Leading A Remote Team, With Love

This article is for you if you are faced with leading a remote team.  Especially if that is new for you.

Who is working at home?

Of course, there are those who cannot work from home under any circumstances.  Medical and emergency services.  And retailers – and those who restock the shelves.  This probably needs a whole separate article.

Then there are those people who already work from home occasionally, or often. Or all the time.  They already have set routines and are wondering what all the fuss is about.

New to Home Working

Finally, there are those for whom this is a novelty.

There may be some who think it is a chance for a release from being managed and will think about how they can use it to the best advantage.

But the vast majority will welcome being trusted.  They will be slightly nervous about the logistics.  And they will be keen to make it work so they can continue to do it sometimes in future.

What are people feeling?

People will be distracted and interrupted by family around them.  Some people will be sharing all sorts of advice – some of it fake – about coronavirus. Others will never mention coronavirus and will be “burying their heads”.

We all have concerns at the moment and we need to balance everything in our lives. We need to get work done to ensure we continue to have a job/business at the end of this crisis.  And we are also caring about ourselves and our families.  In particular, we are worrying about the more vulnerable people in our immediate circle.

Leading a remote team during the current situation

We need to balance the needs of our customers, clients, suppliers and teams, with our own needs, concerns and emotions.

Managers and leaders are critical in helping business to continue and the people within the business to carry on. Managers are key to keeping everyone updated. Their role is to help bring a sense of calm, rationality and peace.  In short – this is the ideal chance to manifest love and leadership.

We need to offer help, support and compassion. Whilst at the same time delivering value, maintaining services and processes.

How to cope with leading a remote team

You might think you are too busy and have too much work to deal with all this.  But managing your team is THE MOST important part of your job.  The people make the business and you cannot afford to lose them or their goodwill.

It helps if you recognise that there are many different reactions.  Others may not feel the same way you do, or as their colleagues do.

The principles of leading a remote team are no different from managing a team in person. The most important thing for a manager is to keep in regular contact with the team (phone, email, messenger, zoom, facetime, skype).  Listen to what they are (or are not) telling you.  Offer practical solutions where possible.

Have you thought about team meetings?  These are more important than ever, to weld a team together and enable them to collaborate.  You can set a regular time and date and hold the meeting by zoom or skype – some method where they can actually see each other is best.  And encourage them to contact each other regularly and keep you all in the loop.

Dealing with the negatives

Where things can’t be changed, be honest, but understanding.  Try to help people to come to terms with things which are impossible to change. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver.

People are going to be struggling with all kinds of anxieties.  It is helpful if you canlag up counselling or other help which is available.  Many companies provide a counselling service, but if not, there are plenty of charities which can help in a wide range of situations.

One major difficulty which many will face is financial.  Even if your workplace is still able to function remotely, many cannot.  This means that your team may have partners who are unable to work through illness.  Or they may have been laid off or moved to shorter hours.  This puts more pressure on your team members who may have become the only wage earner in a household.  So again, it is helpful if you can provide information about financial advice or help  which is available

We need to be aware of potential mental health issues.  People will be feeling isolated, or trapped. They may be facing financial difficulties and/or relationship difficulties.  They may be anxious, frightened, worried about falling sick.  Or they may be anxious about vulnerable relatives or children.  This makes your regular contact even more important.

Celebrating the positives

It is even more important than usual to remember to thank people.  We all need some recognition for what we do  – even if it is just “part of the job”.  This is even more important when you are leading a remote team.  They need to know they are not invisible and that you notice things they are doing.

The world goes on and people have birthdays and other causes to celebrate.  So help them to enjoy their special occasions.  We need to have fun days to enjoy even more than usual.  Celebrate team and individual “wins”.  Give them a reason to keep positive.

Finally, it is helpful to get the team to think about their personal wellbeing.  Encourage fresh air, exercise, healthy eating, even just standing in the garden to look at trees and greenery.  Taking a regular break is really important.  We all tend to get stuck behind our computer, head down and involved and the day flies past without a break.  This is not healthy or productive.

What are the likely reactions to homeworking?

