Supporting staff with wellbeing at UCU

The University and College Union (UCU) supports 110,000 members from further and higher education with issues around pay, contracts, pensions, equality and health and safety. 

We work with UCU to offer support to union members experiencing work-related or personal issues which may be affecting their mental health and wellbeing.

Like all staff working in education, UCU’s own staff face challenges on a day-to-day basis. 

Charles Elford, Head of Personnel at UCU, shared the initiatives that UCU has put in place to support its staff with mental health issues and wellbeing. This comprises a comprehensive range of services and training designed to create a positive working environment, to help staff identify mental health issues, be open about them and to provide support for those as and when they need it. 

  • UCU has developed policies and procedures to support staff wellbeing, including around stress, risk assessment, flexible working, carers leave, disability leave and compassionate leave.
  • UCU encouraged managers to complete the HSE’s Stress Management Competency Indicator Tool to see how effective they are at preventing/reducing stress and identify any learning gaps.
  • UCU raises awareness of mental health and wellbeing through national calendar events such as Stress Awareness Day and Mental Health Awareness Week. These are promoted internally through:
    • Posters and distribution of leaflets and wallet cards highlighting the support available to staff
    • Articles on the UCU staff intranet.
  • UCU consults and informs staff regularly on a range of issues including mental health through the intranet and Joint Health & Safety Committee.
  • Staff have access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which provides:
    • Online guidance, fact sheets and sign posts to other relevant resources
    • Telephone advice and guidance
    • Access to counselling sessions
    • Referral to an early intervention occupational health service if a person is signed off with a mental health issue.  
  • Training is available to staff on:
    • Understanding and responding to mental distress (workshops delivered in partnership with Mind)
    • Recognising and dealing with stress, equality and inclusion (including disability and mental health) as well as communication, workload management etc (via eLearning).
    • Stress awareness and how to conduct stress risk assessments (for managers)
    • UCU is currently developing a new workshop to help staff develop tactics and strategies to enable them to respond positively in challenging circumstances.
  • UCU recently joined 1,666 organisations by signing the Mindful Employer charter; the second trade union to do so. The charter is for employers like UCU, who are positive about mental health.

We know from Mind that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year, which is a very significant part of an employer’s workforce. People with mental health challenges too often experience discrimination when either trying to get into employment or once they’re in work. Unfortunately there is still a real stigma about mental health at work; the CIPD found that less than half of those experiencing poor mental health will tell their employer about it.

UCU wants to build on its inclusive culture, so these initiatives, and signing up to the Mindful Employer charter, made complete sense. UCU wants to help create an environment in which its staff can be open about mental health, and where the tools and safe space are provided to help its people address the issues they may be dealing with.

For more information on how you can access support for staff in your organisation with employee assistance programmes, staff engagement and wellbeing, professional development and occupational health, please contact us on 020 7697 2750.