There is much evidence that taking a rest from work is good for your wellbeing. Indeed, there has been legislation in Europe in the form of the Working Time Directive, which resulted in the Working Time Regulations in the UK.
These regulations set out prescribed maximum working hours and mandatory holiday periods for workers. In themselves, they have proven notoriously difficult to interpret and to apply (e.g. entitlements to holiday pay). In practice, managers have to look at matters less legalistically and deal with the wellbeing of the workforce.
Even the most hardened sceptics see that a physically and mentally well and happy workforce is less likely to suffer from absenteeism, mistakes and productivity issues. Always lurking in the background is the potential spectre of liability to the company in the form of work-related personal injury claims or indirectly as a consequence of employee negligence.
Managers are not always trained to recognise stress. It can show itself in many different ways, such as sleep loss, inconsistent behaviour, emotional responses, sweating and absenteeism. Some situations are compounded by a natural reluctance to broach subjects which may be seen as “too difficult” or “confidential”.
The time-honoured tactic of ignoring matters and hoping they go away can lead to far greater issues for the employer and, in turn, the manager. Consequently, it is easy to say that it is good practice to have good policies, training on those policies and an awareness to enable managers to deal with these type of situations.
Many employers now look to move away from traditional practices, such as free bars and other activities around alcohol. Away from work generally, we are seeing change in social behaviours with recent reports showing those admitted to hospital for alcohol related reasons were only up for those aged between 55-74 – baby boomers. Younger people have different attitudes to both coping and use of alcohol.
Employers are using a range of incentives around flexible remuneration that might involve gym membership, personal training and bike riding schemes to boost wellbeing. Among activities for consideration of a less physical and more mind focused nature are mindfulness and yoga. A common theme in these activities is a greater awareness of wellbeing, not to mention positive mental attitude.
In the future there is no longer a default retirement age and people can be unfairly dismissed beyond the age of 65. There are laws against prohibiting detriment to people on the grounds of age and there are also circumstances where many have a pension gap and feel a financial pressure to work longer. In these circumstances, it is in an employer’s best interests to take proactive steps in relation to non-age related work performance and to be aware of matters which may be age-related to seek to avoid them.
Another increasing issue is highlighted by cases such as Pimlico Plumbers and Uber, which call into question traditional ideas of being at work and not being at work. Technology in many areas and use of electronic memory devices increases these issues. Generally, people expect spontaneity and an almost instant response to everything. This can bring into question issues of quality control and performance in themselves.
Around the corner there are ideas such as dataism. Yuval Noah Harari (in his book Homo Deus) sees AI becoming the norm in areas where humans can no longer cope with the flow of data. Some believe this is still in the realm of “science fiction” but many employers are investing in its research and development.
More mundanely, lawyers are seeing tech come into the workplace around matters such as surveillance, in areas like care services and in supporting whistleblowing claims.
The message is clear to all: evolve and improve. In the meantime, many struggle to cope and employers have to manage and ultimately deal with these issues.
Jeff Middleton is partner and head of employment, education and pensions at Hill Dickinson
HR is one of the hot topics discussed at the FD Surgery Manchester in November. Find out more here.