In this month’s FAQ’s we look at Employee Engagement, Working in a Cold Environment, Managing Employee Absence, Managing In-work Poverty and Legal Update


[hrf_faqs category=’HRNJAN2019FAQ’]

Employee Engagement

  • A recent survey by Deloitte found that 27% of UK employees admitted that they were ‘not performing their best’ at work. It also found that a third of those surveyed were ‘not stimulated’ by what they do, with a similar percentage claiming their work was not ‘meaningful’. As we enter a year of great uncertainty for businesses, employers are advised to direct resources into effective internal communications and staff engagement strategies to ensure that teams remain motivated and productive and are not tempted to look for more meaningful work elsewhere.
    It is important to recognise that employee engagement cannot be achieved by taking a mechanistic approach in an attempt to extract discretionary effort by manipulating employees’ commitment and emotions. Employees tend to see through this very quickly and can become disillusioned and demotivated. Employee engagement is also not about ‘employee happiness’ or even ‘employee satisfaction’. Someone might be happy at work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are working hard, or productively on behalf of the organization. Similarly, formal one-off methods of gauging employee opinion, such as annual staff satisfaction surveys, will only contribute to organisational success if they are conducted within a wider culture of feedback and response.
    True employee engagement is about the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals, which means that engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for money, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals. Efforts to boost employee engagement, therefore, need to encourage an “always-on” culture of continuous feedback, so that employees feel heard, involved in decisions and valued on a day-to-day basis.
    Employee engagement involves:
  • Making sure employees understand their role within the organisation, where it fits and how it contributes to the organisation’s purpose and objective
  • Treating employees fairly, consistently and with respect, whilst also supporting their well-being
  • Giving employees a voice on how the business can best meet its objectives; enabling them to offer ideas and express views that are taken account of as decisions are made.
  • Creating a team culture, where employees are focused on clear goals and receive regular and constructive feedback
  • Supporting staff in developing new skills; offering them projects and opportunities that will excite them and recognizing individuals for their achievements.
  • Ensuring that the organisation’s actions are consistent with its values and that any promises made to employees are kept, or an explanation given as to why they cannot be kept.

As well as offering mechanisms which allow effective on-going two-way feedback within a culture of mutual trust, fairness and respect, employers may also find it helpful to review their benefits packages. This will involve assessing how far the benefits on offer are utilized and valued by staff and, therefore, whether they are achieving the intended result. Undertaking this review and making any appropriate adjustments to the benefits package will help employers ensure that they are getting the most out of their investment.
A final note: Whilst financial rewards, alone, are unlikely to be sufficient long-term motivators, it is worth bearing in mind that, according to a survey of 1,096 UK employees carried out by, employers who give out bonuses in December are less likely to see staff being poached or looking for jobs elsewhere in the New Year. The survey found that even a relatively small bonus or giftcard, can be enough to make sure staff feel valued and to gain their loyalty, ahead of the busiest time of the year for staff departures.

Working in a Cold Environment

During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.
However, the application of the regulation depends on the nature of the workplace and the level of activity undertaken by workers. Contrary to popular belief, there is no law for minimum or maximum working temperatures, eg when it’s too cold or too hot to work. However, HSE guidance suggests a minimum of 16ºC, or 13ºC if employees are doing physical work. There is no legal requirement to meet these exact numbers, however, employers are expected to consider the individual circumstances of the workplace and what would be a comfortable temperature for their workers.
If the temperature was to drop below the 16ºC mark, the associated Approved Code of Practice indicates that the employer should take the relevant steps to help bring the temperature in the office or workplace back up to that temperature. If a large number of employees bring concerns about the temperature, the employer will have to consider whether the current approach to keeping the workplace warm is adequate as part of their ‘duty of care’. If the cold weather really begins to bite, the HSE recommend the following measures to prevent thermal discomfort in a cold workplace:
• Reduce cold exposure by minimising processes that involve spending time in cold areas.
• Provide adequate heating, including extra heaters if required.
• Provide suitable protective equipment to deal with harsh temperatures.
• Reduce draughts.
• Introduce alternative working patterns such as flexible working, or working from home to minimise employee exposure to a cold workplace.
• Provide enough breaks for workers to make hot drinks and/or spend time in heated areas.
• Provide appropriate insulating floor covering or protective footwear if employees are expected to stand for extended periods of time.

Another way to ensure that the organisation is able to adapt to falling workplace temperatures is to be prepared. It is, therefore, advisable for employers to conduct a thorough risk assessment regarding the effects of extreme temperatures in their workplace, so that contingencies can be put in place, if necessary.

