Tag: Employee Wellbeing

Can employers help the UK sleep better?

According to Nuffield Health’s latest research, 74% of UK adults have reported a decline in quality sleep over the past 12 months and a further 10% are only sleeping for 2-4 hours per night. More than 50% don’t believe that quality sleep builds immunity.

The survey of 8,000 UK adults has highlighted that the number of people experiencing insomnia increased to one in four, following the pandemic. Google searches for ‘insomnia’ skyrocketed and most searches happened in the early hours of the morning.

The research revealed that 35–44-year-olds get the least sleep, with almost 50% getting only 5-6 hours per night. A mere 33% of respondents get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

Sleep deprivation is though to cost the UK economy £37 billion a year in lost productivity due to poor sleepers having reduced reaction times and trouble concentrating, increasing the likelihood of accidents and costly mistakes. Chronically disrupted sleep increased the risk of work absence by 171%.

The evidence indicates that there is both a need and an opportunity to help workers improve their sleep hygiene. Nuffield Health advises employers who wish to enhance sleep quality amongst their workforce:

Outline expectations – Employers need to define expectations, such as work hours, to encourage better sleep patterns. Avoid scheduling early morning or late evening calls, and let employees know that they are not expected to respect to respond to emails outside of working hours.

Train for triggers – Managers need to learn to spot the signs of sleep-deprived workers, such as mood swings, poor attention, distraction, copious amounts of coffee and yawning. Once spotted, a line manager should be trained to guide co-workers to access the relevant occupational health services available. Understanding that sleep support is essential and should be incorporated into the company’s values.

Promote physical health – Employers must emphasise the benefits of exercise in regulating sleep patterns. For example, going for a run or brisk walk during lunch hours provides exposure to natural daylight which, in turn, promotes healthy sleep hormones.

Employers can also provide advice around nutrition and caffeine to help individuals make healthier choices.

Offer specialist support – The stresses of everyday life, such as finances, addiction, or family problems can negatively impact sleep quality.

When employees see signs of emotional difficulty, the affected individuals should be directed towards the relevant emotional wellbeing support available to them, such as cognitive behavioural therapy or employee assistance programmes.

Employers can also consider additional support, for example, inviting a sleep specialist to run an online seminar on best practice habits before bed, such as avoiding blue light devices and keeping the bed for sleep only.

Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Emotional Wellbeing Nuffield Health, commented: “Many businesses have adopted a ‘hybrid’ approach to working and it’s important to note this ‘new normal’ won’t automatically facilitate perfect sleeping patterns. That’s why it’s crucial employers ‘wake up to sleep’ and work with their healthcare providers to support their workforce.

“Taking a holistic view on health – including offering interventions that cover the full range of risks – is the only way to get back to maximum wellbeing and create a healthier nation.”

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Only 53% of staff appreciate benefits ‘very much’

With World Suicide Prevention Day coming up on the 10th of September, GRiD, the industry body for the group risk sector, has released new research on how employee benefits can help prevent suicide. The research also looked at how the benefits are received and their impact.

While employee benefits can help to prevent suicide by providing access to mental health support such as counselling, or assisting with debt and money worries, they can only help if they are utilised and appreciated.

According to the research, only 51% of employers even measure staff appreciation of benefits. This number moves in line with the number of employees. The smallest companies are least likely to measure appreciation of benefits, while the large corporates are likely to assess how they are valued.

The survey revealed that of those companies that measure appreciation of benefits, 42% said their employees only ‘somewhat’ appreciate them.

In terms of measurement, the most popular methods are through informal feedback to managers or HR professionals, or through formal surveys, with 41% of employers using these methods. Suggestion boxes and employee benefits forums or working groups followed, with both used by 38% of companies.

The least popular option was management information on utilisation of benefits, used by only 16% of employers. This measurement is a missed opportunity to gauge how much a benefit is utilised and could be effectively used together with other methods to understand how employees value the benefits on offer.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, commented: “If employees don’t appreciate their benefits, then it is going to be difficult for them to achieve what they are designed to do.”

