Every business owner wants their employees to be dedicated, hardworking and willing to go the extra mile by putting in extra hours when necessary. However, there is a balance to be struck between hard work and unhealthy, obsessive behaviour. So, has Britain become a nation of workaholics?
The stereotype of an overworked executive was once associated with American high-fliers, yet in recent years this poor work-life balance has made its way across the Atlantic.
Figures from the Trades Union Congress suggest that one in eight UK employees works more than 48 hours per week, while research from the BBC suggests that more than half (54%) of Britain's workforce regularly works through their lunch break.
People who work long and unsociable hours could be doing themselves serious harm. Indeed, studies have shown that working 11 hours a day compared to eight increases your chances of developing heart disease by 67%.
In Japan 'workaholism' is referred to as Karoshi ('death by overwork') and is the likely cause of some 1,000 deaths each year.
It is crucial that owners recognise the damage that a long-hours culture can have on a business and its people.
One American firm takes the idea of combating workaholism so seriously that its employees are punished for working more than 40 hours a week.
A less drastic approach is to implement time-management tricks that can help boost productivity and performance. Time wasted by office workers during meetings has been estimated to cost the UK economy about £26bn a year. Rather than sitting around a table, you could request that staff members stand for the duration. This helps to rapidly reduce meeting length, while ensuring the same ground is covered.
Some firms use video conferencing to keep in touch with key individuals. This provides a powerful way to communicate in real time, meaning work can happen anywhere and at any time. Something as simple as implementing a flexible working policy can help to combat workaholism. When handled correctly, flexible working can boost employee morale and motivation, while reducing absenteeism.
If a staff member suffers from ‘workaholism’, your first step should be to review their responsibilities and duties, to determine whether they're burdened with an excessive workload and identify any reasonable adjustments that can made to address the issue.
Under the Working Time Regulations employees aged 18 and over are limited to working 48 hours a week. Members of staff have the legal right to opt out, enabling an increase in their working hours, but this must be done in writing and on a voluntary basis.
Start-ups and small businesses have the upper hand when it comes to tackling overworking. Effectively monitoring and managing the issue helps to prevent a workaholic culture from developing.
Blog supplied by Helen Pedder, head of HR for ClearSky HR.
Taking on employee is a significant step for all businesses, but new businesses in particular can find it a daunting experience. Mistakes can lead to costly tribunal claims, of course. Part of the problem is that many business owners aren’t sure about their obligations as an employer nor do they have the luxury of their own HR staff.
Nobody wants to think that what you thought was the perfect hire could result in a costly tribunal case, but one in six disputes do – at an average cost of £9,000. Add to this solicitor’s fees and time taken out of running your business and you are looking at nearer £20,000 in costs, which could be crippling for many small businesses.
At very least, employers need to know what basic legal rights employees have in the workplace. Mainly, these cover: pay and hours; discrimination; and disciplinary and dismissal.
Employees have the right to be paid at least the national minimum wage and the same pay as members of the opposite sex doing the same work of equal value for your business. Rest breaks and paid holiday must be in line with the Working Time Regulations. Employees also have rights to statutory sick pay and redundancy pay, while being protected from any unauthorised deductions in pay. Qualifying employees are also entitled maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay, as well as paid leave for antenatal care, unpaid dependants’ leave, unpaid parental leave (after one year) and the right to request flexible working. Employees are also entitled to time off for public duties such as jury service.
Employees must not be discriminated against unlawfully on the grounds of race, sex, marriage, pregnancy, disability, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, age, religion or belief. Protection against less favourable treatment also exists for part-time workers, as well as ‘whistle-blowers’ and trade union members.
All employees have the right not to be unfairly dismissed, after a qualifying period of two years. Employees have the right to access fair grievance, disciplinary and disciplinary procedures, and the right to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance procedure hearings.
All employees also have the right to receive a written statement of terms and conditions of employment (such as an employment contract) within two months of starting. This can avoid one the main causes of employment tribunal claims.
Tribunals and investigations may never happen to you, but by seeking advice from organisations such as the Forum, to ensure you are up to speed with your obligations as an employer, can help you avoid any nasty surprises later.
Blog supplied by Joanne Eccles, business advisor at the Forum of Private Business, which has produced a free-to-download guide called 5 Essential Things Every Employer Should Know, with further hints and tips on your obligations as an employer, health and safety legislation, tax and finance responsibilities and recruiting advice.
Employer relations minister Ed Davey has announced an extension to the right to request flexible working, which will allow 288,000 more parents to have their requests to work flexible hours formally considered by their employer.
Davey has also revealed that the government is preparing a consultation on a universal right for all employees to request flexible working, saying: “We want to make sure the law better supports real families jugging work and family life, and the businesses that employ them.”
But what do small businesses think? We asked Matthew Jones (MJ), founder of Open Study College what he feels about staff having flexible working hours.
MJ: “We employ 20 people and currently allow many of them to work flexibly if they wish to. It boosts staff moral and leads to a more relaxed working environment. Some of our staff commute a reasonable distance to work so we also allow people to work from home during bad weather; it’s safer for everyone and ultimately means they aren’t spending unnecessary hours travelling.”
MJ: “We run a small office so absent staff always have an effect on us. We do have to be aware of presence for time-sensitive roles, but providing our customers don’t suffer and the work gets done on time we look auspiciously at requests for flexible working from staff with or without children. Increasing the age limit will have a minimal effect on our business.”
MJ: “Flexible working can be a very positive concept providing it is fair, managed and controlled. It leads to a better working environment and more motivated staff. It also makes us appear forward-thinking to our customers and suppliers. It can sometimes be a pain when trying to book meetings and ensuring staff are available, but this is a small trade-off when you consider the benefits. It can help greatly with day-to-day activities such as booking doctors’ appointments and takes the stress out of having to wait for an after-work slot.”
MJ: “The government has been clear that flexible working is not compulsory, but whether this will filter down accurately I can’t say. But we are clear with our staff regarding what is available to them and it seems to work well.”
MJ: “I believe that there’s an inherent problem with childcare and how society deals with it in the UK. While laws and guidelines have been put in place to support parents, it would seem that “childcare” by its very nature has not changed much for a long time, in terms of the hours in which children can be looked after. I would also like the government to help on the other side of the coin, too, with the children themselves, as I don’t believe an employer should be completely responsible for the entire burden of childcare.
“Unfortunately, with today’s strain on purse-strings many families find it hard not having a two-parent income when bringing up children, so we try and do what we can for our staff. It certainly won’t affect our staff here because they already receive these benefits.”
Not all business owners and managers are in favour of giving the right to request flexible working, however. Charlotte Williams of recruitment and HR company Novalign told us:
“The new law could have a negative impact on some small businesses who may feel pressured to accommodate requests for flexible working. This could result in additional and possibly unaffordable costs, inability to compensate for employees with flexible working hours and a detrimental impact on the business’ performance including failure to respond to customer demand.”
What do you think? Please leave your comments below.