Managing Employee Absence

It is important to properly record and monitor employees’ short-term absences to enable issues, such as high levels or particular patterns, to be identified and tackled early on. It is also recommended that line managers carry out return-to-work interviews after every period of absence, as this has been shown to be one of the most effective interventions in facilitating reliable employee attendance. Return to Work interviews demonstrate to employees that the employer notices their absences, thus discouraging casual absence, while at the same time giving line managers an opportunity to identify the possible underlying cause(s) of an employee’s frequent non-attendance at an early stage. Where an employee knows that they will have to justify an absence to the line manager, this may discourage the employee from taking a day off work without good reason.
When reviewing an employee’s sickness absence record, any patterns which cause concern should be identified and discussed. This could include repeated absences on a particular day of the week or that tend to occur at a particular time e.g. just before a monthly deadline or towards the end of a busy shift cycle. It is important that supportive steps are taken to discuss any frequent pattern of absence in order to explore the cause, its impact and how an improvement may be achieved (with support if required). Discussions about patterns in sickness absence should be carried out in a factual way, by stating the facts and asking open questions. For example: “We have noticed that you tend to be absent on the first day back after a holiday period. Would you like to comment on that apparent pattern?”.
The Bradford Factor is sometimes used by employers as a formula for calculating the impact of employees’ absences on the organisation. It is based on the theory that short, frequent, unplanned absences are more disruptive to organisations than longer absences. Bradford factor scores are based on the frequency and length of an employee’s absence during a defined period, usually 52 weeks.
The formula used is: B= S² x D
B = Bradford factor score
S = total number of spells (instances) of absence for that individual in the given period
D = total number of days the individual was absent during the given period
Higher scores suggest an employee’s absence rate is having a more negative impact on the organisation.
For example, if an employee is absent once in 52 weeks for 10 days, their Bradford factor score is:(1×1) x 10 = 10
If an employee is absent twice in 52 weeks for five days at a time, their Bradford factor score is:(2×2) x 10 = 40
And if an employee is absent 10 times in 52 weeks for one day at a time, their Bradford factor score is:(10×10) x 10 = 1,000
In these three scenarios, the employee has been absent from work for the same length of time, but the shorter, more frequent absences generate a higher Bradford factor score. Recognising that frequent short-term absences are often more disruptive to employers, some employers choose to set thresholds at which Bradford factor scores are deemed to be problematic and require disciplinary interventions, such as verbal and written warnings and, potentially, even dismissal. Such thresholds are often designed to discourage employees from taking unnecessary sick days.
Some HR systems, such as the People Based Solutions HR Software, make it easier for employers as they can automatically calculate employees’ Bradford Factor scores.
It is important to recognise, however, that frequent short-term absence can, in some cases, be a sign that the employee has an underlying medical condition or disability and employers must, therefore, make sure that their absence policies (including their use of Bradford factor scores) do not discriminate against such employees. Following on from the return to work interview, it may, therefore, be appropriate to seek the employee’s permission to obtain a medical report, to ascertain, amongst other things, whether or not there is an underlying cause for the absences. It could also be the case that such absences are exacerbated by factors in the workplace. For example, in addition to genuine periods of sickness, frequent short-term absences may be linked to:

  • Stress due to the volume of work or pressure of work deadlines;
  • Difficult working relationships or conflict with colleagues;
  • Bullying or harassment;
  • Anxiety relating to organisational change; and/or
  • Other factors causing dissatisfaction e.g. ineffective procedures or equipment, or a lack of clear goals or targets.

Where such issues are identified appropriate support should be considered. This may include mediation, counselling, re-assessing workloads and training etc. If a workplace issue is identified, the employer should take steps to remove or reduce the factors that appear to be contributing to the absences, if this is at all possible.

Managing in-work Poverty

Many UK workers are falling below the poverty line and Brexit uncertainty may be making matters worse. The extent of the problem can be seen from number of food banks, which has risen from 29 at the height of the financial crisis, to around 2,000 today. These charitable organisations are being relied upon by those in work, as well as those not in work. The reality is that in virtually every organisation – even ones with higher than average salary payments – there may well be at least some employees living well below the poverty line. A November 2018 United Nations report by Prof Philip Alston found:

  • 60% of those in poverty in the UK are in families where someone work
  • 8 million people are in poverty even though all adults in that family work full-time
  • Families with two parents working full-time at the national minimum wage are still 11% short of the income needed to raise a child.

