Why Employers Should Care About The Health & Wellbeing Of Their Employees

imagesCA091RLFHow should employers feel about their employees’ health and wellbeing and how responsible are we for our own health?

According to a recent article in HRGrapevine, a new survey by Investors in People shows that over 50% of their respondents felt employers have no regard for their health and of those employees almost 50% say it has led to them feeling less motivated with a third indicating they may look for a new job as a result. The report made me realise that there are a couple of serious questions that need to be considered before we can say that employers don’t care about their employees.

Firstly, there is a debate as to whether employers, outside the general health and safety of employees whilst carrying out their job, are actually responsible for their employee’s health and well-being. How much and what employees eat or drink, how often they exercise and how they deal with stress could be considered nothing to do with their employer unless it impacts their ability to do their job. At this point it is no longer a case of caring about an employee’s well-being and simply becomes a case of an employer managing decreased productivity, absence and even disciplinary procedures.

This then begs the question – can employers afford to ignore the general health and wellbeing of their employees if doing so leads to employee disengagement with the associated issues of decreased productivity, increased turnover and high absence and sickness costs?

Addressing the issues that arise around employee wellbeing and the broader issues of engagement and productivity could be down to a few simple measures that encourage employees to help take control of their own health and wellbeing. These could include offering free fruit, serving healthier food in a cafeteria, or providing yoga or massage sessions to help employees deal with stress or deal with muscular-skeletal issues. Other solutions employers may consider could be a full Employee Assistance Programme whilst others may need to take a closer look at their organisational culture and how well managers manage employees.

In fact there are multiple factors that influence how happy and engaged people are at work and if you are interested and want to know what does affect employee engagement take a look at our survey report on ‘The Forgotten Workforce’.

Monitoring Absence At Work Does Not Increase It

AbsenceThere has been a lot of coverage recently about getting sick people back to work. It is a big issue for most businesses – and the Government takes the loss of productivity caused by absence, particularly long-term absence, very seriously. Around 960,000 workers in Britain were on sick leave for more than a month each year between October 2010 and September 2013. To address this issue The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are launching a scheme where workers will be referred for health assessments if they are sick for more than four weeks in an effort to address the issue. It is planned that the assessments will be carried out by occupational specialists who will draw up a plan and timetable to get the patient back to work quickly. The DWP believes the scheme will save employers £70 million a year and cut the time people spend off work by 20% to 40%.

While this is good news for employers – I know from many years of discussing HR and workforce management with a wide variety of businesses that many employers really don’t know the extent of sickness absence in their organisation. Of course if it is a long term absence someone is usually missed, but believe it or not, occasionally that’s not the case and employees  are paid long after they have left the company or even this earth!  Short term, unscheduled absence is, however, frequently missed or not captured and costs employers dear in lost productivity, overtime payments and employee engagement.

When I speak to employers about tracking their absence it always surprises me that they often think real-time capture of attendance raises unscheduled absence rates.  But if they think about it – what it actually reveals is that they were unaware how bad it was in the first place!

If you don’t know to what extent absence is affecting your business and managers aren’t able to spot absence trends amongst their employees, it makes it almost impossible for them to take steps to reduce it – after all you can’t manage what you don’t measure. So next time you notice one of your employees is not at their post – ask yourself this – if you knew the true cost of employee absence to your organisation – what would you do differently?

Here’s the popular list of the Top 10 Tips to Reduce Absence

Are You Feeling SAD? – Nearly 10 Million Work Days Lost Due To ‘Winter Blues’

SAD EmployeeAccording to a report by Epson, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) could affect almost 20% of office workers. And it appears employers are hit with a double whammy – not only do they have to suffer the cost to the business of employee absence  but employee motivation can plummet too leading to lower productivity amongst those staff who do make it into work. The results of the survey highlighted the ways in which the winter months impact UK office workers, with almost half of workers rarely or never seeing sunlight on the way to work during the winter months which can cause depression, low energy levels and fatigue. Add to this the usual winter flu’ bugs and other viruses that are prevalent at this time of the year and the cost of labour to businesses is at its highest.

