Work Matters

We are living in an era of increased working hours, increased expectation, increased work pressure and 24hour demand. Not surprisingly, work related problems, stress, anxiety and exhaustion are reaching alarming levels. Coupled with this is the most significant revolution in employment legislation since the early 20th century. Whilst employees enjoy better employment rights and protection than ever before very few know how to utilise this protection and for the employers, particularly of small and medium sized companies, the whole matter is a minefield. Many of these companies cannot afford a permanent Human Resource facility, often relying on a smattering of knowledge, somebody who can ‘do a bit of personnel’ or indeed, in many cases, no expertise at all. This can be costly in today’s current climate of enhanced protection and employee rights with industrial tribunals at record levels and compensation reaching crippling amounts for a small operation. The issues facing the employer today are complex and sophisticated. The introduction of Working Time Regulations, the changes to maternity benefits, introduction of paternity leave and new flexible working hours are just some of the issues facing employers. As a freelance Human Resource professional I am dealing with these issues on a regular basis but experience has shown that many companies can avoid problems by putting systems and procedures in place at the earliest opportunity, viewing the work force as a most important asset rather than the biggest cost. I encourage companies to take a critical look at themselves, not just a profit and loss view.

Companies with a sound product, a proactive and positive attitude towards their staff, rarely fail. It doesn’t simply happen, it requires careful planning, development and a real commitment to good staff relations. Companies who invest in their staff in terms of sound company policies, procedures, training, development, recruitment and welfare always have a more focused, happy and productive workforce. Staff sickness, a huge cost for any employer, is reduced enormously and staff retention increases. Many employers initially underestimate the importance of a ‘happy and healthy’ workforce. It is one of the first issues I address because it is a proven fact that happy, healthy people are strong, resilient and productive. The irony is that when dealing with a dysfunctional work force with high absence and low productivity, disciplinary problems and low morale the main reasons nearly always point to bad HR practice. We spend more time in the work place with our colleagues than with our families and friends and it is important, therefore, to make staff feel as happy and involved as possible. Employers need to get away from the ‘sweat shop’ mentality, which is predominant in British business today. The key is to create an environment that makes staff look forward to going to work. Too many employees are unhappy in their workplace. I have the benefit of assessing the matter from an impartial and independent perspective on behalf of employers and employees and can report it ‘as it is’. Many employees are suffering from high levels of stress, anxiety and exhaustion, which are counter- productive in any work place. Disturbingly, very few employees feel comfortable discussing their problems, worrying that doing so would put their credibility and employment at risk. I find the rate of work related sickness, stress and worry has reached alarming levels. Employees are under huge pressure to perform and often work unacceptable and illegally long hours. Taking breaks can be seen as lack of commitment and with commission related pay, the employee is often locked into a ‘no win’ situation. I have seen individuals who are so anxious about work related matters that their health, sleep patterns and family relationships all become affected.

Many employees are working in undefined roles with no sensible job description, training, assessment or development structure, finding that expectations of them can change on a daily basis. Another worrying development is that of bullying and harassment in the workplace. This nearly always involves middle management and junior categories and is almost always subtle in its execution. I have observed companies where certain managers have created a climate of fear in which everyone accepts that there is wrongdoing but nobody dare say anything. I call this the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy and the most ineffective mangers with weak skills and inadequate knowledge almost always employ it. It is used to rule the work force without fear of ever being challenged. Eventually the employer / employee relationship becomes irretrievably broken down. The company will always suffer by losing key staff who are sometimes irreplaceable and risk seriously tarnishing their reputation. A bad company will be too arrogant to recognise this and will almost certainly suffer the consequences. My strategy is to assist companies and individuals to prevent problems and difficulties becoming unmanageable by implementing specific methods and procedures for the benefit of the whole company. Good HR procedures and management prevents irreconcilable situations from arising and genuine communication creates harmony within the company. In my experience, people want to work and can cope with responsibility but equally they want to be rewarded and respected.