Beating the Winter Flu

Beating the Winter Flu

the Effect of Workplace Eye Care on Productivity

The schools have been back for a few weeks and most people have settled back into work routines after the Summer holidays or their post school hols sunshine break.

The temperature is dropping and the wet, rainy, autumn weather is cropping up more and more on the forecasts. We all know that this can mean an increase in sick leave.

The Office of National Statistics research shows that minor illness, such as colds and influenza (flu) were the primary cause of absenteeism in the UK last year. This equates to 34 million working days.

The NHS have issued stark warnings about this year’s flu season. Already this year hospitals are on alert following major flu outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand. The fear is that we will see similar levels in the UK.

There are several simple actions that businesses can take to minimise the spread of flu, and other minor illness, in the workplace. Doing so not only reduces absenteeism and improves productivity but it will also contribute to the health of the wider society in the process.

The NHS provide free annual flue jabs to people in the following ‘high risk’ groups.

  • Those aged 65 or over
  • Anyone who’s pregnant
  • People suffering from medical conditions such as asthma, kidney disease, diabetes etc.
  • Those living in a residential or nursing home
  • Main carers of elderly or disabled people who may be at risk if you fall ill
  • Children in an at-risk group aged 6 months to two years.
  • People working in healthcare or social work involved in patient care

The Vaccinations are usually available in October and should be accessed as early as possible. Businesses can support eligible employees to ensure they take advantage of the free jabs where relevant.

Those who are not considered ‘high risk’ and therefore are not able to receive a free vaccination can get vaccinated privately. Pharmacies and supermarkets can administer the vaccine which costs up to £20. Although most healthy adults can fight off a bout of flu in around a week, there has already been a significant increase in employers offering employees flu jabs as part of their corporate benefits package.

Interested companies can offer vouchers or arrange for a specialist to visit on-site to administer vaccinations making it easier for employees to access them.

Hygiene

“The hand was really quicker than the sneeze in the spread of disease,” says microbiologist and cleaning expert, Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Most work places are a perfect environment for the spread of viruses, especially influenza, which is already highly contagious. This is a perfect time of year to remind employees about the importance of good hygiene:

  • Covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and immediately binning used tissues and washing hands.
  • Regular and thorough hand washing will minimise the spread of germs.
  • The average desk apparently contains about 400 times more germs than a toilet seat and flu germs can survive for up to eight hours on hard surfaces, so door handles, light switches, printers, kettles all become potential transmitters of infection.
  • Hand-sanitisers of at least 60% alcohol are a great addition to a healthy workplace. However, they should be used in conjunction with hand-washing with soap and water, not instead of it as they cannot tackle all germs or clean visibly dirty hands.
  • Keep kitchen sponges, dishcloths, desks, hand-towels clean and disinfected both in the office and at home can help to minimise the spread of infection.

Care

Encourage sick employees to stay home until they are fully well before returning to work. Flu suffers can spread the illness for up to around a week after first showing symptoms. It may be inconvenient to have one member off work for a week, but better that than half the team.

A healthy lifestyle will not only lower the chance of your teams catching flu and other seasonal illnesses, but will help to reduce recovery time if caught.  This is yet another reason to actively encourage employees to eat a healthy balanced diet with lots of fruit, get plenty of rest and sleep and take part in regular exercise.

Keeping your staff happy can also reduce illness. New research has found that people who are in good spirits on the day of their vaccination are more likely to find it successful in preventing flu later in the year.

Kavita Vedhara, Professor of Health Psychology, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences who carried out the research said.  “We have known for many years that a number of psychological and behavioural factors such as stress, physical activity and diet influence how well the immune system works and these factors have been shown to influence how well vaccines protect against disease.”

Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the Workplace

the Effect of Workplace Eye Care on Productivity

It may surprise you to hear that there is no law against bullying in the workplace. Harassment is defined in the Equality Act 2010, but bullying has no legal definition.

Whether, or not, bullying is defined in law, employers have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 that means they are responsible for the welfare of their employees in the workplace. Bullying or harassment at work can significantly impact a person’s health and wellbeing and just as with many aspects of wellbeing, these negatives have repercussions on productivity, success and profit.

The Health and Safety Executive define workplace bullying as involving ‘negative behaviour being targeted at an individual, or individuals, repeatedly and persistently over time.’

