Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Workers could be replaced by giant ants - HR Grapevine

This news was so random we just had to share it!

Workers could be replaced by giant ants - HR Grapevine

Factory floors could start to resemble forest floors if workers are replaced by giant ants.

This is the vision of German engineering company Festo, who have created bionic ants that mimic the co-operative behaviour of real insects. The ants, about the size of a human hand, are able to move objects around as a team that they wouldn’t be able to move on their own.

The goal of the project, according to New Scientist, is “to create intelligent agents that can work efficiently in factories of the future by adapting to different production requirements.”

The new development supports findings from a recent report that claimed that around 50% of occupations existing today will be completely redundant by 2025 due to advances in technology.

However, the report states: “Losing occupations doesn’t necessarily mean losing jobs; just changing what people do.”

This is echoed by the Adam Smith Institute. The think tank recently said robots won’t threaten our jobs because “companies will move into industries where productivity and demand is high and create new jobs, or use new technology to create new industries. Automation also frees up displaced workers to utilize their skills in other, potentially more fulfilling and creative ways.”

Monday, 23 March 2015

Pensions, Personal Tax Allowances and a Minimum Wage Rise

Changes to pensions, personal tax allowance and minimum wages announced in this week’s budget (Wednesday March 18) will shake up some sectors immensely over the next year, the director of Activ Absence, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of HR management software has claimed.

Chancellor George Osborne unveiled a number of plans that will affect workers and savers in the final budget before the May General Election.

These included measures to reduce the lifetime pension allowance to £1 million from £1.25 million, which he claimed will save £600 million annually.

He also announced plans to increase personal tax allowance to £10,600 this April, and the national minimum wage will increased by 20p an hour to £6.70 in October. The minimum wage for apprentices will increase by 20 percent to £3.30 an hour.

Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director of Codel Software, the developer of Activ Absence, welcomed the changes for workers but said the new pension rules undo a lot of the measures introduced last year that encouraged people to save.

Adrian Lewis said:

“The announcement that more people than ever in Britain are now in work is a very welcome statement for a lot of people.

“Also, with average pay increasing to 2.1% above inflation, it means people could be calling upon their employers for a pay rise. HR professionals will be pleased to hear that a respite from this will come in the form of a higher personal tax allowance.

“Pay packets will now be going further due to a raise in the minimum wage, with a large jump for apprentices of 57p. People do however need to understand more about their people, and the infrastructure in order to increase business.

“However, the key thing is that the lifetime allowance for pensions has dropped, but people can now access their pensions from the age of 55. There is growing concern that people may end up spending all of their money too quickly, and the new freedoms they have could potentially lead to people losing their savings.”

Activ Absence, developed by South Wales technology company Codel Software, is a cloud-based easy to use comprehensive staff annual leave planning and absence management software solution.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Cost effective ways to promote health at work - no. 2 of 5 - Reduce Stress & support staff with depression

"There is a significant risk that employers will lose out on skills and experience unless mental health is better understood and managed"
Joanne Hindle, Director of Corporate Services, Unum

Whilst Activ Absence are the experts in absence management software, reducing absence amongst your valuable people encompasses far more than just software, so we are sharing other ways to reduce absence by tackling key issues for employers.

This weeks cost effective ways to reduce absence by promoting health at work focuses on ways employers can tackle mental illnesses and stress at work.

MIND (the leading mental health charity) report on their website that 1 in 6 workers in the UK are suffering from an illness affecting their mental health such as stress or depression.   

As previously reported, employers have legal obligations under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities, under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, to take measures to control that risk, and under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005.  The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) applies as much to people with mental ill health as it does to those with a physical disability.    

What is stress?

Stress is an outdated mechanism in our bodies, the fight or flight response was perfect when we lived very simply and needed to guard against the very real danger of being eaten alive by a predator.  The sudden injection of adrenaline into the bloodstream was quickly dispersed as we ran or fought the predator as appropriate.

Very few of us need this physical response, modern life ensures that we very rarely meet real danger.  However we do still meet challenges and unfortunately, our bodies have not learned to distinguish the panic that comes from trying to meet an urgent deadline, the frustration we feel sitting in traffic on the way to work, or the necessity to juggle competing priorities between work, family and home life.   These things still result in the same adrenaline release but without the physical response to disperse it.

