By Sophie Desrosiers
A five per cent hike in the number of faculty needing workplace accommodations for health reasons in the last three years has the union, Local 415, worried about the well-being of its members.
The spike was mentioned in an article in the Jan. 2013 edition of Local Lines, a paper produced by the Local 415 to keep union members informed.
The article claims nine per cent of staff required an accommodation during the 2008-2009 academic year. But by 2011-2012, that number had spiked to 14 per cent. Connie Powers, a manager in the HR department at Algonquin College has another explanation for the hike.
“We had only been reporting on accommodations that actually affected the number of hours they were working,” said Powers, who has been with the college for 20 years. Now that the college has hired an outside source, a company called Morneau Shepell, to deal with accommodations, more information is being reported. Minor accommodations, such as closer parking, in the past were dealt with more privately. “It may have gone up slightly, but the reason it peaked like that is we started reporting more information,” she said.
While Powers’ explanation makes sense, a nurse with the Algonquin College clinic still has some concerns over the well-being of faculty and staff and believes there are indeed rising numbers causing concern.
“Personally, I think a lot of it comes from the fact that they’ve increased the student population, but they haven’t increased the staff population,” said Laura Chappell, who has been a registered nurse at Algonquin since 2010. “I think that people are expected to do more with less.”
This isn’t to say the concerns are entirely centered around mental health, but Chappell, who has been practicing over 20 years, explains that stress and fatigue are common contributing factors to physical health as well. Not only are we more susceptible to illnesses when we are stressed and tired, but we are also more prone to injury.
While Chappell hasn’t been with the school long enough to comment on the faculty spike, she did notice an increase in visits on behalf of students.
“We’ve seen an increase in student numbers here,” she said. “It goes hand in hand. I believe with the increase in the students it’s got to have a backlash.”
The clinic at Algonquin College is not only open to students, but faculty and staff as well. Chappell says the strain and exhaustion is visible in faculty members at the end of every school year.
“When we see them, especially at the end of the term, they look like they’ve been to war,” said Chappell. “I think any institution, if it has been faced by that sort of issue, has a moral and ethical responsibility to look after its staff as well as its clientele.”
Powers on the other hand, isn’t as concerned and feels the college is doing everything they can to help faculty deal with mental and physical health. Health services are available to staff and faculty, and should Morneau Shepell approve a request for accommodations, the college is happy to oblige.
Contributing members of Local Lines were unable to be reached for comment.