Prospect energy workforce survey highlights stress, fatigue and heavy workloads

5 April 2022

The third iteration of Prospect’s Energy Workforce Survey was carried out in early February 2022. More than 2,700 Prospect members working across the energy industry, from electricity networks to nuclear decommissioning, were surveyed on issues such as staff shortages, stress, working hours, and concerns about fatigue and excessive workloads. The results suggest that in some parts of the sector, especially in the electricity networks, the workforce is under significant pressure.

Most survey respondents believe staffing levels are too low at the company where they work, and think their own departments are not adequately staffed for safe working. This is particularly true among electricity networks respondents; seven in ten think staffing numbers in their work team are below safe levels, while 90% think staffing across their company as a whole is too low. Similarly, most respondents report turnover of staff in their department or work team over the last year, but only a minority say that all those who left have been replaced.

Survey respondents were asked about their average total working hours per week, and those working in the distribution networks reported the longest hours (averaging 47.5 hours per week), with one in three distribution respondents saying they typically work 50 or more hours per week. Conversely, those in energy retail reported the shortest working hours (averaging 40.5 hours per week).

Long working hours are being driven in particular by standby or on-call working. Once again, this is particularly acute in the distribution networks, and to a lesser extent in transmission and conventional generation. Overall, a third of all distribution networks respondents said they typically work 50 or more hours a week; however, half of the distribution respondents who do standby said they work 50 plus hours a week, compared with only around one-in-five of those who don’t do standby.

When asked to rate their typical daily workload, a majority of respondents described it as either ‘heavy’ or ‘extremely heavy’. Respondents from the electricity networks, conventional and nuclear generation were particularly likely to rate their workloads as heavy or extremely heavy. Similarly, 55% of distribution network respondents, and 46% of those working in transmission or conventional generation, reported that they have to work more than their contracted hours to get work finished either ‘every day’ or ‘most days’.

Unsurprisingly, alongside long hours and heavy workloads, respondents also reported widespread issues with stress. When asked how often they felt overwhelmed or highly stressed at work, around one third of respondents said either ‘every day’ or ‘most days’, rising to close to 40% for respondents working in the distribution networks. Similarly, half of respondents working in distribution or in conventional generation said they found it ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to maintain a healthy work/life balance in their current role.

The survey results also call in to question the effectiveness of existing fatigue management practices. High proportions of respondents, especially in the networks, reported experience of being too fatigued to work safely in the last twelve months. Yet, of those people, less than half said they had felt comfortable telling their employers they were too tired to work. To the extent that fatigue management relies on self-reporting, these findings raise some troubling questions for employers.

Given the issues highlighted above, it is not surprising that many respondents reported that staff morale was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ at their workplace. This was particularly true for respondents working in the networks or energy retail, whilst respondents working in renewables or the nuclear industry generally reported higher levels of staff morale. Top of the list of issues causing low morale, according to respondents, is excessive workloads, which 72% of respondents identified as a factor, followed by progression/performance management (60%) and pay (47%; note, respondents could pick more than one factor).

These survey findings provide a valuable insight into current working conditions in the energy industry and will be a key evidence base for Prospect’s organising and campaigning work over the next year. Extracts from these results have already been shared with the GB energy regulator, Ofgem, and Prospect will continue to push both the regulator and employers to effectively address some of the serious issues the survey highlights.