Most of us don't physically 'do' anything to disperse this chemical release, so the chemical runs around our bloodstream causing us to feel 'stressed'.  This is a very physical condition we all share, however people's ability to deal with it varies and as our workloads at home and work increase, so too are the numbers of people we see off work due to an inability to manage their stress.    

Employers are not expected to be counsellors and it is not their job to replace advice from professionals, however there are steps they can take to help support employees suffering or at risk of suffering from stress.  These include:

Operate a family friendly policy.  

Gone are the days where women stay home and men work long hours to support the family.  Socio-economic changes over the last century mean that both sexes often need to work full time to support the family financially, so your people are often juggling home and work commitments.  

New shared parental leave entitlements now formally recognise that childcare is now often shared between men and women in our modern society.  If you don't already offer flexitime, part time or job-sharing options, look into these - not only does it give you chance to help reduce some of the stress on your current employees, it also gives you access to a new talent market of excellent people who would be unwilling to take a full time job.

Educate your staff about mental wellbeing

There is still a big stigma attached to mental illness, so staff suffering from depression are unlikely to tell their employers until it becomes so bad that they need time off.  By promoting a culture of support and understanding you help staff identify colleagues in need of support.  This can be as simple as having leaflets from local mental health charities in staff areas, or taking it further and bringing in expert staff training from charities such as MIND.  

Allow enough time for major policy changes. 

Research has shown that the average employee needs six to nine months to effectively prepare for and accept worksite policy changes.   Make sure you give your staff enough lead-time to prepare for major policy changes such as changes to working hours or breaks.

Set reasonable deadlines for completion of tasks

Line managers should be aware of the time it takes to complete tasks by the 'average' worker, by planning in advance and working strategically, most tasks can be set for completion without undue rushing.  By setting a good example, line managers can also encourage staff to set reasonable, achievable goals and work in a structured way.

Re-allocation of workload for stressed staff

Look at spreading non core tasks throughout the team to reduce work pressure on people showing signs of stress.    

It is important to remember when doing this that you also need to manage the wellbeing of the rest of the team as well as the employee concerned.

Try too to identify potential sources of stress with the aim to audit, prevent and manage them.

Rehabilitate people who have been off with stress

For workers who have been off with stress, the mere act of coming back into the office is likely to be stressful,  www.tacklementalhealth.org.uk suggests getting the staff member to call in for an informal coffee before returning to ease them back in.  They also suggest a phased return, gradually increasing hours.

Employers should also encourage staff to attend medical appointments, and also ask the employee how they are settling back in, and ask them what support they need from you as an employer.

Finally make sure you update the returning employee on any new workplace issues and discussing what "reasonable adjustments" to their work or workplace can be made under the Disability Discrimination Act.  For example, some employees on medication for stress will be tired first thing in the morning, so changing their hours to accommodate this would be helpful.

Seek external help when needed

Official sources are now better at recognising that many workers with mental health can and do continue to work.  There are official programmes to help if you are looking to employ someone new who is suffering with severe stress or any other mental illness such as depression.  The Disability Employment Advisers or DEA at your local Jobcentre Plus can supply specialist support on employment issues.

Charities Shaw Trust and MIND are also useful sources of information 

Promote a healthy workplace

Disability experts at Shaw Trust recommend taking the following simple steps to promote a healthy culture for your staff:

  • Ensure there is time for staff to feedback how they are feeling in meetings or at reviews and appraisals
  • Monitor stress at work
  • Be willing to talk openly with employees
  • Provide information about your company
  • Create a no-blame culture
  • Encourage clear, open and honest communication
  • Be positive about reasonable adjustments
  • Provide training on how to recognise mental health issues see additional support
  • Create a pleasant environment to work in, try adding plants and pictures
  • Ensure staff take their lunch breaks and monitor working hours
  • Arrange occasional team building events

Develop a Mental Health Policy 

Every company should think about developing a mental health policy.    Some free guidance as to how to do this is available at http://www.tacklementalhealth.org.uk/how-do-i/healthy-workspace/mental-health-policy/, although we recommend you discuss this with your HR manager.

