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People Matter October 2016

Promoting Mental Health

A recent survey of 2,000 people conducted by the charity Business in the Community uncovered some worrying trends. It revealed that 62% of workers believed their employment had contributed to physical, psychological or behavioural symptoms of poor mental health.

10 October was Mental Health Awareness Day. So this month is a good time to reflect on good mental health in the workplace.

The survey probed deeper and found that traditional channels which you might expect to help manage this problem were not being used. Only 11% of staff members had discussed mental health problems with line managers. Just one in four felt able to talk to any colleague at all about the matter. And while a quarter of employees said they had access to an employee assistance programme (EAP), only 2% had used one.

It suggests that businesses need to go further than just putting processes in place to manage mental health. If you have line managers, training in mental health awareness could be a big help here (32% of managers said they didn’t have enough) and building in time for one-to-one appraisals provides more opportunity to nurture staff and spot problems early.

If you invest in an EAP, don’t think of it as just a box ticking exercise: promote it internally to staff so they understand how it can help.

Finally, one of the basics to get right is workplace culture. Creating an environment where people get on with each other and enjoy their work is a great starting point for promoting mental health.

The HR Dept can assist with all of these solutions, helping you achieve a happy, productive workplace.

How not to recruit!

Remember the whole ‘Equality Act 2010’ thing? We were just talking about it inLatest thinking on dress codeabove. Well, an elite recruitment firm in London is in serious danger of breaching it, as well as being pretty offensive along the way, by advertising gender specific job roles – generally a big no-no under the Act, along with other protected characteristics.

For one PA position, in addition to listing a job specification, they also list bra size specifications – B-C cup in case you were wondering, and hair colour (brown). There’s no special provision in the Act to specify gender for a PA role, let alone such physical attributes. In a minority of professions, gender can be specified in a job advert, like prison guards. But for most job adverts, keep them open, keep them legal and you’ll have a great chance of ending up with the best candidate. The HR Dept can provide a full recruitment service, so get in touch.

Shared parental pay-out

Network Rail became the first company to be taken to tribunal over discrimination within the shared parental leave (SPL) scheme.

Their family-friendly policy saw mothers get an enhanced pay rate, whilst fathers were paid statutory rates. The intention was to support the recruitment and retention of women.

The tribunal found that indirect discrimination had taken place and awarded £30,000 in damages to the father. It shows that close attention should be given to policy wording and under the SPL regime both parents should be treated equally – whether that means being less generous to mothers or more generous to fathers.

Latest thinking on dress code

The old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” is one that’s often overlooked when it comes to recruitment. All kinds of signals can mean that employers disregard candidates on a first impression, before properly exploring their ability.

Under the Equality Act 2010 this can of course be illegal, if a prejudice is based upon one of nine protected characteristics such as gender or age. But what about cases where it’s not illegal to dismiss an applicant, even if they are the best for the job? Take visible tattoos for example. Research suggests one third of young people (16-45) now sport a tattoo. Are dress codes that prohibit ‘body art’ ruling out too many talented people from jobs, to the detriment of the business as well as the applicant?

Independent research commissioned by ACAS revealed the extent of tattooing among the young. It also found that in the public sector there was concern about the perceived level of professionalism of those with visible tattoos, whilst in the private sector there was worry that visible tattoos would put off potential customers or clients.

While these are certainly real world concerns to be considered, they should be weighed up against the opportunity cost of missing out on a fantastic employee because of what might be an arbitrary factor. Here are some tips for formulating a dress code, which, of course, can include tattoos, piercings, hair styles and adornments:

  • Start by thinking through every aspect of it to ensure a clear rationale.
  • Look beyond your own preferences, and consider the overall good of the business.
  • Check it against the Equality Act 2010 to ensure it doesn’t illegally discriminate!
  • Consider relaxing your dress code in summer, if appropriate.
  • Why not consult with employees to ensure they are comfortable with it too? It’ll help with employee engagement and contribute to a great workplace culture.

It’s clear that the humble dress code can have a big impact on recruitment, culture and even the success of an organisation. For help getting yours right, call The HR Dept.

Inflexible flexibility

Whilst flexible working patterns are becoming more widespread, new research released by the charity Working Families has found that high-earners benefit from them more often than lower earners. They found that 69% of parents with a combined income of £70,000 plus used flexible working, but only 47% of those earning £10,000 to £40,000 were doing so. They’re calling for jobs at all levels to be labelled as flexible.

Flexible working can benefit an organisation in different ways. By giving staff a better work/life balance they should be happier and more productive (56% of parents in the research said working hours limited their ability to put their children to bed – cherished time to be missing out on!). You may also eliminate their stressful rush hour commute and potentially target their hours to match times of higher demand for you. Call us for help implementing a fair flexible-hours policy.


Sam Allardyce’s departure as England manager has brought into sharp focus the wider responsibilities of employees.

The odds are low that rogue employee behaviour in an SME will be uncovered in a Fleet Street sting, but our social media age provides plenty of opportunity for employees to publicly undermine their employer, or bring them into disrepute.

Top of the list of social media misbehaviour is the classic ‘disgruntled employee criticises their boss or company online’. Other examples include posting racist, misogynistic or homophobic jokes that reflect poorly on your business, and wittingly or unwittingly revealing sensitive information.

Appropriate clauses in employment contracts will help you deal with any scandal as swiftly as The FA dealt with theirs. So make sure you have them in place. And clearly communicating the standards of employee behaviour expected will help prevent scandal happening in the first place.

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