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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

Enhancing sustainable commitments in retail banking

Source: Finance Derivative

Mikko Kähkönen, Head of Payment Cards Portfolio at Giesecke+Devrient

Today, more consumers are keeping environmental pledges from banks at the forefront of their financial decisions, and those banks that fall behind their competitors on sustainable action are risking the loss of customers, particularly among the younger generation. This shift highlights a growing expectation from consumers for their banks to make and uphold sustainable commitments, signalling a change in consumer priorities where environmental responsibility is increasingly seen as essential, not just an optional extra. Giesecke+Devrient research shows that as many as 64% of Gen Z consumers would be happy to switch banks if their current provider didn’t meet their expectations.

However, sustainable commitments must be authentic to avoid any accusations of greenwashing. Unfortunately for the banking sector, consumer trust is being strained as greenwashing incidents have risen by 70% around the world. Banks can’t simply make claims that can’t be backed up; pledges must be supported by evidence. There’s a number of practical steps they can take to prove their credentials.

Banking on the evolution of cards

The bank card has increasingly become a physical symbol of the relationship between consumer and bank. As such, banks have taken steps to ensure that it is designed with sustainability in mind. Many are now created with recycled PVC material, commonly up to 100%, with a lower carbon footprint.

Some banks are elevating their sustainable credentials by utilising cards that are made from plastic collected in oceans and coastal regions, helping to clear up the world’s beaches. Alongside this, others are issuing cards made of polylactic acid sourced from (inedible) corn starch. This is a fully renewable biomass that could be industrially composted.

Sustainable cards can then encourage further sustainable initiatives. We’re more often seeing issuers now actively taking part in local conservation, community development and educational projects around the world to help benefit the planet. Communicating these efforts to customers can help reinforce sustainable credentials and leave tangible evidence that proactive action is taking place.

Contributing to the circular economy

Powering the sustainable credentials of issued cards is one aspect, but it’s also vital that banks encourage their customers to do the right thing with them once they expire and they need to be discarded of. We’re already seeing prominent banks making progress in this area. UK retail bank, Santander, has launched a pilot scheme in branches and ATMs that encourages customers to return their outdated credit and debit cards for recycling, for example.

The collected cards are then turned into plastic pellets to be used elsewhere, for instance to make outdoor furniture, sponsored by Santander, for local communities. As more banks opt for card recycling, consumers will be empowered to dispose of their old or expired cards in a green way and help to reduce ecological footprint.

Into the digital world

Outside of card innovations, retail banks can add to their credible green claims with digital solutions. As an example, the card issuance process has typically involved paper letters, with additional PIN letter, that are posted out to customers to activate their payment cards. Instead, an ePIN service can enable customers to instantly access their PIN via their choice of a mobile app or SMS message, reducing paper waste and waiting times.

There are also innovations taking place in terms of QR codes and augmented reality (AR) solutions to enable digital marketing offerings. This means that printed collateral doesn’t need to physically sent out in the post. The more that these types of communications are sent out digitally, the more that consumers see a tangible commitment to sustainable practices.

Banks can even take an additional step by deploying third-party partners to track the CO2 footprint involved with every purchase or payment. By opting for organisations that have a solid track record in green practices, such as supporting product certifications and information on eco-products and their claims, they can make steps to compensate for each transaction carbon footprint.

Contributing to the green story

To ensure they don’t come under any criticism regarding their environmental claims, banks and financial institutions have the opportunity to adopt sustainable practices that align with their customers’ expectations for eco-friendly commitments in both their physical and digital services. They can introduce banking cards made from recycled or entirely compostable materials, eliminating plastic waste.

Digitally, banks can minimise unnecessary paper use by employing online applications to simplify the process of delivering PINs. By innovating in these domains, they can fulfil their environmental responsibilities and establish that essential trust with consumers, contributing positively to the planet’s wellbeing.

