What is your business doing to support work-related stress?

This week, the International Stress Management Association is promoting a whole week of awareness-raising for global businesses and it is National Stress Awareness Day in the UK on Wednesday.

Last year, half of all employee absence was due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
The Government puts the cost of lost productivity and performance through mental ill health at £42bn a year for employers. It also found that 300,000 employees lose their jobs each year because of stress.

So what can businesses do to promote the wellbeing of our workforces and support those who are suffering?

A recent study found that 40% of us check our emails between 6-20 times per day and a third of us check our phones during the middle of the night. Organisational cultures that “assume” that staff are always available can be damaging to mental health and create pressure to continuously check email and worse still, respond to unsociable hours’ messages. Provisions for improving and promoting mental wellness at work need to be communicated top-down.

Promote mental wellbeing
Businesses that undertake a preventative approach to mental wellbeing see significantly higher levels of employee engagement and satisfaction. Leading by example, managers should support sensible working hours, encourage employees to take lunch breaks and annual leave, and to recuperate after busy periods. Benefits should focus on the financial and emotional – as well as the mental and physical – wellbeing of employees.

Tackle the cause of work-related mental health problems
Regularly monitoring and assessing the mental health of employees might seem to be a difficult proposition. But anonymous company-wide employee surveys and line manager check-ins can help to gauge company and individual mood. Survey data can be used to establish wellbeing benefits and strategies, while one-to-one feedback allows managers to take positive action on an individual level.

Support staff who are experiencing mental health problems
According to surveys, one in six workers are dealing with a mental health problem, yet less than a quarter of managers have received any form of mental health training. Organisations should have clear policies on workplace adjustments for those suffering anxiety, stress or depression.
Any adjustments to the employee’s role should, of course, be discussed and agreed with them, but often the most effective changes are of attitude, expectation or communication on the line manager’s part.

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How can you tell if your staff are disengaged?

We are hearing much about employee engagement and the importance of engaged employees as a means of driving productivity at work.  But according to a new survey, only 10% of employees in Western Europe are engaged at work.

So how can you spot when employees are disengaged?

Missing deadlines

Employees who constantly make excuses for missing deadlines (or just don’t care) are likely to be disengaged and the time to deal with this is at the first sign. Don’t wait until the deadlines become critical – connect with your employees to ensure that they are on track, motivated and dedicated to meet the deadline.

Lack of communication

When an employee becomes withdrawn and stops sharing with colleagues and managers what they’re doing, it indicates a certain lack of engagement.  Just 12% of employees are asked regularly about what would improve their experiences at work. Simply by asking employees what makes a great employee experience can make a difference – not only can you find out how to design great experiences, but they’ll appreciate being asked.

Regular complaining

Every company has those who may be more vocal about things they don’t like than others, but recognising when an employee has valid complaints is important to understanding the culture in the organisation as a whole. Asking employees what matters most to them in the workplace is often a question that many businesses never ask.

Low quality of work

There could be a number of reasons why an employee may be consistently delivering poor work.

Ensure you’re supporting line managers to give clear, concise and time-specific feedback so that employees know what is expected, how they can step up, and what they need to do next time to address this.

Lack of ownership

‘It’s not my problem” is a common response from someone disengaged with their role and the company.

Finding things that they do care about in their role, even if it’s just one element, is key to changing the mindset of these employees.

Changing tasks among a team can often revive disengaged employees, with certain team members thriving do certain tasks that others really don’t get any enjoyment out of.

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Fraudulent personal injury claims – insurers bite back

An employee of the car manufacturer, Mini, who tried to sue his employer for £1million in damages has had his case struck out after he was caught faking his injury.

The employee claimed that he suffered an electric shock which caused him to lose the use of his right arm whilst working on an assembly line. However, insurers acting on behalf of the employer secretly filmed him driving and working at a local car repair workshop where he was seen using his right arm without problems.

He has subsequently faced with a bill for £100,000 to cover the court costs of his fraudulent claim and is facing additional criminal charges.  Increasingly insurers are using private investigators to flush out fraudulent personal injury claims as there is an ever growing culture of  “settlement” in such cases. This is a lesson to anyone thinking of “faking” a claim!

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How do you deal with religious holidays?

In the UK there are a wide range of different religions that may have celebrations or holidays, affecting the workplace.

