INSIGHTS

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When Stress Becomes A ‘Problem’ – And How Employers Should Deal With It

Stress is a typical response to an increase in the demands and pressures in our lives. And a small amount of stress isn’t actually a bad thing. It’s good for instilling a sense of urgency, keeping you on your toes and primed for action. But too much stress is counterproductive – and extreme stress can tip us over into very dangerous territory indeed. It can threaten our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing; damage our performance and erode our relationships. Stress is something we all need to understand and watch out for…

The Psychological & Physical Signs Of Stress

Prolonged and/or excessive stress can have significant consequences on a person’s psychological as well as their physical wellbeing. Psychological consequences of stress include irritability, anxiety, low self esteem, and feeling overwhelmed. Physical signs of stress include chest pain, dizziness/feeling faint, hair loss, excessive sweating and insomnia. Experts believe these physical responses to stress are due to the body’s automatic release of cortisol and adrenaline in response to perceived danger (the fight or flight response). Producing high amounts of these hormones can make a person feel physically unwell and affect their long term physical health.

Behavioural Signs Of Stress

These psychological and physical consequences of stress can lead to behavioural changes, some of which may be noticeable in the workplace such as reduced concentration and motivation, shirking responsibility and poor performance.

So When Does Stress Become A Problem?

Stress becomes a problem when it significantly affects the emotional well-being of the individual and/or their ability to function at home, work, or in personal relationships.

What To Do If An Employee Is Suffering From Stress

Whilst there is no specific law in relation to an employer’s obligations to managing stress levels at work, under the Health & Safety at Work Act, employers have a responsibility to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of staff.

As such, we would recommend the following approach:

1. Keep Your Eyes Open

Despite the increased coverage of stress and mental health issues in the media recently, for many people it’s a very difficult subject to bring up. But, as a responsible employer you should keep an eye out for employees displaying any of the psychological, physical or behavioural signs of stress mentioned above. And if you see someone struggling, you have a responsibility to address it.

2. Have Open Dialogue

Whether you bring it up or they come to you, the best thing you can do when talking with someone about their stress or mental health is to listen to what they have to say and validate how they feel. Having their symptoms acknowledged and taken seriously can make all the difference.

3. Bring In Practical Steps to Reduce Work Stress

If you both feel that work is a contributing factor to an individuals’ stress levels consider practical steps such as

  • flexible working
  • clarifying roles and responsibilities
  • training or support to help manage their workload
  • introducing new channels of communication or an alternative line management structure

4. Consider Getting External Help

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are a great way to offer support to your staff. They will often come in the form of a telephone helpline and/or website with the option of telephone and face-to-face counselling. There are companies that provide these services and they often aren’t too expensive. And as a bonus, some schemes will offer you additional services such as employment law or tax advice. If someone is seriously affected and taking time off, work you can also look at setting up occupational health referrals, whereby you will pay a health professional to meet with the employee and make an assessment about how best to deal with the employee. Health insurers like BUPA and other employee wellbeing companies can help set these up for a fee. Importantly with both of these suggestions, if you end up further down the road with a dismissal or resignation related to mental health issues, getting and expert medical opinion and offering staff an EAP will also show to a tribunal that you have supported your team and that you have gone a fair way to meet your ‘duty of care’ as an employer.

For many, pressures associated with work can increase over the summer holidays and make it a particularly difficult time of year for those with mental health issues or who suffer from stress. Whether this is due to an increased workload for those covering for colleagues on holiday or the stress of juggling work and child care when the kids are off school – things may get too much for some. So keep a watchful eye over your team over the next few weeks and make sure no one’s suffering in silence.

 

For further advice and support on any other HR issues contact theHRhub today on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at hello@thehrhub.co.uk

 

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Do You Need To Send Your Staff Home If It’s Too Hot?

Here in the UK there’s no telling how long warm weather is likely to last. In fact, you often can’t even rely on the weathermen to give you an accurate outlook, so it’s just a case of enjoying it while you can, or if you’re very typically British, hoping and praying that it ends soon.

But there are a couple of things that you CAN guarantee when the temperatures start to soar….

Beer gardens will be packed full of punters. You won’t be able to find any burgers in the supermarkets for love nor money. You’ll be bombarded with leaflets from your local barbecue equipment supplier. And up and down the country, clammy office workers will be throwing open the windows and counting down the minutes until 5pm.

No one wants to be at work when the weather’s glorious outside, but as an employer, what are your responsibilities when it comes to maintaining a comfortable working environment?

Currently, no concrete legislation exists on temperatures at work

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that the temperature in the workplace must be “reasonable”. There is, however, no maximum temperature. What constitutes as reasonable is open to interpretation, but you should consider the nature of your workplace, and the kind of work that is being carried out. It goes without saying that if the temperatures hit the 30s, then workers carrying out manual jobs outside are going to experience discomfort, and you need to consider their general health and wellbeing, as well as reconsidering any performance targets that they might have.