“For this World Suicide Prevention Day, we would like to highlight how important it is that employers don’t just put benefits in place, but that they regularly tell their staff what support is available, actively encourage them to use it, and measure how much it’s utilised and appreciated. This is the best way to ensure benefits do what they’re designed to, which is particularly important in terms of accessing support for mental health.”

“There is a concerning set of circumstances in which employees seem to be blasé or indifferent to the benefits they are provided. Preventing ill health, both physical and mental, is a key reason for offering health and wellbeing benefits. Employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness all include a great deal of support for mental wellbeing. But if these benefits are not being communicated and appreciated, then they are not able to perform to their full potential and wellbeing may suffer as a result.”

“Suicide is preventable, and the support within employee benefits can help with this. Employers can play their part by joining in with this year’s theme creating hope through action and boosting understanding and appreciation of the benefits they have in place to support their people. This will in turn lead to better mental health outcomes.”

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1.3m UK SMEs have lost talent in 2022 because employees feel undervalued.

Twenty-four percent of UK SMEs have lost undervalued talent in the past 4-6 months, according to research commissioned by digital gifting company Prezzee.

The research also revealed that in organisations of more than 250 staff, 4 in 10 HR Directors have changed or are looking at different ways to reward staff – regardless of where their staff work.

Even with the Great Resignation, 35% of SMEs admitted that employees get the same rewards, regardless of location, job title, or other contributing factors. This, despite differing hobbies and passions. Furthermore, the budget for rewarding staff isn’t used to its full potential as 66% said their team didn’t attend events or rewards weren’t received how they would like.

When looking at why so many employees don’t engage with reward schemes and events, the research showed that 80% of HR Directors don’t understand their employees’ interests well enough.

The data also showed that there is too much pressure solely on the shoulders of HR Directors to get this right. For example, only 16% of SMEs have created teams of employees at multiple levels to decide the rewards and incentive strategy to increase happiness and staff retention.

James Malia, UK MD of Prezzee, said: “When times are tough, as they undoubtedly have been over the past two years, reward and incentive strategies are more important than ever. They’re a clear way to showcase how highly a company values its staff and as our data reveals, when not done well it directly results in people leaving for greener pastures.

“It’s therefore important that businesses are doing everything they can to support employees during the cost of living crisis. It doesn’t need to be a huge change in strategy either, the trick is to offer personalised rewards and incentives regularly – rather than making people wait a year for bonuses. It’s then that people will realise quite how highly businesses value them, especially when these incentives come at a time when money is tight, as it is for many during the current cost of living crisis.

“Times of financial difficulties can be hard to open-up about, especially within the place of work, so HR and line managers need to be one step ahead of their employees.

Indeed, the future of loyalty incentives should revolve around personalised, thoughtful rewards that highlight how much businesses care about their employees. Those companies which change their ways now will find themselves in a much stronger position come 2023.”

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Spain, Italy, and France are top destinations

According to new research, more than half (57%) of workers are planning to extend their holidays this year to work abroad.

The research undertaken by flexible workspace operator, IWG, revealed that 88% of workers plan to work from anywhere – UK or away – this year. Hybrid working has opened up opportunities for employees to work from anywhere, and many companies are responding accordingly. For example, companies such as Airbnb and Spotify have introduced work-from-anywhere policies to provide employees with flexibility when they travel.

The research showed that 67% of workers believe that they can perform their job effectively abroad, and a further 71% agreed that they would only consider a new job if it gave them the flexibility to work from anywhere for at least some of the time.

In terms of the benefits of working from anywhere, the following were cited:

  • Improved work-life balance (76%)
  • Spend more time with friends and family abroad (52%)
  • Saving money by travelling off-peak (47%)
  • Being able to enjoy longer holidays (30%)

Eighty-nine percent of office workers surveyed said they’re now more likely to work from anywhere than pre-pandemic. A further 83% believe that businesses’ adopting hybrid working has made this lifestyle possible.