All the evidence suggests that in-work poverty is now a genuine problem in the UK, and by extension for employers. It is also possible that Brexit uncertainties may make this situation even worse, at least in the short-term. Such financial pressures and distractions are likely to have a negative effect on employee engagement, health (particularly mental wellbeing) and absence levels. Any or all of these factors are likely to be damaging to the organisation’s overall productivity and it is, therefore, very much in the employer’s interest to do what they can to tackle these issues and support employees appropriately.
Whilst in an ideal world, increasing the salaries of the lowest paid employees might be a solution to this problem, for many organisations this would not be economically viable. If salary adjustment is not an option, then it may be necessary to review the other components of the compensation and benefits package. This review should look at the extent to which current offerings are fully understood and/or utilized by staff and whether there are more effective ways to assist those under financial pressure.
Many employers offer employee discount schemes, for example, which can genuinely help employees’ salary go that bit further. But this will only help staff if the discounts are on items that they value and/or that they would have purchased anyway. Employers must also ensure that staff know about the potential savings and are able to easily access them.
The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is now considered to be a mainstay of employee benefit offerings, but it is sometimes under-promoted and underused. A key component of many EAPs is independent debt management support. It goes without saying that such a service can be of great value to those employees struggling financially. EAPs also often include counselling services as standard. Again, this can be a particularly useful tool for those employees who may be feeling genuinely stressed as a result of debt pressures. So, it is worth revisiting the EAP with the aim of making workers aware of the support on offer and how to access it.
Finally, as very few of the UK’s working population has ever received any formal financial education, it might also be worth providing access to such a service for employees. This is a relatively low-cost option which can help demystify financial issues for employees at all levels, while also giving some practical hints and tips to help them save on everyday costs.

Legal Update

January is a good time for employers to review their employment contracts and policies to ensure that their documentation reflects their current employment policies and practice, as well as being in line with current employment law. This is particularly so in relation to the formulation of confidentiality and restrictive covenant provisions and to ensure that contracts and policies have been updated to reflect the requirements of the GDPR. Regular review of an employer’s privacy notices is advisable to ensure they remain up to date in terms of the employer’s handling of personal data.
The case of Tenon FM v Cawley also demonstrates the need to check that existing employees have signed their contracts, so that the employer can rely on any restrictive covenants they may contain. On promotion Mrs Cawley was asked to sign a new contract with more onerous restrictive covenants. However, her employer failed in their attempt to enforce these covenants after her departure, partly because it was unable to locate a signed copy of the new contract. Reviewing the files of key employees to ensure that signed copies can be located may, therefore, be a worthwhile exercise.

Employers must also have an awareness of upcoming employment law changes, so as to ensure that appropriate preparations are made ahead of time. The Employment Rights Act 1996 (Itemised Pay Statement) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2018, for example, comes in to force on 6 April 2019. This requires employers to provide workers with an itemised pay statement when they pay any salary or wages to workers. Employers are also required to state the total number of hours worked in respect of pay on a payslip where the individual’s wage or salary varies depending on how much time is worked. This can either be stated as a single total figure or separate figures where it relates to different types of work or different rates of pay. Where the employer fails to do this, either in total or because the statement does not comply with the legislation, the worker will have a right to make a reference to an employment tribunal. Below is a summary of all other known employment law changes that are coming up:

Forthcoming Employment Law Changes

  • 1 January 2019 Requirement to annually report the pay ratio between CEOs and average employees introduced for listed organisations with more than 250 employees
  • 29 March 2019 UK to leave the EU
  • April 2019 Auto-enrolment minimum contributions increase; employees contributing 5%, employers contributing 3%
  • April 2019 Increase to national living/minimum wage rates
  • 6 April 2019 Increase to Statutory Sick Pay takes effect
  • 6 April 2019 Requirement to include total number of hours worked on payslips comes in to force
  • 6 April 2019 New right for workers to receive a pay slip introduced
  • 6 April 2019 New law increasing maximum penalty for aggravated breach to £20,000 to be introduced
  • 7 April 2019 Increase to Statutory Maternity, Paternity, Adoption and Shared Parental Leave Pay take effect
  • April 2020 Changes to taxation of termination payments
  • 2020 Paid parental bereavement leave to be introduced
  • 6 April 2020 New law prohibiting use of Swedish derogation agency contracts to be introduced
  • 6 April 2020 New law lowering the threshold required for information and consultation requests to be introduced
  • 6 April 2020 New law making a right to a written statement of main terms and conditions a day-one right for workers and employees to be introduced
  • 6 April 2020 Amendments to mandatory information required within a statement of main terms and conditions to be introduced
  • 6 April 2020 New law extending the holiday pay reference period to 52 weeks to be introduced

Please contact the PBS team if you would like a free  HR Health Check to help you ensure  that your HR policies and procedures remain in line with current employment law.


People Based HR