Can You Turn Christmas Tunes Into HR Policies?

As it’s December and because I always write something a little light-hearted for the festive season, this year I’ve chosen some Christmas songs for you! I hope you enjoy how I’ve managed to turn them into HR policies.

Here is the Christmas Top Ten:

Providing tidings of comfort and joy on your business travels far and wide, you are allowed up to £XX per evening meal and a hotel room with breakfast in one of our preferred hotel chains. If you need to stay in Bethlehem, we know of a good Inn where you can sleep in a perfectly comfortable manger. But please don’t feed the oxen.

When the weather outside is frightful, we ensure the car parks and pathways are all gritted. The lights are turned down low to help you see your way safely in the snow. Let it snow, let it snow. There will be no corn for popping for health and safety reasons.

We want you to let your hearts be light and to be a little merry at Christmas, but please drink responsibly. We also believe in making the Yule-tide gay for all, in an accepting and inclusive way in order that our troubles will be miles away.

We don’t want a lot for Christmas, there’s just one thing we need. And that’s your attendance during normal office hours after the Christmas party. Please make our wish come true. All we want for Christmas is you. Anyone calling in sick the next day may be disciplined. Baby.

Please remember to keep your personal mobile phones on silent during working hours. Employees need to work in heavenly peace where all is calm. If your mobile does ring during office hours, you will receive a heavenly HR host singing ‘Alleluia’, and it will not be radiant or glorious. 

If anyone is seen kissing anyone under the mistletoe, let alone Santa, they will be disciplined. We do not encourage personal relationships, even if it is only tickling under a snowy white beard. 

We do not tolerate bullying. A colleague may have a very shiny red nose, but there is no excuse for laughing and calling him names. We are an inclusive and caring company, respecting the differences that everyone gives from all nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, sexualities and religions. Therefore, a nose so bright can guide others through the fog and snow.

On the occasions when your hardware or software needs attention, please see the big man in a chair with little tiny men everywhere. He’s the man with all the toys … err, equipment and IT knowledge. 

Your company car is for business use only. However, you are permitted to drive home for Christmas, to see those faces. You will be there. If you run a red light or any other motoring offence, you will have to pay the fine and have the points on your licence. Safe driving in (y)our car.

When a new-born king … err, supplier … comes to visit offering their finest gifts, it is our policy to respectfully turn them down. Gifts could be perceived as bribery. Rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum. Years from now, perhaps we’ll see the day of glory where we can work in peace – without the gifts. Rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum.

We hope you enjoyed both the silliness and the links to the real songs. If you need any serious HR advice over the festive period, please do get in touch.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas and all good wishes for a prosperous 2020.

Keep Updated with the latest Employment Law Changes – October 2019

During my most recent Employment Law workshop, we covered a number of HR specific issues that have recently been updated. As it’s important that you, as an employer, know about any employment law changes, here’s a summary of some of the most pertinent items. 

Even if you attended the event, this summary will help you to keep abreast of latest legislation. 

Leap Year Holidays – are employees entitled to an extra day?

As 2020 is a leap year, you may well be asked this question by your employees: 

  • Salaried employees are paid a set salary for the year, so unless their Employment Contract states that they can have an extra day’s pay (extremely unlikely), it doesn’t make any difference to what they’re paid.
  • However, an employee who is paid according to the hours they work, or the amount of work they do, will be entitled to be paid for that extra day if they have to work it. 

Vehicle Tracking and GDPR

Many organisations use tracking devices in their company vehicles to record behavioural information, such as speed and distance travelled. If this is necessary for your business, you need to ensure you’re legally compliant:

  • Draw up a Vehicle Tracking Policy that sets out the aims of the technology, clarifies the rules and procedures of usage, and explains how the data is used for your employees to understand.
  • Full transparency is needed for GDPR purposes, so this information should also be included in your Employee Privacy Statement.
  • Where personal use of the vehicles is permitted, a privacy button or similar technology should be installed to ensure that data is not collected outside business hours.
  • If you need specific help to create a Vehicle Tracking Policy for your organisation, please get in touch.