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Business

Successfully dealing with the unintended consequences of change

by Daniel Norman, Change Management Consultant at Symatrix

Most people dislike change. We are drawn to stability and established routines and feel unsettled when anything happens to disrupt the ‘status quo’. It’s bad enough when the local supermarket moves the bread section – but when the company we work for introduces a new digital system that completely changes how we work, it feels like ‘the sky is falling in’.

When change happens within businesses, there may initially be some resistance from employees: whether it be in the form of avoiding new systems, skipping training, clinging to old methods, or even quitting altogether. Change in business is a constant, however, and it is usually driven by a desire for improvement, and typically over time, becomes the new normal.

Good change management is all about smoothing this process of transition and that means engaging with people and helping them to seamlessly switch to a new model or ways of working.  Change management is not just concerned with implementing new systems or processes; it is just as much about listening intently to colleagues, customers, and stakeholders.

It’s working with people to get things right, building a deep understanding of the challenges we and our colleagues face, and shaping the vision for a future that resonates with people. Change is most successful when everyone feels they have a part to play in moving things forward. And that’s true of all change initiatives, large and small.

Finding a way forward

When it comes to managing change, it’s important to recognise that everyone will have their own journey; they’ll work through things at their own pace, and that’s more sustainable than pretending we’ll all arrive at the same point at the same time.

 It’s also important to focus on creating a supportive environment, or the right conditions for people to adapt, with as little friction as possible. The goal is to establish conditions that minimise friction and foster a collective sense of purpose. This philosophy is crucial in creating a environment conducive to individual and organisational growth.

Getting the planning process right

When planning for change, it’s essential to consider both the intended and unintended consequences. Just as technological advancements like social media have transformed communication but also introduced challenges such as misinformation and mental health concerns, organisational changes can have extensive, unforeseen impacts. A thorough exploration of current operational practices, beyond process maps or managerial assertions, is therefore, always a vital feature of any effective change management approach.

For that reason, it can often be a mistake to pull out those process maps the team updated 12 months ago or rely on the word of line managers that will tell you ‘this is how we operate’ without taking into consideration the work-arounds or simplifications that employees have developed over time.

Teams will naturally evolve, and patterns of work; ways of doing things that aren’t written down, will always be there. A good change manager must always be cognisant of that. Even small changes, like when a key person in the team changes roles, can have a big impact.

To manage change well, it’s important to talk to the people who will be most affected by it. This helps change managers to plan and effectively execute the change journey. By ignoring these key considerations, organisations risk their change strategy stalling from the outset and the opportunity for operational efficiencies may therefore never be fully realised.

Throughout the process, it is crucial to continuously monitor and measure the impact of change on all key stakeholders. One effective way of doing that is by embracing the principle of change curves: a popular model organisations can use to understand the different stages people and the organisation go through when a change occurs.

An effective strategy involves mapping stakeholders against this curve, whether as individuals or groups, during project check-ins. This approach can help project leaders gauge the current position of every team member on the curve, the impact of the project’s upcoming phase on them, or their colleagues, and additional support measures that could be implemented. Such an assessment facilitates a more tailored and effective change management strategy, ensuring stakeholders are adequately supported throughout the transition.

Not everything will run like clockwork, of course, no matter the change management approach that is put in place. Challenges, setbacks, and opportunities for improvement are inherent to any process, but proactive anticipation and planning for potential worst-case scenarios and unintended consequences significantly enhance our ability to support our colleagues and teams effectively. This strategic foresight is crucial in managing transitions smoothly and realising the intended benefits of initiatives.

A positive route ahead

Change, especially in business, are inevitable and often aimed at fostering improvement and growth. However, the journey through change is deeply personal and varies from one individual to another. By acknowledging this, creating a supportive environment, and engaging with all stakeholders, organisations can navigate the complexities of change with minimal resistance and maximum efficiency.