Workplace polices in the UK don’t tend to cover this either

Worrying about warmer weather and the impact that it might have on your workforce is something that we rarely experience in the UK. We’re more likely to have to think about how our staff will get into work if a snowstorm brings the roads to a standstill, or what will happen if the heating packs in during the darkest depths of winter.

But you do need to take the health and comfort of your employees seriously….

The bottom line? Exercise some common sense. Keep the best interests of your staff at the front of your mind. In practical terms, this might mean: 

  • Introducing air conditioning – although you’ll need to make sure it doesn’t get too cold!
  • Turning off lights/electrical appliance when not in use – these can contribute to the heat levels in the office
  • Amending the dress code – with a focus on lightweight, breathable clothing
  • Supplying desk fans – but make sure they are properly tested and always turned off outside office hours
  • Keeping the water cooler topped up – staying hydrated is more crucial then ever when the mercury rises
  • And lastly, try and enjoy it while it lasts! – it’s almost definitely not going to last long…

theHRhub is the ultimate online support system for startups and SMEs. We offer expert HR advice, a lively members forum and all the tools as templates you need to manage your team effectively. Find out more here

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What To Do When You Know Someone Is Pulling A Sickie

Whilst pleasant weather normally brings a smile to most folks, it can also bring a touch of The ‘Sicknote’ in some… According to a YouGov poll, 19% of British workers has lied about being sick to get off work in the last year. If these figures are right, that means that potentially, 1 in 5 of your team has pulled a sickie over the last 12 months. So it’s definitely something to watch out for, particularly when the mercury starts to rise.

But what do you do when you suspect one of your team might be pulling a fast one and you don’t know how to call them on it?

Keep A Cool Head – This Is What Policies Are For

You might be tempted to leap into a stern word on the phone or get on their case when they return. But tread carefully. If you suspect that an employee of yours is guilty of lying about their sickness, it falls under misconduct and therefore should be dealt with under your written disciplinary policy in a formal way. Hopefully this has been already communicated to your team members when they joined the business, but if not, you need to clearly outline it to them.

Gather Evidence

The first part of a disciplinary process will normally be to undertake an investigation to see what evidence you can find to corroborate your suspicions and therefore even whether a disciplinary is actually necessary. Having a ‘feeling’ therefore is not exactly firm evidence. Nor is someone just being active on social media (if you’re connected on any medium you may be able to see their activity) necessarily evidence of lying – as we all know that updates can be made within seconds. Updates which include selfies of them lounging about by a pool or sitting in a beer garden may prove more interesting (!), but still need to be investigated (take screenshots) and the employee given a chance to explain before any action is taken.

Hold A Return To Work Interview

Even if you have none of these,I would recommend speaking to your team members on their return, and hold what we in HR call a ‘return to work interview’. Explain your concerns about their sickness and the impact it had on the rest of the team. You might not be able to prove that they were off for the reason they gave, but this sends a strong message that they can’t pull the wool over your eyes – without getting too heavy. In most cases this is enough to nip this type of behaviour in the bud.

TheHRhub is the ultimate online HR support service for Startups and SMEs – providing software, templates, expert advice, whitepapers and up to date news and views, straight to your mobile or tablet. It’s like having an HR director in your pocket but without the price tag!

Call us on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at hello@thehrhub.co.uk for a no-strings chat about your HR needs.

HR Housekeeping For The Summer Break

For many businesses, the pressure eases off slightly over the summer months when customers and clients are away on holiday. This downtime can be an important opportunity to address those admin tasks you’ve been putting off to help clear the decks and ensure you deliver the rest of the year with aplomb.

Here’s a checklist of the important HR tasks to address during the summer slowdown:

Consider your cold, hard figures

When some leaders think about HR, they think about fluff without any real substance. But we’re now long gone from the days of it being known as the department of “tea and tampax” (genuinely how the function was described to me when I first joined….) and HR has evolved into something the smart money knows isn’t just a ‘nice to have’. In fact, it’s completely non-negotiable if you’re serious about sustainable growth. So with this in mind, and considering the fact that we’ve just come to the end of another financial year, it’s time to look at your numbers. How much are you spending on staffing? And more importantly what activities are bringing the greatest return on investment? Only once you know where you are, can you create a map to where you want to be.

Look At Your Leadership Funnel

Who are the managers of tomorrow, who is their back-fill and how are your developing them all to prepare for their next move? L&D doesn’t need to cost the earth – a lot can be done in-house through on the job training and mentorship. Individuals should also take responsibility for their own learning too – keeping themselves up to date with the latest trends in their business function.

