they are valued as people: this includes our approaches to equality and diversity, staff engagement and tackling bullying as well as more traditional ways of promoting health through information and campaigns. Many departments have signed up to the Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal pledges and the Time to Change mental health campaign. But there is always more that we can do.  To this end Dr Gina Radford, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the DH, is now is looking at the evidence of what works.  This will feed into the Cross-Government Senior Steering Group on Health and Wellbeing.  The Group is chaired by Civil Service Employee Policy, who are working to produce a health and wellbeing strategy for the Civil Service, to help ensure we are doing the right things for our staff.

What we can do to protect our own health

A balanced, nutritious diet supplemented with regular, adequate exercise and sufficient, quality sleep is the bedrock of good health. But sometimes factors specific to your workplace, or even outside work, that affect your ability to do your job well can lead to physical and mental health concerns. The best thing you can do is talk to your manager early on if you feel there are problems that are affecting your work.

Examples of the type of help available include: support to staff who are trying to quit smoking; free eye tests for those who use a computer screen regularly and are eligible under the Health and Safety Executive regulations; gyms in many civil service buildings (which are often low-cost to access); and clubs such as HASSRA and CSSC, which offer a fantastic range of clubs and activities and new offers all the time. My mantra would always be ‘don’t suffer in silence’ but reach out and ask for support – there may well be more help available than you realise.

I would like to thank Dr Gina Radford for her help in creating this blog.

1 Waddell G, Burton A. Is work good for your health and well-being? London: The Stationery Office, 2006

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  1. Comment by Patrick posted on

    I think you have highlighted one or two 'elephants in the room', Hugh. As you say, much is said about helping and supporting members of staff and much is written about it. But what is not written or spoken talked about - other than by us H&S Reps and the staff - is the unhealthy effect of working practices and at times heavy-handed pressures put upon staff to achieve unrealistic targets. These certainly contribute towards absence levels and poor mental and physical health amongst staff. But they are the 'elephants in the room' which are always stone-walled - or at the least - subject to much prevarication by management at all levels in order to avoid a) admitting it is a problem of their causing and b) actually doing anything concrete about it. After all there is a strong unspoken belief within management thinking and techniques - not just within the Civil Service but within UK plc also - that the drive to improve targets and increase performance will always trump staff health and welfare.

  2. Comment by Hugh Neill posted on

    Yes indeed Patrick. I think these blogs are put up so *they* can listen, and also so we can let off steam. I'm sure *they* do listen, but I'm not so sure *they* get (or choose to get) what might realistically be done to address the problems revealed. For instance, have you noticed how there is much management head nodding over how we must promote understanding and support towards colleagues who are going through a bad patch. But there is rarely an acknowledgement that employers' practices may be contributing to a reduction in employee wellbeing. There is a some beating of breasts, and there are loud declarations that bullying will not be tolerated, but there should be more debate over how unrealistic targets, dysfunctional systems, and inhuman processes might be causing employees to flip.

    Having said all that, a colleague here has withdrawn his approved application for voluntary exit as he was finding it very difficult to find a job out in the private sector (or anywhere). But whilst people may be deciding to stay in their civil service jobs because 'out there' is worse than 'in here', that does not diminish the need to promote a happy, healthy, engaged workforce.

  3. Comment by Patrick posted on

    I notice that here we are 11 working days since this article appeared, and no senior manager has made any comment to any of the issues this blog has so clearly highlighted as to what is seriously wrong with Attendance Management within the Civil Service. Until this is acknowledged as not being fit for purpose .... and you do wonder whether the purpose of it is to support unwell staff or (as many believe) a way pretty sharp way to reduce head-counts!! - nothing will ever improve.

    .......... and perhaps that's what they want.

  4. Comment by Hugh Neill posted on

    I posted a comment on 30/3/15 and it is still 'Awaiting Moderation'. This has happened before to me and I was posted an apology. When it did get approved it was buried way up in the list of posts, which rather defeats the object. So I'll post it again below in the hope this latest post gets approved without delay. Thank you moderators and a Happy Easter. I wrote:

    I think employers need to recognise that their behaviour might be a primary cause of ill health in their staff rather than peddling the old line about individuals also having a responsibility for their own health. The options available to (many) individuals are increasingly limited (a senior manager might ‘work from home’ if under the weather, but the average employee may not have that option). On physical health, what for example is the employer doing to ensure that filters in building air conditioners are being changed at proper intervals, systems being stress tested etc. What are public sector employers doing to join together and make hot-desking strategies help employees with their work-life balance. For example, finding buildings near to people's homes could reduce their commute times (if the local council has spare desks due to headcount reduction, might those desks be used by civil service staff living locally etc.). What is the employer doing to regulate/inspect building health/hygiene consistent with higher occupancy and hot desking. I agree that work is good therapy, but it must be dignified work. Our PDR systems too often do not promote personal dignity and worth: they divide and decimate (as in the case of moderation). And where is the recognition that illness/health does not follow a straight line through anyone’s life, and that individuals have varying fortunes with personal health. I was told some years back that the highest level of stress illness was occurring at EO grade. The reasoning was that since this was the lowest management grade, EOs lived on the receiving end of cascaded management ambitions, yet had little ability to influence them. Etc. etc.