The Advisory and Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) claim in their ‘Workplace Trends of 2016’ whitepaper, that there are signs workplace bullying is on the increase. Their helpline received over 20,000 calls regarding bullying and harassment in 2015 ‘some people reporting truly horrifying incidents including humiliation, ostracism, verbal and physical abuse.’ Other research estimates that as many as 40% of us have experienced disrespectful or humiliating behavior.

Despite the lack of a legal definition, many workplaces have anti-bullying policies in place but those policies are sadly not delivering. This is clearly an area where it is not enough to simply have a policy in place. A more proactive approach must be taken.

Workplace bullying can have long-lasting and significant impact on the victim, their loved-ones and those who witness the bullying. These effects can include symptoms such as:

  • Loss of motivation at work
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of self confidence
  • Low self esteem
  • Isolation from work colleagues and/or family and friends
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Poor health
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Mental health issues
  • Self-harming
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Post-traumatic stress disorders

Chief Operations Officer at Acas, Susan Clews, says that organisational climate is key to a successful anti-bullying and harassment policy. It is essential that employees feel that it is possible to raise concerns and managers able to enforce the policies. A working environment should prioritise mutual respect and engage everyone in challenging and refusing unacceptable behaviours.

Clear guidelines on what is classed as unacceptable, bullying or harassing behaviour will minimise the oft-quoted excuses of ‘We were just having a laugh’ or ‘They’re over reacting.”

 

What does bullying look like?

Bullying can take many forms and it doesn’t always take place in face-to-face scenarios. Cyber bullying is on the rise and many organisations seem ill-equipped to spot or deal with it. Email, telephones, text messages, written notes etc can all provide a means to carry out bullying behaviour. In many ways, cyber bullying is more insidious than physical bullying as it is harder to leave in the workplace.

Whatever the medium and means, workplace bullying can take many forms:

  • Insults, rudeness or intentional embarrassment
  • Spreading rumours or stories about individuals
  • Excluding and ignoring people or any other form of victimisation
  • Unwarranted personal or professional criticism
  • Overworking
  • Making staff members perform demeaning, degrading or pointless tasks
  • Threatening behaviour
  • Unwanted sexual advances and harassment
  • Preventing promotion or other professional development

Creating a workplace that takes pride in preventing these behaviours is part of a wider set of policies that incorporates employee health and wellbeing across the board. Happier, healthier, fulfilled employees are less likely to feel the need to take out frustrations or unhappiness on their co-workers. Job insecurity, stress, poor work processes etc all correlate to higher cases of workplace bullying.

Acas found a strong link between restructuring and organisational change and workplace bullying. In these times of economic and social upheaval, change is hard to prevent and organisations must adapt to keep afloat. Yet, considerable thought must be given to how that change is enacted and the impact it will have on your employees. Good people management is an essential skill through these processes.

Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust Anti-Bully Tsar, Dr Makani Purva approached the issue of workplace bullying with the creation of the Professional and Culture Transformation (PACT) academy. PACT’s three core objectives were to educate, intervene and influence.

A 90-minute course helped to clarify what was meant by workplace ‘professionalism’ and discuss actions for dealing with unprofessional or bullying behavior. Those who took part left feeling more confident about tackling such behavior.

Workplace bullying can rarely be resolved by one person and requires the engagement of a wider team.

What can you do?

Be clear – Clearly define unprofessional behaviour, bullying activities or harassment.

Empower – Provide a clear communication process to enable employees to confidently report behaviour that they are uncomfortable with.

Act – Bullying begins small and escalates. The sooner you can catch it the easier it is to resolve.

Educate – The duty of care lies with the employer so the burden of responsibility for reporting cannot lie solely with the employee. Training management staff on how to spot and deal with bullying and harassment enables them to feel able to handle such scenarios.

Resolve – Focus on resolution, not punishment. Interventions such as mediation, one to one feedback can resolve the situation for everyone involved.

Manage – Always consider the human element in all business decisions. Be mindful of the impact that organisation change will have on staff mood and morale. Create a positive working environment for your employees to thrive in and help your business to grow.

Most organisations will have to deal with workplace bullying or harassment at some point and the research suggests it is on the rise. But is that any wonder given the changing times in which we live? So many people are under pressures of all shapes and sizes and it’s unsurprising that those will impact on our working lives.

Thankfully, as detailed above, a little time and consideration can help to minimise the impact wherever possible. Like so many health and wellbeing issues, bullying is far easier to prevent than it is to cure.

Need to talk to someone about bullying in the workplace? Find out about counselling here.