‘Flexcations’ are also a popular perk. Seventy-six percent of respondents said they would be more inclined to work for a company offering frequent ‘flexcations’ as a perk.

The top locations for hybrid overseas workers:

  • Spain
  • Italy
  • France
  • United States
  • Greece

According to IWG’s office usage data in popular overseas locations for the start of summer:

  • Barcelona, Spain, saw a 168% increase in usage from June to July
  • Italy saw significant rises for its shared offices in Turin (+412%), Milan (+312%), and Rome (+137%).
  • France also recorded growth in its offices in Rennes (+249%), Lille (+155%), and Reims (+147%).

While employees are keen on making the best of the summer months, employers must update policies. Forty-one percent of employees said their employers did not have an official policy in place, and this was preventing them from working from anywhere.

Mark Dixon, IWG Founder and CEO, commented: “For an increasing number of workers, the days of the daily commute are over, now that hybrid working offers the opportunity to work wherever we will be the most productive. And thanks to cloud technology, that can be anywhere in the world, provided there’s a high-quality internet connection available.

“So, it’s no wonder that more and more individuals are embracing the idea of combining work with travel, whether it’s for a few days tacked on to the end of a vacation, or a few months as a digital nomad.

“This trend is set to accelerate further, and we will continue to see more and more companies embracing WFA policies to improve employees’ work-life balance and increase their attractiveness as an employer.”

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“Do you get paid for training?” is top result

In an analysis of Google search data by LMS provider Digits, the most searched for employee training-related questions in the UK over the past 12 months were revealed.

Digits’ study showed that some of the most frequent queries about employee training stem from uncertainty around who is responsible for paying for the training and whether people will be paid while they are in training.

According to the research, the most Googled questions about employee training during the last 12 months in the UK are:

  • Do you get paid for training at work? – 480 average monthly searches
  • What is training and development? – 480
  • What employee training is required by law UK? – 210
  • What is off-the-job training? – 210
  • What is on-the-job training? – 210
  • Do I get paid for mandatory training UK? – 170
  • How often do day staff require fire training? – 140
  • What is staff training? – 140
  • Why is staff training important? – 140
  • How often do night staff require fire training? – 110
  • Should I be paid for mandatory online training UK? – 110

Thirty percent of the top 10 most frequently asked questions about workplace training and development mentioned the word ‘paid’. A further 22% of the top 108 questions contained the words’ pay’, ‘paid’, or ‘charge’.

While it isn’t possible to identify who is asking the questions, the wording can sometimes reveal whether the searchers are employers or employees. For example, people using the words’ employee(s)’ or ‘staff’ (which appeared in 34%of the top 108 training-related queries) are more likely to pose ‘how’ or ‘what’ questions. These are likely on behalf of their company or as part of their job to enhance their broader knowledge of planning and improving workplace training.

On the other hand, people using the words ‘I’, ‘my’, or ‘you’ (appearing in 24% of the top 108 training-related queries) are likely to be employees looking for answers to questions that affect them personally. These people ask ‘do’, ‘can’, or ‘should’ questions to find more ‘definitive’ answers.

Bradley Burgoyne, head of talent at Digits, commented: “Digits’ latest research sheds light on the types of questions that UK workers and their leaders want answers to and the information that they are lacking about staff training. What it highlights to me is that people do want to understand more about what training and development involves and how to make it work for them, which is great because training should benefit employees and organisations equally.

“It also shows that HR and L&D teams have a real opportunity to spearhead knowledge sharing within their organisation. Thanks to this new research, we know the most popular training questions that employees are asking. So, it’s up to employers to be more proactive in communicating the answers to these questions to their workforce.”

“If you were employed after 6 April 2020 your written terms must set out the training that you have to complete, including training your employer does not pay for. If you started before that date, you need to request clarification from your employer. It is, however, standard and best practice that employers pay for your time to complete this (eg your training is completed during your usual paid working hours, or you receive additional pay for the hours in which you complete this outside of your usual work pattern).