Effective change management, therefore, is not just about the technical implementation of new systems but about genuinely listening to and working with people to adapt and thrive in new circumstances. It’s about understanding the nuanced ways teams operate, the unofficial shortcuts and workarounds they’ve developed, and considering the broader implications of change beyond immediate operational efficiencies. Through a thoughtful approach that anticipates challenges and values stakeholder input, organisations can not only manage change but turn it into a catalyst for positive transformation and growth.

It is clear then that while people may inherently dislike change, with the right conditions, support, and leadership, the transition can become a journey of collective progress and innovation. Change, managed well, can transform the initial discomfort into an opportunity for development, making the once feared ‘sky falling in’ scenario a launchpad for reaching new heights.

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Business

Embedded finance: What consulting firms need to know

By Michael Pierce, VP of Sales at Toqio

Consulting firms are the architects of change in the business world, offering insights and solutions that guide companies toward growth and success. They navigate the intricate landscape of markets and industries, providing invaluable advice to their clients. In this evolving milieu, an opportunity is arising as embedded finance enters the scene, creating a unique and prospectively vital synergy between consultants and platform providers.

Embedded finance, especially within the scope of B2B enterprises, is a hot topic right now among consultancies and the outlook seems to be quite positive.

To date, much of the initial traction in embedded finance has been in the consumer sector, with products such as no- or low-interest financing, buy-now-pay-later (BNP), and others. On the B2B side, there is an increasing amount of mobilization. In recent months we’ve seen incumbent banks either entering the banking-as-a-service (BaaS) market or enabling their services through open banking partnerships, while strategy firms are busy advising corporate entities on the potential routes they can take. Early adopters have already made embedded finance a cornerstone of their digital or financial transformation programs: MVPs and proofs of concept have been on the rise.

As we all peer forward, the market is starting to look for scalable use cases to take advantage of these massive, predicted opportunities. Companies are searching for solutions that go beyond the hype.

For consulting firms, the messaging remains positive. The fundamentals of embedded finance drive strong service revenue. Even more importantly, the business cases for their clients stack up as well. Numerous opportunities are on the table when consultants incorporate embedded finance platforms into their projects, including increased revenue, improved retention rates, access to a wider range of data for better decision-making, and many more.

Adaptability delivers excellent results

Embedded finance helps to break down barriers faced by many companies when trying to access affordable financial services. By integrating financial services directly into the supply chain, companies can enjoy many benefits, such as liquidity management, credit accessibility, risk mitigation, and many others. That’s one of the reasons why embedded finance platforms are proving to be the latest addition to the consultant’s toolkit. They offer a wide array of solutions that enable businesses to integrate financial services into their products and services. What makes embedded finance platforms especially appealing to consultants is their adaptability and scalability.

Consulting firms understand the need for versatile solutions capable of addressing various business requirements. Versatility and adaptability are key, giving consultants the flexible tools they need to deliver on time and within budget.

Embedded finance platforms are a natural extension of consulting firms’ capabilities as they offer a comprehensive range of financial solutions that integrate perfectly into existing business processes. This alignment provides consulting firms with several advantages, such as  enhanced client services, data-driven insights, streamlined processes, scalability, and versatility.

A match made in finance

The compatibility between consulting firms and embedded finance platforms is readily apparent. Consultants excel at diagnosing business issues and embedded finance platforms provide a precise prescription for financial enhancements.

There is an extensive list of benefits that consulting firms can get from platforms like this. Diversifying their business is just one of them as embedded finance platforms augment the services that consultants offer. They allow consultants to present clients with solutions for intricate business ecosystem operations, such as payment processing, receivables management, and liquidity optimization.

Partnering with an embedded finance platform can also open up new revenue streams as well as being able to scale the solutions built with more agility. Consultants can use them to address the unique needs of projects of any size, whether working with an SME or a multinational enterprise.

The relationship between consulting firms and embedded finance platforms isn’t just about expanding services, it’s about offering integrated financial solutions that improve efficiency, profitability, and competitiveness. This partnership drives results. In a world where businesses seek comprehensive solutions, embedded finance platforms empower consulting firms to address complex financial challenges effectively.

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