Headlines: October 28th, 2002

Personnel officers from around the country have been given details of innovative work by York City Council which has reduced absenteeism among teachers by taking a new approach to stress.The pilot project cut the number of days off per employee from 10.5 to 8.9. The higher figure had remained stable for the two years before a pilot project – the ‘WELL’ scheme – began. Stress was identified as the major cause for absence.

Mandy Coalter, Human Resources Manager for York’s education service, told members of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, ” We adopted a holistic approach by avoiding the stigma of stress and recognising the close relationship between physical and mental health. If you are stressed it will affect your health, your performance and the performance of the team and organisation.”

The project produced personal stress profiles for 200 employees based on an assessment of their mental and physical health. Those at the higher end of the stress scale were given extra support, such as counselling. All staff taking part in the pilot were given access to an on-site health manager.

‘WELL’ also looked at the main causes of stress and as a result a calendar of workload ‘hotspots’ has been produced so that peak times can be planned for. Marking policy has also been changed to stagger workloads and an extra teacher has been taken on to release colleagues from the classroom and give them time to plan.

The scheme now looks set to be expanded to other schools in the city. Barrie Ferguson, a past president of the teaching union NAS/UWT, said, “The WELL project is one of the most positive things that has happened to the teacher workforce in York for sometime and we are determined to assist its spread through all schools in York.”

Mandy Coalter said some causes of stress were organisational and would have to be addressed by management which needed to be committed to tackling the issue.