Redundancy Protection for Pregnant Employees and New Parents

The law will be extended and will double the current period of redundancy protection as follows:

  • So that it applies from the point at which an employee informs their employer that they are pregnant, whether this is done orally or in writing; and
  • For six months following the end of maternity leave.

For now, these are the important things to note as an employer:

  • An employee selected for redundancy during maternity leave is entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy with you before other employees and without application or competitive interview.
  • Failure to offer the above renders the subsequent redundancy dismissal as automatically unfair.

Parental Bereavement Leave Entitlement 

From April 2020, statutory leave will be available to all employees who are ‘bereaved parents’ where they were the primary carers for a child under 18, however long they have worked with you. Other things you must consider are:

  • Entitlement focuses more on the responsibility of the ‘primary carer’ and less on the legal status of the carer to the child.
  • This includes non-traditional family structures, such as adoptive parents, people fostering to adopt, legal guardians and most foster parents. 
  • It also covers parents who suffer a stillbirth at 24 weeks or more into pregnancy.
  • Bereavement leave patterns are in units of a week, not days. A single block of two weeks or two separate one week blocks should be taken up to 56 weeks from the date of death.

Vegetarianism and the Equality Act 2010

An employment tribunal – Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd – recently held that vegetarianism is not a ‘philosophical belief’ under the Equality Act 2010. However, the tribunal did suggest that veganism is more likely to be protected under the Act as vegans: ‘do not accept the practice under any circumstances of eating meat, fish or dairy products, and have distinct concerns about the way animals are reared, the clear belief that killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and also against climate control’

As an employer, it’s good practice to respect individual’s dietary choices and requirements. Ensure that work-related social events cater for your employees’ dietary needs, and encourage an atmosphere of acceptance. Don’t allow staff to mock their colleagues for their dietary choices.

IR35

From April 2020 private sector firms will have to check whether contractors need to pay income tax and national insurance contributions, moving the responsibility for conducting checks from the contractor to the hirer/end user business using their services.

Only companies which are not “small”, as defined by the Companies Act 2006, will be subject to the new off-payroll working rules. A small company must meet twoof the following qualifying conditions:

•  An annual turnover not more than £10.2m

•  A balance sheet total not more than £5.1m

•  No more than 50 employees.

For unincorporated organisations, those businesses whose turnover exceeds £10.2m in one calendar year must operate the rules.

The new rules will require the hirer/end user to provide an employment status determination and the reasons for that decision down the contractual chain to each party, in addition to directly to the worker.

A “status disagreement process” will be required to respond to representations from workers where there is a disagreement over determination. HMRC has promised guidance on how to fulfil the obligation to take reasonable care and how to implement a status disagreement process.

The HMRC Check Employment Status for Tax tool (CEST), is intended to help with status determinations, but still fails to win the confidence of its intended users, particularly in light of HMRC’s failure in tax tribunal cases to apply the status tests correctly.

There are many challenges to consider, such as identifying those PSC’s, not taking a blanket approach, and being prepared to deal with appeals. For more information on the complexities of IR35 and how it could affect your business, do get in touch.

If you would like to discuss any of the above employment law items, or have any other issues you need help with, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

What Do You Do if an Employee is Convicted of a Crime?

What would you do if you discovered an employee had been convicted of a criminal offence? Often, the first instinct is to dismiss them immediately. However, this could actually get you into more trouble than your employee!  

Even if the employee is sent to jail, you can’t necessarily mean you can dismiss him or her without a full investigation. A court of Law may deem it reasonable that you hold the job open for their return, if they are only on a short-term sentence, and the offence is nothing to do with work. 

Discovering that one of your employees is a convicted criminal is a big concern. In these circumstances, I am often asked if they should be dismissed. 

As an employer, despite the circumstances, you still need to take care not to dismiss immediately. Additionally, if a convicted employee has over two years’ service, they still have the right to claim unfair dismissal. 

What about when an employee is charged with, or convicted of, a work-relatedcrime?