Religious participation will vary with the individual’s beliefs and the festival in question and employers are not legally obliged to grant requests for leave on religious grounds. Some participation during festivals and holy days may affect employees whilst they work and this requires planning and consideration.

Employers and employees who discuss and plan requests in good time are likely to minimise any impact of such requests – keeping the requirements of the business in mind will help to balance any requests against this.

Holy days and festivals may mean some employees wish to attend additional religious events. While some of these are tied to specific times, others may provide the opportunity to attend a service at different points during the day.

There is no right that guarantees employees time off to attend religious services, but it is good practice for employers to accommodate requests where possible, although this will depend on the overall level of demand for time off and the requirements of the business. Time off can be given as unpaid, or as holiday leave or with an arrangement to work back time – there is no obligation for paid time to be granted.

Employees remaining in the workplace may also wish for a private space for prayer or meditation. Employers may have prayer rooms for such purposes but if not, designating such a space temporarily at certain times of the day (based on employees’ requests) can be a help.

Many workplaces have employees from different religious and non-religious backgrounds. Encouraging greater awareness and understanding of these backgrounds can be rewarding, particularly in terms of team building. It can also help to reduce the chance of misunderstanding and help build a more diverse workplace.

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The age of Whistleblowing employees

There have been widespread reports recently of whistleblowing in the NHS and an award of £1.2m was made in a whistleblowing case against an NHS trust in Cornwall, to a whistleblower who was sacked for disclosing poor practice. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 provides protection for workers reporting malpractice by their employers or third parties. The Act creates two levels of protection for whistleblowers:

The dismissal of an employee will be automatically unfair if the reason, or principal reason, for their dismissal is that they have made a ‘protected disclosure’.

Workers should not be subjected to any detriment ‘on the ground’ that they have made a protected disclosure. Any disclosure needs to be both ‘qualifying’ and ‘protected’. Merely gathering evidence or threatening to make a disclosure is not sufficient. The disclosure must be made on one of the following grounds, which shows one or more of the following has happened, or is likely to happen:

  • A criminal offence
  • A breach of legal obligation
  • A miscarriage of justice
  • A danger to the health and safety of any individual
  • A danger to the environment
  • Deliberately concealing any of the above

There must also be a reasonable belief that the information will show one of these failures and that the disclosure is in the public interest.

For an employer to have an effective whistleblowing regime, it needs to foster a culture where staff feel safe to make disclosures. There must be a defined procedure for reporting and relevant training should be provided on both how to handle and make disclosures. The whistleblower needs to be safeguarded and supported, and staff should be made aware that any victimisation will lead to disciplinary action.

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Gender Pay Gap reporting: what now?

Almost every newspaper, news feed and business journal reported on the Gender Pay Gap last week. But what will happen now? Will anything change?

The Regulations have succeeded in highlighting the different business’ structure and seniority and salary of women within those businesses.  But most importantly the issue of equal pay has come under scrutiny. Employees want to know that they are receiving equal pay for equal work and this is resulting in more open discussion within those businesses.

What now? Businesses need to examine their pay review processes, ensure tangible measures are in place so that the process is transparent and fair and ensure that managers are trained to recognise their own bias.  Reviews should be calibrated so that fairness can be demonstrated.

Ultimately, more senior managers need to consider diversity and inclusion, the challenges that these issues pose in the workplace and their plans for addressing them. Without this consideration, nothing will change and gap will not close in large businesses.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has suggested that in addition to gender pay gap reporting, companies and public organisations will have to move towards reporting pay gap information by ethnicity, age and job grade and this is likely to mean changes occurring in 2019 onwards.

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VAT fraud prevention for online businesses

New rules will make online marketplaces accountable for value added tax (VAT) fraud committed by sellers using their platforms. The rules are intended to clamp down on sellers based in the UK or overseas who fail to pay the correct amount of VAT due when they sell in the UK.

In addition, the new legislation also makes online marketplaces liable for VAT where they knew, or should have known, that an overseas online seller should have been VAT-registered but was not. Marketplaces must now also make sure that sellers using their platforms display a valid VAT number on the site, when they are given one. That, HMRC explains, will help buyers make an informed choice about buying goods from VAT-registered businesses.

Whilst the honest majority pay what they owe, some businesses that sell goods online to UK shoppers are failing to pay the correct amount of VAT. This unfairly undercuts businesses trading in the UK that play by the rules, abuses the trust of buyers, and deprives the Government of revenue.

