The cost of mental health absence in SME’s
In 2017, 12.5 million working days were lost because of poor mental health in the UK alone. The estimated cost of this is around £26 billion in lowered productivity. For a company with hundreds of staff, losing a member of the team for a few days or more can be fairly easy to cover – but for SMEs, the impact of employee absence is more noticeable.
99% of UK businesses are SMEs, with 96% classified as micro-businesses employing less than 10 people. When one person’s absence means the business has lost 10% or more of its productivity, it should be clear that putting measures in place to keep staff feeling mentally and physically healthy is a worthwhile investment.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, depression and anxiety accounted for 49% of all working days lost due to ill health in the 2016/17 period, with workload pressure and a lack of managerial support cited as key contributing factors. As well as reducing these kinds of absences, wellness programmes have also been proven to boost employee engagement and encourage team collaboration. Nurturing a workplace culture that is mental health-positive and which champions emotional wellbeing is often overlooked.
Key ways to reduce stress in your workplace include things like:
Encouraging employees to take regular breaks – making sure that people aren’t afraid to take a minute to decompress if things are getting too much, and that colleagues are taking their lunch breaks rather than working through them
Have an open-door policy – offer staff opportunities to talk, and make it clear that time will be found to discuss any problems that arise whenever it is needed
Encourage a healthy work/life balance – even slight flexibility in working hours can help people to juggle their out-of-work commitments, and encouraging people not to take their work home with them will reduce the risk of employees feeling overworked or overwhelmed
Encourage collaboration – small teams have to work closely and efficiently together, and if one person is overloaded to the point of collapse it can be detrimental to everyone. Encourage teams to support each other during busy periods.
Lowest unemployment rate since 1975!
UK unemployment fell to its lowest rate since 1975 during the quarter to February 2018, as average wages overtook inflation for the first time in a year – but the data masks underlying problems with the UK workforce, including the growing number of insecure jobs, experts have said.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed industry expectations that a slight increase in wage growth – a 2.8% rise for both total and regular pay – meant pay growth was now exceeding inflation after a long period of falling below it.
The unemployment rate in the three months to February 2018 dropped to 4.2%, the lowest in more than 30 years, while employment levels climbed to a record high of 75.4%, although this raised questions around the security and quality of such employment.
Average regular pay excluding bonuses for UK workers over the period was £483 per week before pay deductions, in comparison to £469 a week the same time the previous year.
Average total pay including bonuses was £513 a week before pay deductions, a small rise from £501 per week a year earlier. Both regular and total pay therefore increased by 2.8 per cent between the three months to February 2017 and the three months to February 2018.
But while skills shortages may force wages up slightly as companies compete against each other for top talent, the rising numbers of workers with insecure employment are unlikely to benefit from long-term pay rises.
Post TUPE consultation – tribunal finds in favour of manager
A senior NHS manager who was told before a TUPE transfer that her role would be reduced by 50% – leaving her with only admin work – was constructively unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled.
She successfully claimed that she had been constructively unfairly dismissed because of its acts and omissions amounting to alleged breaches of express and implied terms of her employment. The manager had a full-time, senior leadership role, of which two days a week were worked from home. She undertook her performance and duties well and was a highly valued employee, the tribunal found.
In November 2015, her employment was transferred under TUPE and her role was changed, removing some of her responsibilities and preventing her from continuing to work from home. After several meetings, she resigned, claiming constructive dismissal. The removal of duties amounted to a breach of an express term or terms of the contract, of which there is “no doubt that the reduction in duties was a fundamental breach” at the root of the contract of employment.
The judge was satisfied that the removal of the duties and responsibilities was a key reason for the manager’s resignation. She had objected to it after she became aware of the changes and protested continuously through the process. The removal of responsibilities was cited as a reason for leaving in her resignation letter. The Judge was also critical of the “poor handling” of her grievance, in that the organisation paid scant regard to their own procedures and simply pushed their changes through without any meaningful consultation.
