LGC's recent survey of council managers revealed that human resources staff were the least vexed local government managers, with 43% saying they felt stressed. By contrast, managers in adult care were
the most stressed, with almost three-quarters (71%) feeling significant pressure (LGC, 7 April).
Alan Warner, Director of people and property, Hertfordshire CC
Sue Stanhope, Director of personnel, Sunderland CC
Adi Cooper, Director of adult services, Lewisham LBC
Alan Adams, Executive director, adults and community care, Surrey CC
Giovanni Isingrini, Director of adults, families and life-long learning, Merthyr Tydfil CBC
Steve Walmsley, Head of corporate human resources, Sheffield CC
What are the main causes of stress in your job?
AW Unread e-mails. If you have been off for a day or so, it's hard to keep pace, sorting out the important messages from the huge volume. People expect you to respond to an
e-mail almost immediately.
SS Trying to manage change in an organisation and taking a strategic outlook to make that happen.
AC The complexity of work and breadth of areas that are in my remit - this includes all adult services and partnership relationships with the health sector. I deal with direct service provision, commissioning and prevention and my gross budget is about£94m. Adapting to changes in government policy is often challenging, as is keeping up to date with a changing agenda.
AA You put pressure on yourself because you want to deliver to such a high standard. Personally, that is a motivator, but it could be a potential source of stress. The biggest sources of stress are the things
beyond your control, such as too much
GI The range of functions, recruitment and retention issues and the capacity to deliver services.
SW The workload in local government these days is significant and the pace of change
How do you manage that stress?
AW By keeping a sense of perspective about what might happen. It is not going to kill you and there is always a way forward. Be optimistic about the outcome. Also, some kind of social life is good to combat stress.
SS Make sure I put things in perspective. And look for support from colleagues - I use them as a sounding board. I try to make sure I get the work/life balance right.
AC I am glad to have such an efficient PA. I am in meetings most of the day, so having someone who is really effective to manage my diary is crucial. Also, a supportive team is important.
AA In a work environment, you have to enjoy what you are doing. Manage your time well, plan ahead and know what is a priority. Become an expert in the use of your own time and cut out the unproductive, unnecessary tasks. Keep the right mix in your job between being really creative and doing the straightforward things.
GI By using peer support networks and having a strong focus on work/life balance.
SW I try to separate work from home. That works best. I try to walk to and from work, which gives me a bit of space to think things through and some exercise. I also have a clear plan about what we are trying to achieve, and have clear, realistic, achievable times to achieve our objectives.
Does your council help staff cope
AW Flexible working - more than 90% of requests were agreed last year. Hertfordshire has a very positive attitude to this. We run Care Well, a staff assistance scheme that has a careline people can ring to talk to someone. The council has also signed up to the Health for Life programme.
SS Our occupational health unit provides health promotion activity. There is a counselling service to which staff can self-refer. We also have a 24-hour staff assistance programme.
AC Not a specific programme but it offers training on things such as time management and counselling for long-term sick staff.
AA I make sure people are valued and are a part of what we are doing. Empowering staff and challenging people is at the heart of everything we do in my service.
GI There is a range of support mechanisms in place, from proactive occupational health to various classes.
SW We are regarded by the Health & Safety Executive as a beacon council for stress prevention. Good management is key, as is effective communication, and staff appraisals are helpful. Also we have flexible working and staff assistance programmes for some directorates.
Why are HR managers the least stressed . . . ?
AW I think it is one of the best jobs around. We get a nice broad perspective on the organisation, we work very closely with the chief executive and politicians and we can do things that get things done. If you can see a fairly quick return in what you are doing, that helps.
SS A lot of the coping mechanisms originate in HR, so they probably know more than most where to go for support if they need it. A lot of HR managers understand what causes stress. They need to know this to help organisations.
SW Because we understand the issues. We are people people, so we start from a better position. We also try to be an example to the rest of the organisation. There is also a link with our promotion of good management practices and helping people to manage stress better.
. . . and adult care managers the most stressed?
AC There have been a lot of tensions on managing demand across the country in social care departments - roles have changed and the roles of managers are really quite complex. However, I think the green paper provides a new focus for adult social care.
AA It's a complex environment - you don't have enough money, the expectations are high and there is an enormous amount of change around.
GI The range of responsibilities, the pace of change in terms of new legislation, and the resources we have to achieve this.
What would you change to combat stress?
AW Having a good team around me that is highly motivated and moving in the same direction. That's about communicating regularly and being very supportive of each other.
SS I would take better advantage of flexible working and try to be more effective in the way I manage my time.
AC Having a rigid routine and being able to work flexibly. I rely on being able to access my e-mails from my home, so I do get frustrated when I am not able to do so. However, part of my mechanism for being effective in a challenging role is also being able to take time out and cut myself off completely.
AA Empowering people is key to overcoming stress. What we are doing [in the department] is very effective and it's why we have made so much progress here so quickly and why it's sustainable.
GI By developing even more focus on cross-border working and partnerships.
SW It would be lovely to have a few more staff. I could also be absolutely more focused on the things I really need to do.
Do you have a good work/life balance?
AW My typical working day is from about 8am to 6.30pm and I don't take any work home. I am quite strict about doing things I have organised for myself, like attending football matches.
SS I work from about 8.30am to 6pm. We have flexible working here, so I can see my children's activities at school. When I work late, it is a conscious decision I have made, not something that is out of control.
AC I think so. I have a very supportive partner and an amazingly flexible child minder.
AA I believe so, although I've always worked hard. If you are too tired or intense, you are less effective anyway. For me, the balance is provided by family, friends and holidays.
GI I achieve good work/life balance by having a strong family focus. I am very protective of personal time.
SW Work/life balance is an individual thing. For me it changes as my career changes. I have a reasonable work/life balance at the moment.