Some people will have only just found this “freedom” and so might spend all their time scrolling though social media and not getting anything done.  But this novelty will soon wear off and the vast majority will knuckle down to work in a few days.

At the other end of the scale, some will be really conscientious – to a ridiculous degree.  They will  want to prove themselves reliable and trustworthy. So they are likely to work solidly without a break – and that is almost a worse problem to manage!

I am already seeing some people who are in a real state of anxiety.  They have been infected by the media and social media and the general scaremongering which is rife at present.  They panic about every news bulletin, social media post, etc and so can’t settle to anything.

Of course, this situation is different from “normal” working at home.  People may have their kids and partners at home. Tthe house is crowded. There is no privacy.  They are keen to get some work done, but it isn’t really practical.

Finally – and of the most concern – there are some people who will withdraw into themselves and go silent.  They are unable to face their fears and anxieties.  They do not have a network around them who can help them to have some perspective. So they internalise it all and withdraw more and more.

As time goes on, things will change

  • Some will get used to it and settle into a routine.
  • Others will find living with their partner so closely doesn’t work, and they will find their own way to manage – move into the shed or a caravan. I predict (sadly) that all this enforced closeness to our loved ones may force a temporary increase in the divorce rate.
  • Some will hate it and can’t wait to get back to normal.
  • There will definitely be a few who continue to need support to stop them becoming more and more isolated.
  • Some (I suspect quite a large majority) will find they love working from home, at least for some of the time, and will demand that it continues when workplaces reopen. I foresee that the world of work may see some permanent changes.

…. And finally…

These are strange and unsettling times for us all (and I really mean “all”).  The whole world is facing this crisis and I find that quite comforting.  Brought together in adversity.  Maybe, maybe not.  But the point is that we are all having to get used to things which are outside our comfort zone and don’t feel familiar.  So reach out to someone if you need some help – there are plenty of others going through the same things you are!

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

 

How To Help Your Employees Have A Happy New Year

Firstly, I would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year.  I hope you have all had a good break and have come back to work refreshed.  I hope you have renewed interest and energy and exciting plans for a new decade.

Of course, we all feel renewed and refreshed after a lovely Christmas break with friends and family, don’t we?

Well, actually, the answer is different for all of us.  We give each other a cheery greeting and wishes for a happy twelve months ahead.  When we say “Happy New Year”, it is much like asking how someone is.  We mean it genuinely and  – if we think at all about it – we hope that they are well and happy.  But we rarely take the time to properly consider whether someone is genuinely looking forward to another year.  In reality, they might be feeling lost.  Or they might even be dreading the future.

Reasons why some people dread a new year

We make assumptions that everyone has enjoyed their Christmas break.  But the truth can be quite different.

When couples and families are forced into spending time together for more than a few hours, they can discover unpleasant truths.  Sadly, many people seek advice on divorce in January.  They have discovered over the Christmas period that they just cannot live together any longer.  Even if divorce is a step too far, some people find that their family relationships have changed. Or they may have discovered family problems which were previously unknown.

A happy and successful Christmas can bring other problems.  January can bring enormous credit card bills, or overdraft payments. Even when people earn a good salary, it does not follow that they are good at managing their financial situation.

Or there are those who have over-indulged themselves at Christmas.  We often eat rich food, in much greater quantities than our bodies can process.  Or we might drink more alcohol than usual, for longer periods, or at different times of the day.  This can lead to a need to give up things we normally enjoy, like chocolate or alcohol.  Or we decide to go on a weight-loss plan.  Then, when these new regimes prove hard to stick with, we beat ourselves up for not resisting.

New Year – new opportunities

Of course, some may have used the break to think about their life direction.  It is often a time when people come back to work with a plan to change roles, or even move to a different employer.  Some will decide that they want to leave the safety of employment and set up in business for themselves.

January is also traditionally a time when people start to plan their holidays for the year.  They will start dreaming about a sun-drenched beach.  Or they might prefer cultural breaks, or learning a new skill.  We are keen to save our spare cash to pay for our holidays.  We might spend our lunchtimes and breaks looking at exotic destinations and comparing travel costs.

