Use it or Lose It!  Why you must remind employees to use up their annual holiday entitlement

What if your employees don’t take all their holiday entitlement within the year?  Surely, they lose the right to take the holiday? In most cases, yes, they lose the right to take the holiday, but it depends on various things.  Things such as the reason why they have not taken their holiday. Or what it says in their contract of employment.

If someone has been off sick and so has not been able to take their holiday, then you should consider allowing them to carry the remaining holiday over to next year.  Similarly, if they have been on maternity leave or parental leave then they will still have built up holiday entitlement.  So they must be given the opportunity to take it, or carry it over to next year.

Additionally, you may have a clause in your contracts of employment which allows people to carry forward some of their holiday until the next holiday year.

Isn’t it a good thing for the Business if people don’t want to take all their holiday?

 You might think your business benefits from the additional work you are getting if people don’t take all of their holiday.  After all, you have to pay them anyway, so if they choose to work, rather than take their holiday, then that is surely a good thing?

You should be concerned if people are not taking holiday.  My advice would be for you to find out what the reason might be.  You may not need  to look any further than your mirror.  If you do not take all of your holiday, then you are unconsciously giving out the message that you do not expect other people to do so.

Similarly, is there is a culture in the organisation that people regularly do not take all of their holiday entitlement?  If so, then individuals may be frightened of upsetting their colleagues if they take “too much” time off – even if it is their entitlement!  We all want approval and appreciation from those around us (particularly the boss) and some people may be fearful of the consequences if they do not conform.

What about wellbeing?

 Another major consideration should be the health and wellbeing of your workforce.  People need to have regular breaks from the workplace to maintain their emotional, mental and physical health.    If they are not using all of their holiday entitlement, then they are not getting the most from their opportunities to refresh themselves.

Although it appears that you are getting “more work” from people who are not taking all of their holiday, it may well be that you are actually only getting “more presenteesim”.  They may be in the workplace more often, but will their output be of a high quality? If they are tired, stressed and in need of a break, then they are not likely to be producing their best efforts on your behalf.

But how can I make people take holiday if they don’t want to?

 Of course, you cannot force people to use up their holiday.  But you should be encouraging them to do so.

If you and your managers lead by example and ensure you use up all of your holiday, then your employees will feel comfortable in doing the same.   Make sure you use regular discussion with your employees to reinforce the message that they should be using all of their holiday each year.

Regular reminders about using holiday should be issued during the whole year. You don’t want everyone to leave their holiday until the last minute and all rush to book it in the last quarter of the year.  Regular reminders should help to manage the flow of holiday requests.

Finally, in the third quarter of the holiday year, you could send out a reminder to the whole workforce that there is only limited time to use up their holiday and that you expect them to do so.

Not my responsibility

 You may feel that it is not your job as employer to be reminding people to use up their entitlement.  You do your bit by giving them the entitlement. If they choose not to make use of that, then that is their choice.  This, of course, is true – up to a point.

However, a recent legal case in the EU reminds employers that it is their responsibility “diligently” to give the employee the opportunity to take their holiday and to remind them of their right to take it.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

 

How Can I Help? (to improve Mental Health in the Workplace)

Mental Health in the WorkPlace has hit the news again this week, with The Duke of Cambridge talking on this subject to employers and employees from a range of British businesses.

I wrote a blog post on this subject back in May, but it bears repeating as there are things we can all be doing to help people cope.  Employers, in particular, can make small changes which will have a huge impact.  And why wouldn’t you, when it can also have a huge and beneficial impact on productivity and costs in your Organisation?

What can an employer do to improve mental health in the workplace?

Any organisation can – and should -create a Mental Health plan and then follow it and communicate it to all employees.  Here are some suggestions to help you to improve the mental health of your employees  and to combat mental health issues at work:

  • Create an open atmosphere where people feel they can talk about such issues. You can do this by making employees aware of what help is available and where they can access it. Facilitate open discussions amongst employees.
  • Ensure you offer enough breaks from work and make sure people take them. When we get engrossed in a piece of work, it is easy to skip lunch, or work late. But this can be counter-productive and lead to other problems.  Make sure people take regular breaks from work and have a change of scene.  Try and encourage a good work-life balance – and LEAD BY EXAMPLE.  If people see you working all hours and not taking breaks, they will follow your lead as they will think that is what you expect of them as well.
  • Try and give people interesting, varied work which they can excel at. This will increase their sense of worth and happiness at work.
  • Praising people when they do well, exciting them about challenges and opportunities, recognising them when they do well. All of these will help to prevent mental health problems from occurring in the first place. 

