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People Matter May 2015

Getting sick of summer sickies?

Do you ever get suspicious of your employees being struck down with illness when the sun comes out? You are not alone. Previous summers have shown a remarkable correlation between soaring temperatures, surging barbeque sales and – yes! – increased rates of absenteeism down to alleged illness. A term for it has even been coined: ‘summer sickies’.

Our weather is famously unpredictable – but there are other indicators you could look out for when confronted with suspicious absence. Sporting events for one. This year we have the Ashes sprawling across the summer, followed by the Rugby Union World Cup in the Autumn. And of course there is Wimbledon, which is with us every year in the last week of June and first week of July. A pattern of sick days appended to Bank Holidays or weekends may be another indicator that sickness is not genuine.

Standard procedure for an employee off absent on short-term sickness should be a direct conversation with their Line Manager before or in the first hour of the time they were due in – explaining the reasons and the expected length of absence. On their return they should attend an interview with the line manager to discuss it. They should then complete a self-certification form. Further investigation by the company is permitted, although it is good practice to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions before establishing as many facts as possible.

If a ‘summer sickie’ is discovered it can be treated as an unauthorised absence which is a disciplinary offence. For help dealing with this tricky issue give the HR Dept a call.

Standing up for well-being

If you were told a secret killer was lurking in your office, you may be forgiven if you pointed the finger at ‘creepy Graham from accounts’ before you ever suspected the furniture. (Sorry Graham – we are sure you are just misunderstood).

But actually the office chair – and the act of sitting for seven or eight hours every day – is increasingly being recognised as a significant contributing factor in killer health conditions including heart disease, some forms of cancer, diabetes and obesity. In the UK, 67% of men and 57% of women are classified as overweight or obese.

And of course we all know about back pain caused by sitting down for long periods – particularly if the chairs are not orthopedically designed. So what about solutions?

In the party game Musical Chairs, the one left standing is the loser. But in the office, standing could be the answer. Standing desks are incredibly popular in Scandinavia. Apparently, over 80% of office workers use them over there!

We are certainly not suggesting chucking out all the traditional sitting desks. But having some alternative standing desks – which employees could use for one or two hours a day – could bring both the company and them real benefits.

For the company a nicer atmosphere and more productivity: people who use standing desks are reported to have a more positive attitude, be less lethargic and take shorter breaks.

For employees, the positive action of combating serious illness over the long-term would probably be a key driver of using stand-up desks. But the health benefits can be more immediate too. Surprisingly, working in a standing up position burns about 50 calories an hour more than doing so sitting down. Integrating this behaviour into a weekly routine would be a simple way to burn some serious calories! Not to mention, help people who suffer with back pain.

It is certainly an interesting way to consider boosting employee well-being. To discuss this and other employee well-being tactics speak to the HR Dept today.

Stay cool

Nothing splits a workplace like a temperature dispute: the ‘too hots’ vs. the ‘too colds’. Opening and closing windows, seizing control of the air conditioning and helpful suggestions to ‘wear more layers’ or ‘roll your sleeves up.’ Can we turn to the law for a judgement? Not really. There is no law for minimum or maximum temperatures, although guidance does suggest a bare minimum of 16°C or 13°C if employees are doing physical work. Health and Safety Law is unlikely to solve any arguments either: it decrees keeping the temperature at a comfortable level. A rather subjective metric!

New turban freedoms passed into law

An important issue among Sikh employees has been resolved: namely the extension of their right to wear a turban in place of a safety helmet (with effect form 1 October 2015).

As far back as 1989 an exemption had been in place that afforded Sikhs working on construction sites this right. But the Sikh Council UK pressed for this freedom to be broadened following instances of disciplinary action taken against practicing Sikhs in other sectors. Now all sectors except the Armed Forces and some Emergency Response roles must offer the exemption.

So a minority community can be happy that consideration is given to their practices. And employers should also be pleased that (where relevant) they have clarity on this specific issue. Getting the balance between health and safety and religious preferences in other scenarios may remain less clear.

Ending mobile madness

All kinds of statistics can be wheeled out to show how dependent we are on mobile phones. Apparently 65% of Americans would rather have their mobile with them than their lunch. And one study suggested that on average we can’t go six minutes without checking our phones.  Not a healthy obsession!

And neither is it very conducive to an industrious workplace. Whilst for some, mobiles are a vital business tool, for many they are not. They can cause stress, anxiety, irritation, and distraction to everyone within earshot. In some instances they may represent a health and safety issue where concentration is key, where there is a risk of explosion, or where electrical signals can be jammed.

Companies can set their own rules, so we advise having a policy in place – things like setting phones to silent during office hours, and only making/taking personal calls on a lunch break. For more detailed advice get in touch.

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