A confidential survey of members of Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has revealed an epidemic of stress related illness and massive mental health issues, among people employed by charities and NGOs.

Epidemic stress levels

The survey found that 80 per cent of respondents said that they had experienced workplace stress in the last 12 months, while 42 per cent of respondents believed their job was not good for their mental health. The findings of the survey place a further spotlight on the sector, following several high profile tragedies.

Over 850 members from 238 organisations replied to Unite’s survey.

Household names

Organisations where Unite received responses include: Citizens Advice, Action for Children, Age UK, RSPCA, Save the Children, Oxfam, Mind, Amnesty International, Amnesty International Secretariat, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, Action Aid International and UK, Samaritans, CAFOD, War on Want, Global Justice, Terrence Higgins Trust, British Heart Foundation, Stroke Association, Diabetes UK and Greenpeace UK.

Of further cause for concern for the organisation’s concerned, 44 per cent of respondents didn’t believe they worked for a well-managed organisation, over a third (34 per cent) didn’t feel valued at work and four in 10 (40 per cent) didn’t feel their job was secure.

Unsafe working environment

Even more disturbingly over one in five (22 per cent) of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement ‘I work in a safe and healthy working environment’.

Although many respondents report poor morale in their organisation, 92 per cent also stated that they ‘believed in the work they do. Indicating the organisation’s concerned are often tempted to exploit the goodwill of their workforce.

In response to the survey Unite is stepping up its efforts to ensure that its representatives have the tools to tackle stress and mental health problems in the workplace.

Workplace support

A guide to how representatives can challenge employers on workplace issues that cause mental health problems and stress has been produced. Reps are also being encouraged to sign up for mental health awareness training.

Quotes from anonymous responders to the survey include: “I have no autonomy and limited support from HR. My job is slowly killing me. I have been grabbed twice by my manager, subjected to enforced hugging, eye rolling, muttering under her breath and humiliation at meetings in front of others. I have either been told about (by other alleged victims) or directly witnessed bullying of nine other former colleagues.”

 “I have left as I could no longer put up with the misery of it all. Final straw in a meeting where my manager yelled at me and I handed in my notice on the spot.”

“Its a strange phenomenon to by bullied by management/employer who is a charity, so many things about this employer are great, but some very wrong and 'they' can't see it nor understand.”

“I have currently been signed off sick by my doctor due to stress related illness. This was due in no small part to bullying and mismanagement on the part of my line manager. My morale is at an all time low and I feel disconnected from my workplace even though I have been there for over 15 years.”

Disturbing survey

Unite national officer for charities and the voluntary sector Siobhan Endean said: “The survey’s findings are profoundly disturbing. While some charities and NGOs are committed to ensuring their staffs’ welfare it is clear many are not.

“Staff employed by charities and NGOs tend to be very committed to their organisation and are usually loathe to speak out as their fear it will damage the cause they work for. However, many workers are clearly at breaking point.

“It is impossible to get away from the stark fact that the catastrophic cumulative impact of austerity cuts on the sector and mismanagement of dedicated and passionate workers is making them ill and creating widespread misery.

“However this is no excuse for them to challenge the long hours, excessive workloads and bullying which members say is a huge factor in mental health and stress problems. They must stop exploiting the goodwill of their workers.

“It is impossible to get away from the stark fact that catastrophic mismanagement of dedicated and passionate workers is making them ill and creating widespread misery.

“Unite is putting employers on notice that management has to change and they need to work with our representatives to tackle these problems that are at epidemic levels.”


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235.

Email: [email protected]

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.