October 15

Progress on greater transparency on mental health in our workplace is SLOW……you could do better!

In our April 2019 newsletter…’Be a progressive employer and conduct a disability, mental health and wellbeing audit in the workplace’…. we outlined the benefits to be reaped by those employers who drive greater transparency on disability, mental health and wellbeing in their workplace….

Six months on research suggests that progress is slow……

The Government Review, Thriving at Work, believes that ALL employers, of whatever size, can and should meet the following core standards:

• Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
• Develop mental health awareness among employees
• Encourage open conversations about mental health and provide support when employees are struggling
• Provide your employees with good working conditions
• Promote effective people management by training managers
• Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

Disappointingly, recent research has revealed that only a fifth of the employers polled had met even the first of the core standards, above, and almost half had not made any progress at all towards it. Therefore, the majority of organisations in the UK do NOT have a mental health at work plan.

This suggests employers are missing opportunities to intervene at a much earlier stage to minimise the amount of time lost to sickness absence. The latest figures serve as a stark reminder as to just how costly this is for UK employers…..poor workplace mental health, which is the main cause of sickness absence, is estimated to cost between £33bn and £42bn each year.

Mental health is undoubtedly higher up the HR agenda than at any other time. However, much more work needs to be done to ensure organisations have a culture that encourages timely disclosure of mental ill-health – this in turn allows for early intervention, that may minimise the length, severity and impact of a mental ill health episode.

What is required is the development of skills and competence among line managers, and resources need to be found to do just this. Line managers are vital in creating workplaces that are positive for people’s mental health and wellbeing, but they need to be equipped with the right skills and knowledge to do this.

Just a few snippets from the recent research which support the need to train your managers properly to deal with mental health and wellbeing:

• Line managers think they do not get enough help from their organisation to support the mental wellbeing of their staff, despite this being viewed as vital in the creation of mentally healthy workplaces.

• Fewer than a third of managers had been sufficiently trained to recognise the signs of mental ill-health in their staff.

• Line managers either have never heard mention of a mental health at work plan or heard about it in passing but have not received support to create one.

• Very few managers ever discuss mental health at all with their direct employees or reports and even less admitted to discussing their reports’ own mental health.

• The majority of UK workers would not discuss mental ill-health with their manager because they were concerned they would be judged as incapable. Instead they would confide in a colleague.

• It is believed many employees have taken absence because of mental ill-health but that is not the reason given for their absence.

Businesses need to work hard to break down these taboos, by investing in training their management teams and thus creating more open lines of communication.

It is undoubtedly an area loaded with often sensitive, and therefore challenging issues, but it is worth remembering that an organisation that promotes transparency around disability, mental health and wellbeing will inevitably enjoy improved employee engagement and retention with consequent gains for performance and productivity.

Professional advice and support is on hand if you need it…..nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call Nicola on 07917 878384

October 2

Thomas Cook, British American Tobacco, possibly Ryanair are facing redundancies….here are our top ten redundancy pitfalls……………

We have seen the collapse of Thomas Cook in the last week resulting in thousands of job losses and now Ryanair has urged its pilots to go on unpaid leave or transfer to other bases to avoid redundancies of the kind that have resulted from the demise of Thomas Cook.

There is more to making someone redundant than handing them a letter and waving them off!

Here are our top 10 redundancy pitfalls:

1. Defining the pool for redundancies incorrectly

The first danger is that the employer can define the redundancy pool too narrowly.

In some circumstances only one employee may be potentially affected by the redundancy and there will be no need to identify a pool for selection. In all other situations the pool of selection must relate to the reason for the potential redundancies, which can be tricky where employees hold similar positions or where employees’ skills are interchangeable. If in doubt put the whole pool of those “at risk” from redundancy and consult them on the selection criteria.

2. Not offering suitable alternative employment

Even though vacancies may be few and there is no legal requirement for the employer to create a vacancy, it is still under an obligation to consider suitable alternative employment in the organisation or its associated bodies.

The employee has a four-week trial period in this alternative post. If they unreasonably reject it, then the redundancy payment may be forfeited.

Remember that a woman on maternity leave must be offered a suitable alternative post before those “at risk” staff that are not on maternity leave.

