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Dealing With Long-Term Absences: Supporting Your Workforce

Long-term absence due to sickness is at a record high in the UK. From April to June of 2023, nearly half a million people took leave from work because of a long-term illness, adding to the 2.5 million people already absent long-term.

Recent figures reveal that over 185 million sick days were taken in 2022, a rise of 35.8 million on the previous year. A long-term leave period is generally defined as an absence of more than 28 days.

Mental health and musculoskeletal issues are the leading reasons staff give for needing time off, with around 76% of respondents to a recent CIPD survey citing stress as the reason for their absence.

The inability to receive required treatment quickly is also preventing employees from returning to work. As of August 2023, the waiting list to receive treatment from the NHS stands at 7.75 million people with a current average wait time of 14.5 weeks.

So, how can businesses address the issues caused by long-term work absence while also supporting their employees at a time of stress and discomfort? Beecham Peacock, employment law solicitors in Newcastle, offers some expert guidance.

Key findings

  • Long-term absence due to sickness is at a record high in the UK.
  • Workers took over 185 million sick days in 2022, a rise of 35.8 million on the previous year.
  • Mental health and musculoskeletal issues are the leading reasons for time off, with around 76% of employees citing stress as the reason for their absence.
  • The waiting list to receive treatment from the NHS stands at 7.75 million people with a current average wait time of 14.5 weeks.
  • 53% of employees in the UK have come to work despite feeling unwell in the last three months.
  • In 2023, the average worker in the UK was absent for 7.8 days.
  • Since the pandemic, the number of people ‘economically inactive’ has risen by 363,000.

A case-by-case approach

Every employee is different, which is why it’s important to treat each instance of long-term sickness on a case-by-case basis.

It’s essential to maintain and make your employees aware of your absence policy. This ensures that your employees are aware of the processes around sickness leave and feel comfortable addressing any issues. If employees are off work due to ill health, it is important to retain good communication, keep them informed of next steps and discuss with them what, if any, support you can provide. This will help employees to feel valued and secure in their employment.

If employees’ absences are becoming an issue, it’s important to seek legal advice for each individual case to ensure that you treat all your employees fairly and respectfully. Lisa Branker, Head of Employment and HR at Beecham Peacock recommends conducting “both formal and informal review meetings with your employee. You may want to meet with your employee informally in the first instance, to allow them to speak about anything that’s worrying them. You should be clear that if the absence is continuing that you will move onto the formal process, but reassure them that this is to ensure that you can support them, that they are paid correctly and that their sick leave is correctly recorded. Both parties should be aware of the relevant requirements, such as doctor’s notes.”

Supportive measures

A recent study shows that 31% of employees feel their workload is excessive during a normal week. Lisa Branker says, “With many employees citing stress and mental health concerns as their reason for a long-term absence, it’s important to put supportive measures in place. You should ensure your workplace is as compassionate and open as possible. Employees should never feel nervous reporting a mental health grievance or asking for time off due to stress or worry.”

Giving employees access to services such as confidential mental health check-ins and employee assistance programmes can be beneficial. Training particular team members to become mental health first aiders is also a great option, providing your employees with someone sympathetic to talk to who’s separate from the management team.

Although the number of people requesting long-term leave has risen by 363,000 since the start of the pandemic, the trend towards higher levels of long-term sickness began before COVID and the subsequent work-from-home culture. The option to work from home is still a great way to support your employees and offer them an easier way to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Offering flexi-time is another great way to show your team that you understand their home life will influence their work performance. This kind of provision can help minimise stress, particularly for employees who have caring commitments.

Post-absence support

The offer of alternative duties can help make an employee’s return to work following a period of absence easier. Alternative duties can include light duties, part-time work or a job share set-up with another employee. Providing returning employees with alternative ways of working will help them feel valued and encourage a smoother transition back into the workplace.

You can also provide physical changes for a returning employee. This is especially important to think about if they have musculoskeletal issues or physical pain. Standing desks, ergonomic chairs and raised screens can all contribute to a workspace optimised for comfort.

There is no one answer when it comes to long-term sick leave and, as Lisa comments, “you must take each case on an individual basis. A well drafted absence policy and dialogue with your employees is key”.

If you have an employee dealing with a long-term illness, remember above all to be sympathetic and helpful in your approach. Offer potential changes to their work day that might enable them to begin to return to work and keep a record of their absence.

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Business

2024: THE year for customer experience enhancement

Source: Finance Derivative

Rob Paisley, Director, Banking and Financial Services, SS&C Blue Prism 

How recently have you relayed to someone the immaculate service that your tax office, bank or insurance company provided you with? From renewing a bankcard, buying a house or undergoing an investment fund transfer, financial organisations are not noted for their NPS scores.