    I came to the Civil Service from the private sector aged 50+ and following redundancy and unemployment. I was very grateful to have got back into employment, and there's a lot about the management ambition here to support their people that I admire and am grateful for. But the implementation of it, the reality on the ground, is ghastly, and the ambition is corrupted also as it passes through the forest of middle management, as well as by austerity measures. It is important to recognise this and to acknowledge the many legitimate complaints being made by good employees on here. Failure to address this can only damage UK plc and its workforce over time.

  5. Comment by Lindsay Watt posted on

    Like most of the 'imposed' initiatives, I very much doubt the powers that be will take any note of what is being said on these feedback pages. Approaches to attendance management vary from manager to manager never mind govt depts. I've been fortunate in my career to avoid some of the scenarios quoted above. Others have not been so lucky.

  6. Comment by Andrew posted on

    Staff having to take annual leave rather than take genuine sick leave in order for targets to be met is very common. Its just so that someone higher up can say what a good job they have done getting the absence figures down, and presumable getting a bonus for doing so .

  7. Comment by JAYNE posted on

    I have Fibromyalgia and Cronic Fatigue and i have this for Life or until they come up with a cure! I am lucky to have a very understanding Line Manger, work colleagues and Heo who support me through difficult times. I try not to use my sick days because i am supported. Previous experiences with people who were negative towards conditions such as mine made my condition worse and therefore had a knock on effect. Thank you to those people who decided i am still an effective member of society with skills to contribute even if i do have foggy days.

  8. Comment by Rosalind posted on

    Medical in confidence plays an important part in the health of an individual.
    I have been involved in a situation where I had to attend an occupational health assessment. Regardless of the nature of my assessment my medical in confidence was not respected and I have also been witness to managers not respecting the medical in confidence of others and in fact organisations.
    Junior members of staff discuss via the military grapevine who has got what and who can’t cope with this! ECT. I do advise certain individuals that the lack of respect for a person’s privacy that is sometimes shown could cause problems but it all seems to fall on deaf ears.
    I don’t wish to do my dirty laundry where everyone can see. I don’t have a problem with discussing any condition which may affect me, with those who have a need to know and can offer me help and advice on how I can manage work with any medical issues which I may experience.
    Serfs being raised should a member of staff be off with stress raised by junior members of staff ECT. then being discussed with the world at an audit. We know that these things can be easily tracked even if the individuals name is not present.
    Members of staff get moved around and the new member of staff gets to know details and before you know it everyone knows everything about every one.
    With the recent report in the local news about companies sharing medical information about individuals without their knowledge or consent I feel this open and show attitude will only push the real suffers under ground and these are the people who probably need the most help. Not every one likes to be loud and proud they just like to do things sometimes with a little more dignity.

  9. Comment by Patrick posted on

    Hi Ian - the reason why H&S Reps are never mentioned in anytrhing like this is that we are viewed as getting in the way. After all, Attendance Management is not about looking after staff as it's too much of a useful tool to reduce head-counts. H&S Reps tend to be the ones who stop staff from getting sacked for sickness.

  10. Comment by Gary Parsons posted on

    It appears that most of the Civil Service is feeling the same, although I only have 2 days before I cease being a Civil Servant, something I regret deeply, I have just returned after a long period off sick due to mental health issues, did all that was asked of me during that time, occupational health appoints on at least 3 occassions, regular contact with my manager, the Oc health report recommended 2 things, a change of work location closer to home to assist in my travelling arrangements...refused by line manager!! instead moved me further away from home adding 40 minutes each way every day!!! and a phased return to work, 2 x 3 day week, 2x 4 day week and then back to 5 day week...also refused as the line manager was they were not comfortable with that idea, no discussion just straight back to full time (shifts). It appears that Oc Health reports can be ignored on the whim on the manager without any discussion, I feel the management were not really interested in my illness they just wanted to reduce their sick absence levels!!! All this effort they claim to put into helping staff with mental health issues is just lip service.

