Sleep Matters to your business

Sleep Matters to your business

 

 

It will come as no surprise that a well-rested employee is a more productive employee. What might raise eyebrows is that organisations can do their part to help with that.

Most employers see sleep deprivation as a personal issue that has little or nothing to do with the workplace. It’s the duty of each of us to ensure that we organise our lives such that we get the sleep we require in order to be at our best in the workplace.

The reality is that while everyone skips a few hours kip here and there occasionally, if an individual is doing this regularly it can have a significant impact on their health, wellbeing and subsequently, their performance at work.

To be clear, employers are not legally responsible for employee’s sleeping habits. They do, however, have a few key things to consider.

 

1. There must be at least 11 hours rest time between working days. This is not much of a problem in most 9-5 environments but needs to be factored into timetabling for shift work.

2. If an employee is not getting enough sleep due to work-related stress and the business does not endeavour to resolve this, they may be failing in their duty of care.

3. Lack of sleep can result in health problems, irritability or loss of concentration which can all result in costly incidents for an organisation.

 

Independent research institute, RAND Europe, found that insufficient sleep cost the UK around £38bn in 2016. That amounts to 1.86 percent of GDP – not an insignificant figure. It’s not an insurmountable problem though. RAND’s research found that encouraging people who usually sleep less than six hours a night to sleep instead for six to seven could make a huge difference to the economy.

Except for a few notable people such as Donald Trump and Margaret Thatcher, who can get by on just four or five hours sleep a night, most of us need around seven to nine hours most nights. It is a common misconception that when we sleep everything goes into shut-down, in fact in many ways the complete opposite occurs. This is the time that our bodies reset, restore and process.

Not only does sleep aid physical recovery it is also the time that our brain lays down memories and consolidates information gathered during the day. During sleep we literally move information from short-term memory to long-term memory. In fact, a good night’s sleep actually aids memory during the first few hours after we wake.

On the other hand, persistent lack of adequate sleep can cause difficulty concentrating and focussing. It is harder to make decisions and low mood, or mood swings become more prevalent. In addition, reactions will be slower and there’s more chance of drifting off during the day, making accidents much more likely.

Another myth is that we can ‘catch up’ on sleep. Unfortunately, this is not true. If an individual is persistently not getting enough sleep during the week, they can’t simply sleep in at the weekend to make up for it. That ‘sleep debt’ will continue to accrue and potentially cause long term negative effects.

Lack of sleep is now being linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. It is also known to reduce immune systems and so the sleep deprived have a higher chance of catching whatever is going around the office. We are also gaining greater understanding of the relationship between sleep and mental health.

It is preferable for everyone if the issue can be resolved before it reaches the point that it is having a long-term effect on health and mental wellbeing. Being willing to help your employees is only half the challenge, how can businesses spot sleep deprivation in their staff? According to Public Health England, poor sleep can present in the following ways in the workplace:

 
• Reduced performance

• Increased sickness and absence

• Poor memory


• Bad mood


• Loss of concentration


• Reduced communication


• Increased caffeine consumption


• Greater risk taking

 

While sleep is, of course a largely personal issue, sleep deprivation can have significant, costly and far-reaching effects on businesses. So, employers need to take it seriously.

Business in the Community and Public Health England have joined forces to create the Sleep and Recovery Toolkit.
In their Actions for Employers they suggest:

Educate – Offer training to managers and employees on the importance of adequate sleep. Explain the range and limitations of support that can be offered by your organisation. If necessary, bring in external support.

Communicate – Make sure that encouraging adequate sleep is a core factor of any health and wellbeing policy. Spread the word that the issue is not simply personal and encourage employees to pinpoint causes of sleep deprivation that can be resolved in the workplace or with the support of the business.

Facilitate – Understand how the workplace influences employee’s sleep and work to manage those. Recognise causes of stress and work to reduce them. For example, be mindful of overtime requests, or expectations on staff to check email 24/7. Engage with occupational health specialists to ensure that the working environment is not contributing to lack of sleep.

An organisation that is sleep aware can work to reduce the macho culture that celebrates sleep deprivation and presents sending and receiving midnight emails as dedication.
While many of today’s work ethics and economics require everyone to tighten their belts, businesses should be mindful of the pressures they are placing on their employees. They need to consider their job requirements versus their employee’s health needs. The line between work-life and home-life is increasingly blurred. If work creeps into an employee’s personal time, resulting in sleep deprivation, the negative effects of lack of sleep will begin to cost the business, sooner or later.

