Library and Historic Scotland staff take a decade’s worth of stress leave

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By Oliver Farrimond

STAFF at two of Scotland’s sleepiest government bodies have taken almost 10 years of time off since the beginning of 2008 – due to STRESS.

Under-pressure personnel at Historic Scotland and the National Library took 3,544 days off between them, with some stretches of absence lasting for hundreds of days.

Under data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, just 87 staff account for the total.

Reasons cited for National Library staff taking time off include depressive illness and anxiety as well as stress.

A spokesperson from the National Library of Scotland said: “When it comes to our staff, the National Library of Scotland is committed to putting their welfare first and we will continually strive to make more positive changes.”

“We recently carried out a ‘Work Positive’ survey amongst our staff members, the results of which were broadly positive.

“A majority reported they cope well with the demands of their jobs and are happy with their work patterns and comfortable in their work environment.

“We are committed to giving our staff as much help and support as possible – we have used the survey to identify areas in which we can further improve and are working with our extremely pro-active HR team to achieve this.

“We appreciate that our staff may need help and support with a range of wider welfare issues – financial, health, relationship, legal or family problems for example – therefore we also operate an Employee Assistance Programme through AXA ICAS which covers staff and their families and makes counseling available.”

When asked about whether they were concerned about their health in the workplace, almost a quarter of National Library staff replied that they were “concerned” or “very concerned”.

“Very Poor”

Similarly, when personnel at Historic Scotland were asked in a survey about whether the agency helped workers stay stress-free, almost 30% rated them “poor” or “very poor”.

Historic Scotland manages more than 360 of Scotland’s historic monuments, including Edinburgh Castle, Glasgow Cathedral and Jedburgh Abbey.

55 of its employees took a total of 2,893 days due to stress –almost 8 years worth of work.

Historic Scotland said that agency, which is Scotland’s largest, would “not prepared to be complacent” about support for staff.

A spokeswoman said: “Our staff of more than 1,000 includes conservators, policy officers, inspectors and everyone involved in protecting and promoting our properties in care across the country.

“These figures cover all absences attributed to stress – not only those restricted to work-related issues.

NHS Breathing Space

“We work very hard to provide all staff with access to a range of services, including free 24 hour advice, counselling and access to occupational health advisors in order to support them while they are absent and to assist them in their return to work.

“While our absence rates are comparable to other departments across the Scottish Government, it is not an area we are prepared to be complacent about and new policies introduced in April 2008 to better support staff and manage attendance have seen a 20 per cent drop in absence rates.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government declined to comment, saying that the matter was an “operational” one for the two agencies.

Tony McLaren, national coordinator for NHS Breathing Space – a confidential helpline for those struggling with personal problems – said that mental health issues were widespread amongst professionals.

He said: “Stress, depression and similar issues are just as serious as physical problems – this shows that mental health is everyone’s business.

“Many of the people who call us to talk about their problems aren’t unemployed or suffering from dementia – they’re professionals who face a lot of pressure in their working lives.”

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