  11. Comment by Hugh Neill posted on

    I think employers need to recognise that their behaviour might be a primary cause of ill health in their staff rather than peddling the old line about individuals also having a responsibility for their own health. The options available to (many) individuals are increasingly limited (a senior manager might ‘work from home’ if under the weather, but the average employee may not have that option). On physical health, what for example is the employer doing to ensure that filters in building air conditioners are being changed at proper intervals, systems being stress tested etc. What are public sector employers doing to join together and make hot-desking strategies help employees with their work-life balance. For example, finding buildings near to people's homes could reduce their commute times (if the local council has spare desks due to headcount reduction, might those desks be used by civil service staff living locally etc.). What is the employer doing to regulate/inspect building health/hygiene consistent with higher occupancy and hot desking. I agree that work is good therapy, but it must be dignified work. Our PDR systems too often do not promote personal dignity and worth: they divide and decimate (as in the case of moderation). And where is the recognition that illness/health does not follow a straight line through anyone’s life, and that individuals have varying fortunes with personal health. I was told some years back that the highest level of stress illness was occurring at EO grade. The reasoning was that since this was the lowest management grade, EOs lived on the receiving end of cascaded management ambitions, yet had little ability to influence them. Etc. etc.

    I came to the Civil Service from the private sector aged 50+ and following redundancy and unemployment. I was very grateful to have got back into employment, and there's a lot about the management ambition here to support their people that I admire and am grateful for. But the implementation of it, the reality on the ground, is ghastly, and the ambition is corrupted also as it passes through the forest of middle management, as well as by austerity measures. It is important to recognise this and to acknowledge the many legitimate complaints being made by good employees on here. Failure to address this can only damage UK plc and its workforce over time.

  12. Comment by Chris Pearse posted on

    Anon-I suffer with Fibromyalgia & ME which means I have little or no Immune system. People come in coughing and sneezing no hankerchiefs or tissues used spreading the germs all over the office. I have often been off sick because I have caught something from these germs not for my own disabilities but because I can't fight the germs.
    This shouldn't happen if people were not made to feel they have to attend the workplace in these conditions or else.

    • Replies to Chris Pearse>

      Comment by Stephanie posted on

      I agree with you Chris Pearse. as a fellow sufferer of fibromyalgia and ME my immune system is not great and this winter I have had 4 spells of colds/flu. This has been due to work colleagues coming in to work when they are clearly unwell and sneezing and coughing near me.

  13. Comment by Anon posted on

    Caring for staff, don't make me laugh. I have had several months of sick due to work related stress. I am now back at work, on anti depressants, but I am far from feeling well. Now I have been told that due to lack of evidence I am in line for a must improve. And why have I not got the evidence, because I haven't been here due to work and the stress and anxiety it has caused me. My Manager is not allowed to mention this at the validation meeting so I am an easy target. How can this be right?

    • Replies to Anon>

      Comment by Anon D posted on

      Validation group members are not allowed to know the details of your condition. The guidance confirms this. This is supposed to be for the protection of staff, but in reality it has exactly the opposite result as decisions are made blind to the full facts. This helps the quotas to be achieved, which seems to be all that matters. Please don’t tell me you can achieve even an approximate 20/70/10 split across the board by entirely natural means as that is wholly unrealistic. In my case a clearly stated diagnosis for a mental health condition, which was exacerbated by months of working in a chaotic and excessively noisy environment, leading to occasional problems, was rejected. Even though I was acknowledged at the same time to be a perfectly good worker, it felt like I was being told I’m not fit for purpose. Unsurprisingly, this made some aspects of my condition periodically worse. For this reason, I firmly believe that the PMR system is discriminatory and it will be very hard to convince me otherwise.

  14. Comment by Ian Meyers posted on

    Wow, there are some NEGATIVE comments here. I'm 62, still working, still enjoying my job, perhaps I'm lucky. The advice given is sound, eat well, exercise and sleep well, deal with stress if you have too, there are many ways to do so. What worries ME most about my working environment is the level of vehicle pollution I have to deal with on a daily basis working at a port. I have raised it with my H&S rep and managment but progress to monitor the effect is lamentable slow and does rather make a mockery of saying the best thing to do is talk to your manager, you need to talk to the union too, which ironically is not mentiond at all. The best advice though is do not remain silent.

  15. Comment by Witheld posted on

    Having been subject to a written and verbal warning over a long-standing back problem I can only agree with all that has been said above.
    I made the mistake of returning to work-against my doctors orders- because of the "Attendance Management " regime.
    If someone can explain what benefit can be obtained, by reducing a grown man on heavy medication to tears, I would be interested to hear.
    Sympathy and understanding in this system is non-existant.
    I was one of the lucky ones-I had a line manager at the time who fought tooth and nail on my behalf, and I will be forever grateful to her for ensuring I still had a job when I recovered.

  16. Comment by A Worker posted on

    I along with many staff suffer from a chronic condition which goes through quiet spells, then can flare up causing pain and distress. I have the same trigger points as everyone else, and have recently come out of the 'backsliding period' and 'review period' unscathed, thankfully.