Shared Parental Leave – important appeal decision
Last year two cases relating to whether a failure by employers to pay enhanced shared parental pay when maternity pay was enhanced was discriminatory were brought before different tribunals. In one, the tribunal concluded that maternity leave and pay were special treatment afforded to women in connection with pregnancy and childbirth – this special treatment being something that the Equality Act 2010 specifically states no account should be taken of when assessing whether a man has been discriminated against.
However, in the second case, a tribunal found that the employer’s failure to match their enhanced maternity pay with enhanced shared parental leave was direct discrimination.
Both cases were appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). Only one judgment has been released but it is important:
The EAT found that the tribunal had made a number of errors when concluding that discrimination had occurred. It stated that the domestic and European legislation draws a clear distinction between the rights of pregnant workers, who by reason of biology are women, and the rights given to parents of either sex to take leave to care for their child. The purposes of the two sets of rights are different, as are the circumstances in which they are given – the purpose of maternity leave being for the health and wellbeing of the pregnant and birth mother, not the care of the child.
The EAT found that, even if the appropriate comparator had been a female on maternity leave, that comparator’s treatment should have been disregarded when assessing discrimination because it was special treatment in connection with pregnancy and childbirth.
It is likely that the EAT may well reach the same decision in the second appeal, upholding the tribunal’s original judgement. If it does so that will result in two decisions confirming that failing to enhance shared parental pay to match enhanced maternity pay is not discriminatory giving employers some much needed certainty on this issue.
According to experts, there are three challenges facing businesses in the UK today:
Given the rate of bankruptcy, acquisition and change in many organisations, it is essential to lead from the front in a way that encourages employees to welcome change rather than resist it. Businesses need to be flexible and agile, and this includes the way they manage, train and retain employees. Business owners who discuss change and share ideas with their teams will be more likely to gain support, than those who impose change and make sudden announcements without any prior consultation.
Research published last year suggests that on average 40% of a business professional’s time is spent in meetings – the equivalent of 60 hours a month. And in February a Deliveroo survey found that the average UK worker says 51% of the meetings they attend are a waste of time. In a world where flexible working is on the rise, this is costly.
A range of studies suggests that better morale levels boost productivity. Flexible working enables staff to be more productive and effective wherever they are – at another office location and on the move as well as at home. Research indicates that flexible working benefits staff recruitment and retention levels; this is particularly pronounced for the younger workforce.
Half of the workers in the United Kingdom are expected to be freelance by 2020. That, and the rise of flexible working, will have a profound effect on the way businesses operate. Considering how to maintain morale and retain key staff will ensure long term sustainability.
What are you doing for Stress Awareness Month?
The majority of UK employers fail to meet basic standards when it comes to supporting their staff with mental health, a study released to coincide with Stress Awareness Month has revealed.
Poor mental health is the most common reason for people to take time off work, costing businesses an estimated £10.6bn in sickness absence and £21.2bn in reduced productivity per year, according to NHS data.
However, despite 93% of employers considering workplace wellbeing to be an important business need, more than a third of companies do nothing to support the wellbeing of their staff, the new survey has shown.
The two biggest causes of workplace absenteeism were musculoskeletal problems and stress, conditions that are linked to each other and to mental ill-health. These conditions can be made worse by employee turning up at work when they are ill, or underperforming because of stress, working long hours, having excessive workloads, lack of control and poor working relations. Once again, employers are being urged to consider how to improve the mental health and wellbeing of their teams.
Social media in the workplace, are you doing enough?
Theresa May recently announced a review by the Law Commission into the laws around offensive social media communications and whether they provide the right protection for victims online. According to research cited by the commission, 28% of UK internet users were on the receiving end of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying in 2017.
The review is due to be published before the end of 2018. If deficiencies are identified, the commission expects to do further work on options for reform.
In more developments in this area, the government will publish its Internet Safety Strategy in the spring, which will include details of a new social media code of practice aimed at social media companies.
