Staff welfare is increasingly recognised as an important part of any thriving and effective business. This can be seen in a couple of interesting bullet points of the Invitation to Tender (ITT) for the Thameslink, Southern & Great Northern Franchise (TSGN). It states (page 51 para 5.3.1) in bullet one: ‘support diversity, equality, health and well-being of the workforce’. The second bullet states ‘details of the proposed overall industrial relations strategy and resilience planning including how engagement with staff and staff representatives will be managed’.
These may not seem like significant references to employee welfare, but this is the first time these have appeared in any such ITT. This shows that the Department for Transport is aware of the issues of welfare and stress that affect people, particularly during times of organisational change, and consequently it has in some small way sought to ensure that personal resilience is a built into the workforce from the start of the franchise.
The National Rail Chaplaincy Service has been described as ‘cost-effective staff welfare’ but it should be noted that it is not a replacement for the normal chain of care provided by a company, rather a complementary service that can help reduce the levels of stress experienced by staff. As we know, stress is a feeling that affects our concentration and ability to perform efficiently in both our private and work lives. Personal resilience is the ability to control the emotional and physical effects of stress in order to prevent its impact from causing under- performance and social and physiological breakdown.
The benefits of establishing a resilient workforce include enabling the company to be able to respond rapidly to internal and external pressures, while at the same time reducing costs linked to the loss of productivity through stress; reducing costs while increasing performance is a priority of any responsible company. The National Rail Chaplaincy Service understands the need of the railway industry to focus on the psychological needs of the workforce and today there are railway chaplains covering England, Scotland and Wales. They engage with people of all levels and positions within the railway industry, helping them through a variety of issues and life situations, enhancing and complementing the chain of care provided by the individual Toc’s and bringing psychological first aid into the rail industry. It may be just a coffee and a chat, or supporting the family and colleagues of a rail worker fatally injured or in intensive care following a tragic accident. Whatever the situation, chaplains are there to help.
Just like the fire brigade or the police are on call, 95 per cent of people 95 per cent of the time don’t need a chaplain, but when they need them they’ll be glad they can call them. Often until someone is in that five per cent category they don’t understand how a chaplain can ever help. Nevertheless, increasingly chaplains are being asked to help staff following serious incidents involving trespass and suicide and the trauma associated with such incidents. One chaplain and former train guard, Richard Cook likened it to a pyramid where the pinnacle is the person struck, with more and more people affected as the pyramid spreads out – train crew, emergency services, passengers, family etc. Recently when a couple witnessed a fatality in the North of England the chaplain in Euston, Steve Rowe, was called by a BTP police officer and asked to meet the train. He was not only able to offer support to the couple but also to the on-board staff.
Day-to-day the chaplains help people with a range of issues and uncertainties, and just having someone to talk to can make all the difference. Life’s difficulties often cause crisis and confusion and can have a detrimental effect on health and well-being. People do not readily compartmentalise their lives, and so the old phrase ‘don’t bring your problems to work’ is ineffective as an imperative, and neglects the value of the whole person.
Problems at home can and do affect people in different ways; one person may cope well with marriage breakdown while another disintegrates emotionally. Regardless of an individual’s beliefs or lifestyle, the railway chaplains seek to engage with people on a personal level, building trusting relationships with individuals, although it takes time to build confidence when people are hurting. ‘We cannot prevent broken- hearts but, for railway passengers and employees alike, we try to be there to help to pick up the pieces.’
Although chaplains enter the workplace with a personal theological basis it should be noted that faith and meaning, person and community, values and beliefs, spirituality and religion are areas of life which are very important to all of us, regardless of whether we come from a particular faith tradition or none at all. Chaplains place importance on the value of the whole human person, and support the creation of community with openness and respect.
Chaplaincy is concerned with helping to provide opportunities where questions raised by life can be explored individually with a chaplain, or with others regardless of faith or lifestyle, as this is a basic pastoral concern.
Workplace stress is a concern for any organisation that recognises employees as their most valuable resource. Professional chaplains are accomplished at evoking self-understanding and vision, bringing light into the darkness and despair of life that some people experience. Spiritual and pastoral care contributes to a healthy organisational culture. Chaplains cross organisational boundaries and serve as integral members of the chain of care provided by companies for their staff. This not only helps staff to cope with the stresses of modern life, but empowers them to recognise the meaning and value of their work in new ways, and acts as a filter and release for stress and emotional conflicts within the individual.
Chaplains have accompanied people to family courts and sat and waited while decisions are made behind closed doors, as well as signposting to agencies and services.Another aspect of chaplaincy that is often overlooked is the fact that although integrated with the industry, their independence allows chaplains to cross company boundaries, and they can pull together different companies to engage with social actions.
Part of the insurance policy
Often people fail to realise the valuable resource the industry has in its National Rail Chaplaincy Service. Chris Gibb when he was chief operations officer for Virgin Trains, said he considered the National Rail Chaplaincy Service as part of the company’s insurance policy.
Much of what the chaplains do is personal and confidential. It may involve just being a sounding board for someone to talk things over with, but with such a small team they can and do accomplish a lot. The chairman of the Railway Mission, the key provider of chaplains for the National Rail Chaplaincy Service, said: ‘I am regularly impressed at the personal commitment of our chaplains to give practical and meaningful help to rail staff in difficult times. In an increasingly impersonal age, their human touch and real concern make a positive impact for many individuals.’