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Care for university staff threatened with redundacy is too little too late

September 17, 2015

Carecall’s intervention is not sufficient to meet the challenge of so many and such ruthless job cuts, argues our colleague.

The presence of the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provider Carecall on all Campuses last week was no doubt an attempt on behalf of the University to meet its obligations in terms of minimising the impact of the redundancy scheme on employees. While efforts to increase awareness of the service will provide some consolation for colleagues during this period of uncertainty, in many ways this offering is too little too late. The Faculty announcements about the Schools and subject areas that would be targeted for redundancies came 10 weeks after the Acting VC’s briefings about pending redundancies on 18th June. That was 10 weeks wherein colleagues endured the climate of uncertainty and consequent accumulation of stress while in preparation for the new academic year. Stress is a word often used casually but stress has pathological physical, behavioural and emotional effects that pose long-term ramifications for the person, their relationships, family and ultimately the whole community. Stress increases risks of hypertension, heart attack, coronary artery disease and cardiovascular mortality. Increases in stressful life events are linked with depression, anxiety, heavy alcohol use and suicidal behaviours. Consequences for families include marital/relationship discord and even dissolution with profound repercussions for children. Employers are fully aware of the cost to their organisations when employees face insurmountable stress in terms of inability to concentrate, lack of motivation and sickness absence.

Carecall provides six sessions of counselling using a model known as Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). While the provision is worthwhile and will no doubt provide important support to those colleagues who choose to avail of it, it is nonetheless a time-limited intervention, whereby clients and counsellors agree realistic goals to be achieved by the end of counselling, usually within six weeks. For staff members forced into accepting the severance package erroneously dressed up as voluntary, the long-term consequences of unemployment including the impact on homes and families extend well beyond six weeks. Moreover, for colleagues left behind, tasked with absorbing the excess workload in Schools faced with 25% – 40% of staff cuts, the manifold stresses are not likely to be resolved within a six week time frame. Nonetheless, the university has called upon Carecall to mop up the aftermath of negative life stresses imposed not only by the redundancies but the ways in which the university’s senior management team has managed this difficult process, by withholding information that has such profound impact on people’s lives. However hard-working and dedicated the individual counsellors of Carecall might be, they are not in a position to carry the burden of decisions of ruthless senior managers and inept members of the Stormont Executive who are not only failing the talented employees they have been fortunate to recruit but most crucially our most gifted young people and thus the already fragile future of our society.
For UCU members who want additional support, the College and University Support Network (Recourse) offers UCU members a range of services – from factsheets to counselling. Access these services online or through the 24/7 telephone support line, Freephone 0808 8020304

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