Scottish Public Pensions Agency

Last reviewed on 24/01/2013 14:57

With input from Healthy Working Lives, the Scottish Public Pensions Agency was able to reduce stress in the workplace, leading to increased productivity and reduced sickness absence. 

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The Scottish Public Pensions Agency (SPPA) is based in the Scottish Borders and has a workforce of around 250 people.

The Agency first contacted the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives in May 2009, looking for advice about a programme to minimise an expected increase in stress levels in the workplace, associated with the introduction of a new IT system. Policy officer Kimberly Linge explains,

Information and support was avalable to help us.
Kimberly Linge
Policy Officer






‘We had an experience previously where we’d introduced new computer systems and we knew how stressful it could be for our members of staff.’

The introduction of the new IT system had been associated with high stress levels and higher than usual absence rates. Faced with a potential issue around stress in the workplace, the SPPA took pre-emptive action, including seeking advice from the local Healthy Working Lives team.

‘Information and support was available to help us,’ Kimberly says.

The solution

Healthy Working Lives provided training to help SPPA to devise a plan to minimise stress, and take a practical look at what could be done to reduce sickness absence.

The first step was to conduct a staff survey, to find out how the staff were feeling and what types of support measures they would like to see. The SPPA made several preparations for the new IT system:

  • an internal buddy system
  • workshops about the effects of stress and how to deal with them
  • training for managers to help them spot the symptoms of stress
  • step-by-step technical guides
  • IT experts on hand when the new system went live

Reduced sickness absence

By foreseeing a cause of stress and minimising its impact, the SPPA saw absence levels that were significantly lower than the previous time they had introduced a new system. Even when problems did arise, staff were better prepared and more able to cope.

‘We noticed that the level of people going off sick was much lower,’ says Kimberly.

The Confederation of British Industry calculated that staff in the UK took an average of 6.4 days off last year, with an average cost to their employers of £595 each. This adds up to 180 million sick days at a cost of £16.8 billion.

‘When things are stressful, especially if you know that you’re coming back to the same thing, it’s an awful situation to be in.’ By anticipating the problem and taking preventive action, including taking advice from Healthy Working Lives, SPPA avoided most of these issues.

Increased productivity

‘The way that you can say that there’s increased productivity is by looking at the reduced sickness absence – one follows the other,’ Kimberly says.

‘You can’t do anything if your staff are off with stress. You can’t provide a business or a service if your staff are not coping well.’

Cost savings

As in any business, the senior management at the SPPA is careful to ensure that any investment they make in the business has a demonstrable and beneficial effect. Most of the new health improvement measures incurred little or no financial cost.

‘We might have had some initial outlay, but not an awful lot in actual fact. Most of the training that we had was free, provided by Healthy Working Lives,’ Kimberly says. ‘That outlay was very, very small compared to what you would lose by having people off sick due to stress.’

Lessons learned

Thinking ahead and predicting potential issues before they arose allowed the Agency to tackle them effectively, using Healthy Working Lives as a structured approach.

Kimberly would also advise involving senior management from an early stage in the process. The Healthy Working Lives steering group has regular contact with a member of senior management who acts as a liaison,

‘I think that‘s the biggest change we’ve made,’ Kimberly concludes. ‘Better contact with the senior management team means that we can act more quickly.’


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