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When is the gender pay gap most noticeable?

According to research, the gender pay gap is most noticeable when women working full time, turn 50. At that point they will, on average, be earning more than £8000 a year less than their male counterparts, according to the TUC. It has also confirmed that women working full time earn less than men annually at every stage of their careers from the age of 18. For the average young woman aged between 18 and 21 and working full time, she can expect to start her career earning £1845 less than her male peers.

By the time they reach the 22 to 29 age bracket, those women will on average be earning £2305 less than full-time working men of the same age, and by the time they hit 30, the gap is £3670 a year. Women aged 40 will see the gap in annual earnings more than double compared to those aged 30, reaching £7400.

The brunt of the gender pay gap is, however, when women reach aged 50. The longer-term impacts of being in lower paid work with few promotion prospects are particularly felt at this age, while caring responsibilities also continue to have an effect.

The result is that women in their 50s experience a pay gap of £8421 a year compared to their male counterparts.

The TUC is calling for the Government to take action on a number of fronts, including requiring smaller employers to report on gender pay, introducing mandatory equal pay audits, and improving pay for “women’s work” through investing in key sectors such as social and nursery care.

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Statutory wage increases benefit productivity and industrial design

Wage rises under the UK government’s National Living Wage have added £40m to the pay bill in Scotland, but have also helped create happier and more skilled staff. Up to 2.5 million workers will benefit from increases in statutory minimum wages this which recently took effect.

Workplaces are evolving as a direct result of the National Living Wage and in many cases it is no longer cost-efficient to have people performing the most basic tasks. Instead, many of these roles are being automated or given to younger trainees, with more expensive staff asked to take on more demanding and rewarding tasks and responsibilities in order to maximise salary increases.

In a survey of more than 500 workers, it was found that satisfaction with work had increased for 62% of those workers questioned. 53% said that they received more opportunities for training than two years ago and 49% said that they were trusted to take on more responsibilities.

The UK government’s National Living Wage, payable to over-25-year-olds, went up to £7.83 an hour from £7.50, while the rate for 21-to-24-year-olds increased by 33p to £7.38. There was a 30p rise to £5.90 for 18-to-20-year-olds and a 15p increase for 16- and 17-year-olds.

The Scottish Government encourages employers to sign up to the accredited Scottish Living Wage, which is calculated on a cost of living basis, according to what employees and their families need to live. This ‘real’ Living Wage rate is currently £8.75 across the UK – including Scotland – and £10.20 in London. The real Living Wage rates are reviewed every year, with new rates announced in November. The accredited Scottish Living Wage is managed by Living Wage Scotland, which was set up in 2014 to increase the number of employers in Scotland who are recognised for paying their staff the Living Wage.

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Gagging clauses should be illegal in sexual harassment cases.

A leading human rights organisation (Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) has said that employers should be legally prevented from asking employees to sign confidentiality or ‘gagging’ clauses in sexual harassment cases.

The main thrust of EHRC’s recommendations is to introduce legislation that would make any future confidentiality clauses in non-disclosure agreements void, and to investigate how their ability to silence past instances of sexual harassment could be removed.

It has become common in many industries when reaching a financial arrangement with an employee who may have made allegations of sexual harassment against the employer, and who can bring a legal claim, to ask them to enter into a settlement agreement. This means that the employee cannot then pursue a tribunal claim against the company relating to those matters. It is common as part of those terms of the settlement agreement to include a confidentiality clause – and sometimes a ‘non-bad mouthing’ clause.”

The use of such clauses has long been viewed with suspicion and they have been blamed for allowing cultures of harassment to flourish and individuals accused of wrongdoing to go unpunished. The EHRC has found that only one in four victims of sexual harassment saw any action taken by their employers. With senior colleagues the most common perpetrators of sexual harassment, it’s clear that power is a major factor in those committing these acts.

King said that banning such clauses may well have the desired effect on increasing transparency inside organisations.

Other recommendations put forward by the EHRC include placing a greater responsibility on employers to publish their sexual harassment policies, and for the government to introduce a legal duty on employers to take effective steps to prevent harassment occurring in the workplace.

The EHRC’s research shares evidence gathered from around 1,000 individuals and employers between December 2017 and February 2018.

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