Along with the judiciary process being carried out, you also need to conduct your own investigation as an employer, before taking disciplinary action. You need to establish the facts of the case. The Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance proceduresmakes it clear that despite the fact that an employee has been charged with, or convicted of, a criminal offence, that in itself is not enough reason for disciplinary action. 

Carefully consider what effect the criminal charge or conviction has on your employee’s ability to do the job, as well as their relationship with you, managers, colleagues or customers. Disciplinary action is more likely to be appropriate if the offence is work related.

Case law tells us that even though an employee is charged with an offence, this on its own does not give reasonable grounds for dismissal. You, as the employer, are under a duty to obtain sufficient information through your own investigations to form a genuine and reasonable belief that the employee is guilty of the offence before deciding to dismiss.

Can I dismiss an employee on misconduct that occurred outside the workplace?

You could dismiss an employee on the grounds of misconduct that occurred outside the workplace provided that the conduct complained of is thought likely to affect the continued employment relationship. The Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures states that where an employee is charged with, or convicted of, a criminal offence not related to work, this is not in itself a reason for disciplinary action. 

Again, you will need to carefully consider what effect the charge or conviction has on the employee’s suitability to do the job, as well as their relationship with managers, work colleagues and customers. The types of criminal offence that are most likely to affect the employment relationship are those involving dishonesty, violence and sexual offences. 

As the employer, you must establish the facts of the case and decide whether it is appropriate to commence the disciplinary procedure. The fairness of a dismissal in each case will depend on the nature of the individual’s job in relation to the type of offence.

Can I dismiss an employee because he or she is in prison?

If an employee is in prison, it may be fair for you to dismiss them because of his or her conduct, or because he or she is unable to perform the job. You will need to consider factors such as the nature of the offence, the length of the sentence, the nature of the employee’s job, the effect of the employee’s absence on the business, and the damage (if any) to your reputation.

Your employee’s conduct could potentially be a fair reason for dismissal if the offence he or she is convicted of relates to his or her job, or if your reputation is likely to be damaged by their conviction. In those cases (or anything similar), you should carry out an investigation and conduct a fair disciplinary procedure as far as possible in the employee’s absence. Once the findings are available, then you can give careful consideration and decide whether it would be reasonable to dismiss him or her.

If your employee is likely to be in prison for a long time, it may be fair to dismiss him or her on the grounds that he or she will be unable to perform the contract of employment. But you must carry out a fair procedure and act reasonably in dismissing the employee for that reason. 

However, if your employee is imprisoned for a short time for an offence unrelated to work, it is likely to be reasonable that you should hold the employee’s job open until he or she returns. 

Why is Occupational Health Essential to your Business?

Occupational Health (OH) is an often overlooked essential service that businesses with any number of employees need. Just as you need HR to put in place systems that help your staff perform well, reduce absenteeism, and monitor your documentation, so you need OH to ensure your staff are fit and able to work to the best of their abilities.

A person’s work can affect their health; conversely, their health can affect their work. This balance has to be managed carefully, which is when you may need specialist OH support. They help you to achieve the balance between assuring your employees are well enough to work, whilst providing advice on ensuring the work is helping them to regain a sense of purpose and increased self-esteem.

How do you reach a balance?

OH focuses on the diagnosis and prevention of diseases caused by work. Through a combination of improved diagnosis of occupational disease, lower exposures to harmful substances, and elimination of the most toxic chemicals, there has been a significant reduction in their incidence. Sadly, though, diseases such as asbestosis, occupational asthma, lead poisoning, and noise-induced hearing loss still occur to this day.

More recently, there has been a shift towards ill-health caused by a mixture of occupational and non-occupational factors, such as stress-related illness and musculoskeletal disorders. OH has, therefore, also taken on the role of assessing an employee’s fitness to undertake a specific job, especially when the job deals with the public’s safety, such as airline pilots, firemen or bus drivers. Assessments may also apply for specific job requirements such as surgeons, or employees regularly travelling overseas.

