The idea people that people are seeking an exit from NPS, even at a time of increasing economic uncertainty, is back on the agenda. Many of the conversations and the emails on work related stress, have provided an insight into why this is an increasing concern, generated in the first instance by the ravages of the pandemic and pressure associated with meeting its impact on work, and on work/life balance.
Just like the state the NHS was in prior to the pandemic hitting, when the lack of resources exposed the crisis in intensive care, the Probation service was equally compromised. The Transforming Rehabilitation experiment failed. It cost tax payers a fortune, failed to protect the public, and put money in the hands of privateers. Those who have lived through it know too well of the stresses they have endured.
Just as year upon decade of underinvestment has taken its toll on the NHS and on its dedicated, under resourced and under paid front line staff, for Probation, it has also meant an uphill run, with our front-line staff nearing exhaustion. Sadly, and just like the NHS, Probation are in danger of losing their most experienced staff.
Coping through crisis
With the re-unification of the service, those recently ‘onboarded’ from the CRC in Wales and those due to onboard in England in the coming months, the stress has been and will continue to be felt keenly – learning new systems and processes at a time of global pandemic is no quick nor emotionally light task.
The continued diminution of resources needed to alleviate the stress of excessively high workloads meant that staff burn out, at any time, but especially through a pandemic, was unavoidable. We have seen it time and time again: change without adequate resources and complicated processes within a faceless ‘shared services’ system which no other organisation would put up with. Thankfully, it is improving. The recruitment drive for PQUIPs and PSO will be welcome news to all. How we support our new colleagues and give them opportunities for learning and development during the pandemic will contribute to their decision whether to stay or leave Probation – we know already that the PQUIP drop-out rate is too high. It is up to NPS to show these new recruits that learning is championed – that everyone learns in different ways and that a creative approach is needed to support and develop learners, to create a more diverse workforce that is inclusive and to retain ‘talent’. (HMPPS People Plan)
With high workloads, our ability and capacity to learn and help others learn reduced and further challenged by the additional pressures of living through a pandemic. At the beginning of this pandemic, no one knew how the devastation would impact on staff and service delivery. The Exceptional Delivery Model EDM was designed to maximise the protection of the public and protect victims in the safest way possible.
NAPO understood the pressures this would place on staff and NAPO chairs, officers and official, and branch committee members from across Wales and England, worked tirelessly to ensure the health & safety of members. Risk assessments of offices, Courts and other places of work were undertaken in consultation with unions– a collaboration which has been valuable for sustaining operational delivery.
Regrettably, the ‘special payment’ system to support the evolving EDM proved divisive. Remember when we had to not talk about it anymore – it was uncomfortable to because we knew some people wouldn’t be getting it? That should never have happened. Division harbours hurt, resentment, confusion and anger. It makes people reconsider their value and their loyalty to the organisation. Sadly, many are disillusioned, and many have chosen to leave, or retire early.
Staff sickness in some offices is on the increase – anxiety and stress are on the up, and directly related to the impact of COVID. Some absentees remain anxious about the prospect of returning. Napo is aware of these issues facing its members, the challenge is to help those struggling to meet the tide of work generated by unforgiving and inflexible targets and unrelenting changes to practice. NAPO wants to support members who are tired and struggling, and worried they aren’t good enough. NAPO wants Probation to remain a good place to work, that Probation continues to be a ‘good employer’.
Home is where the work is
‘Working from home’ has become the norm and far from staff easing off the pedal or failing to put the hours in, the working day has been extended to meet the ever-increasing demands. “You are not ‘working from home’, you are at your home, during a crisis, trying to work”.
At our core, we are professionals and we want to do a good job, but our homes are no longer our places of escape from the stresses of work – they are workplaces in themselves, often workplaces with children, with caring responsibilities for family members and in some cases, abusive relationships. Working from home can be complicated, in many ways and for many reasons.
Probation leads have told us we are valued, that we are doing a great job, and we are! They are right. But have you been given the right equipment for working from home? A desk, chair, monitor, headset? Have you completed a Cardinus assessment or requested DSE assessment?
Self-care, healthy lifestyles and good mental health has never been more important. While there are encouraging signs that staff in some areas are more comfortable discussing and admitting the impact of work, especially during this pandemic, on their mental health, more can be done. Probation’s People Plans espouse a well-being strategy which aims to promote well-being for everyone. Get involved in your local well-being committee – connect with the networks, support yourself and support others.
We must look after ourselves and our colleagues – if we see a colleague having a tough time, reach out, help them out. If you are having a tough time, reach out, allow yourself to be helped.
As professionals, we must listen to other professionals when we hear them say they too struggle. We must listen to medical and emergency staff, social care workers and teachers, all of whom are working as we are in Probation, to keep society ticking over, in very challenging circumstances.
The authority on health: The World Health Organisation lists the three main symptoms of COVID as a fever, a dry cough, and tiredness. Other symptoms are in fact less common. Go on, google it! Imagine if we gave tiredness the same weight as we give a cough or a temperature – would we be off work with Covid symptoms? Given the pressure on staff and the general sense of fatigue experienced throughout the organisation, this is of critical importance. The question is, how exhausted do you have to be before its time to say enough is enough? Are you making yourself ill by pushing on through sickness when you need to be supported to rest and to recover.
The very real and imminent danger of losing more staff will require a cultural shift. If the tide is to turn and the trickle out of Probation does not become a flood of departures, we must see change to workloads: that they are not of Sisyphean proportions, we want a culture of optimism within the concept of being valued, where we have time to deliver quality practice and where we can support each other to do the same, and enjoy the pride in our work.
These are hard times and in hard times we need each other. Stay with us. We are stronger together.
Mairead Finn and Keith Stokeld
Napo would welcome stories and comments about personal experience that have led them to consider their future in Probation including those who have concerns making the transition from CRC to NPS