    The system, and management would have you believe this is because of the policy of giving me a warning, and making sure that even though flare up continued, I attended the office, somedays spending as much time on a toilet, as at my desk.

    My condition has several triggers, stress being one of them. Affecting the digestive system, cleanliness is a major issue of mine, making sure I keep myself well.

    If I were the claimant at my work place, I can have upto 15 weeks off a year, as an employee, unfortunatly my cards will be returned to me at 4 weeks.

    Don't you just love equality.

    It is a good job I have the supportive management, and policy to help me sleep well at night.

    Good luck everyone, and keep attending, even if you make the rest of the office ill.

  17. Comment by Andy posted on

    As Anthony’s comment so accurately said. Try scrapping the unpopular PADR, one of the biggest causes of workplace stress.
    I have worked for the MOD for 38 years and this is the worst report form to date. I work in a small team and everyone is pulling their hair out trying to fill in the required buzz words in those meaningless boxes.
    This causes stress and takes us all away from the job we are employed to do.

  18. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    Putting people on sickness warning after they are off sick for a period longer than 8 days even when certified by a doctor is no help to staff morale. Change the sick policy.

  19. Comment by Tartan d'Artagnan posted on

    Workplace health: what can we do to improve it? Simple, get rid of PMR.

  20. Comment by Karen posted on

    I would love to think that management will take a step back and consider the negative impact that the PMR system and the sickness policy are having on the workplace and staff as is clearly indicated by the comments above. We all have direct or indirect experience of people having to go through disciplinary situations when they have had genuine illnesses. I have know people who have resigned because of it! This of course leads to staff coming in to work when they are very obviously not well enough which only creates a rolling programme of illness throughout the office. This then makes the concept of Health and Wellbeing a complete nonsense. The mental health of all staff is suffering because of the constrant stress and pressure they are put under. Unfortunately I suspect that management will only come out with the usual statement to the effect that this policy was brought in because the staff engagement survey demanded that staff be made more accountable for their productivity and attendance. It is so typical of the Civil Service to put the responsibility for Health and Wellbeing on the individual when they are making so many of us stressed and ill with their policies and actions! I used to be proud to work for the Civil Service, but no longer.

  21. Comment by David posted on

    All the high level assurances about caring for staff are hypocritical. Senior managers hide behind processes and feel that they have discharged their responsibilities if they poiint staff in the diretion of welfare services. Absolutely right about mental illness affecting staff members' families and don't expect managers to recognise that. After 35 years, I'm now heading into early retirement on antidepressants and my wife on sleeping tablets. I feel I am being pushed out. I certainly do not want a "valedictory letter" from the Home Office. Thank you so much.

  22. Comment by Stephanie posted on

    I have a disability so have a slightly higher trigger point. I was assaulted by a dog owner when I saved my dog from their attacking Staffy and had to have a day off work as a result of the shock and distress this caused. I thought no more of this until some months later when my manager informed me that because my previous manager had missed recording this day this meant that I would have reached my trigger point from having to have one day off after this assault. I then had formal letters given me warning me that I may receive a written warning about my sickness and had to attend a formal interview with my manager and a note-taker. I was supported by my union rep at this meeting. It was then decided that the day off resulting from the attack could be disregarded but I had to go through an awful time of stress and upset as it made me relive the horrible incident of my dog being attacked and me being assaulted. Shame no-one could have had the sense to realise this would be upsetting and check with HR to see if the assault could be disregarded before notifying me of the mistake of the missing day and reaching my trigger point then. I had photos and an article in the local press to warn other dog owners of the Staffy and owner so it was well-known that this had actually happened to me.

  23. Comment by Lydia Dunne posted on

    For years now we have had to put up with a filthy office environment due to the cleaners being allowed to get away with even the most basic tasks - thanks to the way cleaning contract was put into the hands of Mapeley. In the old days the local cleaners wouldnt dare do anything but a good job as they knew we could easily replace them plus they had pride in themselves and their work. These days the cleaners we have know they can get away with anything as Mapeley & their contractors are toothless tigers, and the type of person they have employed know this and the system; they would rather talk loudly about how hard done by they are & if a staff member dares to report something they will hunt you down and make sure their feelings at being asked to actually do something they are being paid for are known, by talking and complaining loudly - rather than getting on and doing a half decent job. In the meantime if your office is anything like ours dont whatever you do move your pedestal for fear of the horrors that lay unseen! The cleaners mantra is - if it cant be seen it doesnt need cleaning and if it does need cleaning then they will do it in their own sweet time to a poor standard - and unfortunately for staff we live with the consequences of the germs and creatures that must be lurking in our kitchens, toilets and carpets. Cheery thought isnt it!