“If you’ve been asked by your employer to undertake some training that’s going to develop your skills and help you do your job better and more efficiently – then, again, it is best practice to be paid for the time that you spend on that training (in addition to your employer funding the cost for the training) as it’s also going to benefit the organisation that you work for. To ensure that you are paid for that time, the training should, ideally, happen within your usual working hours.

“It can be slightly more nuanced for employees that are enrolled on long programmes of training, such as degrees or MBAs. These types of training usually require a bit of give and take from both parties, and employees would typically be expected to use a certain amount of their personal time (unpaid) alongside any paid study time.

“It is common and healthy for employees to approach their employers with requests to undertake training, attend a course, or get a qualification in something that may or may not be relevant to their role. It’s then for both parties to work together to agree who will fund the training and what aspects of the training time will be paid or unpaid. Separately, it’s worth noting, that you do have a legal right to request time off from work to undertake study or training under Section 40 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, which employers have a duty to consider.

“In most instances, it’s important that both you and your employer get all the details and conditions set out in a learning agreement. This agreement should detail who is funding the training and what time off will be paid or unpaid, plus things like if travel expenses to attend the training and associated learning materials are covered. It should also include a clause about when an employee may have to repay the costs of their training if they leave the organisation within a certain timeframe before or after completing their course, which can also act as an effective retention method for employers.”

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Risk of employee burnout on the rise

A new survey revealed that 60% of employees feel that their employers have actively discouraged them from taking annual leave. One in 10 workers also feels unable to ask for mental health leave.

In reaction, HR experts urge employers to prioritise annual leave and promote healthy working habits to avoid burnout.

The Annual Leave Allowances survey from Just Eat for Business shows how office workers use their annual leave allowance, how their employer promotes holiday entitlement, and how time off and flexible working impacts work-life balance.

The survey also found that 1 in 5 office workers cannot take time off work due to staff shortages and reduced resources.

With 44% of workers reporting feeling very burnt out and a third finding that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is the most stressful aspect of work, these leave challenges are concerning.

Will Foster, Professor of Leadership at Keele University, commented: “It’s essential that if the ‘espoused’ values of the organisation include employee wellbeing and restorative breaks, then leaders need to allow that to happen and do more than pay lip service. Management must do the hard work of ensuring the structures, roles, responsibilities and staffing levels align so employees can take a ‘true rest’ when needed.”

Anni Townend, Leadership Partner, said: “Annual leave is an important part of a much bigger picture of looking after our life-work balance and of creating a positive work culture.

“Increasingly people are realising that there’s huge value in taking micro-breaks during the day as part of managing employee wellbeing, as well as longer macro-breaks like annual leave. The danger of not doing so is that we lose our ability to switch-off and to disconnect from work. This can impact our sleep patterns and our ability to concentrate, as well as cause extreme mood swings and a weakened immune system.”

Claire Lassier, Senior HR Consultant at Pure Human Resources, weighed in: “Annual leave should never be seen as a perk. Everyone needs a break to maintain their health and wellbeing, and ultimately to maintain their performance levels at work. Some organisations mandate that a set amount of annual leave is taken within each quarter of the year to ensure that employees use leave on a regular basis: others need to limit how much can be taken during their peak periods.

Restricting the amount of discretionary carry over at the end of the leave year and reminding employees on a regular basis to plan ahead and book time off can help ensure that people take time out throughout the year – for the benefit of the individual and the business alike.”

Rosie Hyam, People Partner at Just Eat, also commented: “Given the emphasis on employee well being and work-life balance over the last few years, it’s essential that employers are receptive to flexible working arrangements, and that they allow employees to take time away from work when needed.

“And it doesn’t have to be a big break – organisations may want to carve out some time to ensure that employees can take a break and socialise with colleagues during the working week. This can be done through in-office lunches, socials or team bonding activities.”

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Inflation is being considered or accounted for in annual pay raises

According to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management, HR professionals are worried about inflation along with their employees. The report found that 73% of HR professionals are worried about the impact of inflation on workers.