Things beyond our control

In the northern hemisphere, the weather in January can make life difficult.  As I write this article, we are slowly recovering from storm Brendan in UK.  There has been torrential rain across the country, coupled with very strong winds and high tides.   We have to contend with flooding, trees down, huge waves breaking over sea-defence barriers.  This is fairly standard for this time of year, although maybe more extreme than previously.  But the big concern is for the future – what will the next decade bring in terms of climate change and altered weather patterns?

And, of course, colder and wetter weather brings illness.   This is the time of year when we all have colds, flu, upset stomachs (from all that over-indulgence, maybe?).  Many people may have had a rotten Christmas break because they felt too ill to enjoy it. Or their partner or children were ill.  Or maybe the whole family went down with something nasty.

Mental health concerns

Christmas is a time when our mental health can take a real knock.  The perceived joy and fun going on at Christmas can be in stark contrast to our own situation.  If we are lonely, then this can become unbearable at Christmas.  And it is not just those who live alone who feel lonely.  Returning to work can be a welcome relief and return to normality.  Or it can just make us realise how bad things have got.

Many of us put our problems to one side and decide to enjoy Christmas.  The holiday break can be a welcome relief from our concerns.  But now that the holiday is over, we have to face up to our problems again.

Why is this the employer’s problem?

All of these things, good and bad alike, can make it really hard for us to get motivated again.  We have had a break from normality and finding our pace again can be difficult.

If we have had a great time, then we don’t want to face the return to our usual situation.   It can be really hard to throw ourselves back into work mode.  If the holiday has been less good, then it can be really difficult to face up to those problems and difficulties which we have been avoiding.

Either way, our productivity can be low and our employer may not get the best from us during January.   And this is probably a time of year when they were expecting great strides and renewed energy from us.

So how can an employer turn this around?

There are so many things which a good employer can put into place to enable a successful January and beyond.

There is help available to tackle many of these issues.  If an employee is facing personal problems, an employer can provide a counselling service, or legal advice.  At the very least, you can point the employee in the right direction to get appropriate help and support.

You may want to consider flexible working, or different working patterns, or moving people into different roles.  You should be holding discussions, consultation, regular conversations with your employees.  That way you can find out what help they need, what direction they want to move in, what their plans are.

If people are having financial problems, there are many debt counselling schemes.  There are interventions to help people reduce financial outgoings, to save, to plan for their future.

There are wellbeing services you can consider, from massages, to meditation, to practical help, to fitness, weight loss, dietary control.   At the very least, you should be making sure they take regular breaks and go outside to see some greenery.

You might want to consider training and development plans to help people move in their preferred direction.

Steps towards a Happy New Year

I have deliberately talked about the difficulties and problems which can come as a result of the Christmas and New Year break.  Of course, the vast majority of your employees will have had a great break and will be feeling refreshed and ready for the next challenge.

But it would be great if you can think about ways to help your employees really have a Happy New Year.  The best way to do that is to talk to them and find out about their concerns, their plans, their dreams.  Then you are in the best position to help them.  If you help them, then they will help you to ensure that your business is successful and brings you a very Happy New Year!

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

 

The Truth About Employees, Divorce and Productivity

It  is well-documented that divorce can be one of the most stressful situations anyone can experience.  In the UK roughly 42% marriages end in divorce.  So it is highly likely that some of your employees will be going through a divorce at some time.

The thing about employees is that they are people first, with complex emotions and feelings.  We don’t just shrug off our feelings, like coats, and hang them on a hook when we walk into the workplace.

So how we feel at any one time or any particular day will affect our performance, concentration and productivity. Employers may not want to acknowledge this, and deal with it.  But good employers recognise that their workers have things going on which are probably more important than work -at least for the individuals.

Is there anything an employer can do for employees who may be facing divorce?

Legalities and changes in the Law regarding divorce

It has been widely reported that “no fault divorce” is to be introduced in the UK.  The intention is to end the blame game and make divorce easier for those involved.

This is undoubtedly good news and should lessen acrimony in divorce cases.  But divorce is going to remain unpleasant for those who go through it.  There will still be financial disputes and anxiety over children and access.  If your employee is going through a divorce their private life will be disrupted and their work will also be adversely affected.