Duty of Care

While your company is not responsible for the general health of your employees, you do have a moral and legal responsibility for the occupational health of your people. In other words, ensuring that their work does not make them ill, and that they are medically fit for their job.

Specialising in the relationship between work and health, OH is essentially an independent, objective advisory service, providing health advice to both employee and employer. Its main objectives are:

  • To identify and help prevent illness caused by work – both physical and mental health
  • To advise on the fitness of an employee to do their job, which could involve requesting medical reports from doctors or other specialists
  • To provide emergency response on site
  • To improve and maintain the health of the workforce to the mutual benefit of both employee and employer

When to Bring in an Expert

A client of mine had an employee who suffered with severe anxiety. Unfortunately, the anxiety was having a detrimental effect on her work, which in turn caused further issues to both the employee and the business. By then, my client simply wanted to sack the individual, which of course could have meant ending up in court for unfair dismissal.

It was an awkward situation, one which I knew needed specialist help. I called in the expertise of Pippa Clark, an OH specialist. Being particularly aware of the Equality Act and sensitive to the mental health needs of the employee, Pippa was able to ask questions that I didn’t know to ask. From that, we were able to manage the situation to both the employer’s and employee’s satisfaction.

Autumn Employment Law Update Workshop with Pippa Clark, Occupational Health Specialist

Our next Employment Law Update Workshop is taking place on 10 October 2019. Do come along and benefit from the expertise of Pippa Clark, an OH Specialist. Pippa will explain how OH can help your business to help your employees to maintain safe and productive working lives and how OH can help your business to develop a healthy and productive workforce.

As usual, the venue is The Meeting Room at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire, at a cost of just £20 plus VAT, including refreshments. The workshop will run from 9.30am to 1pm.

Click here to reserve your place online.

What Are the Rules for Paying Employees Aged Under 18?

Many business owners look at employing their children over the summer months, or Christmas holidays. As well as providing the younger member of the family with some spending money, employing those under the age of 18 gives businesses some financial relief, as any salary a business pays will be deductible from its taxable profits. However, with employees under 18, there are strict rules on the hours and type of work they can do.

Employing School-age Children

Children aged 13 or over can be employed to do ‘light work’, such as office work, for up to two hours on most term-time days. In school holidays this increases to five hours for those under 15 and eight hours for those over 15, between 7am and 7pm.

16 and 17-year-olds can work up to 40 hours per week and can do most types of work, although some additional health and safety regulations apply. You can generally employ children, including your own, aged 13 or over and pay them a salary which is deductible from your business income.

How Much Can You Pay?

A salary paid to a child must justify the work undertaken, and although there is no fixed rate of pay for children, common sense comes in to play. For example, a business owner would not be justified in paying their 13-year-old child a £40,000 salary to do filing for two hours a day. For a child with no experience carrying out unskilled work, the national minimum wage for 16 to 17-year-olds is £4.35 per hour for 2019/20, so this is a good guide to follow.

A salary of up to £12,500 could be paid tax-free to a child aged under 16 with no other income, if the work undertaken justifies such payment. If a company pays more than £8,632 per annum, employer’s national insurance becomes payable at 13.8%.Children aged 16 or over also pay 12% NI on earnings above £8,632 in 2019/20, in the same way as adults.

Young Entrepreneurs and Junior Partners

Although considered unusual, children can also set up their own businesses. You could award a contract to a child and pay a normal commercial rate for the services they provide. The child in question would be taxable on their business profits in the normal way, but would only pay national insurance at 9% on profits in excess of £8,632.

Businesses are also able to take children into partnership, which reduces the overall tax burden. Using an LLP would safeguard against losing private family assets. Here common sense comes into play again, and although this can be a complex issue to navigate, basic rules apply. For example, you couldn’t take on a child as a partner until they have the intellectual capacity to understand the business and there must be an agreement for all partners to carry on in business together with a view to profit.

Any child taken into partnership must genuinely participate in the business at a sufficient level to justify their status as a partner.

Keep it Business

If you are considering employing one of your children over the holidays, you must make sure you do a number of things to ensure you can answer any questions from HMRC.