Seeing Clearly – the Effect of Workplace Eye Care on Productivity

Seeing Clearly – the Effect of Workplace Eye Care on Productivity

the Effect of Workplace Eye Care on Productivity

In an uncertain economy, retaining and recruiting new employees is becoming ever more competitive. Employee health and wellbeing is an area where businesses can differentiate themselves from their counterparts, setting themselves ahead of the pack.

This is born out by the research, almost a fifth of UK businesses are planning to introduce new employee benefits this year according to a recent survey of 250 HR directors and managers.

The study, carried out by Secondsight, found that 53% of those questioned, offer benefits because they want to look after their employees, 44% used them as a recruitment tool and 42% believe they are good for employee wellbeing.

For those businesses exploring opportunities to expand their benefit offerings, one, often overlooked aspect of employee health and wellbeing is that of workplace eyecare. Recent research carried out by Specsavers (Specsavers Corporate Eyecare/EMedia, 2015) demonstrated a clear link between workplace eyecare and health, wellbeing and, crucially, productivity. Something that 84% of the 158 businesses surveyed agreed with.

 

Early warning system

Regular check-ups can forestall problems that may cause eyestrain and headaches, which could reduce company productivity. In addition, a good optometrist can diagnose a wide range of whole-body ailments which could have significant and lasting financial and efficiency impacts on any organisation.

For example, an eye test can flag up signs for issues such as;

  • diabetes;
  • brain aneurysms;
  • raised cholesterol;
  • temporal arteritis;
  • cardiovascular disease;
  • arthritis;
  • brain tumours;
  • thyroid problems;
  • pituitary tumour;
  • migraine;
  • cranial nerve palsies;
  • multiple sclerosis; and
  • cerebrovascular accidents

This early-warning system cannot be underestimated. Public Health England figures estimate that over five million people have undiagnosed high-blood pressure. If left untreated high blood pressure can lead to serious health problems. If this can be detected during a routine eye test it could have significant positive health impacts.

Adding eyecare to a workplace benefit package is well worth consideration for the health benefits alone. The value in letting employees know that their health and wellbeing matter to your organisation can demonstrably impact on productivity. Happily, many employers seem to recognise this, just 1% of those surveyed thought the only value of workplace eyecare is in complying with legal requirements.

 

Legal requirements for eye care

Many organisations however, are unclear on what their legal requirements are when it comes to eyecare in the workplace. What does the law require of employers?

For employees operating visual display units (VDU) or display screen equipment (DSE) as part of their daily job, the responsibility for requesting an eye test falls to them. Whereas for employees who drive or operate machinery as part of their employment, the onus is on the employer.

Although there is no evidence that screen use causes permanent damage to eyesight, regular testing is advised as it helps to avoid visual fatigue and other issues. Although the onus is on the employee to request an eye test the employer is required to pay for an appropriate optometrist. They must also cover the cost of basic frames and prescribed lenses, or a portion of the final cost.

Employees who drive or operate machinery for the business must have regular eye examinations in line with their licence. This is to ensure that they are fit for driving or operating the type of vehicle or equipment they use for work. Commercial licence holders, for example, are required to be tested at 5-year intervals.

 

Prevention is better than cure

It’s not just about the eye tests. Care can be taken in the workplace to minimise the chance of eye-related problems such as eye-strain, dry eyes or headaches occurring.

  • Correct chair, desk and monitor positioning is essential for those spending long periods working with VDU’s or DSE’s.
  • Position computer screens at arm’s length.
  • Individuals should sit at a height where their eyes are lined up with the top of the computer screen.
  • It is better to be looking directly at or slightly down on a monitor rather than up.
  • Encourage the use of the 20:20:20 rule. Every twenty minutes, stare at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds.
  • Encourage regular breaks away from the screen. Face-to-face meetings with other members of the team or brief walks around the office to reduce extended screen-time.

 

The right tool

There are a number of useful tools that can be used to remind employees to take short breaks and exercise their eyes:
Eyecare – A Google Chrome extension encourages you to try out the 20:20:20 rule.
EyeLeo – Leo will remind you to take regular breaks, show you exercises and won’t take no for an answer.
Time Out – Perfect for Mac users who lose track of time and forget their breaks.
Screenruler – Helps users to focus on sections of a page, using a highlighter bar, ruler or screen tint.
f.lux – Adjusts the screen colour to reduce glare depending on light levels and time of day.