Nowadays, banking customers find the service inconvenient, due to errors, hidden fees, delays and fund-accessibility issues to name a few, not to mention that financial organisations must compete in a world where online shopping is only a few clicks away. In fact, in terms of satisfaction, customers rank their streaming and parcel delivery service higher. Highlighting the general dissatisfaction is the TrueDigital Quotient, standing at a meagre 25%, emphasising the consensus amongst customers regarding transactions processed wholly through digital channels.

And, while large financial organisations and banks are addressing enlarging customer satisfaction, decreasing operational costs and steering revenue growth by using artificial (AI) solutions at a future time, wouldn’t a more reasonable solution be to manage digital processes through investment in existing intelligent automation (IA)?

Neobanks and digital banks leverage intelligent automation for faster customer journeys. This includes ‘know your customer’ checks, digital onboarding, and seamless processes, catering to both digital and traditional customers effectively – meaning customers can get what they want quickly and without pain. For younger customers, this means digital banking, while traditional customers are provided with better service at a physical location that includes digital offerings.

In banking and finance, most companies think of RPA-IA as an efficiency tool, but significant opportunities often unexpectedly arise when they start to deploy it. Often, it’s the customer experience that benefits most as it’s not just about efficiency. Automation software can help re-imagine your offerings with the customer at the center of it. Amidst the AI rush, revisiting foundational basics before proceeding may be prudent, as IA establishes essential groundwork often overlooked.

Repeated shortcomings for the banking customer

From routine tasks like mortgage applications to specialised services, such as closing accounts, infrequent or one-time customer experiences, significantly shape long-term loyalty and recommendations.

Let me paint you a picture with a tangible example of why people might take their business elsewhere, to illustrate how today’s predominantly young customers are not brand-loyal, and seek the easiest route to fulfil their needs swiftly.

If you join a cloud-based digital bank that has no branches, all transactions will likely be delivered by a 24/7 customer support hotline. Certain banks like this also don’t do checking accounts, only high yield savings CDs and loans which many people are attracted to given preferrable interest rate offers. This all sounds great, but you still run into the infancy of some of these technologies.

To do a mobile cheque deposit, we’ve had clients say it might take 14 days to clear. That’s not good enough. Even two days isn’t good enough given the technology available for these processes. It may also require the customer to write a restrictive endorsement on the back of the check saying it can only be deposited at the specific bank. Once the endorsement is written, it can’t be taken anywhere else other than that bank. If they reject it, they don’t have branches, so customers can’t walk in and talk to a human being and talk to someone.

Anything that improves time to resolution in a self-service fashion on a digital channel helps, but in reality, it’s a dichotomy. How can you have a cashless society until you solve basic issues like that one? It’s a pain to transfer out and you don’t really want to, but lethargy is inherently baked into the system so anything that can speed up the process is going to improve the customer experience.

Dissatisfaction often goes unvoiced, with customers silently departing without notice. Many companies remain unaware until weeks later, indicating a blind spot in recognising and addressing evolving customer behaviour.

With so much money at stake why are organisations struggling to get it right? This year, customer experience takes center stage, with forward-thinking companies investing in process intelligence, business orchestration and automation. Those lagging lack measurement tools and awareness of their shortcomings. Banks excelling in this realm employ more than 500 digital workers and meticulously measure outcomes, while others trail behind with fewer than 10 or none at all.

Cash no longer reigns supreme

Northern Europe boasts the largest global digital banking market, with Sweden dominating with a 98% cashless economy. Nordea, a leading bank in the region, spearheads this transformation by prioritising customer-centricity around the concept of ‘the idea of something better’ through cutting-edge mobile and digital banking solutions. Despite its 200-year legacy, Nordea embraced online banking early on, and in 2015, it adopted banking automation software to revolutionise its operations. Some six million transactions are processed by its digital workforce, including simple tasks such as new card requests, reducing errors and costs, allowing Nordea to tailor its services based on customer preferences.

“It’s one of the key aspects where we want to be the leading bank. We have invested a lot into our mobile bank, which is regarded as the best in the Nordic markets,” says Ossi Leikola, Head of Operations at Nordea. “We also believe very much in a personal relationship with our customers – that’s why we’re very interested in omni-channel.”

Through Nordea’s employment of almost 400 workers and 450 automated solutions for its 10 million customers around the globe, customer satisfaction levels have transformed. Subsequently, by using SS&C Blue Prism intelligent automation, the bank is positioned as a regional leader.