Review Your Hiring Strategy

If gaps are appearing in your staff and you’re looking to recruit in September think now about how you can attract the best talent possible and how will they be on boarded to set them and the team up for success? Is there anyone internally who, with the right support and training, could take on the role instead?

Give Your Company Culture An MOT

Is it what you’d hope it to be when you set out or is it veering off course? As leader, it’s for you to set the tone of the business and reign things in if they go astray. Of course it’s only right that your culture is shaped and adjusted when you bring in new talent, but your core values (and, more importantly how these are demonstrated in practise) should remain constant. Step back and ask yourself if this is really the case and think about how to implement any changes you need to make.

Refresh Your HR Policies

Yes I know there’s always something more pressing to do than update your HR policies. Truth is, you never experience their true value until you need to use them. And if you don’t have the necessary policies in place when you need them, it’s too late.

Surprisingly there are only 3 policies that are required by law.

These are:

But there are also a number of policies that you should provide because they have legal minimum requirements.

These are:

Pay Legally you must pay your employees at least the National Minimum wage and ensure Equal Pay; you must also provide an itemised pay statement and not make any unauthorised deductions from employees pay
Equal Opportunities Legally you must not discriminate against staff or allow harassment and bullying and you must make reasonable adjustments for staff in the work-place if they are disabled
Working Hours and Overtime including rest-breaks and holidays Legally  you must comply with Working Time Regulations provisions for employees and workers
Sickness policy and unauthorised/authorised absence Legally you must make statutory sick pay payments to employees and allow them time off for dependant emergencies, Jury Service etc.
Maternity, Adoption, Paternity Leave, Parental Leave and Shared Parental leave You must make statutory maternity / adoption / paternity payments to employees and give the appropriate leave
Flexible Working You must consider all employees flexible working requests

There are few other policies that you could  consider to ensure consistency within your business. For example:

  • Personal e-mail / Internet Usage
  • Dress Codes
  • Data Protection
  • Expenses
  • Smoking
  • Holiday

Ensure Everyone Knows Where They Are Headed For The Rest Of The Year

Energise the team on their return to work by recapping on the objectives for the end of the year and where their individual contributions fit into the bigger picture. After the summer holidays is a good time to galvanise some team spirit with an away day, so you could start planning now – and don’t worry they don’t need to cost the earth… Check out our article here

Book Yourself In For An HR Health-Check

The vast majority of business owners do everything they can to comply with relevant employment legislation and create practices and policies that make their workplace a happy environment. Let’s be honest though – we all have constraints on our time, and it’s not always possible to go the extra mile. If you know that you’ve been putting HR on the backburner, then there’s no time like the present to review how you’re really performing, and what you could do to improve your business.

If you’d like a little ad-hoc assistance without committing to a tying contract, then you’re in luck. Our HR health-check service is just the ticket if you feel like it could be time to step back and take stock, before creating your plans for the future.

Drop us a line at hello@thehrhub.co.uk or give us a call today on 0203 627 7048 to book yourself in or find out more.

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Should You Have A Summer Dress Code For Your Employees?

There are some pretty weighty issues kicking around in the world of employment at the moment. We’re still in the dark about what will happen as a result of Brexit. No one really knows just yet how the new government will be assembled. But the temperatures have been hitting some pretty lofty heights recently, so there are more pressing issues on a lot of people’s minds…

Like what exactly you’re supposed to wear for work when the mercury is hitting 30 degrees…

Specified Dress Codes Might Need To Be Amended In The Summer Months

Do you have a dress code policy for your employees? Then it’s worth considering whether it needs to be revised over the summer months. It’s the kind of thing that you won’t regularly give much thought to, but when the baking heat hits us, it’s the only thing that your staff can talk about.

You might decide that it’s the reasonable thing to do to allow your staff to relax their uniform a little bit. Whether or not this is really appropriate though will come down to the role that they have in your business, the nature of the service you offer, and how much contact they have with your customers and clients.

Whilst Staff Should Feel Comfortable, They Need To Be Safe Too

Health and safety is a key issue here, and sometimes hard hats and steel-capped boots might just be 100% necessary. Comfort is important, but keeping your staff away from danger should always be your number one priority. If they’re struggling to carry out their roles because of soaring temperatures, then you need to reconsider how their days are mapped out and what you can do to support them.  

Consider Also The Client’s Expectation Of How Your Staff Should Be Dressed

How your staff present themselves to your customers is another concern, and it’s fair to say that plenty of businesses are stuck in the dark ages when it comes to this. It’s worthwhile to think about the individual circumstances of your organisation. If you run an accountancy firm, and your staff are meeting corporate clients, then smart dress is obviously appropriate. But if you’re a small clothing retailer with a hip clientele who come through your doors to access the latest fashions, it’s a different story. If you’re an up and coming tech firm serving creative industries and you’re eager to make your mark, somewhere in the middle is likely to be the order of the day.