Is your organisation doing enough to tackle Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Is your organisation doing enough to tackle Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) accounted for just over a third (35%) of work-related ill health in the UK in 2017/18. A massive 6.6 million sick days were accrued as a result of MSDs.

MSDs refer to injuries and disorders that affect a person’s movement or their musculoskeletal system, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.).

Common MSDs include:

• Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
• Tendonitis
• Muscle / Tendon strain
• Ligament Sprain
• Tension Neck Syndrome
• Ruptured / Herniated Disc
• Repetitive Strain Injury
• Osteoarthritis
• Varicose Veins
• Back Pain
• Tennis Elbow
• and many more.


Most MSDs lie in the neck, back and upper limbs (92%).

Although the number of reported cases is slowly declining, MSDs are still a significant cause of sickness among the working age population. It is also a problem that can be seen across all industries. Physically active jobs do see a higher rate of injury, but office-based roles are also problematic. MSDs are caused through hard manual work, incorrect positioning, long periods of working at keyboards, sedentary jobs and repetitive actions.

It’s clear that irrespective of industry, businesses need to take this aspect of employee health seriously. Unfortunately, recent research reveals that potentially, quite the opposite is happening. Employees do not feel that their health and wellbeing, when it comes to MSDs, is being given enough priority.

The uncomfortable truth

The vast majority of office workers reportedly spend between four to nine hours a day sitting at their desks. This equates to 67 seated days a year. Employees are not unaware of the risks of such sedentary jobs, or the negative impact of repetitive actions and manual work. In fact, around two thirds believe their working environment impacts negatively on their health. Another study, carried out by Home Leisure Direct, found that 90% of respondents believed a healthy workplace was ‘fundamental’ to their work-life balance.

The disquieting statistics come when researchers asked about employer attitudes. A hugely significant 97% of staff felt that their workspace was representative of how management valued them (Management Today). Yet almost half of those polled by Home Leisure Direct did not believe their employer cared abouttheir wellbeing. The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) found that 40% of respondents felt that they couldn’t get up and walk around regularly when working in the office. Only 6% reported that they were encouraged to spend time away from their desks and just a fifth had been offered a desk and seating assessment or ergonomic equipment. Business need to do more to demonstrate that they value their employee’s health and wellbeing.

The impact of MSDs on business and the economy is clear – 6.6 million sick days is a lot of lost revenue and productivity. Organisations that offer a comprehensive health and wellbeing package see the benefits throughout an employee’s life cycle.

As the desire for a positive work-life balance becomes increasingly important, an organisation’s approach to employee health and wellbeing is coming under increased scrutiny during the recruitment process. Home Leisure Direct found that 65% of respondents would consider moving companies if offered a better office environment.

Practical Solutions

MSDs are not a new issue, and there are many tried and tested practical ways that organisations can support their employee’s physical wellbeing:

1. Get Active – First and foremost, get active. Whatever the employee role, getting up and walking about, taking a break from repetitive work or a moment to stretch, will have a hugely positive impact on overall health.

2. Break out – While 42% of staff had no break-out area in their office, 70% said they would benefit from one. Providing a welcoming gathering space, somewhere to meet and chat, sit and eat lunch, or just read the paper.

3. Evaluate – Carry out assessments of work stations to ensure that computer screens and keyboards are properly positioned. Check that chairs are the correct height and adjusted to offer support and promote good posture.

4. Sight test – Check the lighting. Is there enough natural light in the office? If not, are the electric lights in the right places and at the right angles? Can employees see without squinting? Consider lighting throughout the working day – what about shadows, reflections, flickering lights and glare? These can all cause individuals to take up awkward positions.

5. The right tool – Do employees have the right tools for the job? Can seats, computer stands and desk surfaces be raised or lowered as required?

6. Repetition – Sometimes it simply can’t be avoided, some jobs are repetitive. But consider ways of breaking down the workload to provide respite from repetitive tasks. When they can’t be broken up with other jobs, ensure regular breaks are taken.


One of the key points to come across from the above research is that in too many cases employees do not feel that their physical wellbeing is prioritised by their employer. This is concerning given that employers have a legal duty of care to ensure healthy working environments and practices.

It is possible that this is more about a break down in internal communications than neglectful management. It does, however, underly the need for organisations to ensure that their staff understand their rights and feel able to voice concerns over working environment.

Show you care

• Produce a formal health and wellbeing policy
• Promote and encourage an effort to achieve best practice in this area
• Carry out regular workplace evaluations
• Implement practical solutions, like those listed above
• Actively engage with staff to hear and respond to concerns


All the above will demonstrate that the organisation takes this issue seriously and truly values the health and wellbeing of their employees. This is a win-win scenario for any organisation. Many MSDs can be prevented or minimised with just a little bit of forethought and minor adaptions and any costs will be far outweighed by improved productivity, reduced sickness levels and increased employee loyalty.