This includes creating a job description outlining exactly what the employee’s duties are, making sure they are only working the hours they are legally allowed to work. You must also show a direct, traceable link between the PAYE records, the business bank account and the employee’s bank account.

Provided you follow some basic ground rules there is no reason why you cannot offer some work to children over the holidays, or employ them to take on a specific project for your business. It is perfectly legal and can give your children some valuable experience while keeping them busy during the holidays. However, HMRC is aware of bad practice and does pick up on situations where procedures haven’t been followed correctly. It’s important that you make sure you are following the rules and not overpaying your young employees.

Are you thinking about taking on children over the holidays? If you need to check any of the details before you do this, please do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

Managing Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace – Part Three: Return to Work

Having good mental health in the workplace is a vast subject, which is why I split it into three separate posts. In Part One, I wrote about the importance of providing good training and resources for line managers. Part Two covered managing absence.

This final blog in the series takes you through what you need to consider when an employee is returning to work.

Adjustments at Work

On drawing up the action plan, an honest dialogue between the parties involved must be had about what adjustments your organisation can and cannot make in terms of the employee’s job and tasks.

It is important that you are guided by the individual experiencing the mental health problem. Explore their specific needs and be as creative as possible in addressing them. Make it clear to them if certain adjustments are not permanent but being made to facilitate a return to work.

Adjustments for employees with mental health problems are often simple, practical and cost effective. Organisational adjustments can include:

  • flexible hours or different start/finish times (for a shift worker, not working nights or splitting up days off to break up the working week)
  • a change of workspace, for example a quieter working environment
  • working from home – you must have regular phone catch-ups to remain connected and prevent the employee from feeling isolated
  • changes to break times
  • provision of a quiet room
  • a light-box or a desk with more natural light for someone with seasonal depression;
  • a phased return
  • relaxing absence rules and limits around disability-related sickness absence
  • agreement to give the employee leave at short notice, and time off for mental health related appointments, such as therapy and counselling.

Changes to the role itself include:

  • the reallocation of some tasks
  • changes to the employee’s job description and duties
  • changes to targets or objectives
  • changes to aspects of work that may trigger a mental health problem, such as reducing the amount of time spent on public-facing activities.

If returning the employee to their original role is deemed too difficult, it is vital to involve them in any practical alternative discussions, such as transferring to a different role, or relocation within the organisation. Use the organisation’s agreed procedures to manage these more complex cases, and include HR and occupational health advice.

Practices to support employees returning to work include:

  • increased support from the manager, e.g. monitoring workload to prevent overworking
  • extra training, coaching or mentoring
  • extra help with managing and negotiating workload
  • more feedback
  • debriefing sessions after handling difficult calls, customers or tasks
  • a mentor or “buddy” system (formal or informal)
  • mediation, for example where there are difficulties between colleagues
  • access to a mental health support group or disability network group
  • information on internal support available for self-referral
  • identifying a “safe space” in the workplace where they can have some time out, contact their buddy or other sources of support, and access self-help
  • provide self-help information and share approaches and adjustments that were effective in supporting others
  • encourage building up resilience and following practices that support good mental health, such as taking exercise, meditating and eating healthily
  • encourage more awareness of their mental state and the factors in the workplace that affect it
  • provide regular opportunities to discuss, review and reflect on their positive achievements to help build self-esteem.

Returning to work after mental health absence can be very difficult; HR and managers should ensure that employees feel comfortable and, especially, do not face unrealistic demands or a huge backlog of work on their return. Make sure that there is plenty of time for informal conversations about progress; an “open door” approach should help employees feel comfortable discussing their situation.

Do you have a question about managing mental health absence in your business? Do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

* This blog is an edited version of an excerpt of an article by XpertHR – Managing Mental Health.

Managing Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace – Part Two: Managing Absence

Having good mental health in the workplace is a vast subject, which is why I split it into three separate posts. In Part One, I wrote about the importance of providing good training and resources for line managers, as well as preventative measures, and how to intervene, provide support and signpost for outside help when needed.

