Staff in the community and voluntary sector are struggling with workplace stress, job insecurity and toxic work environments, a new Unite survey reveals, with Northern Ireland workers in particular reporting endemic problems at work.
A survey of people working for charities in the Britain, including for big name organisations such as Save the Children, RSPCA, Friends of the Earth, Citizens Advice, Oxfam and others found that a staggering 80 has experienced workplace stress in the last year.
Nearly half – 42 per cent – said they believed their job was not good for their mental health, while a similar number said they didn’t believe they worked for a well-managed organisation. More than third reported not feeling valued at work while four in 10 said they didn’t feel their job was secure.
One anonymous worker who took the survey, commissioned by Unite, said that their job was “slowly killing” them.
“I have been grabbed twice by my manager, subjected to enforced hugging, eye rolling, muttering under her breath and humiliation at meetings in front of others,” the charity worker said. “I have either been told about (by other alleged victims) or directly witnessed bullying of nine other former colleagues.”
Another worker, who has since left their job, said they “could no longer put up with the misery of it all. [The] final straw [was] in a meeting where my manager yelled at me and I handed in my notice on the spot.”
Another highlighted the irony of being mistreated at a charity.
“Its a strange phenomenon to be bullied by an employer who is a charity,” the anonymous worker said. “So many things about this employer are great, but some [are] very wrong and ‘they’ can’t see it nor understand.”
The high percentage of people, 92 per cent, who said they believed in the work they did sheds light on what Unite believes is part of the problem — management are tempted to exploit the goodwill of their workforce.
A separate analysis of the Unite survey found that Northern Ireland workers in particular faced serious workplace problems. While in Great Britain, 34 per cent said they did not feel valued at work, this figure rose to 53 per cent in Northern Ireland.
More than half of community and voluntary sector workers in Northern Ireland surveyed said they believed their organisation was poorly managed, compared to 43 per cent in Great Britain and 37 per cent in the Republic of Ireland.
Shockingly, more than one in four of respondents in Northern Ireland rated their workplace morale as ‘terrible’ — among workers in England, Wales and Scotland, this figure was significantly lower at one in 8, and even lower in the Republic of Ireland at one in 10. Four out of five charity workers in Northern Ireland have considered leaving their job, compared to three in five in Britain and one in two in the Republic of Ireland.
Responding to the Northern Ireland analysis, Unite regional officer Taryn Trainor, said, “These statistics are proof positive that there is a real and serious problem in Northern Ireland’s community and voluntary sector.
“Part of the reason for this is the impact of austerity policies which have disproportionately impacted the sector, as well as the short-term way in which under funding is provided; but in my experience it also reflects very poor management practices, where workers in the sector are expected to accept worse treatment and pay than they would expect from the private sector,” she added.
“The only way for workers in the community and voluntary sector to defend their interests in this situation is to join a trade union and get involved to build its strength in their workplace.”
Unite national officer Siobhan Endean agreed.
“The survey’s findings are profoundly disturbing,” she said. “While some charities and NGOs are committed to ensuring their staffs’ welfare it is clear many are not.
“Staff employed by charities and NGOs tend to be very committed to their organisation and are usually loathe to speak out as their fear it will damage the cause they work for,” she added. “However, many workers are clearly at breaking point.”
“It is impossible to get away from the stark fact that the catastrophic cumulative impact of austerity cuts on the sector and mismanagement of dedicated and passionate workers is making them ill and creating widespread misery.”
“However this is no excuse for them to challenge the long hours, excessive workloads and bullying which members say is a huge factor in mental health and stress problems,” Endean went on to say. “They must stop exploiting the goodwill of their workers.”
She warned that Unite has now put “employers on notice that management has to change and they need to work with our representatives to tackle these problems that are at epidemic levels”.