Planning for the Future Workplace

Planning for the Future Workplace

Times are changing and some are warning that new and emerging technologies are going to completely alter the workplace. Matthew Holder, head of campaigns and engagement at the British Safety Council recently called  on businesses to prepare now for the workplace of the future.

But what might that future workplace look like? We have some clues already.

Since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974, workplace deaths and injuries have dropped dramatically. Generally, our working environments are physically far safer places to be. Our mental wellbeing, however, is another issue.

Mental health issues are on the rise and despite increased awareness they continue to have a significant impact on the workplace. It was estimated that a whopping 12.5 million working days were lost to mental health issues in 2017. This accounted for almost 50% of all workplace absences. Despite this high figure, over half of UK companies have yet to implement formal wellbeing policies.  Could this be because they don’t fully appreciate the impact of the workplace on mental health?

New and emerging technologies could and are often cited as having direct and indirect impact on our mental wellbeing.  Technological advancements are coming thick and fast. In some cases, too fast for us to keep up with.

Some of these changes have made our workplaces safer and healthier. Robots can carry out dangerous and repetitive tasks and computer programmes have streamlined working practices and enabled better employee engagement. Our ability to spot and avoid dangers has also greatly improved, for example, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a crisis like that caused by asbestos again and we now understand the reasons behind and have developed solutions to many musculoskeletal problems.

Yet, along with these positive changes in our workplaces, technology is taking its toll on our mental health and wellbeing. This often comes down to two core issues, insecurity and poor work-life balance. For example, job security has been directly threatened by the rise of the machine. Robots are taking on more and more physical roles, online shopping is decimating the high street and AI is potentially just a few years away from entirely reshaping the workplace as we know it. Some, such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers, argue that these changes may threaten up to 10 million workers over the next decade.  Others believe that the new technology will create more new jobs than the old ones it replaces but that those jobs will be very different from today. 

Whichever future view you subscribe to, the result is, at least in the short term, insecurity and instability for many of the working population.  Technology has facilitated a seismic shift in working practices with the rise of the ‘gig economy’. Uber, Deliveroo, Airbnb and Hermes are just a few of the businesses in this growing arena. The term ‘gig’ comes from the idea that each job is self-contained. The umbrella company or employer treats staff as self-employed or freelancers, picking up one-off jobs, arguing that they don’t have to offer those workers the same rights as in traditional businesses models. Zero-hour contracts have a similar approach, treating all staff as part-time, thus reducing the duty of care that the company has towards them.

A parliamentary report into this working practice found that around 15 per cent (5 million people) of UK workers are self-employed. Not all of these will be in the gig economy or on zero-hour contracts, but the proportion is growing. While many people enjoy the flexibility afforded by working this way, it does not offer security and government legislation has not yet caught up.

Flexibility is something that workers have long demanded but business often fails to deliver on. In the early 2000’s, as the Internet was becoming wide-spread, there was a lot of discussion around the concept of remote working. The belief was that the technological advances of the networked world would enable more and more employees to work remotely or from home.

Just under two decades later we have seen many tools developed that enable us to work on the move. Email can be read on our phones, websites can be accessed 24 hours a day and file sharing promise collaborative working opportunities unbounded by geography. However, rather than a migration to the home-office and the four-day week so often touted, we are, for the most part, still working in offices. Yet now the ‘always on’ culture mean that when people finally do go home, they are unable to switch off from work.

A recent study by the Myers-Briggs Company discovered that nearly one in three respondents found they are unable to mentally switch off from work. 26% said that there was an expectation that they were ‘always on’. The result is that they are exhausting themselves mentally by repeatedly and obsessively checking into work day and night.

The irony is that the solution lies in the problem. The always-on nature of the technologically connected world provides exactly the tools needed to take the pressure off and redress the work-life balance. Mumsnet found that three-quarters of parents believed flexible working to be of more value to them than a pay rise, or other financial perks. Powwownow’s 2017 survey on flexible working found that 67% of employees long for flexible working, yet, although 58% of workers were offered it, 24% didn’t make use of it. Job insecurity reduces employees’ confidence to ask for or take flexible working opportunities.

Research has shown that working from home, even just one day a week, can reduce commuting and care costs, increase free time (without loss to business) and improve work-life balance. All of this has a positive impact on stress levels and mental wellbeing which results in more efficient and productive employees. 

