This week’s letters

A clearer definition is needed of the term ‘workplace stress’

Here we go again. I am already getting H&S officers telling me that we
must do something urgently about stress or else the world will end.

Let’s get this straight. What is stress? If I asked my employees whether
they were stressed, they would probably say "yes". Staff satisfaction
may be linked to all sorts of other issues such as a recent pay award that
didn’t go their way, a grievance that someone didn’t get a result on, a
disciplinary, or a whole series of small issues that could contribute to low

The real issue is to audit the systems and processes an employer has put in
place to support individuals. My company has a comprehensive staff assistance
programme that is open 24/7 to individual, spouse and family. It includes life
management and telephone and face-to-face counselling, which is on top of our
occupational health support programmes.

Stress seems to be non-definable – it’s the 21st century bad back or dicky
tummy. We need to break down what we mean by stress and understand that
sometimes, it is not workplace issues, but ones at home that cause it. Creating
another H&S compliance matrix and trying to put a quantitative figure on a
qualitative issue is a typical and unworkable approach.

I suggest auditing the support network and the way it is communicated. If
staff choose not to use it, then you need to ask them why.

Jim Carter
Director of HR and change, Premier Custodial Group

Rehabilitate to get staff back to work

I couldn’t agree more with the views expressed in Dr Mike O’Donnell’s letter
‘Unnecessary GP sicknotes are a major public health disaster’ (11 May 2004).

However, I would add that to keep more employees at work, managers need to
be more aware of the importance of rehabilitation. There are many good examples
where this has worked well. Unfortunately, there are also some less enlightened
managers who will only want an employee back at work when they can do the job
100 per cent.

Such a stance will often prolong the time spent off work needlessly, and
risk chronic incapacity setting in. I see a role for both HR and OH
professionals, working together, to educate such managers on the longer-term
benefits of a rehabilitative approach.

Dr Jacques Tamin
Medical director, Interact

Graduates clueless on employment law

Paul Pagliari says there should be closer links between the Chartered
Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and its members (Professional
agenda, 8 June), and there certainly needs to be a greater HR membership input
into CIPD graduate courses.

I recently employed a graduate who completed her studies less than a year
ago and have been surprised by her lack of knowledge on employment law and
other practical HR issues. It would appear students cover employment law at a
superficial level only, and are not examined on this important area of our
everyday work.

Graduates need to spend more course time on this subject if they are to be
of practical assistance to the overworked HR practitioners. I would be
interested to learn how the CIPD receives practical practitioner input/advice
when reviewing the content of the courses.

Bill McAllister
William Wilson

Police issues on diversity are real

With reference to the letter concerning the diversity work currently being
undertaken at Hertfordshire Constabulary (Letters, 8 June), I was appalled to
find that there are some in HR who believe diversity within organisations such
as the police is a ‘non-existent problem’.

It is true that working on a diversity issue that is ill-defined can only
lead to failure, which is why the work at Hertfordshire Constabulary was driven
by the results of an extensive diversity audit. The constabulary has adopted a
genuinely strategic approach. In response to whether the people of
Hertfordshire will notice a difference – well, that is one of the things that
the independent evaluation is currently finding out.

If further evidence concerning the importance of diversity to effective
policing is needed, perhaps I can suggest as a starting point a range of
reports by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies, any number of
employment tribunals or public complaints reviews, or if something a little
more accessible is required, the recent BBC documentary The Secret Policeman.
It can only be hoped that such material will help in some way to address this
at best misguided, and at worst, divisive point of view.

Nic Sale
Occupational psychologist, Pearn Kandola

Sexist adverts are demeaning to men

I was shocked to see the pages of Personnel Today (Jobs, 8 June) sullied
with the gratuitous use of the naked male body in an advert for Ann Summers.

Yet again, the male form was used as a piece of meat in a sexist and
derogatory manner.

I am sick to death of males being shown in such a sexist and cheapening way.
But then again, maybe I should simply get out of my politically-correct bunker
and get a life?

Steve Chilcott
HR manager, Octavia Housing and Care

Claims of integrity are so hypocritical

I enjoyed reading ‘How to make work more meaningful’ (Features, 8 June) and
was delighted at Linda Holbeche’s recommendations that "HR should see the
development of a high-performance, high-integrity organisation as its primary

However, in my experience, most HR professionals are sadly lacking when it
comes to integrity. While those responsible for risk and compliance are ready,
willing and able to address ethics training and integrity assessment, those in
HR are either uninterested, unwilling or unable to resource these programmes.
Just recently, a senior learning manager in a major UK company postponed a
meeting for three months because "at the moment [they] have no
budget" for ethics or integrity initiatives. But the same company proudly
asserts "We aim to take account of social, ethical and environmental
aspects when entering into customer and supplier relationships… as well as in
the treatment of our own workforce."

Sadly, they are not alone in peddling this hypocrisy as our own Integrity in
Practice Survey (2003) demonstrated, with only 20 per cent of firms surveyed
having any semblance of ethics training or integrity assessment.

Readers might be interested to know that to moral philosophers, hypocrisy is
the ‘vice of vices’. Better to be an honest crook than a hypocrite.

Roger Steare
Business ethics consultant, Roger Steare Consulting

Health profiling can save you some cash

Following on from the front page article in Personnel Today regarding the
‘Obesity burden’ (News, 8 June), I believe employers have a role to play in
empowering staff to take greater control over their health – but interventions
shouldn’t be limited to weight management in isolation.

Obesity is the medical condition relating to significant weight gain that is
detrimental to our health, resulting in a variety of conditions such as
diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and hypertension. Around 20
per cent of the UK population is obese (compared with 7 per cent in 1980) and
the NHS estimates weight-related conditions account for around 20 per cent of
their total healthcare spend. Add to this all the other health-related factors,
and the impact on costs, productivity and absence to employers is significant.

While the costs may not be transparent to an organisation, an analysis of
the levels and reasons for sickness absence, combined with a review of
generalised claims data from healthcare-related benefits, can provide some
clues as to how the health and well-being of your staff impacts on the bottom
line. Support this with an in-depth employee health profiling exercise, and you
can fully understand the organisation’s ‘health profile’ enabling suitable,
measurable interventions to be made.

We are currently seeing double-digit annual price increases on
healthcare-related benefits and long-term disability. And, according to the
CBI, 176 million days were lost to sick leave in 2003 at a cost of almost £12bn
– so health management programmes have a significant role to play in improving
the health and well-being of staff, controlling healthcare benefit spend,
reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity.

Stephen Haynes
Employee health consultant, Towers Perrin

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