Supporting those with Mental Health issues

  • Think about appointing some Mental Health “First Aiders” or mentors.  They can act as a first port of call when somebody is in urgent need of support. As well as urgent issues, they can provide support and mentoring to those who have issues but feel they cannot approach you or their manager.  You would need to train these people, but it would be an investment well worth making.
  • If you manage people, or have line managers who support teams, then train the managers to recognise mental health problems and in how to manage such conversations.
  • The Mental Health Foundation provides a series of guides about dealing with mental health problems. You  can download these at no cost. Or you could order some paper copies to keep in the workplace for anyone who needs them.
  • If someone does disclose that they have a mental health problem, it could be made worse by other things.  Things such as money worries, fear of losing job, fear of taking time off, fear of talking about it. Investigate gently with the individual  – there might be something you can do to help with those concerns.
  • Offer access to a counselling service or at least a helpline.
  • If possible, provide a telephone in a private area, where an employee can ring a helpline or contact a charity for some help in an urgent situation.
  • Many Mental Health charities can provide support to you and your employees. Investigate the options which work for you and your company and provide details to your employees.  Provide a list of those charities to any employee who discloses they have a mental health issue.  There is a huge amount of help available for those who need it.

 

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  -or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

 

Work-Life Balance – What Is It And How Do We Find It?

We all strive for greater work-life balance.  Employers even use  “good work-life balance” as an incentive in their recruitment advertising.    But what does it mean?  And how do we achieve it?

What is a balanced approach?

The difficulty is that the phrase “work-life balance” means different things to different people.  To many, it means that they want the flexibility to take their children to school before starting work.  Or they want to leave early to collect them.  Many are willing to “make up the hours” in the evening, once the kids have gone to bed.

For others, it means only working for four days in the week.  Some take this to the extent of working “compressed hours”, where five days’ worth of work are squashed into four days.  Sadly this often means that 10 hour days or more are worked for each of those four days.  This can mean a longer weekend – but how much balance is there  during the four long working days?

Others again want the flexibility to work from any location they choose. This takes out travel time and, ostensibly, leaves more time for home and leisure activities, to balance against work time.  In reality, though, most homeworkers are hard at work for much longer hours than their work-based colleagues.  So the balance may be lost.

Balancing the cost

If balance can be achieved by reducing working hours – then who should pay for it?  When people are less stressed, healthier, happier and more refreshed, they are likely to have a raised level of productivity.  This makes a good case for employers to continue to pay their employees for a full week, even when they have reduced their hours.  If we are still getting the same work for less hours, then why wouldn’t we be prepared to pay the same for it?

Of course, the difficulty is that many employers need to provide their service for full working hours, or even 24/7.  In those cases, they would need to employ extra people to cover the hours. So any benefit the employer may get from improved productivity and better quality work will be negated by the cost of additional staff.

So would people be prepared to take a reduction in their take-home pay, if this meant that they worked fewer hours and had more time with their families?  It is not that easy.  Many people live on a knife-edge where their salary is only just enough to pay for all of their expenses.  More leisure time is likely to equate to larger expenses and so a pay cut is often not really practicable.

A reduction in working hours does not necessarily bring balance

A large proportion of the workforce is already working part-time.  Others are balancing caring duties with work.  Many work in the gig economy and so are employed on an ad-hoc basis.  Others work for themselves, or as contractors.

Technology doesn’t help.  It is too easy to be “always available” to answer that one email, or take that one call from the other side of the world.  Even when we are on holiday, many of us find it impossible to leave work behind and so take our laptops and smart phones with us.

If reduced hours don’t work, how can an employer help?

There are several things you can be doing to help your employees achieve a healthy work-life balance:

  1. The first action you can take is to talk to your employees about how to achieve work-life balance. If you collaborate on a solution then it is more likely to work for everyone.
  2. You should try to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Everyone has a different idea of what they consider to be a balance. What is great for one person could be a nightmare for someone else.
  3. Don’t expect your employees to work long hours for no extra reward. It is fairly normal for people to work unpaid overtime – especially if they have reached supervisory positions.  Many employers don’t expect this, but most of them accept it and do not take steps to discourage it.  If you need people to work longer hours, then employ more people – or at least pay overtime.
  4. Lead by example. If you are in the office for long hours, then your staff will think that is what you expect of them as well.
  5. Don’t just pay lip service – actually be that flexible employer who expects your employees to have a balanced life.
  6. You can start to reap the rewards of increased productivity, reduced sickness, reduced turnover and happier staff.