 What effects am I likely to see on my employees?

The most likely effect on your employee is stress.  This may mean loss of concentration and increased anxiety.  They may use work as a refuge from the storm in their private life.  If they are engaged and involved in their work, it may indeed be a relief from the stress.  But it is more likely that they will only pay partial attention to their work.

The divorcing employee is likely to need to make court appearances, maybe multiple times if there is disagreement about financial aspects or access to children.  It may be that the employee is going through a change in their living accommodation, or the sale of a jointly owned house.  They are very likely to have increased financial worries.

How can an employer help employees who are divorcing?

There are some practical steps an employee can and should take to support their employees through a divorce.

This is an example of a situation which can be greatly helped if you already have a trusting and effective relationship with your employees.  If they trust you or their line manager, they will be more open about their personal circumstances.  You can build on that trust if you provide practical and relevant help to them.

The first issue is with regard to financial management.  Divorcing couples need to exchange financial information and often need documents to confirm details of salary, benefits, bonuses, pension arrangements.  An employer can help by providing that information quickly.

Some more ways an employer can help

Another issue which will affect your divorcing employee may be the need for time off work to attend court hearings in relation to the divorce, especially if it is an acrimonious divorce.  There is no legal requirement that you give paid time off for this, but you may wish to allow them to use up annual leave, or take unpaid leave.  Or a generous employer may wish to give additional paid leave (but you would need to give this some thought to ensure fairness to other, non-divorcing, employees).

However well an employee may be dealing with a divorce, you would be well advised to keep an eye on their mental health.  These will be stressful times for them and we all react differently in such circumstances.  Some of this will depend on how acrimonious the divorce is and whether there are children involved.   It may be helpful  to think about how to provide counselling or employee assistance if you do not already have such a scheme in place.

Benefits for the employer in supporting an employee through divorce

If you have a positive relationship with your employees, they are more likely to be honest with you about an impending divorce.

How can you provide practical and relevant support to them?  If you can do so, the situation is likely to resolved more quickly.  This is a benefit to the employee, of course.  But that also makes it better for you.

A reduction in the stress of the situation may lead to reduced likelihood of ill-health absence.  The employee will be more focussed at work and more able to concentrate.  This has a positive effect on their productivity.

There are more benefits for the employer

The secondary effect is loyalty.  An employee who has had support from their employer through a difficult personal situation is easier to retain in the workplace.  They will not want to risk moving to a less understanding workplace.

Your reputation as a caring and good employer will also be enhanced.  This will have a positive effect on recruitment and employee satisfaction.

Being kind to our employees and supporting them through difficult times is not only good for them, but it is also good for us as employers.  We all want to be cared for and cared about, and that includes employers.  And it doesn’t hurt the bottom line, either.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Is Being “Always On” Good For Productivity?

What impact does technology and the “always on” culture have on productivity?

Technology allows us to work when and where we want to.  But is the “always on” culture good or bad news for productivity in UK business?

A recent article in HR News discusses a recent survey by Aviva. The findings are that 72% of UK workers are checking their emails outside of work hours. On average we spend up to two and a half hours per week working outside our usual hours.  This equates to an extra 16 days at work per year.

Employers may feel this is good for productivity.  Additionally, in these days of flexible working, we like to be able to work at times to suit our lifestyles.  Technology allows us to do this, so where is the problem?

Is it bad to be able to work outside normal hours?

Many people like the freedom to catch up with some work in the evenings or at weekends.  If we work flexibly, it gives us the chance to take time out of work during normal hours.  Then we can make up the time missed when it suits us to do so.

But the downside is that we never really leave work behind for the day.  It is too easy to keep in touch remotely, which means managers can (and do) send emails outside working hours.  That is fine and they probably don’t expect an answer there and then.  But many of us see an email from the boss and think we need to be working because our manager is working.  It doesn’t matter how much a manager says “do as I say, not as I do”, it is human nature to want to please.  Particularly, we want to please the boss. So if we see them working we automatically feel guilty if we aren’t working too.

