11 million days and counting
By Helen Taylor
Over 11 million days each year are lost due to work-related stress according to the Health and Safety Executive. The true socio-economic impact of these lost days each year is probably not fully quantifiable but the scale of the loss must mean the impact is significant. Employers can therefore no longer afford to ignore this problem and focus just on physical well-being.
Unfortunately, the law on stress is not set out in one place and is piecemeal, which means it is often difficult for employers to fully appreciate the scope of their obligations. Duties are set out in various pieces of legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. A further dimension is added as employers also have implied duties, including the obligation to provide a safe system of work. Taking these duties as a whole, employers must however ensure that their staff are not exposed to excessive levels of stress when at work.
A nod to these legal duties in terms of working practices may minimise the risk of a legal claim but may not provide the support staff need. In tackling the issue, management needs to address the main contributors to workplace stress such as excessive workloads, long hours, bullying and harassment; all these factors should not be ignored as they have a negative impact on staff retention and engagement, absence levels and productivity.
Given the scale of the problem, employers do need to act. A shift in approach does not need to involve a large amount of time and resources. As a starting point, there are some simple but effective strategies that can be adopted:
– Have clear polices which create a supportive working culture and provide managers with guidance as to how to deal with performance management, bullying and attendance issues.
– Encourage more conversations about stress. Talking will help you to understand the causes and therefore put in place the right support when it is most needed.
While these simple steps may provide a solution today, employers will also need to gear up and look to the future.
Management research and HR studies are identifying that changing demographics mean employers will need to consider new ways of supporting staff by being more aware of their needs and wishes to create the winning workplace. One thing is clear, employees want to ensure that they have both the mental and physical wellbeing to work for as long as possible in the most productive and efficient way. To attract and retain the best talent, the means of providing the right workplace culture to support employees in fulfilling these aspirations will need to be at the top of the HR agenda.
In line with these findings, the government wants to encourage more discussions about disability and health conditions in the workplace. The introduction of a framework for reporting on disability, mental health and wellbeing for larger employers although voluntary is one step in that direction.
If work related stress is the growing epidemic that the level of lost hours is indicating, then employers need to act now.
Helen Taylor is principal solicitor at FG Solicitors
Romance and the workplace: should employers regulate?
Recent studies indicate that one in five people met their significant other through work. This outranks online dating, introductions through mutual friends and meeting at a bar or club.
Therefore, when it comes to an employee’s right to a private life and the employer’s right to protect its business interests, it is crucial to adopt a balanced framework and accompanying policies. Such policies should express clearly that a company has no wish to interfere in the private lives of their employees, however it is necessary to ensure that all employees, regardless of their seniority or job title, act in an appropriate and professional manner at all times.
The impact of romantic relationships in the workplace varies, and although it may be argued in some cases that the success of a company can be measured by the success of these relationships. It is important to acknowledge the risks and dangers office relationships can have to the culture, performance and integrity of the business.
Employers face having to deal with an increase in personal relationships at work. Whether its personal spats invading a professional environment, pillow talk risking the confidential integrity of the business or the effects of divorce between staff members, it is pertinent for employers to implement relevant policies to protect business interests and effectively run their organisation.
Encouraging honest communication between an employee and employer is vital. Employers should establish with staff members their expectations that employees will keep their private and professional life separate to avoid the risk of relationships crossing over departments or individuals entering into relationships for their own professional gain, the company must consider the necessary safeguarding measures.
The initial precautionary step an employer can take, is to review the current staff handbook for any existing regulations concerning workplace relationships. In order to effectively manage any potential negative issues, employers may want to implement guidelines that employees must adhere to. For example, a company can require employees to notify and disclose an ongoing close relationship for which a relevant impact assessment can be carried out. This way the business is aware of the type of relationships that are developing, can manage the potential problems which may occur and identify what steps need to be taken to protect the business. In addition, an employer can apply policies which prohibit any romantic associations between staff.
The drafting of such policies should be tailored to the company’s needs and interests, with emphasis on the core fundamentals an employer expects of its staff. It should inform the individual that their conduct is to act appropriately and in the best interests of the company, without any impairment of their judgement or undue influence on their behaviour from their significant other. To maintain an honest and transparent relationship with the company to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. To act with integrity, therefore avoiding any preferential treatment between senior level staff and their juniors. Finally, to retain a professional manner in all dealings with and on behalf of the company, including their etiquette when communicating both internally and externally with their partner.
FG Solicitors are experts in all areas of Employment Law and HR and we can guide your business through any difficulties you may face like this one. Feel free to call us on 0808 172 9322 for a no obligation discussion.