Some have argued that our technology is changing so fast that we are in fact in the early stages of a fourth industrial revolution. It is hard enough to keep pace, let-alone plan for the future workplace. But it is essential that organisations, particularly with regards to occupational health, begin talking about the future of their unique working environment. How are these new technologies likely to impact on the day to day running of the business, not just the ‘bottom line’ but the employees who work there.

By developing a well-rounded and expansive health and wellbeing policy organisations can be ahead of the game. Exploiting new technologies to give you the edge while minimising the negative impacts. 

Seven Ways to Start the New Year Right

Seven Ways to Start the New Year Right

Christmas can be a challenging time for some.  Juggling work with festive planning is all well and good while the adrenalin is flowing, but once the decorations are starting to lose their sparkle and the tree is wilting, January can feel anything but shiny. Even those who had a fantastic Christmas can feel a dip as the excitement wears off and they look for the next project. 

This can all have a negative knock-on effect in the workplace, so we have put together a 7 step plan to getting 2019 off to the right start and beating the January blues.

Step 1

Festive fatigue. For those suffering from long-term illness, financial problems, mental health issues, relationship breakdown, domestic abuse or bereavement, Christmas can be one of the most miserable times of the year. Sometimes the workplace is a welcome escape, while other times it is the final straw.

Try to be aware and mindful of the challenges that some employees may face over the Christmas period, and adapt your approach accordingly. This is a great opportunity to launch or discuss your organisation’s wellbeing policies. Let employees know what support is available and promote an open-door policy so that any worries and concerns can be dealt with quickly.

Step 2

Lighten up. Lack of natural light is a serious issue for 6% of the population and 14% suffer from ‘winter blues’. One study even found that a lack of natural light increased cortisol levels and reduced night-time melatonin levels, both of which are linked to depression and poor sleep. Even those who don’t suffer specific symptoms can benefit from a little more sunlight.  

During the winter months many people find themselves commuting to and from work in the dark and spending the daylight hours in an office. Encourage employees to get out while it’s light during the day, perhaps a lunch break walk? Keep office blinds raised and improve light levels with mirrors and light-coloured walls. If these options are not practical, then it may be worth considering investing in some special Light Therapy lamps.

Step 3

Get active. Few people make lasting resolutions. However, it is the most common time for people to take up a new diet and exercise regime or quit smoking. Organisations can help support their employees efforts to improve their health in many ways. Try out the lunch time mile which encourages people to get out and walk during their lunch break. Or run a quit smoking campaign and help boost employee willpower to stay on target.

Capitalise on the desire to make positive changes and implement healthy initiatives. Kick start an office league or encourage healthy lunch habits, perhaps even get people to swap their favourite recipes. People are more likely to stick at their resolutions, exercise routines and healthy diets if they’re doing it with others.

Step 4

New chapter. January is the most popular month for handing in job resignations with almost 1 in 5 people citing it as the month to change employer in a study by Glassdoor. Perhaps it links to the top reason for changing jobs, which was salary.  Not so surprising when one third of adults worry they won’t have enough money to last through Christmas. Is it any wonder that this is the time of year people start to consider their options? It’s not just money people are worried about, 22% of respondents in the Glassdoor study said that they quit because they wanted a new challenge. Filling vacancies is costly and time consuming, so forestall this by ensuring you properly value your employees and that they know it. This may also be a good time to ensure that you have a clear progression strategies in place and engage your team in practical and achievable development planning.

Step 5

Positive Workplaces. If life is getting you down, the last thing you want to do is walk into a miserable workplace. Creating positive working environments is not just about having a nice office space, it’s also about encouraging a constructive, stress-free atmosphere and bringing together a strong, supportive team. It might sound idealistic, but no matter the workplace, it’s always possible to foster a good team spirit.

Encourage supportive team working, rather than aggressive competition – although a bit of friendly rivalry can work wonders for motivation. Ensure roles are clearly defined and the team well-structured to avoid any overstepping or under-reaching. Acknowledge achievements and reward them. Be sure to celebrate the wins. What better way to brighten up a dull January day than a pizza lunch or latte afternoon to recognise successes? 

Step 6

Remember wellbeing. Mental health issues can be challenged by Christmas and January blues. Having a well-rounded wellbeing policy in place can be key to ensuring that any concerns are managed before they turn into problems. Promote self-care and encourage employees to be mindful of their own needs and to feel able to flag them up where relevant. Make mental health part of your wellbeing strategy. Consider offering confidential counselling in the first month or two of the year.

Step 7

Don’t forget yourself! It is easy to get caught up with ensuring everyone else is coping and forget about ourselves. Self-care is for everyone. Take a breath and remember that January is only 31 days.

