In a world that is of apparent fast pace and the telephone call can occur 24/7. Are employers burying their collective heads in the sand when an employee is absent with stress?

Whilst we shouldn’t look back, it is still tempting for those of us who have been in the workplace over 40 years to look at our past working lives and wish for those simpler times. We’d start work at 8:30, an hour for lunch that wasn’t taken at our desk and then 17:30 we shut up for the evening or weekend and relax with our family. No 24/7 shopping and certainly no Sunday trading, shop workers usually got a half day on a Wednesday, late night shopping was for supermarkets and that was only until 8pm Thursday and Friday.

The best part, no company mobile phones where the boss or a client could get hold of you, they respected the evenings and weekends were free time. A lot could be learned from that era.

So, what went wrong? Why suddenly was there so much pressure for the employee to perform to the max and to coin a phrase ‘bring the bacon home’ for the employer.

Far too many employees are taking themselves out of the workplace and onto to sickness absence through what could be determined as ‘no fault’ of their own. There is a high level of expectation to perform, yes rewards can be high but are they really worth the mental well-being of a work force?

Employees report in sick for a week or two, thinking this will give themselves time to recover and be ready to fight another day. All too often this is a false sense of security as the cause has not been cured only the symptoms. Employers need to take a long hard look at themselves and ask what is it that we are doing that on reflection needs to be changed. To ensure a working environment that is supportive of all employees, simple changes whilst may seem costly quite possibly in the final analysis will reap the rewards and strong bottom-line desired.

Should HR departments be permitted to be more compassionate? The Bradford factor may have its uses, but does it bring unnecessary pressure to bear on those who have a genuine reason to be absent and produced a Med3. What makes this system superior to the knowledge GPs have on their patients? There is one NHS Trust (possibly more) who is putting an employee through a formal process because she is unable to give a definite date of returning to work. This type of pressure only serves to fuel anxiety and so prolong any return, this system needs to be used sensibly, but more importantly reviewed in the context is this a cause for stress.

Employers who feel that it is ok to contact an employee continually whilst they are absent should consider whether or not this would be acceptable to them if the situation where reversed. There is no harm in a casual call to see how an employee or colleague is but that is where it should stop. There should be no expectation of them being available to answer questions or deal with clients.

In a study undertaken by VitalityHealth it was noted that an employee will lose approximately 30.4 days a year due to sickness and underperformance in the workplace. It was a concerning report as days lost had increased on 2016 and so in turn had the cost. Following a survey of 31,950 people their report ‘Britain’s healthiest workplace’ suggests that the cost due to lost working time through ‘physical and mental health’ issues is approximately £77.5 billion per annum. This is a rise of £4.5 billion on 2016 and an increase of 2.9 days per employee. Therefore this surely begs the question from employers ‘How do we keep our workforce healthy?’ Not just mental but also physical health and wellbeing. It could be a few simple changes in the work place that would be beneficial to both employer and employee.

Perhaps the government’s consultation which closes on 7th October will bring some positivity to this situation. Or! Maybe we should follow countries that have given their employees the right to disconnect from employers at a set time in the day and for weekends.

"When setting up a Shared Service Centre, The Learn Centre played a key role in our award winning Payroll Academy, delivering a blended learning experience combining both classroom based training and an e-learning solution. The course delivery, the training materials and overall learning experience was excellent."

Michael Stevenson
Payroll Manager at Queen's University Belfast

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