Where customer experience is concerned, efficiency is crucial to retaining loyalty. Companies providing customers with prompt, precise interactions excel in the industry. Intelligent automation solutions streamline transactions, enhancing customer satisfaction, and therefore loyalty. In the current informed market, banks should prioritise use of tools on enhancement, or risk reputational damage to the organisation.

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Business

Money laundering red flags: How to identify and combat financial crime

By Andrew Doyle, CEO, NorthRow

Money laundering, the process of disguising the proceeds of illegal activities as legitimate funds, is a grave financial crime that undermines the integrity of financial systems worldwide. 

When you consider that the National Crime Agency estimates that £10 billion of illegal money is laundered each year in the UK, financial institutions and regulatory authorities have a responsibility to be more adept at recognising the red flags indicative of these illicit activities. Understanding these warning signs is crucial in the ongoing battle to maintain financial integrity and protect the economy from the corrosive effects of money laundering. 

So, what exactly are the warning signs?

Unusual transactions

Financial activities that deviate significantly from a customer’s known income or business patterns is a clear warning sign. This can include large deposits, withdrawals, or transfers that seem inconsistent with their profile. 

Financial institutions need to scrutinise transactions in the context of their knowledge of the customer’s usual financial behaviour, risk profile and the nature of the business relationship. Any significant deviation should prompt a closer look to determine if the activity is legitimate or if it signals something more sinister.

Unexplained source of funds

Large sums of money appearing in a customer’s account from private or unfamiliar sources should raise immediate concerns. It is vital to look at how they acquired these funds and request supporting documentation such as bank statements, recently filed business accounts, or official documents like property or share sale records to verify any such transactions. 

When cash transactions are involved, the difficulty of tracing the origin of funds increases, making thorough due diligence even more critical. In such cases, the institution must ask whether the source of funds aligns with their knowledge of the customer and if there are any indications of criminal involvement.

Rapid movement of funds

When funds are swiftly transferred without a clear and justifiable business purpose, it can suggest an effort to conceal the true origin of the money. Sudden and unexplained changes in a customer’s transaction patterns, such as an abrupt increase in activity or a shift in transaction types, should also raise suspicion. These deviations may indicate attempts to disguise the nature of financial activities.

PEPs

Transactions involving Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) are particularly high-risk due to the potential for corruption. PEPs include individuals holding prominent political positions and their close associates, who may be more susceptible to engaging in corrupt activities. These individuals often have access to substantial funds, making it easier for them to participate in money laundering schemes. Financial institutions must exercise enhanced due diligence when dealing with PEPs to mitigate the risk of being used to launder illicit gains.

Inconsistent documentation

Inconsistent documentation is another critical indicator of potential money laundering. This can include altered or forged documents, incompatible details between different records, or paperwork that does not align with the nature of the transaction. These inconsistencies suggest a lack of transparency and honesty in financial dealings, potentially indicating an effort to hide illicit origins or intentions. Financial institutions should be wary of any documentation that appears tampered with, or that provides conflicting information about a transaction.

Refusal to cooperate 

When customers are uncooperative or evasive in response to requests for additional information or documentation, it should raise immediate concerns. Avoiding straightforward questions about the purpose or source of funds, failing to provide necessary documents, or showing reluctance to clarify details can indicate a deliberate attempt to conceal illicit activities. Financial institutions must be prepared to report suspicious activities to the appropriate authorities for further investigation.

The presence of one or more of these red flags does not necessarily confirm money laundering but definitely warrants closer inspection. Financial institutions in the UK are legally required to implement robust procedures to detect and prevent money laundering. These measures include conducting thorough customer due diligence, continuously monitoring clients for any adverse changes to their risk profile, and reporting suspicious activities to relevant authorities.

Recognising and responding to money laundering red flags is essential for maintaining the integrity of the UK’s financial system. Financial institutions must remain vigilant, ensuring they have the procedures and expertise necessary to detect and address suspicious activities. By doing so, they can play a crucial role in combating financial crime and safeguarding the economy from the detrimental impacts of money laundering.

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The Human Advantage: Turning human-centred leadership into commercial success

By Helen Wada

We are living in a world where AI is becoming more prevalent, the economic environment is as challenging as it has ever been, yet organisations are at the same time being asked to become more “human-centric” and focus on their people.

A shift from performance to people

The 1980s and 1990s were characterised by a relentless performance culture, where metrics and outcomes were paramount. Autocratic leadership of the past gave way to a more collaborative approach as we entered the 21st century and we saw technology begin to disrupt the way in which we worked. Deliver more with less, work in a different way, grow the top line and reduce costs and technology was driving efficiency and growth.