This blog focuses on managing absence part three will look at the return to work.

Maintaining Contact with an Absent Employee

It’s important to keep in touch with any employee who is on long-term absence. But it is vital in the case of someone who is absent because of mental ill health. Maintaining contact can help prevent the individual from feeling isolated, and most people will be very grateful for that.

Your Sickness Absence policy and procedure should set the ground rules for making managing absence easier for all. It should state that:

  • employees have a responsibility to stay in contact when they are off sick
  • if employees don’t respond to reasonable attempts at contact, the organisation cannot be expected to be aware of, or make adjustments for, their health condition on return to work
  • flexibility around contact frequency is necessary, as what is appropriate for an employee absent with a mental health problem may differ from what is appropriate for an employee absent with a physical illness
  • encourage line managers to keep in touch with absent employees, emphasising that staying in touch with people who are off sick with mental ill health helps make their eventual rehabilitation and return to work easier for them
  • employees should be allowed to have contact with the HR department or another nominated individual rather than by their line manager where appropriate, for example if the employee perceives that the line manager is a contributing factor to his or her ill health
  • the organisation and employee should agree a method of communication; often, employees absent with mental ill health prefer to communicate via email rather than by telephone or face to face. If occupational health need to assess the employee, or the employee requests a visit, home visits can be undertaken after a risk assessment has been carried out
  • inform the employee about any available support, such as an employee assistance programme or occupational health service, and gain the employee’s permission for these services to get in contact
  • employees should not be contacted by other colleagues about work-related issues during their absence, nor be expected to check work emails or voicemail
  • a record should be kept of all contact with the absent employee.

Dialogue with the absent employee should be started as soon as possible, either by the line manager or the designated person, and maintained throughout the employee’s absence. These are excellent opportunities to tell the employee about work, and to reassure him or her that the organisation will support them during their absence and return to work.

You may need to adopt a slightly different approach to maintaining contact with an employee who is experiencing a serious mental health problem. Electing to maintain contact with the employee through a representative may be the most effective approach.

If your absent employee’s colleagues would like to get in touch with them, just as with a physical health problem, most people with mental health illnesses appreciate enquiries about their wellbeing. Initially, ask your absent employee what their wishes are in this regard, and what they would like you to convey about their sickness absence to colleagues.

Action Plans

It is vital that an employee’s return to work is managed well, especially when absence was due to mental ill health. A lack of support and poor communication are the most frequently cited issues to an effective return to work.

Develop an action plan prior to the employee’s return to help reassure them that their needs will be met. This typically involves the following:

  • assemble a multi-disciplinary team that includes the employee, his or her line manager, and any specialist treatment agencies
  • the line manager should agree the action plan and will be responsible for any adjustments agreed, even if discussions were with another nominated individual
  • be guided by the employee on when they wish to return to work, and put in place any reasonable adjustments to support this
  • an early return to work can help in the rehabilitation of employees who are not yet 100% fit; this can be facilitated by practices such as phased return to work
  • the action plan should address the employee’s health needs both for returning to work and on an ongoing basis
  • include agreed steps for the employee and manager to take, such as return to work adjustments and ongoing support, reviewing them regularly
  • set out expectations clearly to prevent misunderstandings, such as a realistic timetable for a return to normal duties.

Ensure that the action plan is flexible – mental health conditions fluctuate, and recovery can be a rocky road. The manager must patiently support the employee well beyond the first few weeks after return to work. When reviewing progress, adjust the employee’s workload as needed, for example by allocating fewer tasks or allowing longer deadlines.

HR and occupational health may need to provide guidance to managers to support them monitor the health and wellbeing of returning employees.

As there is a lot to take in here, I’ll cover what you need to do next, in order to ensure a smooth return to work for your employees, in the final part of this blog series.

In the meantime, if you have any further queries on managing mental health absence in the workplace, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

* This blog is an edited version of an excerpt of an article by XpertHR – Managing Mental Health.