Are you discriminating against cancer suffers?

Are you discriminating against cancer suffers?

A recent poll by YouGov, commissioned by Macmillan of 1,500 people found that 87% of cancer suffers want to continue to work. The main motivation for staying in work is the need to maintain a sense of normality and keep up self-esteem. Unfortunately, 9% claimed that their bosses were unable to give them the support they needed and 4% said they lost their job as a result. Macmillan found that 1 in 5 people returning to work faced discrimination as a result of their diagnosis.

Are you giving your employees the support they need to return to work after a cancer diagnosis?

In the UK more than 100,000 working age people are diagnosed with cancer every year, 890,000 members of the British workforce are living (and working) with cancer.  These figures are predicted to increase to 1,150,000 by 2030. The chances are extremely high that your organisation will have to tackle this challenge sooner or later.

Workplace discrimination

According to the Macmillan research, well over half of those diagnosed with cancer while in work had to give up their job or change role as a result, which is probably not surprising as 60% say their hours didn’t change following their diagnosis. All of which shows a woeful lack of understanding and empathy on behalf of many organisations and line managers when it comes to supporting cancer sufferers.

This is a growing issue and employers have a legal duty of care to their employees. Organisations are faced with a challenge to shake up their approach to long-term conditions, such as cancer. They need to learn to make necessary adjustments to support employees who wish to continue working and contributing.  This is not simply for the benefit of staff, but also the businesses as a whole.

Don’t just ignore it

Almost half of the people who were working at the time of receiving their cancer diagnosis claim their employers did not discuss issues such as flexible working, workplace adaptations or sick pay options with them.

There is no legal requirement for an employee to divulge a cancer diagnosis.  Fostering a culture of openness and support will help encourage employees to share this information and allow you to prepare and accommodate.

When discussing the diagnosis with an employee, consider the following issues:

  • Likely time off
  • Potential impact on their return to work
  • How the illness may affect their ability to do their job – physically, emotionally and time constraints
  • What adjustments may be required –physical adjustments, working hours etc
  • Alternative options – change of job role etc.
  • Any health and safety implications

Educate

18% of people claim that their employer (and colleagues) did not understand their changed needs when they returned to work.  Macmillan found that 86% of line managers had not received any training on how to support employees with long-term conditions.

Line managers can play an essential role in facilitating cancer sufferers who wish to continue to work while receiving treatment. They are also crucial in aiding the return to work after sickness absence. Managers need adequate training to have the confidence to support their employees through this period. They will generally be the first port of call for the initial disclosure and any ongoing concerns. Their knowledge of the day to day routines and the role of the employee will be invaluable when it comes to ensuring the organisation is meeting the employee’s needs.

Providing an up to date policy (such as this sample from Macmillan) on the business’s approach to cancer is a great first step. The policy document should ideally be supplemented with in-house or off-site training on cancer in the workplace.

It is also well worth taking advantage of the various annual cancer awareness days to educate the entire organisation on the extent and limitations of the support offered in the workplace. There are many resources available both online and off to support events, activities and workshops on the topic.

Know the law

Employees are protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010. Employers cannot discriminate against someone at any stage from recruitment through training and promotion to remuneration.

A person with cancer is disabled in law, protecting them against discrimination. This protection continues after they’ve had the ‘all clear’ from a doctor, to prevent discrimination on the grounds of their past health issues.

Employers are expected to make reasonable adjustments to the working environment to enable someone with long-term conditions, such as cancer to continue working if they wish to do so.

Adjust

The word ‘reasonable’ is vague, but a company needs to consider factors such as financial cost, practicability, benefit to employee and organisational disruption.

Reasonable adjustments may include things such as:

  • Physically changing the workplace – depends on specific physical needs
  • Implementing a phased return to work for those who are returning from long-term sick leave or have had a significant health change
  • Offering flexible working hours
  • Providing training and re-training opportunities
  • Considering alternative job roles within the organisation

 

Win-Win

The research shows that the vast majority of cancer suffers want to continue to work as much as possible. It’s in the interest of most organisations to do whatever they can to support and facilitate this. The evidence shows that employees who feel their wellbeing is valued are more productive workers.

It is far less costly to retain existing employees, even accounting for reasonable adjustments, than it is to recruit new ones. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) it costs around £6,000 to recruit senior managers and directors, and £2,000 for other employees.

The caring reputation of an organisation is well worth considering. It often factors into the decision process of employees choosing who to work for. So in a time when long-term conditions are increasingly the norm, being able to offer a comprehensive, caring approach to cancer sufferers is one way to set your organisation ahead of the rest.