Challenging the Barriers to Creating a Health & Wellbeing Strategy

Challenging the Barriers to Creating a Health & Wellbeing Strategy

In the UK, 99% of companies are classified as Small to Medium Enterprises (SME’s) and one third of their employees suffer mental health issues. Spiralling annual sick leave levels cost British businesses around £11 billion per year (XpertHR, 2015) and 131 million days of absence (ONS, 2014).

Many of our articles demonstrate that employers are increasingly aware of the growing business case for employee health and wellbeing policies. Yet there is a general attitude that such policies are ‘nice to have’ for larger organisations, but well beyond the reach of small or medium businesses.

In 2015 in response to these concerns, the Government launched a new initiative, Fit for Work. The aim is to support GPs, employers and employees to improve workplace health and wellbeing. What are the key barriers continuing to prevent SME’s from embarking on this process?

Cost

For SME’s, more than larger organisations, it all too often comes down to concerns over additional costs. There is no guide cost for a health and wellbeing strategy. The ultimate outlay needed to set up a functioning campaign can vary dramatically depending on an organisation’s specific requirements.

Some policies will be virtually free to get off the ground. Encouraging a ‘midday mile’ or regular desk breaks doesn’t cost a penny. Whereas introducing cancer screening or joining forces with a local gym may cost more. However, the old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ definitely applies here.

An average seven-day absence can cost around £8,000 and it could cost as much as £30,000 to source and recruit a new member of staff.

On the other hand a growing body of research is showing that keeping employees happy and healthy can improve profit margins. Some examples suggest that this can boost profits by as much as 4%! When you start looking further ahead it’s clear that a little outlay now, could save a lot of costs down the line.

Time

Most SME’s are running fast to keep afloat. There’s barely time to get the daily work done, let alone developing and managing a health and wellbeing strategy.  However, just as the initial cost is outweighed by future savings, the time invested now, will save business time down the line.

Healthier employees are less likely to take time off work sick or for trips to the doctor. They will sleep and eat better and be more positive and more efficient when in work. The hours regained from reduced absenteeism and improved productivity are just a few of the time benefits experienced by organisations that invest in Health and Wellbeing.

Knowledge

Creating any policy is a daunting process, but this area is awash with advice, support and available expertise in all sorts of guises and at all levels. Sometimes knowing where to start is the most challenging aspect, but there is a wealth of research available on employee health and wellbeing concerns.

For a more specific understanding of your employees you can carry out a health needs assessment such as this questionnaire from the CDC or an online version like this wellbeing self-assessment from NHS Choices. Don’t be afraid to bring in the experts. There are many people working in all areas of Occupational Health and Wellbeing who will be able to offer varying degrees of practical support and advice.

The Business Case

We have already made the financial and time arguments for a health and wellbeing strategy. However, there are yet more reasons to consider implanting one no matter how big or small your business.

Neyber’s The DNS of financial wellbeing 2017 report looked at the issues worrying UK Employees and found that the top three concerns were finances (33%), health (29%) and work-life balance (28%).

To recruit and retain the best, most productive, employees, businesses are increasingly having to offer more than just a competitive salary.   Employees are taking a greater interest in the additional benefits and support offered by organisations. It’s no surprise that 81% of employers are using employee benefits to retain the best staff.

Another, less tangible advantage, is improved morale which almost always leads to greater productivity and employee motivation. Given that we spend two thirds of our waking lives in work, wanting to be there is a significant factor in our happiness.

Low Staff Engagement

Unfortunately, health and wellbeing is not a simple, one-size-fits-all process. Every organisation’s requirements are different. Not every strategy will work and not every employee will engage with it. There is an element of trial and error at work for any strategy of this nature.

Take time to fully establish and understand the unique health and wellbeing requirements of your organisation and its employees. Then be considered as you put together your strategy. Engage employees, management and directors in the process and create a truly collaborative policy. Listen to the needs and concerns of employees. Finally, be prepared to change it if it doesn’t work.

Not everyone wants free fruit, but they might like a weekly swim. Some people enjoy lunchtime running while others would rather try out some yoga. Some need presentations and background reading, whilst others prefer to just get on with it. Take time to educate the entire organisation on the value and benefits of engaging with the strategy.

Breaking Barriers

None of these barriers is insurmountable and there is mounting evidence that they are largely unsupported.

By investing in the health and wellbeing of your employees, you are investing in the health and wellbeing of your organisation and all businesses, small, medium or large, benefit from being healthy.

