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Environment Agency appoints stress guru

COMPLAINTS OF over work, poor management and lack of communication have forced the Environment Agency to recruit a stress buster.

The high level stress supremo will be appointed on a short term contract next month. They will implement the stress management policy agreed by the Agency in December over a four month programme.

In 1999 an environmental health officer asked the Agency to change its working practices and develop a stress policy after investigating the case of flood defence engineer Michael Ryan (NCE 14 October 1999).

Under the new policy, awareness will be spread of the Agency's stress policy. The findings of an assessment into staff attitudes to the Agency's stress management will be acted upon.

The assessment, held as a series of focus groups, found that staff 'do not feel listened to when consulted'; that its appraisal and pay performance system is 'poorly managed, leading to inconsistent and unfair judgements' and that staff had excessive workloads due to 'poor planning processes'.

The Agency's stress policy says it aims to create 'a culture of open, two way communication' and give managers specific training in stress management. A new handbook for staff will help to achieve this.

Environment Agency board member Alan Dalton, who has been critical of the Agency's management of stressed staff, warned this week that an external assessor would be needed to monitor the stress buster's work.

'There is still concern that the monitoring of our stress policy needs to be right, ' he said. 'We need an authority on stress issues to look at our programme in three to six months time so they can validate that we are actually reducing stress levels in the Agency.

'We're still not confident that we can move this forward internally.' Dalton claimed his plan to appoint an independent stress assessor has the backing of several Agency board members.

It is understood that stress expert professor Carey Cooper from University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology has been sounded out.

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