No matter the industry or organisation that you work in, there is a good chance that you will encounter staff with a variety of workplace health and well-being issues, so Managers and HR professionals need to actively manage workplace health. The charity and volunteering sector face some specific issues which can contribute to workplace health challenges and require careful management.

It is no secret that the Third Sector has seen funding challenges in recent years. Not only is government and local authority funding under tight control, but with people tightening their own budgets, they may be less likely to contribute to charities too. The Third Sector is under pressure to evidence their social and economic impact and retain the trust of its contributors. Brexit may result in a loss of funding from the EU and narrow the UK political focus.

These issues can have a knock-on effect for staff within the sector. Either increasing their workload as other staff are not able to be recruited, or relying more on volunteers. This can contribute to a variety of health issues in the workplace and requires Managers and HR Professionals to manage workplace health effectievly.

Mental Health and Stress

Some of the commonest issues that can occur in charitable organisations’ workplaces are to do with mental health and stress. Depending on the nature of your charity, the work that is carried out can be problematic and leave staff feeling emotionally exhausted. This can in turn lead to high levels of stress and in some cases anxiety and depression.

Back Care and Musculoskeletal Disorders

Another workplace issue which is one of the major causes of people taking time off work, are musculoskeletal disorders. It is important that you are aware of the working conditions of your employees. Seemingly innocuous aspects of the workplace – keyboards, mouse, display screens, furniture can result in significant harm and loss of productivity.

Absence in the Third Sector

There are some particular workplace health issues that can occur in the third sector and require you to manage workplace health. One of the most common of these is that as the organisation comes under pressure, staff can be unsure of their role and feel that their own role within the charity is regarded as unimportant. This is often a result of charities employing a mixture paid staff and those that are volunteers. This leads to a “not a proper job” mindset, which can contribute to sickness absence. There may be a fear that if absence is dealt with as you would for a paid role, that volunteers may leave their position. In addition, the pressure on resources may result on staff struggling with their workloads which in turn leads to ill-health.

The best way for charities to manage workplace health

If you suspect an employee or volunteer needs help with stress or mental health issues, start by opening a dialogue. Talk with them about their mental health and discuss workplace adjustments and flexible working which will help them to cope. Work with them to put in place those changes which will work both for them and the organisation and monitor these for effectiveness.

The key to minimising musculoskeletal disorders is to undertake effective risk assessment and training. Diligently record the planned action and follow-up to ensure those actions are being taken. Ensure staff and volunteers are persuaded that this is a significant issue for them if not taken seriously.

Communication with staff about their workplace health challenges and absence is key in reducing absenteeism. Focus on encouraging and supporting the employee or volunteer back to work. If necessary agree phased return to work plans and implement necessary reasonable adjustments. Return-to-work interviews can help identify short-term absence problems early on.

Where appropriate seek professional advice. In respect to mental health, stress or musculoskeletal related absence, early intervention by an occupational health professional can accelerate recovery and return to work. Occupational health reports can offer advice on current and future fitness for work, and short or long-term job adjustments. Occupational Health experts can work with you in planning and co-ordinating return to work plans.

The charity and volunteering sector face some specific issues which can contribute to workplace health challenges and require careful management. It is important for Third Sector organisations to manage workplace health effectively to minimise costs and optimise resources.