  24. Comment by Stroma posted on

    I must agree with Steve's comments. I work on the VAT Error Correction Team based at Wembley. The office environment is scandalous. The windows are taped up because of the extreme draught coming through them, only the top windows can be opened. We are also crammed in like sardines. So if anyone has a cough or cold the germs spread like wildfire. Staff also would rather take annual leave/flexi when they are ill because of the threat of a warning, which in my opinion is absolutely ludicrous. This situation could then lead to stress, a vicious circle, don't you think. HMRC need to get a life with regards to Sickness/Ill-health. What has happened to HMRC's policy in providing a better working environment for staff?

  25. Comment by Anne posted on

    I entirely agree with those of you who say sickness has dropped because people are taking flexi or annual leave. More and more colleagues come into work when they are obviously really ill and in the case of colds and flu end up passing it to others. No-one works at their best when they are unwell. The stress levels of preparing PMR's is very high all to prove you can do the job!! Wake up you at the top who keep telling us everything is marvellous and take a good look without the rose tinted specs!!

  26. Comment by A Jessop posted on

    An interesting article but I don't think referring to one of the two biggest causes of sickness absence as mental "illness" is particularly helpful. It plays into all the stereotypical notions that enlightened and mindful employers should be challenging. Bit of an own goal there, I feel.

    • Replies to A Jessop>

      Comment by Jon posted on

      I quite agree.
      Presumably the vast majority of these cases of 'mental illness' are either stress or depression. These can be quite serious, I know but using a phrase like 'mental illness' conjures up much more drastic conditions in most people's minds and is highly misleading.

      • Replies to Jon>

        Comment by KM posted on

        I disagree. Depression is a very serious mental illness which kills many people each year. To imply that it's not 'dramatic' enough to be called a mental illness is simply wrong.

  27. Comment by Craig posted on

    I recently managed to get an HO promotion late last year (3rd attempt) and moved into a new team in August 2014. I was buzzing, fully engaged and looking forward to the challenges ahead and learning a new role, as well as building my capabilities within the team and within HMRC. However, following a meeting last week, the senior leadership team have decided to re-structure the directorate and move the work to a location i am unable to get too (outside RDT, significant costs involved in commuting and caring responsibilities for a disabled family member and a young child). I now face a very uncertain future, and the prospect of being put into the re-deployment pool or made surplus. As i am the only "earner" within our household, this has done wonders for my stress levels and mental health !!!!

  28. Comment by Chris posted on

    I made an enquiry about a stand-up desk at the IPO a while ago, but got no answer.

  29. Comment by Carol posted on

    Throwing people together in ever smaller spaces is probably the worst thing ever. Its a bit like commuting - you have no personal space! Noise levels are high, no ventilation, and poor light. No cleaning takes place unless we do it ourselves. We constantly suffer from colds/sore throats and are unable to take time off due to the disorganised way we are expected to work. We are crowded together, and that is only going to get worse when the regional centres close and even more people are shoe-horned in. Add to that job uncertaintly and the mix is certainly not healthy, mentally or physically.

  30. Comment by Michael posted on

    If you are lucky to have a workplace or home that is in close proximity to a gym or swimming pool that you can use spare time to exercise in, well and good. However, I suspect that with fewer workplaces more of us are captive commuters (I went from living 5 miles from workplace to 20 miles 2 years ago because I had to relocate my work), house prices and housing shortages make moving house closer to work less easier, and after a day's work and associated travel going to a gym/pool means another car journey - which BTW may add to environmental problems that also affect health.....

  31. Comment by Neil posted on

    Love this article and the link to the HSE. We have an office here in the MoD where they have switched off the ventilation system because of the complaints of draughts. Hence we have a hot stuffy office that is virtually unbearable to work in later in the day. In spite of pointing out the legal requirement to ventilate the office (The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 Regs and HSE guidance for employers) and in spite of contacting the HSE the ventilation is still switched off. Have you got any more bright initiatives up your sleeve Civil Service that are ignored by the appropraite managers?

  32. Comment by Kevin posted on

    I agree with Terry, I've had 4 colds and a sore throat since the week before Christmas - the main cause I'd say was the proximity to other staff and chiefly, 'hot desking'. The keyboard, desk area and telephone all get covered in our germs during a working day. I don't want to look obsesive coming in every day and washing-down your workstation with anti-bac spray, computer wipes etc. but I'm begining to think I need to - we all come in with germs and they just get spread about as we are forced to hunt about and move from new desk to new desk !. We spend time abiding to the clear desk policy, but a 'dirty desk' costs us all time off.

