Heathrow Stress Survey Analysis July 2016

Executive Summary 

The survey was carried out in response to our concern about the stressful working conditions at Heathrow airport in the early part of the summer 2016. This followed a prolonged period of high staff departure, budget restraint, increased passenger traffic and exceptionally intense Border pressures.

While resilience varies, almost all those who completed the survey confirmed that they had felt more stressed working at Heathrow in the past 6 months. Requests were received from non ISU members of staff to complete the survey suggesting that others wished to voice their own concerns about their working conditions.

The survey revealed an alarmingly high level of impairment of staff’s alertness and ability to do their job with full effectiveness. This should be a serious concern to senior management given the nature of the work being undertaken by the majority of those who completed the survey and the recent decision to make officers work their whole shift on the Primary Control Point. The impact on sleep patterns and general health was equally disturbing in particular with those regularly undertaking nightshifts and while there is some evidence available to us already of individuals being absent from work with work related stress, as we have no access to sickness data we do not know the current level of absence due to work related stress.

The survey demonstrated just how ineffective the Home Office policy on stress is at Heathrow. Very few stress risk assessments have been completed. Most respondents reported that they had not been directed towards the risk assessment process when reporting stress to their managers. Many were consequently unaware of the assessments, others felt there was little point in completing them as no effective action followed. The lack of action by Border Force Heathrow to acknowledge and address growing evidence of stress across the terminals’ workforce prompted us to launch the survey which has now provided actual data in support of our concerns. We hope Border Force Heathrow will now accept these, conduct meaningful enquiry of their own and deliver urgent welfare focussed interventions to mitigate adverse welfare outcomes created by the Heathrow working environment.

Data Gathering

The survey was circulated by email over a 3-week period.  Members had the option to return the survey either electronically or to return the survey in hard copy.  The survey opened on 20 July. No closing date was given but the majority of responses had been provided by the start of August and the analysis completed on 10 August.

The short time frame for completing the survey was due to the need to obtain reliable data quickly and it is unfortunate it coincided with high levels of leave.  The survey was not given support by Heathrow management and the lack of time for front line officers to read emails, far less respond to them, has resulted in some members informing us they were unable to fill out the survey while others were unaware it was being run.

Section A

Section A gathered demographic data.

Of the responses returned the majority, 78% were from the Officer grade, with 16% from the HO grade and 5% SO grades.

78% described their role as primarily PCP, 10% worked in resourcing, and 5% in Detection. No questions were asked regarding gender, ethnicity etc.


Section B 

Section B dealt with health impacts and asked respondents if work related issues had had an impact on a range of factors recognised by the HSE as being indicators of stress.

A striking 94% of respondents stated that work had an adverse impact on their general health and their sleep patterns in the past 12 months with an equal amount reporting how tired they were. These are very high figures, indicating requirement for urgent employer duty of care intervention to tackle the issue of stress to prevent further physical or psychiatric injury. An unhealthy, tired cohort of front-line staff cannot be expected to optimise delivery of Border Security imperatives.

Specifically, in this connection, our survey reported adverse impact on alertness – 84% of those who completed the survey reported that their alertness had been adversely affected. This very high figure should also be alarming for Heathrow management given the nature of the role of the majority of those completing the report – PCP officers – and the constant examination of IT records, passengers and documents for forgeries, imposters, victims of trafficking and CT profiles.

It is hardly a surprise that sleep deprivation and tiredness will affect levels of alertness.
Coupled with the practice at Heathrow of shift extensions, utilisation and 6 day working over recent months, the data outlines the staff welfare costs of working longer hours to cover for major staff shortages.

Mood was also reported as being an issue with lower mood having a negative impact on relationships and self- esteem. 68% reported that their domestic life and relationships had been adversely affected by their work in Border Force.

68% also reported an impact on their ability to rest and recuperate on their days off between shifts, with comment that split days off did not help the situation, nor the scheduling of a high number of night shifts. A firm commitment to scheduling consecutive rest days and a maximum run of nights is required to address the issue of tiredness, as well as a reduction in shift extensions.

Other comment surrounded coming into work in a state of fear, due to severity of anticipated pressures.

Section C

This section asked questions about the impact of stress. 94% of those who answered reported that they felt more stressed at work than previously.

94% felt that this stress impaired their ability to do their job. Text comments cited that their concentration levels were badly affected, especially due to the mundane nature of the work on the PCP and the lack of respite from PCP demands. Other comment was that there was too much information and change to take on board, the lack of scheduled time to read emails and operating instructions and keep on top of changes to the rules.

Comments about poor management capability and style were also expressed, with accounts of staff feeling that managers treat them ‘like a naughty child’, for example by being made to account for going to the toilet.

The recent AHW opt in had also played a part in the increase in stress with comment also made about lower take home pay and pension changes all of which have had a negative effect on mood and employee / employer relations.

Night shift workers expressed concern not only at the level of work they were being expected to do during their shift but also their reduced alertness in the middle of the night and the increased resentment and lack of tolerance the pressure they were working under was causing them.

42% of respondents reported they had been extended on shift which then led to an increase in their tiredness and loss of sleep impacting both rest time as well as ability.

Just 57% reported they had their line manager’s support. Optimally this would be higher. However, given the overall tone of responses to this survey, it is a positive that a small majority of staff felt there was some level of immediate support.

Quite alarmingly only 10% of respondents said they had a completed Stress Risk Assessment. Comment overwhelmingly was that managers do not use this essential tool when stress is reported. Indeed, many respondents were consequently unaware of them. There was also perception from others that it was pointless completing one as no action would be taken. Such a lack of awareness and faith in the system ought to be a concern and prompt urgent remedial action by management.

5% also expressed some worry about the impact of having a Stress Assessment on how their performance would be viewed and had therefore not completed one.

Similarly, only a small number, just 10% reported they had completed an Incident and Accident form to record the impact on their mental health as a result of an event or events at work.

Overwhelmingly the view was that as this was stress, completing a report was not appropriate as it was not viewed as an accident. Others though commented that the system for recording being electronic, was too time consuming and cumbersome. With pressures on staff time, accountability for not being on the PCP, and in some locations poor availability of working IT, access to the online reporting system is a significant issue for many operational staff and would explain under reporting.

Section D

This section was short and asked questions about staff well being at work. 68% of respondents said that they had come into work while feeling unwell and 89% reported that they had left work stressed in the past 6 months.

21% reported leaving work virtually every day in a state of stress, and one even reported leaving work with serious signs of a major physical illness.

Staff are being expected to work long hours under stressful conditions. One respondent reported that despite breaking down at work they had to go back out to deal with the queue half an hour later. Being required to suspend back office tasks or progressing detained passengers to work on the PCP to prevent queue breaches added enormous mental pressure on individuals.

Staff welfare has not been sufficiently promoted and the lack of support is a real concern to us. While additional resources are now being made available to Heathrow, the majority are inexperienced and require significant support. Established staff carry greater burden but their welfare does not seem adequately prioritised by managers as evidenced by the burden on night staff and lack of breaks for PCP night officers during a 15 hour shift.

Section E

This section asked questions about coping strategies. 42% reported that they had had to take medication in order to deal with stress. This is an extremely high proportion of respondents seeking medical intervention for work-related conditions. Comments also reflected an increase in infections such as colds. Heightened susceptibility to minor ailments is a known facet of stress related illness, however more worrying still were reports of physical symptoms that could if untreated or continue lead to major health problems such as stroke and heart attack.

This concern must be given adequate attention and needs to be met