Johnny Taylor Jr., President and CEO of SHRM commented: “Employers recognize that inflation has a major impact on the well-being of their team. In fact, SHRM research found that 87% of those worried about inflation said their highest concern was the effect on the lives of their employees.”

Of HR professionals aware of their organizations’ plans for annual pay raises, 63% said inflation is being considered or accounted for in annual pay raises.

HR professionals at smaller firms with less than 100 employees were most concerned about inflation, with 81% citing concerns.

The percentage was 74% at midsize firms with 100 to 499 employees and 67% at large firms with 500 or more employees.

Industries where HR pros were most concerned about inflation were agriculture, 97%; wholesale trade, 95%; utilities and energy, 82%; and manufacturing, 82%.

SHRM’s research included a survey of 1,150 HR professionals and took place from May 10 to May 24.

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Switzerland, Netherlands and Denmark come out on top

Research across 16 European countries by UK-based occupational health company Latus Health, has examined a variety of factors to determine which comes out on top for employee wellbeing. The research took into account factors relating directly to work such as average hours worked, flexible working opportunities, and sickness absence rate, as well as external factors relating to financial security and physical and mental health. The research revealed that the UK ranked 5th worst for employee wellbeing out of the selected European countries, with Poland ranking the worst, Czechia the second worst, Spain the third worst, and Portugal the fourth worst.

According to the research, UK workers work the lowest amount of average hours per week, while ranking the worst for flexible working opportunities, with just 4.7% of employees usually working remotely. They ranked ‘extremely good’ for sickness absence rate with an average of 4.6 days per year, in comparison to Germany which ranked the worst with 19.9 days of absence per year relating to sickness.

Jack Latus, CEO of Latus Health commented: “It’s not enough to take a reactive approach to employee wellbeing anymore. The past years have seen a massive shift in priorities for employees, and many of these are around wellbeing and work-life integration. Businesses that don’t invest in these will be left behind in the race for employee retention and attracting top talent.

“Businesses are largely responsible for the conditions inside of the workplace that contribute to poor employee wellbeing and stress, however, we’re seeing more and more workplaces offering benefits relating to wellbeing outside of work. Giving employees the tools to maintain and improve their health and wellbeing is essential for a healthier workforce.”

The UK lagged further behind when it came to financial security and was ranked extremely poorly for gross household saving rate, poorly for disposable income, and moderately for average salary. The gross household saving rate was just 7% in comparison with European neighbours France (14%) and Germany (18%) but fared better than Spain (6%). In terms of physical and mental health, the UK ranked extremely poorly for political stability and the environment, poorly for average alcohol/tobacco spend, but good for stress levels in comparison with some European counterparts, however, 46% of people reported experiencing burnout relating to work.

European countries ranked from worst to best for employee wellbeing:

  1. Poland
  2. Czechia
  3. Spain
  4. Portugal
  5. UK
  6. Italy
  7. Germany
  8. Belgium
  9. Austria
  10. France
  11. Norway
  12. Iceland
  13. Sweden
  14. Switzerland
  15. Netherlands
  16. Denmark

The countries taking up the top spots perhaps aren’t surprising due to the countries’ reputations for positive attitudes towards wellbeing, as well as the levels of investment into this. Due to increasing flexibility around where and how we work, employee wellbeing strategies have fallen behind in their provision for hybrid and remote workers. The development of tech-based solutions allows employees to regain control over their wellbeing, wherever they may be. This restores the balance of responsibility between employee and employer, giving employees more autonomy over their own health.

Taking this research into account, UK employers should put more focus on wellbeing considering how difficult it is to attract and retain scarce talent.

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Lack of well-being benefits for SME works 

A recent survey revealed that 65% of SME employees are hesitant to take sick leave when working from home.

The survey, conducted by HR Software provider Breathe, looked at the current state of well-being among SME employees. The survey was conducted across 1,264 UK SME employees, and the respondents were asked a series of questions regarding sick leave, mental health, and remote working. The goal of the survey was to establish whether the pandemic had a lasting effect on the working world and the impact of hybrid working.