There is emerging evidence that this is having a detrimental effect on mental and physical well-being. We want to please the boss, but we also want to spend quality time with family and friends.  And we need to have a break from work.  Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in 2019 found that 87% of organisations reported the inability to switch off after hours as the biggest negative effect on employee well-being.

What can employers do?

Have you thought of banning email at weekends or after certain hours? American healthcare company, Vynamic, have banned people from sending emails between 10pm and 6am and any time at the weekend.

You may think that this policy is a backward step for flexible working.  But the ban is only on hitting “send”.  Managers and employees are free to work whenever they please and to draft emails, but they are not able to send the emails.  If the matter is urgent, they can text or telephone the other party.  Vynamic have found that this ban is really effective.  Because there is no danger of getting emails, employees don’t feel the need to check for any and so they are free to enjoy their downtime.  And the sender of an email has to stop and think if the matter is so urgent that they need to send a text or pick up the phone.  Mostly it is not that urgent.

The CEO of Vynamic says it is the best benefit they have ever introduced – and at no cost.  Employee well-being has improved hugely.  What is more, the retention rate has increased as well as people want to continue to work for a company where they are valued and truly get a break at the end of the working day or week.

Do you want your employees to be well and happy?

Of course you do.  We all want that for our employees. It makes great business sense.  Well and happy employees are loyal and want to continue to work for you.  They are your advocates and tell your clients and the world that they work for a great company.

Then there is the financial aspect.  The cost of implementing this rule is fairly negligible, yet it has a huge impact.  The other financial benefits include reduced absence and a lesser need for recruitment.  How would you like to be the CEO of a company where everyone wants to work for you?

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

How Employee Financial Well-being Ignites Productivity

In August last year, I wrote an article about how you can support the financial well-being of your employees.  Now I want to concentrate on why this matters to employers.

This really fits as part of my current focus on productivity in the workforce.  A survey by Metlife UK  earlier this year  looked at employee financial well-being. 64% of senior managers said that addressing financial well-being will help boost productivity and engagement.

But businesses say they do not understand enough about the link between financial well-being, mental health and productivity.  They want more clarity on how to tackle this issue.

What is financial well-being and why does it affect people who are working?

In simple terms, employee financial well-being can be slotted into various categories.  Firstly we need to have an adequate salary to support ourselves and our families.  We need to be able to save for the future, in terms of things like mortgages or pension provision.  It is good to have a cushion to deal with emergencies.  And we want to be able to pay off existing debt.  These are key aspects of our financial well-being.   Understanding our finances and feeling in control is important.  And we want to feel that we are paid fairly for what we do and in comparison to others. It is linked to a belief about whether we are valued properly.

This is not just about pay (or low pay). It is not about financial mismanagement. And it is definitely not limited to a need for debt counselling.  Just because people are in employment, it does not mean they don’t have money worries.  And the worry is not confined to those on low pay.  Financial well-being can be a concern for all income groups, even those with a higher income or in a senior role. In fact, it can have a greater impact when we earn more.  The more we earn, the higher our financial commitments.

How does employee financial well-being impact the workplace?

The CIPD, in association with Close Brothers, carried out a study on employee financial well-being.  This shows that a quarter of employees say that financial concerns impact their performance at work.  The issues include loss of sleep. And time spent at work thinking about or dealing with financial problems.  It affects our productivity, our ability to do the job.  There can be an impact on ourconcentration and decision-making.   Additionally, nearly a third of people in the UK only have savings to cover up to three months if we lost our jobs.

There is a great deal of coverage in the press and social media about mental health and well-being in the workplace.  But many employers fail to grasp that employee financial well-being contributes hugely to employee mental health.  The CIPD has found that only a third of employers actively promote employee financial well-being.   This is largely because employers do not know where to start or how to work out what is needed .

Practical steps for employers

Larger employers  are more likely to provide benefits packages.  These may comprise a number of different benefits for employees.  Smaller businesses will offer a pension.  But they may not be in a position to offer a wider range of benefits.

