Workplace Stress – no longer a taboo!

Bob joined a multi-national corporate some 15 years ago and thoroughly enjoyed his role as a senior manager leading large teams. He performed exceptionally well in his job until 2012, when a number of major changes — divorce, a workplace restructuring and a new boss whom he seemed unable to please — came together and led to a period of physical ill-health, with sudden weight loss, migraine and severe stomach cramps among the more obvious symptoms.

What was less apparent to Bob’s colleagues and boss was the impact of undetected, unrelieved stress upon his mental health. Only two months after returning to work following a period of sick leave, Bob handed in his notice, exhausted and with shattered confidence as he realised that he no longer felt able to stay on top of his demanding role.

Bob is not his real name, but we all know someone like him. In 2012, the gravity and prevalence of unrecognised workplace stress was highlighted by reports indicating that hospital admissions for stress-related illness have sharply increased in recent years1. A Guardian report in October 2012 states that mental health issues are regularly ignored in the workplace, and account for some 140 million working days lost each year as a result of employee illness, at a cost of over £15 billion annually in lost revenue to the UK economy.

The report called for “a culture change right across the business sectors” with regard to managing employee mental health, underlining the enormous impact on human potential and organisational budgets when excessive pressure over a prolonged period leads to temporary mental incapacity, or worse, “breakdown”.

In the current economic climate of job cuts, reduced pay and high unemployment, it is not surprising that there should be renewed emphasis on the importance of stress management. Factors like these are way up the list of recognised stressors, alongside work overload, bullying and harassment.

But the destructive aspects of stress are nothing new. If your organisation takes stress seriously, employees may be fortunate to benefit from stress awareness training, mediation services, confidential on-site counselling, or a family-friendly, flexible-hours culture with opportunities for homeworking, adequate sickness and holiday leave, gym membership, career and redundancy-management support and coaching, among other possibilities.

If you work in or run an organisation that offers none of the above, that may be because of budget constraints — for smaller organisations struggling to stay in business, paying attention to the needs of overstretched employees may feel like an irrelevant luxury. Or, perhaps it is complacency — some well-funded major corporates still continue to neglect to offer employees support with stress-related difficulties, claiming that there is no perceived need.

Defining terms is an important starting point. Talent management theorists claim that stress at work is not only common, but is, to some extent, desirable. A temporary sense of challenge can and regularly does stimulate some employees to heightened performance, especially when support and encouragement is available to motivate people towards greater achievements.

Nonetheless, clear-cut distinctions exist between positive challenge and negative stress. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work”4. This emphasises the difference between pressure — the impact of circumstances — and stress, a human response that, while not in itself an illness, may lead to serious physical and mental illness when pressurising circumstances continue over a prolonged period — particularly when timely relief and support are not available.

The diseases that high levels of stress can cause range from severe immune depression causing repeated colds, coughs and flu, through stomach infections, heightened blood pressure and heart disease, to mental illness such as depression, panic attacks and, in the very worst cases, psychosis and even suicide.

This is the extreme, but timely, appropriate support can prevent ill-health, helping severely stressed people address the underlying issues that affect their well-being. Similarly, stress management support services can transform a return to work for a person on extended sick leave from a dreaded experience into a gradual, confidence-boosting recovery of their full capabilities.

But there are difficulties in detecting debilitating stress in colleagues. After all, there is no universal blueprint regarding how people react to pressurising circumstances. We have different levels of tolerance to ongoing stress, show that we are under pressure in different ways and employ varying strategies (some healthy, others less so) in order to cope. Similarly, and perhaps even more importantly, as human beings we vary enormously in our inclination and ability to talk effectively about our need for support in difficult times.

If you are aware that stress is something that needs addressing in your organisation or with you as a person then we have tools, techniques and experience that can help you start to address and manage this.

References

  • nhs.uk 12.09.12. Sharp rise in hospital admissions for stress — “recession to blame”
  • Allen K, Guardian 04.10.11. Stress now commonest cause of long-term sick leave — report
  • McCall, M W, 1997. High Flyers: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders
  • HSE, June 2009. Preventing Stress, Promoting Positive Manager Behaviour
  • Quenk, N L, January 2012. In the Grip
    • Coner – Workplace Stress Why it’s time to speak out – 13/-5/13

 

Shared Parental Leave (SPL)

SPL is a new legal entitlement for eligible parents of babies due, or children placed for adoption, on or after 5 April 2015. It provides both parents with the opportunity to consider the best arrangement to care for their child during the child’s first year.