According to the data, there is an ongoing pattern of presenteeism, with 65% of respondents saying they are less likely to take sick leave when working remotely and 42% of respondents feeling the need to prove their productivity while working remotely.

Of the workers who didn’t take sick leave, despite feeling unwell:

  • 32% could not financially afford to take time off work
  • 25% were too busy to do to take time off
  • 21% didn’t want to let their colleagues down
  • 20% felt pressured to work through it

The data suggests a lack of benefits aimed at employee well-being. Seventy-two percent of SMEs do not offer well-being days despite 35% of workers feeling that well-being days would be helpful.

The survey also found that only half of SMEs offer flexible working, even though 67% of the respondents believe that WFH supports work-life balance and overall well-being

Another finding was that 54% of SME employees work overtime when WFH. Forty-four percent of employees struggle with feeling ‘seen’ by their employers. A further 47% said they were less inclined to take a lunch break when working from home.

The survey also found that:

  • 41% of workers felt that their symptoms weren’t severe enough to take sick leave
  • 36% of SME workers reported mental health issues in the past three months
  • 12% of workers have taken sick leave for mental health reasons
  • 67% of SME workers say working from home improves their work-life balance, but 54% report they are still more likely to work longer hours than usual
  • 48% of SME employees are offered flexible working whereas 27% are not offered it but would find it the most useful benefit

Balancing a company culture in a hybrid working world is a challenge, and SME leaders need to address toxic traits in their existing culture, like overworking and presenteeism, to maintain a healthy and productive workforce.

Rachel King, UK General Manager, Breathe, commented: “The benefits for mental and physical well-being that come from a flexible approach to work patterns have been widely discussed but are still so important. Flexible working can positively impact physical, mental and financial well-being. That said, working from home has proven effective for many people, but crucially not for all. It’s often the case that people find themselves working longer hours and taking less sick leave, under pressure to be seen as super productive when working remotely. Employers should look for ways to tackle the ‘always-on’ ethos and habits that have crept into remote working culture. Focusing on creating a culture that supports flexible working as standard can benefit teams and improve productivity if handled intentionally.”

Lizzie Benton, Company Culture Coach & Founder at Liberty Mind, added: “As a business, your attitudes, behaviour, and beliefs will all ultimately present to people what you truly think about employee well-being. If people are feeling unseen and pressured to work through illness, that’s really not a good sign. Now is not the time to ignore your culture and the true ripple effect it has on your people. After two years of momentous life changes, employees across the UK are considering whether where they work is adding to their life or taking something away. That’s why it’s important to put your people first when making decisions that impact them both personally and professionally. Creating a positive healthy company culture is ongoing work and it’s a choice that will benefit your business in the long run.”

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Dealing with distance in a post-pandemic workplace

Focusing on employee mental health in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, a recent survey commissioned by Cigna among US adults has shown that employers need to pay attention to feelings of loneliness among their employees.

The survey of almost 2,500 respondents conducted by Morning Consult showed that employees experiencing loneliness were less likely than their colleagues to say that they could work efficiently and perform to the best of their abilities. They were also more likely to say that they were “mentally somewhere else” while at work during the last three months.

In 2020, an analysis by Cigna showed that loneliness costs employers more than $154 billion per year in lost productivity caused by absenteeism.

Productivity isn’t the only negative result. The survey also found that employees experiencing loneliness were three times more likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs than their peers. A further 30% of lonely employees admitted feeling unwell or sick while at work in the past three months.

While the circumstances surrounding the pandemic may have led to more flexible remote working arrangements for many, isolation and loneliness were also side effects of the new working situation. Together with exhaustion due to blurred boundaries between work and home life, these feelings have added to the stress of many employees.

Cigna highlighted three areas that employers could focus on to address issues with workplace loneliness:

  • Regular activities that bring employees together, both in-person and virtually, such as town hall events, volunteer events, and employee resource group meetings.
  • Providing employee benefits that support mental and emotional well-being while remaining mindful of the barriers that may prevent employees from accessing the help they need.
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives could also go a long way to creating a safe and welcoming environment for employees.
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