How do you know when an employee is suffering from SAD? If you monitor and track employee absence with a workforce management solution it would be easy to identify employees who tend to have sick days at this time of the year and managers may notice a drop in productivity and engagement at work. The ‘winter blues’ may well be more serious than just feeling a bit low; it is possible that the immune system of sufferers can be compromised. But the good news is that there are things that can be done to help affected employees.  Here are 3 simple solutions that you may like to consider:

  1.  Improve lighting and perhaps supply special daylight lamps for employees who suffer from the disorder to use at work
  2. Make workspaces brighter and more colourful and introduce creative visuals into the workplace
  3. Encourage staff to get out into the fresh air at lunch and break- times  to make better use of daylight and any winter sun that may be around perhaps starting a ‘winter-walking’ group

So if the cost of absence makes you a little SAD and you want to promote health and well-being in the office this winter, why not try introducing these simple measures and see what happens?

Manage Your Staff Well And Prevent Those Christmas Blues

Christmas BluesFor many people this is the final day of work till the New Year. Others like care workers, policemen and hospital workers will be working over the whole of the festive period. Working unsociable hours can be crucial in order to boost many people’s income and they welcome the extra money in their pay packet. For some employees, however, working unsociable hours and missing out on time with their family can lead to serious issues with their engagement and productivity. Often there is no easy solution to this thorny problem and bosses have no choice but to schedule employees to work and for many employees it is part of their contract of employment.

Of course it isn’t only during the holiday season that employers find it difficult to balance employee wishes and business goals, any periods when customer demand increases can cause issues with staff scheduling.  However, there are steps businesses can take to ensure that they minimise employee disengagement and gain tighter control of overtime costs

Managers can minimise the impact on employees and their bottom line if they are able to track and schedule their employees fairly and accurately. Controlling overtime payments and absence by scheduling those people who have spare hours available and are happy to work is a lot easier if they have the processes and technology to automatically manage employees. Making self-service shift preferences available and keeping an eye on absence levels can help managers monitor employee engagement and make informed decisions around scheduling.

You can find out more about employee engagement and how important it is to your business take a look at this white paper ‘Employee Engagement As A Competitive Differentiator’

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An Estimated £60 billion A Year Lost Due to Stress in UK

StressToday is National Stress Awareness Day and according to The International Stress Management Association (ISMA) stress is everywhere. It is one of the most common conditions experienced by people in the UK today. People going to work whilst suffering stress contribute to poor performance of businesses and services which can, in turn, be a contributor to poor care, errors, and disasters caused by lack of concentration. The financial cost to the UK has been estimated at £60 billion, that’s around £1000 per man, woman and child. The theme for this year is ‘Going the Extra Mile’ this is because the ISMA believes the energy, enthusiasm, motivation and concentration in a stress free environment, provokes people to have greater interest in others and to contribute more.

My colleague, Neil Pickering offers some thoughts on reducing stress in the workplace:

‘National Stress Awareness Day serves as a reminder to organisations of the importance on reducing stress in the workplace. Not only can stress have a negative impact on the company’s profitability and productivity, but unhappy employees can become less productive and lead to high levels of absenteeism.

However, many managers only find out an employee is unhappy in their role on the day they leave or hand in their notice, and by this time it is often too late to rectify the situation. Our recent report, ‘The Forgotten Workforce’ found only 25% of workers think their employer is very good at ensuring the right people are in the right place at the right time and 46% of respondents said that colleagues failed to turn up for shifts at least once a month. For front-line workers this directly impacts their ability to do their job, and increases stress levels whilst negatively impacting service levels. Equally 22% of workers are victim to regular unpaid overtime, leading to financial worry and concerns about paying bills and covering basic expenses, all of which continues to attribute to high levels of stress.

In order to promote a stress free culture, employees need a stronger dialogue with employers. Simple steps like recording reasons for employee absence, ensuring there is the correct number of people available for each shift and adequate means to monitor overtime can limit levels of stress in the work place, as well as increasing job satisfaction. Therefore, businesses should be looking towards workforce management solutions to help manage their workforce, and provide employees with the flexibility and control over their working hours that they need.’