 

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Let Them Eat Cake! (Unless You Care About Their Wellbeing)

Are you concerned about the health and wellbeing of your employees?  Of course you are!  You are a caring employer and you like your employees to be well and happy at work.  Not to mention that there is a considerable cost to you each time someone is off sick.  If the sickness becomes prolonged – or even stops someone from continuing to work at all, then that is very sad and very difficult to deal with.   And sometimes it is preventable.

Celebration time is here

When birthdays roll around, or other events occur in the lives of your employees, you like to celebrate with them.  The standard celebration is for them or their colleagues to provide cake or chocolates.  Some customer-facing businesses get gifts from grateful clients.  What is easier – or more welcome – than cake or chocolates?  Suppliers, too, like to give their clients gifts from time to time.  Many is the time in the HR department when I have been on the receiving end of chocolates or cakes from an employment agency. Or a grateful employee buys cake as a thank you for the support HR had provided.  Some managers like to provide cake at team meetings.

As the employer or manager, you may even choose to foot the bill for this largesse.  The staff love it and enjoy taking a five minute break to have some cake and a chatter.  They are celebrating and you encourage this to help engender team spirit and good relationships in the workplace.

Sugar – the hidden menace

I love sweet things myself, but the awareness has slowly been dawning on me that too much of it is damaging to my health and wellbeing.  All this cake and chocolate is sabotaging the health of your staff.  Diabetes is a fast-growing problem in our world and our addiction to sugar in our food and drinks is a major contribution to this problem.  Not to mention obesity and related diseases, heart problems, tooth decay – the list goes on.   How many people in your workplace are trying to lose weight?  How many of them “cannot resist” the cake and chocolate which is inevitably on display and available in the working environment?

Stopping the rot

In my own experience, people make their own attempts to counter this influx of sugar, by providing “healthy” snacks as well as cake.  They bring in fruit, nuts, muesli bars  as well as – or even instead of – the cake. The intention is good, but the fruit goes rotten before the cake is all eaten.  The healthy stuff is usually the last to be eaten.  Alternative “healthy” snack bars may also still contain large amounts of sugar (or sweeteners, or corn syrup, or glucose – or other things which are really just sugar in disguise).

Am I suggesting that you ban all sugary foods and drinks, or that you only provide fruit?  No – that would be extraordinarily unpopular, given that this is an addiction to sugar that we all have.  It is good to indulge ourselves occasionally – and make it a real “treat” and a blanket ban would just alienate people.

No, this is a chance to really show your employees that you care, by collaborating with them about a sensible solution to this problem.

Starting the Conversation

Lou Walker, who is a workplace health and wellbeing consultant, specialising in obesity and office cake culture, has  written an in-depth report on this subject.  She has come up with eight ideas to make it easier for employers to start a conversation about office cake.  In brief, they are:

  • Create a health and wellbeing event where it can be on the agenda
  • Use, or consider having, workplace wellbeing champions to introduce the topic with colleagues
  • Start a competition for the most creative, healthy cake alternative
  • Identify individuals and teams who might be amenable to/interested in a conversation
  • Feel confident that this is appropriate. Employee health and wellbeing is your legitimate concern
  • Share Lou’s TEDx talk on the subject and ask for reactions
  • Consider a short, anonymous questionnaire on the subject (confidential, of course)
  • It may take months to implement a conversation – don’t be afraid to start small.

If you are interested in learning more about these suggestions and the subject of office cake in general, then do visit Lou Walker’s website and read her report.

Be part of the conversation.

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Managing Presenteeism – How to Make People Stop Working

People who have worked with me for any length of time know that I have a bee in my bonnet about discouraging long working  hours and encouraging the use of breaks.  I think my colleagues all got sick of me nagging them to leave on time or to go out and get some fresh air at lunchtime.