Managing Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace – Part One: Guidance and Training for Line Managers

Last month I wrote about the importance of having wellbeing programmes in place, and how it can help employees feel engaged, increase productivity and reduce absence. Linked to that is the importance of managing mental health issues that may arise, including implementing ways to help reduce the chances of mental health (MH) problems occurring.

Managers have a crucial role in managing MH. A negative, unorganised and inconsistent manager may have a detrimental effect on people’s mental health, whereas a supportive manager with strong leadership can help your teams feel valued and recognised.

It is important to remember that just because someone has a MH illness does not mean they cannot perform as well as their colleagues. Often, people with MH conditions are high performers and achievers.

Because the manager’s role in supporting good mental health in the workplace is so crucial, it’s important to provide excellent training and develop a Mental Health Policy for managers to refer to. Guidance should state that:

  • Managers are not expected to diagnose but should seek advice from Human Resources (HR) or Occupational Health (OH) if they have any concerns about an employee.
  • Approach all aspects of a person’s MH as you would for any other kind of health-related problem, including sickness absence, assessing fitness for work using specialist advice, considering workplace adjustments, and managing performance.

Prevention, Intervention and Support

Provide your managers with the necessary resources to help prevent employees develop work-related stress and to support employees with MH conditions. Each level of intervention includes:

  • Primary Prevention
    • Creating a workplace environment that is conducive to good MH, including training line managers in the soft skills needed to encourage disclosure of any MH problems
    • Job design – creating work that is satisfying and not excessively pressurised
    • Removal of risk factors, including bullying and harassment
    • Promoting good working relationships.
  • Secondary Intervention
    • Providing support to employees at an early stage of any MH problems, such as stress management and resilience training
    • Help line managers to spot when a team member may be struggling with stress or any kind of distress.
  • Tertiary Level Support
    • Support your managers in identifying and supporting employees with severe mental ill health by providing mental health first-aid training, guidance on using the management support part of your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), and training in making effective referrals to OH or other medical specialists
    • Employees with more serious long-term illnesses will often need a different management approach, particularly where the condition includes relapses and remission periods. Most employees with enduring mental ill health will generally function well when given support, which also helps them to quickly divulge when they identify the early warning signs that they are not well. That vital workplace support helps to empower them to manage their situation at work.
  • Therapeutic Support
    • Regularly promote the support available through your EAP or any external programme, especially therapies for common MH problems, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
    • When referring employees for counselling or CBT, always ensure that they are equipped to handle employees with MH issues
    • CBT is recognised as being effective in helping people back to work following MH problems as work-focused goals and strategies can be set, which employees often find empowering. CBT is typically delivered in six to eight sessions of counselling, either face to face or via online e-therapy programmes.

Building Resilience

Building employee resilience makes good business sense – resilient employees are better able to maintain their performance at work, even under pressure. However, keep in mind that many instances of stress and distress are symptomatic of wider problems, which would need investigating. Resilience training would not correct those problems.

Training individuals and teams to become more resilient is particularly important where change has the potential to undermine confidence and morale. Resilience training can also help employees to:

  • Be more flexible about organisational change
  • Adopt a “can-do” attitude and be more optimistic about their future at work
  • Remain calm under pressure and feel less anxious about work and home life.

Encouraging Disclosure About a Mental Health condition

Often, people are reluctant to disclose that they have a MH condition. Mental ill health is a sensitive issue, but most employees welcome an open and honest approach. Ensure your managers have regular catch-up sessions with their teams. Use simple, non-judgmental questions – this helps employees to talk openly and helps managers to spot signs of trouble early. Building a good rapport makes it easier for employees to disclose a MH problem.

Making Timely Referrals to Occupational Health

Referrals to OH may be triggered under various circumstances, including changes in behaviour or sickness absence that may be related to an underlying MH problem, or if the employee’s MH problem is work related. Sometimes, a situation at work may affect an employee’s MH, for example difficult relationships with colleagues.

Where an employee discloses a MH problem, encourage them to consult their GP first, and inform them of support available through your EAP or any other service.