    • Replies to Kevin>

      Comment by David H. posted on

      Kevin is quite right. Hotdesking can only spread germs. Even worse when you work with people who don't wash their hands after using the toilet. If I change desk the first thing I will do is wipe the keyboard, phone etc. This is not being rude, it is about protecting yourself.

  33. Comment by Anthony posted on

    Try scrapping the unpopular PADR, one of the biggest causes of workplace stress.

  34. Comment by Chris posted on

    Firstly I am not here to apportion blame to an individual, but to the interpretation of the new sickness policy. Having a disability (Epilepsy), I am finding it frustrating that some line management interpret the policies differently to others (I have had at least 5 different answers to the same question), mainly the point of a 'reasonable adjustment' and the fairness in this being actioned. I have an appeal regarding my sickness, with the relevant policies, civil service, goverment and European relating to an 'reasonable adjustment'; however I have that sinking feeling where these will not be interpreted correctly, and dismissed. The policy regarding Managing Poor Attendance for instance can be and has been interpreted in many ways.

  35. Comment by Jan Parker-Jones posted on

    having worked for the department for twenty years i had my first prolonged period of sickness last summer which was work related stress. i was threatened with disciplinary action form outset and at 28 days was referred for dismissal despite having done everything asked of me by the department and engaging in a return to work plan. i felt i had no option but to return to work despite not feeling ready nor having any plans finalised, my appeal against my warning was dismissed as i had returned to work once my case was referred for dismissal. i was made to feel like a malingerer from the start and my faith in the department was so destroyed that I jumped at the chance of of voluntary redundancy. I have never suffered any kind of mental health issues before this and received no real support since I returned to work, I was actually accused of lying about returning by my senior manager and was told the department could not support my absence, so youll have to excuse me laughing out loud at this article

    • Replies to Jan Parker-Jones>

      Comment by AnonS posted on

      I can appreciate what you say. I've been on antidepressants for years, but have never mentioned it for fear of being considered the office 'freak' and not just being accepted for who I am.

  36. Comment by Lizzie posted on

    Please See link & BBC News Article -

    Office workers need to get off their backsides and move around more, according to a new campaign.
    On Your Feet Britain says sitting for long periods at work is linked to a host of health problems, which are not undone by working out in the gym.
    It is calling on people to stand regularly, walk around more and embrace ideas such as standing meetings or standing desks.
    Experts described inactivity as "one of the biggest" challenges in health.
    Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers and poor mental health have all been linked to sedentary behaviour.
    The effect is found even in people who class themselves as fit, such as those who cycle to work, if they also spend long periods of time sitting.
    Prolonged sitting is thought to slow the metabolism and affect the way the body controls sugar levels, blood pressure and the breakdown of fat.
    The campaign is a partnership between the group Get Britain Standing and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) charity.

    Perhaps we should be (Civil Service) should be looking at, encouraging and funding this!

    • Replies to Lizzie>

      Comment by Stephanie posted on

      I agree with the comment about sitting too much. I am fortunate enough to have a "rise and fall" desk so have the choice as to whether to sit or stand at my desk, but unfortunate in that I had to incur a neck injury to get this!
      I would love one of these desks at home as I write in my spare time but the cost is prohibitive.
      Also agree with people being forced to come in to work when ill and coughing and sneezing thus sharing the illnesses. I have often used annual leave or flexi-leave when I was ill as worried about calling in sick because of how this is treated.

    • Replies to Lizzie>

      Comment by Brian posted on

      I could not agree more with Lizzie's comment. The blog mentions musculoskeletal problems being one of the biggest cause of sick absence. So what is the solution? The entire Civil Service desk based population need to be provided with rise and fall desks that allow us to both sit and stand as required. This will a) improve our health b) reduce obesity levels c) increase productivity and d) reduce incidences of back-related problems and the resultant sick absence problems. This might seem radical now, however do people realise that flexible desks are a legal requirement in Sweden? In ten years time this will be the new norm. (Hopefully!)

  37. Comment by Steve posted on

    What would be nice here would be an acknowledgement, acceptance, and tolerance of the type of illnesses all human beings get - coughs and colds. These seem to be getting worse and are lasting longer than ever. I know because I keep hearing people in the office with hacking coughs and constant sneezing. Forcing themselves in to work, terrified of being place on "stages" and "performance improvement plans". So then they pass on what they have to everyone else. And the organisation (HMRC in my case) suffers as a whole entirely because of its blunt attempt to reduce sickness absence, by making people feel guilty for being human.