But Maybe Your Customers Would Prefer Your Staff To Just Be Themselves?

Back in 2014, Starbucks took a u-turn on its anti-tattoo policy, and finally accepted that no one really cared if their barista was adorned with body art – and that actually, many of their customers would prefer it. There’s an interesting conversation to be had here about the extent to which you employees should serve as a mirror to your customers, and how similar styles can foster better rapport and more trust.

The key takeaway? Dress codes are sometimes important. But the safety and comfort of your staff are paramount. Don’t get stuck in old ways of working that might not be serving your business.

For help on HR policies, employee relations or any other HR issue, get in touch today for a no-obligation chat about your HR needs. Call us on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at hello@thehrhub.co.uk

 

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Why Free Lunch Could Be The Key To Increasing Productivity

Have you noticed that several years ago the office lunch hour looked very different than it does today?  I’m not sure about you, but when I entered into the working world, nearly everybody in the office was either heading out to M&S or Greggs to get a sandwich (or Subway when it emerged on the high street in the 90’s) or bringing in their lunch from home.

However, there has been a change to this in recent years and there is an emerging trend of companies providing free lunches or, at the very least, basic materials to allow employees to have the comfort of not leaving the office to source their lunch.

Back in the millenium free lunches used to be considered a bit of a perk, normally provided during an internal meeting (for those of us who remember the economic downturn this was one the first things to be cut by companies!). But  now  free lunch is no longer just a perk, and it can be a boost for culture, morale, and productivity, in turn elevating it to a benefit comparable to some other lifestyle benefits such as health care.  

But What Are The Benefits For My Business?

I hear you cry.  Although a free lunch is not going to instantly add money to your bottom line there are some long term benefits for both you and your employees. To start with, employees will spend much less time “doing” lunch when you provide it for them than when they had to walk somewhere, wait in line, eat, and then get back to their desk. Your team will also spend much more time together naturally discussing work issues in a casual way so, not only are you feeding your employees but you are also feeding their relationships and – providing the food you offer is healthy – it can also increase employees brain power to.

It’s Also Proven To Have Positive Effects On Productivity And Morale

The main benefit according to researchers is that time spent together in this way can boost your employees productivity and morale.  Just think about it for a second. Who doesn’t love it when you feel like your company values you enough to give you something for free?!  There are countless studies that have shown that the happier your employees are the more productive they will be and in-turn how engaged they are you’re your business. At Best Companies, employee wellbeing is one of the 8 key factors which is used to determine levels of engagement amongst staff. This is simply because, the better you take care of your people’s wellbeing, the more likely you are to achieve sustainable growth over time.

So How Can It Work For An SME?

City firms and large technology companies including Facebook and Google are some of the most generous providers when it comes to free food and drink. Their canteens are filled with hot meals, desserts and drinks at no cost to staff. Of course as an SME you won’t be able to match these offerings but you can consider some of these options and introduce something once a week to get you started and until you are in a position to provide more:

  • A continental breakfast. Consider bagels, muffins, coffee once a week – a nice way to start the day.  When you consider that you can get a bag of bagels for £1 and a pack of 8 croissants for less than £2 – that’s very little outlay compared to the benefits you will gain.
  • Pizza Friday. Provide lunch on Friday giving employees the chance to reflect on the working week and spend time together
  • Consider providing basic lunch and/or breakfast materials in your office such as bread, milk, butter, porridge, healthy snack bars etc.
  • Provide a fruit basket on a weekly basis (an oldie but a goody!) To save money do an online shop with a supermarket and get all your office supplies delivered in one go.
  • Provide afternoon snacks. Think of something healthy like nuts, healthy snack bars to increase employees brain power and avoid a sugar dip later in the day. Some companies now provide healthy snack dispensers for employees, similar to the breakfast cereal dispensers that you find in hotels.

A Word Of Caution

Now just before you go online and order a plethora of snacks and fruit for employees, consider your approach and what you are trying to achieve. Also be mindful of how your business has been doing over the last 12 months –  for example, if pay and benefits have been squeezed it might be wise start small as your employees are not likely to be impressed with free lunch if they have not had a decent pay rise or bonus for a while!

Most importantly, whatever you do, make sure that as the business leader that you also participate. There’s little point banging on about being more collaborative and then being too busy to join in (plus it will provide you with invaluable face-to-face time with your employees on an informal basis)

So, don’t totally discount free lunches as just another cost to your business. The real benefit comes not only in the increase in productivity and collaboration but also in the form of competitive advantages in recruiting – although you may not necessarily be able to offer the top salaries you can offer a great culture that people will want to be a part of. Just don’t forget to offer some vegetarian and gluten free options, too!  
For advice and support with any HR issue contact us today for a no-strings chat about your HR needs and how we can help. Call us on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at hello@thehrhub.co.uk

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