Since the start of the summer, we have seen a significant increase, at times we might call it an avalanche, in staff issues.
Many of these, if not dealt with properly in the initial stages, are escalating into more serious issues fairly quickly. One aspect that is becoming evident is that employees are becoming more strident in asserting what they believe are their statutory and contractual rights, although their understanding is often wrong. They are also becoming far less tolerant in how they believe they should be treated, especially when picked up for failing to reach expected work standards or conduct. And poor mental health is regularly put forward as an explanation for why they have behaved the way they have, usually blaming the employer for failing to support them.
And a number of factors are bringing this to ahead:
- A general shortage of talent and an excess of jobs are making staff more confident that they can find alternative employment if they decide to leave
- After the pandemic, everybody feels under more stress and over the past couple of years cumulatively their mental health has suffered
- Inflation is making us all worry about our jobs and income, and we are becoming more strident in protecting both
- A generally better educated workforce knows its rights, and some know how to “play the game”
- As a society, we are less tolerant of discrimination, even if it is no less common than it used to be
- The advice given out by certain advisory bodies, including ACAS, is not small and medium sized employer friendly
We are seeing a rise in cases across the board, but in particular
- Claims of bullying, harassment and discrimination
- Prolonged or frequent short-term periods of absences for mental health
- Health and safety, and/or whistleblowing issues
- Working from home and flexible working requests
- The correct calculation for average holiday pay and who is entitled to this
For us at BackupHR, the level of relentless and varied client issues this year is really noticeable compared with prior to the Pandemic.
We are concerned for our clients going into the winter that such claims and disputes will only increase, especially as the pressure on the entire population will continue to crank up as energy price rises really hit home.
Very often we are called just after the employer has made the first move, and not just before. And sometimes this complicates the situation, especially if the first move has not been a good one.
Typical mistakes that we observe some clients making are:
- Ignoring a stream of minor slip-up in procedures until suddenly people (either Management or employees) get fed up and want formal action
- Moving instantly to dismiss, or to making a snap and hasty decision
- Failing to document repeated conversations to employees about their behaviour, leaving no important written audit trail to subsequent rely on and for the employee to deny ever happening
- Not acting even-handedly and not giving all sides the opportunity to have their say
- Not following their own Disciplinary/Dismissal, Grievance or Dignity at Work procedures to name but a few that are sitting within their Handbooks
- In a tight labour market, wrongly thinking that dismissal is the easiest way to rid themselves of the problem
- Not spending sufficient time investing in good induction procedures for new starters
- Shying away from open and honest conversations about mental health and how well, or not, people are coping with work, personal and financial pressures
These are difficult stressful times for organisations, employers and their employees. Many of us do not know what the next two years will hold, and are fearful that whatever we have built up, is now at the mercy of a faltering economy and a turbulent world.
But, however well or badly the next two years turn out, employers can help themselves and their employees to avoid unnecessary, escalating disputes at work.
- Keeping new policies procedures and handbooks up-to-date, and issued to your staff
- Making sure that your Managers fully understand and know how to use the handbook contents properly, efficiently and in a timely way
- Communicating clearly to your employees, not only where you want the business to go, but that you will not tolerate disruptive behaviour of any form
- Confronting inappropriate conduct early on, rather than letting it get out of control
- Following your own procedures to the letter, and involving us in the very early stages, rather than when it has already got out of hand
- Not acting in haste, remember there is no such thing as instant dismissal, procedures still have to be followed even in open and shut cases
- Recognising that we all handle difficult work and personal situations differently, so that even if a person cites poor mental health, they are not immediately disbelieved, although if this is new news then a healthy degree of scepticism may exist, unless there is proper medical evidence to support such a claim
- Being seen to act even-handedly and fairly for all staff
- Leading by example
We understand that everyone is under pressure, we are feeling it ourselves. The positive side is we are about to increase the size of our BackupHR team, and we will continue to do so as demand for our services rises.
Just bear with us in the meantime, please remember that yours may not be the only urgent client problem we are dealing with.
The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action, make sure that you know what you are doing, or call an expert for specific advice.