What's on managers' minds this week

Published: 14/04/2005, Volume II5, No. 5951 Page 11

It was something of a relief to hear from the Healthcare Commission staff survey that the majority of NHS workers are relatively happy. The qualified nature of that contentment however - expressed most acutely by significant levels of employee dissatisfaction with working conditions and environment - removes any hint of complacency among senior human resources managers.

Harassment from colleagues figures prominently in the survey responses of some trusts and is causing concern. 'Getting complaints dealt with in the organisation must be a priority, ' said one primary care trust director.

A London director who anticipated these findings hopes to establish a cultural change. 'Policy language that talks about bullying and harassment makes it difficult to broach these issues. ACAS [arbitration service] raises these conversations in terms of dignity and respect, which is far more productive.' In many cases results are broadly unchanged from last year and this has prompted a muted sense of frustration. 'We would have liked to make more progress but we have to be encouraged, ' is how one manager expresses a commonly held sentiment.

Meanwhile, Agenda for Change assimilation drags on. And on.

Most HR directors are confident of meeting national targets this September. They are, in the words of one senior manager, 'adopting a cool, calm, deliberate approach that enjoys the unions' support'.

But they simply can't wait to put an end to the development of new job descriptions and the need to match these with Agenda for Change pay bands. 'The administrative burden is already taking its toll, ' says another manager, 'and with six months to go, the light at the end of the tunnel seems an awfully long way off.' This 'fatigue' promises to get worse before it gets better as the 'hard to place' cases are repeatedly deferred for further consultation.

Predictions that 40 per cent of all staff will have been assimilated into Agenda for Change by the end of the month suggest a resurgence of confidence. But directors at early implementation sites remain cautious and will be surprised if many trusts achieve the next milestone of 50 per cent by May.