Evaluating your Health and Wellbeing Strategy

Evaluating your Health and Wellbeing Strategy

As the case for implementing health and wellbeing programmes grows so does the need for an accurate and reliable way to measure their return on investment (ROI). The real question is how, exactly, do you measure the success of a such a strategy? How do you, objectively, measure the wellbeing and health of your employees?

With a marketing campaign, for example, you can analyse the success via the sales generated through a specific campaign website, telephone line, email address etc. When implementing a health and safety policy, you can examine the reduction in accidents or time taken to carry out activities etc.  An individual’s wellbeing is a personal experience and extremely subjective. Improved health can be a long-term issue that is almost impossible to measure accurately.

Be clear about your objectives

Fiona Lowe explains in PersonnelToday that…

…in order to properly evaluate a health and wellbeing strategy, an organisation needs to be clear on its motivations for implementing one.

The most obvious motivating factor is absenteeism. XpertHR carried out research in 2015 and found a median of 2.5% of working time per year is lost to sickness absence in the UK. That equates to 5.7 days per employee and translates into a cost of £11 billion.

Another incentive is productivity. As we have discussed in previous articles, there is a growing body of research to demonstrate that happy, healthy staff will work harder, faster and more efficiently. BITC-commissioned research by IPSOS Mori discovered that companies taking proactive steps to promote wellbeing amongst their employees can improve their financial success by 10 percent.

Improving staff engagement also has a positive impact on their investment and commitment to your organisation. Finally, we have reputation. Whether to attract the best employees, partners or customers, the value of moral capital has been steadily increasing. With so many industries being saturated, organisations have had to find creative ways to stand out from the crowd. That may be through supporting specific charities, getting involved in local projects or working to offer a better-than-average working environment. Your organisation’s motives for implementing a health and wellbeing strategy will influence the way that strategy is evaluated.

Evaluating Reduced Absenteeism

Reducing absenteeism can boost a company’s profit margins, but there will always be an initial outlay and there are many different approaches. Tracking your chosen strategy is essential to ensuring that you have implemented the right action for your organisation.

Comparing before and after data is the best approach. But whenever you start gathering this information, break all absence figures down into subsets in whatever way makes most sense for your business. For example: reason for absence, role, location, age range, length of absence. This will allow you to correctly compare your ‘before’ and ‘after’ data and to pinpoint specific areas of success or that may need more attention.

Set a realistic time frame for your evaluation period. Health and well-being policies may take a while to create real and lasting change. You may need to wait six months, a year or even more to be able to fully assess the success of your health and well-being programme.

Gauging Improved Productivity

Many organisations are constantly evaluating productivity and progress as part of a general gauge of ROI on any number of factors. Your health and wellbeing strategy is no different.

Ideally you should analyse productivity during the same time-period as you have set for evaluating absenteeism. Track sales, accident and error rates, successes and business progress, along with any other factors relevant to your business.

Assessing Staff Engagement

Another way to evaluate the success of a health and wellbeing strategy is to look at staff engagement. Most easily, this can be done by tracking the take-up rates for healthcare benefits or wellbeing activities provided. Are employees taking advantage of exercise times or reduced gym membership? Are they eating the healthier options in the canteen or going along to the health checks?

You can also see if staff are engaging with programme information by examining the open rates for related emails and tracking visitor figures to relevant intranet pages etc. According to the Employee View, Westfield Health:

2014 30% of employees said they would engage with workplace health and wellbeing strategies if they were properly communicated and 46% said that being asked what form these strategies should take would engage them more.

Communicate. A simple questionnaire or quick poll can be used to encourage feedback on how they are finding the new strategies and to ask for input. Chat one-on-one, in small groups or as part of regular team or department meetings. Ask for thoughts on the strategies and how employees feel they are working.

You could also consider using appropriate psychometric tests before and after your programme to evaluate improvements.

The bottom line

Not all health and wellbeing strategies are created equal. Not all programmes will be suitable for your organisation. It is only through trial, error and good evaluation that you will find what works for your business to achieve your goals.

Appreciation for the value of supporting the health and wellbeing of your employees in the workplace is increasing. Yet, to do it properly requires a financial investment, even at the simplest of levels.

That spend needs to be justified, just like any other business cost. Don’t let that be an excuse not to implement health and wellbeing policies. We believe the benefits are numerous.

Although programmes of this nature are more challenging to evaluate objectively than sales or marketing campaigns it is, with a little bit of planning, perfectly possible.