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  • Writer's pictureDJ

Good Practice is Good Business

Stop wishing well and start doing better

This summer, the number of people in the UK not working due to health problems has topped two and a half million. A report from the Office for National Statistics indicates that for every thirteen people currently working, one person is long term sick.

The damage ripples out beyond loss of earnings and productivity. The opportunity to build technical skills and interpersonal skills is being lost. The ONS has found that for large numbers of people in their 20s, career development is stalling. Mental health issues are becoming more commonplace, or perhaps issues that have long been a factor are finally being identified and discussed. Either way, addressing them is key to individual and collective growth, Changes to rules around health-related benefits and universal credit such as those announced in March’s Budget need to do more than take money out people’s pockets. There’s no evidence that penalising sickness moves us closer to wellness.

Happily, though, there’s mounting evidence that coherent action to promote employee wellness pays dividends. For many businesses, wellness initiatives started out with a focus on ways of stopping employee burnout. As valuable as preventative measures are, though, the focus for today and tomorrow should be on creating a culture that enhances performance. It’s not just about stopping people collapsing in a heap when issues come to a head. It’s about fostering an environment where they never approach that level of disenchantment and distress. It’s about helping them deliver their best work.

Not all sickness-related absence can be avoided, of course, but how much of it could be? Without a process in place that becomes a more challenging question because we can’t manage what we can’t measure. Effective systems management can put people in control of their training records, encouraging them to shape their own career development. With increased training activity and a greater sense of engagement and pride in performance things improve, not at random but due to a positive, self-sustaining workplace culture. Things change when we stop wishing for wellness and start planning for it.

A sincere apology counts for something, but a set of protocols that stop apologies being necessary surely counts for more. In recent years we’ve seen numerous high-profile employers publicly apologising for instances of workplace bullying and harassment. There’s merit in acting decisively and making no attempt to sweep these issues under the carpet. It’s deeply regrettable, though, that anyone has to face objectification and intimidation in the first place. How can employers protect their people and their own reputations?

Putting a HR system in place that helps them capitalise on good intentions and make their expectations clear is a positive start. There are systems that offer “big picture” performance monitoring, identifying positive and negative patterns that can be encouraged or nipped in the bud. Disciplinary and grievance procedures can be recorded with follow up action monitored for enhanced problem-solving. So the first time you investigate an example of inappropriate behaviour, you can put measures in place that won’t just act on it but will monitor the effectiveness of that action. One instance of harassment is too many and some offences deserve dismissal, but when faced with someone who has inadvertently crossed a line, employers may want the option of educating them to be a better and more respectful colleague. Allowing bad behaviour to continue through ineffective disciplinary procedures damages the employee and those around them. Choose a path that helps you educate your workforce in ways that benefit everyone. Focus on prevention, not just cure.

What qualities do you respect most in an employer? We all have our own answer to that question, but it’s fair to say consistency and loyalty would make many shortlists.

Consistency in staff treatment, with the same reasonable rules applied to everyone. Consistency of temperament, with praise and criticism given according to performance, not according to moods. Loyalty to people who’ve earned it, and respect for those whose hard work has helped build your business.

Preferably not sacking an employee of eight years’ standing on the strength of one negative third party review. Not sacking them without hearing both sides of the story. And not sacking them publicly, via the TripAdvisor website.

The rise of review sites has given consumers a voice. This has obvious plus points, but when reviews influence whether or not someone loses their job, impulsive responses help no one. The owners of The Outside Chance, a popular gastro pub, came under fire for what appeared to be the knee-jerk sacking of a waitress on the strength of a single negative customer review. They replied to the review by stating “Please rest assured that waitress will be sacked today”.

Where do we start? This is a nightmare of blaming instead of training, condemning instead of analysing. A panicky attempt to appear customer-focused has made an employer appear high-handed, irrational and deeply disloyal. The message to customers is that their complaints will be accepted without question. The message to staff is that even after years of service they are effectively one negative comment from the sack. The owners of The Outside Chance were tested and failed. How would the rest of us fare? Would you pass the TripAdvisor test? The good news is, you don’t have to face it alone. The more robust your HR systems, the less likely you are to be pushed into impulsive action.

Employers have every right to monitor staff performance. Actually, they have a duty. The right systems enable us to record appraisal, training and development activity, creating a detailed skills profile for each person that can match them to suitable tasks. When performance falls below expectations, it can steer your people back on course. Don’t just make a note of an issue or allow a situation to deteriorate. Monitor what’s going wrong and put it right.

There’s no miracle solution guaranteeing that each member of a team will learn and grow, feeling valued and respected every day. But a HR plan that directly aids training and development, monitors performance and gives you the tools you need to make informed management decisions will certainly help. Don’t make important decisions on the fly. Seek the fairness and consistency that make your people feel valued and secure.

There’s far more to wellness than totting up sick days. The People’s Library is committed to making Swansea a Regional Wellness Hub, helping employers create a workplace experience that’s healthy, happy and entirely sustainable. We’ll help you prove that good practice is good business. Are you ready to do better?


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