The code will be aimed at social media companies, but may contain helpful guidance for employers in terms of stamping out internet abuse. Failure by businesses to tackle online harassment not only creates an invidious environment for employees, but puts employers at risk of claims against them. Thought should therefore be given to changes to workplace policies, procedures and practice.
Putting in place a social media policy that is consistent with all other policies (including anti-harassment and bullying, discrimination and disciplinary) is an important step. Companies should raise awareness of the applicable policies, ideally through training.
A social media policy should include:
• A clear message about company expectations of the use of social media.
• Confirmation that online conduct harmful to other employees or the company, whether or not in the employee’s own time, can amount to misconduct or gross misconduct.
• A reminder that employees’ use of social media in the workplace is not necessarily private.
• Restrictions around the use of IT.
• A prohibition of harassment, bullying, discrimination and negative comments about the company, its employees, business contacts or competitors.
It is also advisable to have a policy that specifically allows for the monitoring of emails and use of the internet. Consider including similar provisions in employment contracts. Employers should, however, balance their approach to monitoring with employees’ privacy rights.
What is your business doing for Mental Health in April?
April is Mental Health month and according to a new survey, one in four workers feel their job negatively affects their mental health.
One in 10 respondents reported regularly feeling miserable at work and one in five were dissatisfied with their jobs. Workers in middle management feel particularly strained: 28% in this group said their work had a negative effect on their mental health, while more than a third said they had too much work to do.
These figures are slightly lower when considering the overall workforce, with one in four feeling their job negatively affected their mental health, and a third expressing concerns over their workload.
There are many things employers can do that make a real difference to the mental wellbeing of their employees; in particular, fostering better workplace relationships and giving employees voice and choice on aspects of their working lives. Employers are urged to ensure that all employees have a meaningful voice in the organisation via formal and informal mechanisms.
Does your organisation rely on volunteers? Are they well managed?
Many organisations rely on the support of volunteers to deliver their activities. We provide some information below on the rights of volunteers:
Volunteers do not have a contract of employment, so they don’t have employment rights.
It is recommended that volunteers are given an agreement that explains:
• the level of supervision and support they will receive and from whom
• training requirements
• information relating to insurance cover for them in their capacity as volunteers
• health and safety issues
• any expenses to which the volunteer is entitled
A volunteer agreement sets out what the volunteer can expect from the organisation but does not form a contract.
A volunteer should not be paid for time, but can receive expenses – usually limited to food, drink, travel or any equipment needed.
There is no upper age limit on volunteering. However, some organisations’ insurance policies don’t cover volunteers if they are under 16.
If a person has a criminal record they can still volunteer in most roles, depending on their offences but may have to complete a Disclosure check.
Ministerial review of the impact of zero hours and non-guaranteed hours
A minister has written to low pay experts to formally seek their views on the impact of higher minimum wage rates for those on zero-hours contracts and non-guaranteed hours.
In February, the government’s ‘Good Work’ plan responded to the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices with a series of further consultations on a number of the report’s proposals. One was the introduction a higher minimum wage rate for workers on zero or non-guaranteed hours. Business minister Andrew Griffiths, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) parliamentary under-secretary of state has written to the Low Pay Commission’s (LPC) to ask it to consider the impact of introducing a higher minimum wage rate for hours worked but not guaranteed in a contract. He asked it to assess the nature and extent of the issue identified in the review and the impact of the proposal.
Ultimately, the Government aims to ensure the ability to offer zero or short-hours contracts, or to request that an individual works longer hours than those guaranteed in their contract, but aims to compensate the most vulnerable workers for the additional flexibility demanded of them.
The LPC, currently consulting on the minimum wage, will publish its findings with its annual wage report, but this will be enlarged to take into account the impact of the broader topic of the wage proposal for zero-hours contractors. It will consider practices in Australia and the Netherlands, where zero-hours contracts are banned and revert to the Minister with recommendations.