But I am vindicated by recent research from the CIPD.    Their report shows 86 per cent of respondents to their survey have seen a rise in “presenteeism” over the past 12 months. Over two-thirds reported “leaveism” (people working when they should be on annual leave).

What is presenteeism?

According to Google, presenteeism  is “the practice of being present at one’s place of work for more hours than required, especially as a manifestation of insecurity about one’s job ”.  Most commentators link this to being at work even though sick, and some refer to “workplace presence”.  I believe that it also covers people who work through their breaks, who work long hours, or who work during annual leave periods or public holidays (“leaveism”).

Why do people work when they are sick, or tired?

You may say that you do not ask or expect people to work long hours or come into work when they are sick.  If they choose to do that, then that is their own decision.

Indeed, there may be little pressure from managers for people to exhibit presenteeism.  Many people have a strong sense of loyalty to their co-workers and do not want to cause others to have more work to do because they are sick.  They “don’t feel too bad” so think they can do a day’s work.  Others may feel a loyalty to the organisation they work for and presenteeism is a misguided attempt to “be professional” or to support the organisation or colleagues.

Of course, sometimes managers do put stong pressure on people to perform and get the job done.  Whilst I am sure that every manager would say they do not want people to work when they are sick, they may not understand how implied messages can be misread.

In some industries or areas where there is little other employment opportunity, people are frightened that they may lose their job if they take too much time off sick.  Or they have personal money worries or they fear downsizing or job losses. In a smaller team, people might be afraid that the work will pile up while they are off sick. So they come in before they have recovered, or they work at weekends, to avoid the pressure of a heavy workload. This is common where people feel they have high workloads, deadlines and believe they have little support.

Then, of course, there are people who are addicted to work – “workaholics”.

But surely it is good for an employer to get unpaid work from employees?

Just because someone is in the workplace, they may not be adding a valued contribution to the organisation.  If they are ill or tired, then their productivity will be low. This might even be more costly for the employer than their absence would be.   The quality of their performance will reduce and this could lead to poor judgements which cost time and money to fix.  Not to mention the detrimental effect on their colleagues or poor client relations.

Another issue is poor health – for both the individual employee and their colleagues.  If someone continues to work when ill or exhausted, then they are likely to fall victim to other sickness as their immunity levels will reduce.  They will probably pass their bugs on to colleagues and cause a rash of absence as others have to take time out to recover from a stomach upset or cold which has been  passed on to them.    It will take the individual longer to recover from sickness as they have not taken enough rest. This will make them unpopular with their colleagues who become sick or who have to pick up the workload.  This has the potential to damage general staff morale.

How does this affect the Company?

The Business will suffer reduced quality and volume of work.  In itself this may lead to people needing to work longer hours (a vicious circle) to compensate for time off.  This can lead to reduced staff morale, poor employee engagement and yet further loss of productivity.

There is increasing evidence that the amount of time lost to absenteeism is dwarfed when compared to the productivity lost through presenteeism. A study by The Work Foundation has found that the cost of presenteeism in the workplace could account for one-and-a-half times the cost of sick leave. A separate study in the USA showed that the cost of health-related presenteeism could be as much as ten times that of absence.   And that doesn’t include the people who stay at their desk surfing the internet or checking social media, waiting for their boss to leave.

What can an employer do to prevent presenteeism?

The CIPD report  showed that only a quarter of firms surveyed are taking steps to discourage unhealthy working patterns or tackle stress, which is strongly linked to conditions like anxiety and depression.  A previous JMA HR article has touched on mental health and could help you to tackle depression and anxiety in the workplace.

People managers need to be trained to recognise presenteeism and to discourage it.  For example, technology is widely seen as positive in the workplace, but many people find it difficult to “switch off” outside working hours.  I have known many people who deal with emails late into the night, or even take laptops on holiday so they can keep up with work.  This negates the benefit of having an overnight break or a holiday.  You could consider banning the use of email outside of working hours or after a set time.

Many of us work in high-pressure cultures or deal with heavy workloads.  This can push unwell employees into the office.  It can also lead to people using annual leave and weekends to catch up with a backlog of tasks.  This requires some serious management and job design.  You may well be concerned about the additional cost of an extra salary if you take on more staff.  How much more does it cost for your current employees  to manage the tide by working when they are unfit, only to drown when they are engulfed?  You need to make it a priority to give manageable workloads.