  38. Comment by Pete Pitman posted on

    A massive improvement in well-being could be produced by moving away from open-plan and back to small enclosed offices. The management mantra that it creates a 'buzz' is nonsense, in my dictionary a buzz is an irritating noise.
    With open-plan, I can see the empty chair where sick-note Sally (name changed to protect the far from innocent!) has not turned up yet again. I can see Lazy Larry playing on his miniature entertainment device (mobile phone) for hours on end. I can watch the middle managers walk by and turn their heads so as not to see what is going on and have to do something about it. I can see an EO doing an AAs work while the AA plays on his phone. I can see a couple of hard-working, efficient ladies practically running their section, while stuck at AA because there are never any opportunities for promotion at that level. I suffer in silence (until this point) as senior managers send out emails, using collective responsibility rather than tackling the cheating individuals. I see people on other sections ringing friends and relatives and talking for ages while I have to ask permission to make a quick important call. I watch people on other sections googling football league tables and the names of entertainers. I watch Lazy Larry (not his real name) ordering clothes from New York on his phone.
    I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture - what you don't see won't hurt you.

    • Replies to Pete Pitman>

      Comment by AnonS posted on

      How comforting to realise that it's not just my office that has these characters! Perhaps it's my age, but people don't seem to have the same work ethic now-a-days and these people don't appreciate the pressure it puts on the rest of us.

    • Replies to Pete Pitman>

      Comment by Chris Pearse posted on

      ANON-Have to admit we have the same issues here except it's EO's doing the work an O band should be doing but on occassions they can't. Whilst majority of staff are at their desks working there are a few who would rather read the paper, play on the internet and some walk about office, blatenley interupting others who are working, yet they still get the same PMR grade for this. Some getting promotions yet their behaviours dont meet the guidlines set out in the PMR. All this is going unchallenged by managers everyday as they spend most of their time having meetings for this or that.

  39. Comment by Andrew posted on

    I wonder how many of those who keeping on pushing the meme that "work is good for your mental health" would carry on working here if they won the lottery?
    I can equally show with evidence that work can be bad for your mental health in many cases.
    I am 51 and would retire tomorrow if i could afford to and certainly would never choose to work for a wage if i won the lottery though i many do some volenteer work for a good cause.

  40. Comment by Brenda Dixon posted on

    I work for the pensions service on the call centre and normally work from 8am to 5pm. Apart from a 15 minute break on the morning and the same on the afternoon (these are scheduled so I have no choice of the time) and a half hour lunch break, I am tied to my desk by a headset. I would like to know how I could do more exercise?

  41. Comment by Andy posted on

    I have to agree with Terry's comment, the reason the average number of sick days has gone down is because everyone is terrified of hitting a trigger point. The Civil Service has done little else to help people with there problems only to threaten them.

  42. Comment by Alan Brunskill posted on

    Having suffered for many years with a mental illness and varying amounts of time off with this illness ranging from a day to a few months, and having been to the darkest place i now feel comfortable talking about my illness and trying to help others in the workplace, i have set up a 'drop in ' room which is available for anyone suffering to come along once a week and learn new coping strategies etc and have also produced a newsletter covering mental illness subjects from all angles. This is a small step to help others but i know there is a lot more to do, if only i had the time!!

  43. Comment by Kevin posted on

    I am pleased that HMRC recognises the needs for divirsity and ensures we do not face discrimination. I know in the private sector Bullying is rife and that any excuse to exclude individuals are used. Sadly they get away wuth it!
    I take exception to speco=ific references to Relationships with colleagues and marriage breakdowns!?
    This excludes Relationships with friends/relatives/neigbours or the lack of one which may or may not affect wellbeing.
    There is also breakdowns other than marriage. There are child less couples in society similarly three are unmarried relationships that break up and individuals who are not in a relationship.
    Lets not forget these. They are often overlooked, ignored and unfairly treated!
    It's not only the old that are lonely and in many cases they have enjoyed a long lasting marriage and children. Please give more thought tro those who have neither whatever age.

    • Replies to Kevin>

      Comment by AnonS posted on

      Thank goodness, I was beginning to think I was the only one in the world who thought like that. What is wrong with doing a good job. Having to prove yourself day in day out puts pressure on each of us everyday.

  44. Comment by Maz posted on

    I completely agree with the comment on the PMR. This has caused me so much stress but my concerns are just swept under the carpet. I cannot get across that if you can't sell yourself on paper you are at a disadvantage, and now doing your best is no longer deemed good enough, therem has to be more. The vast majority of us do our best every day and just want to come in and do the job to the best of our ability. We need to be doing our jobs, not spending all this time on something that causes a lot of us untold worry.

    • Replies to Maz>

      Comment by Anon D posted on

      Absolutely. Also, just because someone is good at making themselves look good on paper, doesn't mean that they are any good at the actual job. Far too many people get promoted above their ability simply because they have an inflated ego and the gift of the gab, i.e. better spinners than Shane Warne!

  45. Comment by Ian posted on

    Terry has nailed this subject. That is the reality on the ground. Peaple are now intimidated into taking Annual leave rather than going sick.

