PATH Yorkshire have invited me to speak at a workshop on 19th July at Shine in Leeds, about the change management processes that will help an organisation introduce a more proactive approach to the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.
The invitation arrives in the wake of a visit to Leeds by HRH Prince Harry during which he spoke about the need for everyone to be more open about mental health issues and accepting that everyone is has an equal potential of having a mental health challenge.
At the same time, I have spoken to employers who whilst keen to talk positively in support of the Prince’s message are reluctant to acknowledge that their employees are at risk or that their way of working may put people at risk. I get an overwhelming feeling that a lot of employers are in denial. So, being asked to continue the conversation about mental health is quite a privilege.
I will be looking at how an individual within an organisation, regardless of whether they are a HR professional or not can build a case for introducing a proactive approach to employee physical and mental health and wellbeing.
We will look at the processes of building the business case and identifying how to position that proposition so that it is readily accepted by a senior management team and implemented.
This event comes at a time when the reluctance of employers to be involved in the management of employee health is having an impact on productivity and the number of employees with health issues is increasing. A recent survey of 2,000 UK workers conducted by PwC found that just over a third (34%) were struggling with a mental health issue, most commonly anxiety, depression and stress. Mental Health charity, Mind, says that a quarter (26 per cent) of staff with mental health issues thought work was the main cause.
Part of the problem is as the Heads Together campaign launched by Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge says people are not talking about mental health. There is a way to go before people can feel comfortable about it.
Research published by insurer Legal & General shows that fewer than one in 10 employees would feel comfortable discussing mental health problems with their manager. They just do not have the confidence in their managers, but 78 per cent of those managers think their staff would be happy to have a conversation with them about their mental health. So, it is easy for managers to believe that if the employee is not starting that conversation, perhaps there isn’t a problem?
If the conversation isn’t happening, and there is no published policy about health and wellbeing, and no health-related benefits, more than half (54 per cent) of the employees surveyed by PwC said that their employer did not offer any health perks, such as subsidised gym membership, health screenings or counselling, then neither the manager or the employee knows what the other is thinking. You end up with a situation in which research published by insurer Aviva found that as many as 43% of employees feel that they employers value productivity more highly than the health of their employees.
It all starts to feel somewhat dark satanic mills.
But, if productivity is what concerns you, the PwC research identified that 39% of employees take time off or cut back on the work that they were doing as a result of their health, and 83% described their levels of productivity being strongly linked to their well-being. This results in an absence figure of 27 days per year per employee according to the Financial Times. Add that to an employee’s holiday entitlement and you could be looking at an average employee only being at work for just over 9 months of the year.
Add this to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics which show that overall UK productivity is falling, as measured by output per hour, is estimated to have fallen by 0.5% from Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016 to Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017; over a longer time-period, labour productivity growth has been lower on average than prior to the economic downturn.
All the evidence over a long period of time identifies that healthier, happier employees are better performers, they stay, they have a long-term impact on cost reduction and have fewer accidents.
So why aren’t businesses more interested in maintaining employee health?
In part, the perception of employees that productivity is more important has an element of truth.
As employers, we do not understand enough about what makes one employee more productive than another or what make one employee more susceptible to illness than their colleagues. What we do know is that successful businesses take a proactive approach to managing both productivity and employee health and absence.
The first step is to make sure that your senior managers are on-board with the approach and that is what we will explore at the event on 19th July.
We have had a summer that has been full of good news, said Mr Millward, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the success of TeamGB at the London Olympics and the forthcoming Paralympic Games have given us all a warm feeling. Yet it is important to also acknowledge that in the world of work the level of strike days has reached a 20 year high!
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that workers in Britain spent 1.39 million working days on strike action or in other industrial disputes during 2011, which is the highest level for 20 years. Ninety –five percent of the disputes that resulted in industrial action were connected to pay.
In the public sector 92percent of the industrial disputes related to pensions including the nation dispute in November 2011.
The number of people willing to get involved in an industrial dispute has risen twelve fold since 2010 to 1.5million people.
Forty-one percent of disputes were in the private sector with 110,000 days lost to industrial action, the highest since 2004.
The days of long term industrial action like the miners’ strike may be over. In 2011 the majority of work stoppages lasted for just one day. But we must not underestimate the disruption and loss of business that even a one day stoppage can cause said Mr Millward.
With the economy still under pressure and unemployment rising across Yorkshire, there is an increasing likelihood that at some time in the next twelve months employers are going to have to communicate bad news to their employees.
Communicate bad news correctly and you soften the blow, get it wrong and you turn a bad situation in to a catastrophe!
In his career of more than 30 years in HR Michael Millward has often had periods like those portrayed by George Clooney in the Hollywood film Up In the Air. It’s probably the only film in which the leading man plays a HR professional! His character flies around the USA telling people that their job has been made redundant and that they are out of work. It is a role with which Mr Millward is very familiar, only for him he was flying into a different European city every day.
Acas the government body tasked with helping employers and employees avoid disputes has recently issued a guide to help employers to effectively communicate bad news.
The guide focuses on redundancies but the principles can be applied to any situation.
The first point that the guide makes is that bad news should be communicated by someone who is emotionally distant from those affected by the news. This advice runs contrary to the long held view that the bad news should be communicated by the people who tell you the good stuff as well.
If a line manager is taken out of the communication it can be seen as a weakness by their staff. On the other hand having someone from head office as the bearer of bad news can make it easier for line managers to focus on the what do we do next aspects; and how are we going to cope with this questions.
It is never easy telling someone that they are no longer required to do a job that may have been a major part of their life, and it can be difficult to cope with the range of emotional reactions that you encounter explained Mr Millward.
As the person doing the telling you also have to accept that you are the person in the middle and that the decision makers will blame you if the news is badly accepted.
How you deal with the people who are leaving will have an impact of the people who remain, and how they feel about working for your organisation and their commitment to making it successful. Couple that with the problems that are raised when a disgruntled employee goes to the press with a sob story about mistreatment and you end up with customers who are unhappy as well.
Of course said Mr Millward if you get it wrong you can also end up with a tribunal claim.
Employers need to carefully select the person who is doing the telling carefully. They should aim for someone who can show empathy, without getting emotionally involved as well as being very practical.
A study conducted by Dr Ian Ashman from the Institute for Research into Organisation, Work and Employment at the University of Central Lancashire’s Business School on behalf of Acas found that.
The study also found that experiences in the private and public sectors varied. Envoys in the private sector were more likely to be involved in the decision making process around downsizing which gave them a greater sense of ownership. This helped them deal with the more difficult aspect of the role. In contrast public sector envoys were less likely to be involved, and though they may understand the reasons behind decisions, they had less sense of ownership and buy in regarding decisions and the procedures for implementing any job losses.