Is sickness a symptom of dysfunction?

Scottish Borders Council’s disclosure on the percentage of employees suffering work-related stress, anxiety and depression is a key performance indicator of competent management and leadership.

The recent non-disclosure of results and a preliminary internal investigation suggest this work-related stress figure could be 45-50 per cent of all SBC time lost to sickness absence in 2009-10 and this year.

Sickness absence cost the UK £17billion last year, according to a recent Confederation of British Industry survey. While the recent findings of a Unison-commissioned survey of more than 6,000 public service workers, by the Centre for Organisational Research and Development, also provides evidence that one in three UK employees is being bullied at work or witnessed bullying over the past six months.

The most common forms of bullying were rude and disrespectful behaviour, unrealistic targets, isolation or exclusion, excessive work monitoring and criticism, withholding information and intimidation.

The hypothesis that work- related stress is the direct result of dysfunctional management is open to scrutiny and consultation. It is therefore vital that the SBC scrutiny committee assesses management culture through any evidence concerning employee work-related stress and absenteeism statistics, cases of employee whistle-blowing, bullying, intimidation and harassment, cases resolved through conflict resolution meetings, resignation and exit interview statements, cases of dismissal for “some other substantial reason,” especially where disproportionate action may have been taken.

In anticipation of SBC’s disclosure of results, the following proposals may assist it and the scrutiny panel:

z An independent voluntary sector wellbeing advisor panel be appointed to provide the scrutiny committee with informed and competent advice on wellbeing priorities and strategies;

z SBC employees should not be threatened with dismissal when challenging management strategies;

z SBC employees should engage in conflict resolution meetings before any decision on dismissal;

z SBC employees should have the choice to confidentially or anonymously report dysfunctional management activities;

z SBC managers implicated in dysfunctional management should not chair or have influence over the investigation or final decision-making;

z The investigation protocol should be reviewed by an independent impartial panel to avoid sweetheart reporting.

Gordon M Branston