  46. Comment by Jill posted on

    The reason the sickness has gone down is because like our office most people are using holiday or flexi days when sick because they are worried about getting a warning.

    • Replies to Jill>

      Comment by SJ posted on

      Yup, same around here.

  47. Comment by Terry posted on

    Well the autocratic PMR system and having my sickness record (not excessiev and all backed up by medical evidence) treated almost as a disciplinary matter is doing wonders for my workplace health! Perhaps if we were not packed in like sardines and had an office with better ventilation we'd be less inclined to pick up everyone else's germs.

    • Replies to Terry>

      Comment by sharon posted on

      I totally agree. Our office is always hot and stuffy a breeding place for germs. We have no canteen only very unhealthy vending machines and Gym equipment from a merging office was unable to be moved to our office due to Health and Safety issues!!!!

    • Replies to Terry>

      Comment by Jon posted on

      I completely agree with Terry; the PMR system is a disgrace. As a line manager, it is easily the most unpleasant management task that I have and causes resentment, conflict and bad feeling. I worked in the private sector for over 20 years before joining the civil service and I have never seen anything so bureaucratic, vague, unfair and badly thought out.

      Another reason why sickness absences has "fallen" is the general climate of fear and uncertainty over continuing staff reductions. People dare not go sick and end up coming in, working badly and infecting co-workers. They are also taking leave days when sick - I did it myself this month.

      • Replies to Jon>

        Comment by Patrick posted on

        I thank Jon as a line manager for being so honest about the way staff who are subject to PMR are treated. As a H&S Rep in the DWP I find that the retoric about the way ill staff are/should be treated goes in one direction whilst the reality is often off on its own agenda in the opposite direction. The reason why sickness levels have gone down is due to the 'mood music" behind PMR which is "Get to work or you're fired!!" In the DWP it's called Attendance Management and the clue is all in the title - it not about sickness - the is no such thing as a sickness policy anymore, it's all about Attendance! - i.e "You're not at work!" Staff are now too scared to go off sick.

      • Replies to Jon>

        Comment by Anon D posted on

        Jon, thank you for your honesty. I assume that, as a line manager, you will have had experience of the validation groups also. In addition to the disgrace of PMR itself is the fact that a 'must improve' will be put in any future job application should you resign, thus rendering you effectively unemployable, and all based on something that is very seriously flawed on a number of fronts. It is statistically impossible to prove beyond doubt that anyone is really within an arbitrary 10% segment, so this risks gives any potential future employer a completely wrong impression. This must be pretty close to being illegal, if indeed is isn't actually illegal. I for one am very capable in particular fields and would regard this as defamatory, and it has certainly had a detrimental effect on my mental health.

  48. Comment by Lisa * posted on

    I feel privileged to have been part of the department for a multitude of reasons over many years and extremely proud – having suffered with a long term mental health condition and classed as ‘living with a disability’ I have found that Working Through and developing manageable levels of workload pressures together with risk assessments has been a great foundation to build upon – unfortunately I did experience what I feared the most would happen; within the last year – regrettably had to take some time off due to it being a workplace incident – the department provided intensive therapy via Employee Assistance – Now, I cannot express to you how overjoyed I am– I finally have an edge on it, making sense of what I previously could not deal with and even more so feel I could take on anything, help as many individuals as I can…

    My confidence was affected some months ago therefore I decided to take the Voluntary Exit Scheme – now faced with leaving the department in a few months’ time, somewhat daunting task of thinking where do I go next?

    Equipped with a clearer perspective, advocate for embracing change and experienced in overcoming my biggest challenge – my own mind, no longer limiting what I ‘can’ or think ‘I cannot’ do… what a truly amazing adventure ahead – I have a young family to care and provide for – I am taking ownership of the situation and finally facing my responsibilities with confidence and understanding. The insight it takes to manage the core function of capability and as mentioned in the 'blog' above, finally, not only providing a support on the outside for all workplace relationships, friends and family - whilst the hidden side was kept ‘out of reach’ of those around me – able to wear the armour of belief in myself, truly supporting those around me and encouraging positive change. Thank you for listening...

  49. Comment by Mark posted on

    This is a positive article but it doesn't reflect wider aspects that will impact on the staff wellbeing, and how the Civil Service intends to deal with these.

    For example, what will be the impact of the increased pension age and an ageing population? People's health naturally decline with age so will there be a spike in absence through illness.

    • Replies to Mark>

      Comment by Michael posted on

      The solution could be an upward age-tapered limit where allowance is made for greater age. The Army has a tapered goalpost (as long ago as 1980s in my memory) for passing annual fitness tests whereby the older soldiers are allowed longer times to pass, the youngest have the shortest timing.