3. Absence of a genuine redundancy situation

A genuine redundancy occurs where the business or workplace is closed, or there is a diminished need for employees to carry out “work of a particular kind” – that is, a reduction in the size of the workforce. A reorganisation of the business could also lead to redundancies.

Less principled employers may see an economic downturn as a great opportunity to get rid of underperforming staff. This is to be avoided at all costs – an employer failing to prove there is a genuine redundancy situation could end up facing a charge of unfair dismissal.

4. Failure to carry out a fair selection procedure

To prove a role is genuinely redundant, employers must carry out a fair selection procedure, using transparent, consistent and objective redundancy selection criteria. They should avoid choosing an individual for redundancy because of a characteristic such as pregnancy, age or length of service. ‘Last in, first out’ may still be a valid selection criterion but only as one of many others, not on its own.

5. Failure to consult properly on collective redundancies

Consultation is fundamental to a fair redundancy procedure. If an employer is considering making 20 or more redundancies at any one establishment, then it is under a strict legal duty to consult with elected representatives of the workforce for a minimum of 30 days – if laying off 100 or more staff, the minimum period of consultation is 45 days.

The consultation must be “meaningful”; it must not be a “sham”. The decision to make an employee redundant must not have been taken before the consultation begins and the employer should avoid implying that a final decision on the redundancies has already been reached: redundancy is only a possible option at this stage.

6. Failure to inform and consult on an individual basis

Furthermore, even if such collective consultation takes place, an employer is also under a separate duty to consult individually with each employee selected for redundancy. This duty applies in all cases, regardless of the number of redundancies being made. Again, the consultation must be proper and “meaningful”. As with the collective consultation process, it should be a two-way dialogue exploring ways of avoiding, or at least mitigating the effect of the redundancy.

This individual consultation with the “at risk” employees is an essential and integral part of a fair dismissal. Again, failure to consult can lead to the award of hefty compensation for an unfair dismissal.

7. Failure to consider alternatives to redundancy

Employers leaping onto the redundancy bandwagon leave themselves at real risk of being left ill-equipped for the upturn. By failing to consider alternatives to redundancy, they may end up losing skilled and valuable employees, maybe even finding themselves short-staffed. The following should be considered:

• Review whether or not any new vacancy can be filled by redeploying an existing member of staff, with appropriate retraining where necessary.
• Review overtime to see if it can be reduced or stopped altogether.
• Invite staff to volunteer for reduced hours or alternative ways of working.
• Consider reducing or stopping the use of temporary staff.
• Consider seeking agreement to a temporary reduction in the number of days/hours that staff work.
• Consider inviting employees to apply for sabbaticals on part or no pay.

8. Failure to train managers in how to carry out the redundancy exercise

While HR can slink off to its own department once a redundancy announcement has been made, it is up to line managers to cope with redundant staff in the run up to their departure.

Lacking the skills and experience to do so effectively and compassionately will make the situation worse for all concerned – including ‘surviving’ staff.

Communication is key – employers must make sure everyone involved (particularly those being made redundant) hears the news in a timely and appropriate fashion, through the right channels. This is especially important today when so many people use social media for instant communication.

9. Not accounting for the extra costs and resources involved

Redundancy does not begin and end with breaking the news. Employers should be very careful to allocate resources – both time and money – for the duration of the consultation period, and often beyond. Remember as well as a redundancy payment there is also a notice payment that needs to be made in lieu if an employee is not going to work their notice. Accrued but untaken holiday also must be paid to an employee being made redundant. It’s worth also considering the potential for challenges to the redundancy in employment tribunal.

10. Failing to account for the wider effects of the redundancy exercise

It’s inevitable that the staff left behind will suffer from low morale, lower productivity and possibly even increased absence.

They may even suffer ‘survivor guilt’. Employers should never underestimate the impact redundancies can have on remaining staff.

Conclusion:

It is essential that employers get the planning and documentation right during a redundancy exercise. Effective communication is vital. An employer should not underestimate the level of compensation that may be awarded by an employment tribunal if it gets something wrong, let alone the legal costs and wasted management time in defending any such proceedings. Nor should the employer underestimate the effect on staff morale of a redundancy situation in the workplace.