Helen Wada

Today, as we look forward to 2025 and beyond, technology is once again shifting the dial, but there is also a real shift towards people, we are moving into a new era. The Human era.  Helen Wada, a top UK top executive business coach, who has spent more than 25 years in the corporate world working across professional services and with global organisations, is witnessing firsthand the need to prioritise the essentials of being human. 

The pandemic brought this sharply into focus as we think back to how so many within all kinds of professional settings kept the wheels in motion at a time of fear and uncertainty. Medical workers, civil servants and retail workers all continued while others were told to stay at home. Since then, there has been a significant shift in focus on prioritising humanness unlike ever before, yet the commercial imperative remains – and in some instances the commercial pressures are felt even more than before the pandemic.   

Combining the need to drive growth  while building a human centric culture

One of the main challenges businesses face is finding the middle ground between human-centred initiatives and commercial goals.

In March of this year, Forrester explored what human and technical skills will matter most to B2B Marketers…”Technical and AI analytical skills will no doubt have a crucial role to play, but those in B2B customer facing roles must develop soft skills such as self-efficacy, cognitive abilities, empathy and excellent communication. These human skills are vital for building strong relationships with clients, collaborating with team members and adapting to changing market dynamics.” In addition…we need leadership skills and business acumen….The reality is we need to think about developing that whole person.”

A Gartner survey conducted in 2022 found that 90% of HR leaders believe that to succeed in today’s working environment, leaders must focus on the human aspects of leadership. However, only 29% of employees report that their leader is a human leader.

According to Helen’s philosophy, these “human skills” that sales leaders require align completely to those that she developed through her executive coach training back in 2015.  Helen had always shied away from sales, preferring to focus on her technical expertise and delivery.  Yet, after training as an executive coach, she found a new confidence in having open-ended conversations with customers, building relationships and creating insight and value through the quality of her conversation and challenge.

This got her thinking, was there a way that coaching could prove to be the bridge between human-centric leadership and commercial focus

The Harvard Business Review, along with many other reports has highlighted the role of quasi-coaches; leaders who blend coaching with their managerial roles as pivotal to successful leadership.  But can this be taken one step further.

The sales leaders of tomorrow, not only require their technical expertise, their ability to collaborate and work with AI, they require these human skills, to connect with customers, be curious and create value.

Human-centred leadership in practice

Human-centred leadership requires an approach that looks at everyone as individuals. It is important to understand a person’s aspirations, values, and what drives them. This can be difficult where development programmes are delivered at scale with a one-size-fits-all approach.  Common coaching skills can be developed, yet the outcome of a coaching conversation is always personal and unique.

By themselves adopting a coaching mindset, leaders can demystify complex issues and foster a culture that supports both personal and professional growth. Helen’s thesis asserts that human-centred and commercial cultures do not have to be separate. Instead, they can “coexist harmoniously through coaching. By developing leaders as coaches, organisations can scale human-centric practices, as well as provide the skills required to foster commercial relationships, where connection, curiosity, challenge and collaboration are at the heart of working together.”

Scaling human-centric practices

At the heart of a coaching culture is the creation of personal responsibility and accountability.  Coaching, by its very nature encourages others to grow and thrive, creating a culture of trust and responsibility for everyone to play their role in their own personal growth and development.

By starting at the top, Helen highlights that coaching provides a framework that equips leaders with the skills to understand and support their teams effectively, as well as having better conversations with their clients, whether external or internal to the business.

This is particularly relevant in professional service or partnership environments, such as accounting, law, or engineering, where technical expertise is valued for promotion to a certain point, but to reach the next level of leadership requires an ability to build a different type of relationship with customers – often exploring areas outside of their comfort zone.

Coaching and coaching skills also support individuals deal with uncertainty, as Helen explored with a fellow coach, Paul Golding in her podcast Human Wise.

The HUMAN Framework

Helen has created a framework that encapsulates the essence of human-centred leadership, based upon coaching principles

H: How you show up

U: Understand yourself and others

M: Mindset

A: Act & Adapt

N: Next steps

By working with this framework,  leaders and executives can have a practical way to embrace a way of operating that fosters a human-centric culture with a commercial lens. The best outcomes for you, your team and your business.

The benefits of investing in coaching are both qualitative and quantitative. Qualitatively, individuals understand more about themselves, they gain confidence and develop stronger leadership capabilities.

Stretching these skills into commercial conversations translates into quantitative benefits   where companies can see tangible commercial outcomes resulting from an increased confidence in the market, new relationships, new opportunities, and an uptick in revenue and profitability.  All resulting from deeper, connections and human relationships.

Helen’s approach to coaching emphasises that making the human advantage your commercial advantage is not just beneficial, but essential to business success in today’s human-centric world.

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