Early referral to appropriate medical and/or specialist services help to nip things in the bud and prevent sickness absence. Therefore, an effective process should include:

  • Making referrals as soon as there is a concern about an employee
  • Provide OH with background information, including the employee’s job role, any workplace adjustments in place or attempted, whether a disciplinary or performance management process is under way, and whether there are any relationship problems with colleagues
  • Asking the OH team relevant questions, e.g. about the individual’s fitness to carry out particular tasks, or the prognosis for a return to work (if the employee is absent)
  • Discuss the advice received from OH with the employee as a precursor to building an action plan to help them remain in or return to work.

Encourage your managers to seek expert advice if they feel unsure, or if it is a particularly complex case. Advice could come from OH, HR, or external organisations such as mental health charities.

Feedback following a referral usually provides recommendations and advice about whether the health problem is likely to have an impact on the employee’s fitness to carry out his or her role. If the employee is absent from work, it should also give some idea about how long the absence is likely to last.

All parties must ensure that personal data, including information about individuals’ health, is handled in accordance with your GDPR policy. For instance, if OH needs to liaise with employees’ medical practitioners. You need a consistent approach for when a medical report is requested, who will request it, and how.

Case Management

Always use a case management approach when supporting employees with MH problems to return to, or stay in, work. This approach involves key functions – such as line managers, HR and OH – monitoring the employee’s situation and requirements, and liaising with one another about appropriate actions. Tailor your approach to the employee, as everyone’s mental ill health and their coping mechanisms are unique. Each case should be handled by a consistent group of people, including a single case manager to coordinate all actions.

Training Line Managers

Line managers need training to spot the common signs of mental ill health and to identify employees who are struggling. Training should cover how pressure can become negative stress and other work-related problems, such as poor performance. It should guide managers on how and when to seek specialist help if they cannot deal with, or do not feel comfortable, in managing the issue.

Training line managers should lead to:

  • Greater confidence in approaching employees to offer early support at work
  • More effective and timely referrals to OH or other specialist services
  • More effective management support for absent individuals
  • Less stigma about mental ill health at work
  • A reduction in absence because of an increased ability to keep employees well at work.

The following areas should be covered in your training provision:

  • Being Aware of Potential Triggers, including recognising MH problems. Managers should be alert to work-related factors that can adversely affect employees (see Environmental risk factors).
  • Identifying Mental Ill Health. Line managers who know their staff and regularly hold catch-ups are well placed to spot any signs of stress or mental ill health at an early stage. Often, the key is a change in typical behaviour. Symptoms vary, as everyone’s mental ill health is different, but potential indicators are provided in the table below. However, these signs don’t automatically mean that the employee has a MH problem – it could be a sign of another health issue or something else entirely. Training should stress that managers should never make assumptions, and to talk to employees directly.
  • Mental Health First-Aid Training. Designed to help managers successfully intervene when a crisis situation at work arises, such as when an individual may be a danger to themselves or others. These courses also cover dealing with panic attacks, acute stress reactions and conditions such as schizophrenia.
  • Absence Management and Referrals. Training managers to hold difficult or sensitive conversations with employees will help them to manage absence and specialist referrals. This training should focus on making such discussions open and positive, so that both parties can explore issues freely. The training should emphasise that you do not expect managers to act as a doctor, but to understand when to involve HR or OH professionals.
  • Return to Work. Managers need to understand the importance of keeping in contact with absent employees experiencing a MH problem, the value of a well-designed action plan for return to work, the legal and practical issues around adjustments at work, and the benefits of a case management approach to rehabilitation.
  • Supporting Day-to-Day Wellbeing. Managers must be equipped with the skills to support the wellbeing of employees daily, and particularly during periods of significant organisational change. Managers need the tools to break unwelcome news sensitively and prepare for the possible psychological impact on employees. Develop regular training to boost management competencies to help reduce psychological harm at work, for example managing emotions, communicating on work issues and managing difficult situations.

June’s blog will focus on managing sickness absence and return to work for employees with mental health illnesses. Meanwhile, if you need help in managing mental health in your organisation, or indeed any other staff issues, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

The source of this blog is XpertHR.