Rushing to put out a blaze. Breaking up a nasty fight. Resuscitating an unconscious pedestrian. If you were asked which of these situations was the most stressful, you’d be hard pressed to choose between them. No wonder, then, that frontline staff in the emergency services report high levels of stress.
A study by Cartridge People in 2019 found that over 15 million days are lost every year due to employees suffering from work-related stress. Over 500,000 people in the UK feel ill as a result of the level stress they get in their work environment. The occupations and industries reporting the highest rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety remain consistently in the health and public sectors of the economy, found by 2019 HSE statistics.
As government cuts continue to demand that our emergency services do more with less, frontline staff are finding themselves being stretched further and further. For many, this means more overtime, shorter lunch breaks, and less choice over when they can take their holiday.
As the cuts continue and long hours grow through the months of COVID-19, it has recently been announced that there will be a pay rise for people working in the public sector. Nearly 900,000 workers will benefit from this across the country, including those who work in the emergency services. Doctors, teachers and police officers will be among those receiving above inflation pay rise for their effort during COVID-19.
These jobs are inherently challenging, but the additional burdens of renewed public scrutiny and belt-tightening are pushing many police officers, firemen and health workers to breaking point. So what can be done?
Public sector organisations aren’t necessarily to blame for these problems. However, by being aware of the heightened risk posed to their employees, they can help to mitigate stress and help their staff feel better.
Consultation is an important part of this process. If employees have no natural avenue through which to express their feelings, their stress is far more likely to go unchecked, increasing the chances of a poor morale, resignation and breakdown.
The Mind organisation have put together a ‘Blue light programme’ which is aimed at reducing stigma, promoting wellbeing and improving mental health support for those working or volunteering within the emergency services.
Showing staff that you’re listening to their concerns, even if there is little that can be done, can go a long way to making staff feel supported. Organisations which simply demand their employees to get on with it, without demonstrating understanding or empathy, risk creating an alienating, impersonal atmosphere.
Establishing a workplace culture where people can talk freely about mental health issues is important. Although the problem of stress is a very difficult one for our emergency services to address, ignoring the problem is far worse for all involved.
If public sector bodies can support their staff effectively, their frontline staff can get on with what really matters: putting out fires, preventing violence, saving lives. After all, doing good is why people join the emergency services in the first place.
Published date: 13th August 2020
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