Lead by example

Simple steps to take include sending unwell employees home.  You could also  encourage  – or even enforce – breaks and reasonable working hours.  Make it clear that your Company expects sick employees to stay home and recover. How about sending a “hometime” reminder from the CEO to come up on every computer screen at the end of the working day? The workaholics among your staff may resist this, but they will thank you in the long run.  You will definitely see the benefit yourself.

Deadlines are a factor of the modern workplace and there is probably nothing you can do about that.  There may be occasions when you need people to work late or out of hours.  Keep these to a minimum, rather than an expected pattern.  You will find that people are willing to help you to meet an important deadline.  Then thank them!

A really basic step for business owners, CEOs and managers to take is to be the role model of the behaviour you require.  This is simple, but surprisingly rare.  Your staff will look to you for a lead and they will follow your pattern.  If you work long hours, don’t take breaks and work when you are sick or on holiday, then you cannot expect them to behave any differently.  You are the key to changing the culture.  You are not made of steel, either.  All of the disadvantages that presenteeism brings for your workplace also apply to you.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Facing the Mental Health Demons in the Workplace

Approximately 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health problem each year.  Yet we are still reluctant to talk about it.  We find it easier to discuss a physical problem than to tell our employer about a mental health issue such as depression, stress or anxiety.  It was reported in the press last year that one in three Fit Notes  issued in the UK are related to mental health.  Even more significantly,  of those signed off for these reasons, one in five remain off sick for at least three months.

On that basis, this is a major concern in the workplace and employers need to manage this as part of the overall wellbeing of their workforce.

Cause for concern

The problems which poor mental health can cause in the workplace are wide and can be costly.  Clearly, the first concern is someone’s absence – but this is far from the only worrying factor.  There will be those who are afraid to take time off for some reason.  Either they don’t want to tell anyone of their health problems or they need the money. Maybe they feel under pressure to perform or they don’t want to “let their colleagues down”.  So they may come to work when they are not fit to be there, which brings its own problems.

Poor mental health impacts on their performance, their attitude, their interactions with colleagues and clients.  It also affects the quality of their work and their productivity.  This can lead to further actions such as disciplinary or performance discussions, lay-offs – all of which are likely to worsen the situation.   Then there is the impact on others around them.  Colleagues may feel they overloaded due to someone’s absence or poor performance.  Customers may be getting poor service and support.

Poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, so it would be sensible for employers to consider prevention.

What can we do?

Any organisation can – and should – create a Mental Health plan and then follow it and communicate it to all employees.  Here are some suggestions to help you to create good mental health within the workplace and to combat mental health issues at work:

Promoting Good Mental Health

  • Create an open atmosphere where people feel they can talk about such issues. You can do this by making employees aware of what help is available and where they can access it. Facilitate open discussions amongst employees.
  • Ensure you offer enough breaks from work and make sure people take them. When we get engrossed in a piece of work, it is easy to skip lunch, or work late, but this can be counter-productive and lead to other problems.  Make sure people take regular breaks from work and have a change of scene.  Try and encourage a good work-life balance – and LEAD BY EXAMPLE.  If people see you working all hours and not taking breaks, they will follow your lead as they will think that is what you expect of them as well.
  • Try and give people interesting, varied work which they can excel at. This will increase their sense of worth and happiness at work.
  • Praising people when they do well, exciting them about challenges and opportunities, recognising them when they do well. All of these will help to prevent mental health problems from occurring in the first place. 

Combatting Mental Health Issues

  • If you manage people, or have line managers who support teams, then train the managers to recognise mental health problems and in how to manage such conversations.
  • It might also be worth training one or two employees as mental health mentors, so that people feel they can go to these people if they have any issues but can’t approach you or their manager.
  • The Mental Health Foundation provides a series of guides about dealing with mental health problems. You  can download these at no cost, or you could order some paper copies to keep in the workplace for anyone who needs them.
  • If someone does disclose that they have a mental health problem, it could be made worse by other things – money worries, fear of losing job, fear of taking time off, fear of talking about it. Investigate gently with the individual  – there might be something you can do to help with those concerns.
  • Offer access to a counselling service or at least a helpline.
  • Many Mental Health charities can provide support to you and your employees. Investigate the options which work for you and your company and provide details to your employees.  Provide a list of those charities to any employee who discloses they have a mental health issue.  There is a huge amount of help available for those who need it.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  -or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.