The regulations give parents the right to take SPL and place a duty on employers to ensure that their employees are not penalised for using their entitlement or put under pressure to cancel/change a leave notification.

The amount of leave available is calculated using the mother’s entitlement to maternity/adoption leave, which allows them to take up to 52 weeks’ leave. If they reduce their maternity/adoption leave entitlement then they and/or their partner may opt-in to the SPL system and take any remaining weeks as SPL. This means their partner could begin to take SPL while the mother is still on maternity/adoption leave.

SPL enables parents to share the caring responsibilities evenly or have one parent taking the main caring role, depending on their preferences and circumstances. unlike maternity/adoption leave, eligible employees can stop and start their SPL and return to work between periods of leave with each eligible parent able to submit three notices booking periods of leave (although an employer may allow more).

Employers and employees will find that having early conversations regarding leave intentions will be beneficial, enabling them both to be clear regarding the entitlement, what leave arrangements are being considered and how any leave will be accommodated.

What Happens to Maternity  Paternity / Adoption Leave?

Parents will remain entitled to take maternity, paternity and adoption leave. However, an eligible mother or adopter may now choose to reduce their maternity/adoption leave early and opt in to SPL.

A birth mother must take at least two weeks maternity leave following the birth of a child (four weeks for manual work in a factory environment) but can otherwise choose to end her maternity leave at any stage. An adopter can end their adoption leave once they have taken it for two weeks.

The Shared Parental Leave eligibility criteria

To qualify for SPL a mother must:

  • have a partner
  • be entitled to either maternity/adoption leave or to statutory maternity/ adoption pay or maternity allowance
  • have curtailed, or given notice to reduce, their maternity/adoption leave, or their pay/allowance (if not eligible for maternity/adoption leave).

A parent intending to take SPL must:

  • be an employee
  • share the primary responsibility for the child with the other parent at the time of the birth or placement for adoption
  • have properly notified their employer of their entitlement and have provided the necessary declarations and evidence

In addition, a parent wanting to take SPL is required to satisfy the ‘continuity of employment test’ and their partner must meet the ‘employment and earnings test’.

Continuity of employment test – The individual has worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the child’s expected due date/matching date and is still working for the employer at the start of each leave period

Employment and earnings test – In the 66 weeks leading up to the baby’s expected due date/ matching date, the person has worked for at least 26 weeks and earned an average of at least £30 (as of 2015) a week in any 13 weeks.

Sometimes only one parent will be eligible. For example a self-employed parent will not be entitled to SPL themselves but they may still pass the employment and earnings test so their partner, if they are an employee, may still qualify.

If both parents are employees and both meet the qualifying requirements then there will be a joint entitlement and the parents will have to determine how to divide the leave entitlement once the mother has decided to curtail their maternity/adoption leave.

If you require more information on this or would like us to produce a policy then get in touch.

Landmark ruling on Holiday pay

As you may have been aware in the press a judgement has been handed down on 4 November 2014 in relation to the calculation of holiday pay.  We have further information on how this ruling will apply to businesses.

The background of the cases support the encouragement for employees to take their annual leave, without suffering a detriment to their ‘normal remuneration’.  The cases have clarified ‘normal’ remuneration to include any payments which are intrinsically linked to the tasks workers are required to perform under the contract, specifically with the Bear Scotland v Fulton and others stating that overtime which an employee must work if offered should be considered part of ‘normal remuneration’.  In addition, taxable payments for travel time (Not expenses) should also be included.  The Lock v British Gas Trading case held that commissions must be included in holiday pay.  This ruling only applies to the basic 4 weeks leave as determined under the EU Working Time Directive (not the additional 1.6 weeks under the UK Working time regulations).  It also does not apply to any additional company holiday pay

The matter of how far back workers can go when making a claim, has been confirmed at the three months gap between periods of unpaid holiday paid and any claim being made.  However it is likely that the judgement will be appealed to the court of appeal.

What does this mean in practice?

  • Consider precisely what amounts to ‘normal remuneration’ and therefore part of the calculation for holiday pay.
  • Consider if you wish to pay the higher rate for the additional 1.6 weeks leave, or any company holiday pay.
  • Consider the structure of the working arrangements in order to manage the liabilities.  Is overtime purely voluntary, or infrequent, or the use of agency staff for busy periods.

This has a complicated impact on organisation and the future calculation of holiday pay.