Employers are well-advised to inform and educate employees about the options and what they mean.  This is the case however simple or limited the benefit package may be. Have you thought about consulting with employees to find out what is effective (or not)?  Are you confident they are making the right choices? This is even more important if you offer a variety of benefits.  Especially if people can choose which benefits to take.

There are many low cost or cost-free advice services which employers can provide.  Additionally, there may well be some local companies who would be glad to come into your workplace to advise and help your employees.  This may be at no cost to you, as the employer.

As employers, we have a duty of care towards our employees.  So we need to be aware of people who are working longer hours, not taking all their holidays.  Or those who are having unexplained sickness or are behaving uncharacteristically.  These could all be signs of problems.  And those problems could have financial difficulty as the root cause.  We have no right (or desire) to pry into people’s personal finances, of course.  But advice on where to seek help may be all that is needed.

What are the benefits for the employer?

How can you  help your employees to understand their finances and to become more able to control them?  If you can do this, you will benefit from a happier and more engaged workforce.  The immediate benefit is higher productivity. If people are getting a good night’s sleep and are able to concentrate at work, then they will be more effective, quicker and more accurate at work.

As an employer, you will benefit from the fact that people will have more trust in you. They know that you pay fairly, that you care about their welfare, that you support them through any difficulties.  This translates into better customer service, improved employer reputation, increased loyalty.  All of this improves business growth.  Why would any employer not want to see those benefits?

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

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 to know more,  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 to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

 

Personal Financial Wellbeing – How Can You Support It?

Do you know about the personal financial wellbeing of your employees?

Earlier this year, I wrote a guest blog post for Nikki Ramskill, the Female Money Doctor.  Nikki is a medical doctor and she sees first-hand the effect that financial worry has on people’s health.  In my article I said that “A caring employer who wants to benefit from a healthy, happy and productive workforce should be thinking about how to provide financial advice.”

I am returning to this subject as it is dear to my heart and there has recently been a study by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) into employee financial wellbeing guidance in organisations.

This study looks into what employers can do to support the personal financial wellbeing of their employees and why they might want to.

Horror Stories

There have been recent headlines  about people who are holding down jobs but are homeless.  And there have been other stories about people who are in full time work, but below the poverty line.

Of course, these are the extremes, but many people are in debt and are unable to save.  They are struggling to pay mortgages or rent and to feed and clothe their families.  Other studies over the years have come up with statistics such as: 40 per cent of adults say they are not in control of their finances; only 28 per cent of people have a savings buffer equal to three months’ income and a third of employees state financial worries are their biggest concern.

All of this will inevitably have a negative impact on the health of your employees.  It will give them higher stress and anxiety levels and affect their ability to sleep, their concentration levels and their absence due to sickness.  If they are suffering, then your business is also suffering.  They will not be performing well.  Their decision making will be affected.  They will have a reduced ability to concentrate.

You may be paying well and providing other benefits on top, but are you aware of the financial health of your employees?  If not, then you may be missing out on a good way to improve productivity, employee engagement and your employer reputation.  There are many low cost or even cost-free ways to help your employees to enhance their personal financial wellbeing.  And if you help them, then you are helping yourself too.

How can I help?

You could start by setting up an employee financial wellbeing strategy.  This does not have to be difficult.  It would be a good start to look at all the help you already provide and put it all into an easily accessible package.  You probably provide help already, but not in a clear format.

You can also signpost employees to help which is available for them – usually at no cost.  There are all kinds of support mechanisms, debt counselling, financial guidance, pension advice, savings schemes, etc which is available if employees know where to look.

Sometimes all that is needed is some financial education.  People are frightened of managing their finances because they feel they don’t have the skills or knowledge.

But I don’t want to invade their privacy

In these days of enhanced data protection, identity theft, invasion of privacy, employers are nervous of enquiring into the personal finances of their employees. But you don’t need to know specific details, unless the employee wants to share it with you.  Additionally, you might assume that your employees have adequate knowledge to make decisions about their finances – especially if you already provide advice on things like pensions and flexible benefits. But the IES study found that that many employees would positively welcome some engagement from their employer to help them to resolve any difficulties they may be facing.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  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.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

 

 

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 to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.