Focus: People Management - Samaritans training focuses on stress

Graham Willgoss, graham.willgoss@haynet.com

Charity's course designed to improve ability of staff to cope with pressure.

Samaritans has launched an initiative to help HR professionals and managers cope with stress and emotional issues in the workplace.

The charity's WorkLife training courses have been designed to provide all employees with the skills and confidence to deal with difficult work situations. "In Britain we work longer hours than anywhere else in Europe," said Steve Tollerton, external training officer at the charity. "We lose 12.8 million days a year to stress, anxiety and depression. This is keenly felt in the voluntary sector, where staff really care about what they do.

"They are more likely to work longer hours because they are more committed to their jobs, and more likely to feel the effects of stress because of their genuine concern for their causes.

"Our courses enable managers to have those difficult conversations with staff who find themselves under pressure so they can deal with it in a way that is beneficial to the individual and, in the longer term, to the organisation."

The one-day courses cost £1,500 and can accommodate up to 20 employees from an organisation. Voluntary organisations can get a discounted rate of £800. Samaritans holds the courses at a location of the employer's choosing.

Samaritans unveiled the scheme at free roadshows in Edinburgh and Belfast last week to give organisations a taste of what the courses offer. Further roadshows are planned for Leeds, Liverpool, London, Dublin, Bristol and Cardiff over the coming month.

The roadshows highlight the importance of easily approachable management, flexible working and a positive workplace culture. Their work is based on the results of a recent Samaritans survey of 1,500 people employed in the private, public and voluntary sectors.

The survey asked staff to rate the qualities they felt were important in their managers. The top response (80 per cent) was that managers should respect the right of employees to a reasonable work-life balance. In second place was the ability of managers to spot when staff need support. The survey also found that a third of workers cannot get to sleep at night because of anxiety about their jobs.

"The survey shows that not enough is being done to tackle stress in the workplace and highlights the need for the sort of training we are offering," said Jonathan Moran, external training services co-ordinator at Samaritans.

Samaritans is also developing an interactive version of the WorkLife programme on CD-Rom in conjunction with the Media Trust. This will be available in the autumn.

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