The policy should outline a commitment to promoting and monitoring mental health at work, and acknowledge the importance of creating a "safe environment" for employees and their mental wellbeing i.e. using reasonable efforts to ensure the workplace is free from bullying and harassment. The policy should stress what can be done to support staff with mental health problems and cover the area of employing people with mental health problems.

When converting the policy into practice it's important to consider that it needs to be supported by senior management who will effectively communicate it to all employees. Ensure staff know who to approach in the first instance for help. Bring in awareness training around mental health for staff and continue to monitor the effectiveness of the policy.

LISA BAKER LLB, MIPTI, DIP (Vibrational Medicine), Cert IHM

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Cost-effective ways to promote health at work - no. 1 of 5 - increase physical activity

Whilst Activ Absence management software is a great way to tackle staff absence, there is also a need to encourage employee wellness which cannot be addressed by improved administration alone.

Best practice absence management is not just bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted, its also about tackling workplace stress, addressing postural problems before they lead to long term back problems and encouraging your employees to take responsibility for their own health and helping them to stay well.

Of course, an excellent way of doing this is to call in an outside expert such as an Occupational Health Consultant or a workplace massage therapist such as www.onsitemassageco.com - however to a large extent your employees lifestyle will also be contributing factor, and therefore promoting a healthy lifestyle for your team is not just useful for absence management, but great for the employee's wellbeing outside work.

The good news for employers is that there are plenty of completely FREE and low cost ways to do this - and by doing it well you can also improve team spirit and motivation.  Over the next few weeks we will be using our blog to share these with you.

We will start with ways to increase your staff's physical activity, as the western sedentary lifestyle comprises overwork, tight deadlines and often reduced staffing levels is like a recipe for stress.
Increasing your exercise levels is said to reduce the risk of heart problems, keep arthritic joints flexible, improve posture, reduce blood pressure and reduce stress, so it is definitely something employers should encourage.

Here's a few suggestions you could try to encourage your staff to exercise more:

1. Let your staff know about free public exercise schemes such as that offered by http://www.walkingforhealth.org.uk/ - promote them on your intranet or internal newsletters.  Also, many suppliers who will fill your vending machines or company canteens are encouraged to promote exercise by Government legislation, e.g. Coca Cola Schweppes offer free swimming lessons.   Contacting your corporate suppliers may well yield some free prizes.

2. Encourage your team to participate in community sponsored events (e.g. race for life or walks for heart disease or cancer).  Consider donating a company prize to the charity as well as promoting the event among your staff.  Such activities are great opportunities to raise your local profile, its great social media content, it gets a good team spirit in your workforce as well as helping the participants improving their health!

3. Encourage managers to hold walking meetings when gathering with a small number of employees.

4. Identify places within the worksite or around the building for physical activities, some companies have even introduced 'stairwell climbs'!

5. If you have grounds, promote walking there during breaks by making them attractive and placing benches away from the work area so employees can walk to them to eat their lunch.  Try to create a pleasant, tranquil 'park' feel so employees get a good break from their desk.

6. Start a running, biking, walking or line dancing club and encourage employer-sponsored youth athletic teams, along with employee volunteer coaches.

7. Have a goal of the week or month (i.e., “I will exercise every day for a week”). Keep a chart of weekly or monthly exercise goals in the office.  Some teams can get quite competitive at this!

8. Negotiate corporate discounts for health club memberships, golf clubs, cycle stores and suppliers of fitness equipment.  This also encourages partnerships with other businesses in the area which is good PR and helps raise your profile, you never know, you may find your best prospects working out in that gym anyway!

9. Purchase fitness CDs and DVDs that employees may borrow.

10.  Ensure that your organisation is participating in the UK cycle to work scheme.  Make it easy for your employees to participate by providing bicycle racks or a fenced-in area for cyclists in a well-lit section of the property.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Bad Habits HR Managers Should give up now!

Are you guilty of any of these habits?  Check below:

If you have watched the video and would like some help getting rid of those time-sapping spreadsheets, call 0845 643 50 66