Stressing the need for stress busting

March 17, 2000

Continual changes, lack of control over work, inadequate staffing, low pay, lack of recognition or promotion prospects, lack of facilities for breaks, excessive working hours, excessive workload.

A thumbnail sketch of higher education over the past decade? According to Heriot-Watt University, these are potential sources of stress. And it has now launched a stress-busting strategy for all staff and managers that includes taking regular breaks, lunching away from the lab or office, making time for hobbies and interests, exercising, learning relaxation techniques and getting enough sleep.

Senior personnel officer Angela Roberts said that far from being unrealistic, breaks were a necessity. And she pledged that staff taking time out would not risk managerial wrath. All heads of department were "on board" with the stress-busting strategy and realised that they had a responsibility to staff. If the university was to work effectively, it had to consider the health of its employees, she said.

Principal John Archer said the enormous changes in higher education had had a major impact on staff that could be stressful. The university tried to manage change to minimise problems but believed a proactive scheme would help to support all employees who might or could suffer from stress.

The team behind the new scheme says stress is a complicated and sensitive issue, with factors including individual personality types, the way people are managed and external or domestic pressures.

The university is circulating information on what support is available, including counselling and a freephone helpline, along with guidance to managers on how to help colleagues suffering stress.

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