How big an impact do you think stress is having on your work? Take the poll (it’s completely anonymous) and let’s find out how big the problem is and I would be interested to hear your comments:

UK Workers Take Around 365 Days Off Over Their Working Life

absenceJust last week I was blogging about absence and its back in the headlines again! The National Sickness Report recently surveyed 2,000 full-time workers to look at their current health and gauge their attitudes towards sickness. Their published findings show we spend almost a year-and-a-half of our working lives off work as there are on average 252 days in a working year.

One of the things that always strikes  me is that although sickness is an unavoidable part of working life, a  substantial number of these days are likely to be ‘sickies’ – where an employee calls in sick without actually being sick. The cost of this kind of absence can be huge and can be reduced by organisations if they improve their employee engagement and absence management.

In my experience, once an organisation introduces a clear and equitable absence policy, is able to track and monitor absence accurately and establishes processes like back to work interviews, the cost of unscheduled absence can be reduced by up to 40%. This reduction can equate to a saving of 2-3 days absence per employee per year. It gets even better if flexible working policies can be introduced.

Reducing unscheduled absence has other benefits too. It reduces the stress on colleagues who have to ‘take up the slack’ from their absent co-workers, improving engagement and can reduce the numbers of agency staff brought in to cover absence, which can affect productivity as well as drive up costs.

The report also found that stress and depression are now the most common causes of long-term absence in the workplace and require an average recovery time of 81 days; another reason to think about flexible working and to make sure that absence trends can be monitored. If an individual’s incidence of sickness absence rises unexpectedly, it could be a sign that they are struggling at work or home and a manager can then intervene and try and establish what is going on and take the appropriate action before an employee becomes too ill to work.

Absence will never be totally avoidable, people will genuinely get ill but an organisation who measures and monitors absence and has some flexibility in working patterns will be in a stronger position to sort out the genuinely ill from the employees who take a ‘sickie’ for non-genuine reasons.

Further reading:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2473674/The-average-Briton-spends-YEAR-working-life-sick.html#ixzz2ijnH8AtO

http://metro.co.uk/2013/10/24/workers-spend-almost-year-and-a-half-of-career-on-sick-leave-4159021/

http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/average-worker-takes-six-days-a-year-off-sick-120813738.html

Like Sea Levels, Absence Levels Are Rising. Is Flexible Working The Answer?

Rising Sea LevelsMore than 35 million days are lost each year to sickness absence in the UK, a Fit for Work Europe Coalition report has found – that’s a lot of lost productivity and a huge cost to organisations, and the fact that the UK has the highest incidence of sickness absence, along with Germany, is shocking although it seems par for the course.

The CIPD /Simplyhealth Absence Survey 2013 has just been published and confirms what I already suspected would happen; that the economic downturn and the fears of job losses and financial pressures that led to the small decrease reported in last year’s survey has now reversed and absence is now back up to the levels observed in 2011 and 2010. According to the survey it currently stands at an average of 7.6 days per employee. Absence levels, as usual, are highest in the public services sector (8.7 days per employee per year) and lowest in the manufacturing and production sector (6 days per employee per year).  The survey also found that absence levels tend to increase with organisation size (in all sectors). There could be many reasons for this, it could be that employees feel less visible in a large organisation, or that, relating to the 20:60:20 rule; 20% of employees that need that extra management is just a greater number in large organisations, or these organisations find it more challenging to track and manage absence in a pro-active and positive way. What many organisations may not have caught on to is that providing flexibility is as important as capturing attendance.

One important trend highlighted in the survey is that the number of employers making changes to working patterns to try and reduce long-term absence levels has increased by 20% in the last year. Health initiatives and flexible working are becoming increasingly important if organisations are going to meet the evolving needs of their workforce and reduce the incidence of sickness absence. The survey found that 70% of survey respondents that shared their experiences in the report  said that introducing flexible working opportunities in the past year has had a positive impact on absence levels. However, I believe that if organisations don’t have ways of accommodating employee preferences, capturing employee attendance and productivity and if they do not use a workforce management solution that can support mobile or home working, flexible working can offer a challenge that many organisations will be unable to meet.

If you want to know more about managing absence take a look at the Top 10 Tips to Reduce Absence and if you are considering offering more flexible working practices or are struggling to manage them take a look at this flexible working white paper.