Time to reassess employees’ worth

At a time when the Health and Safety Commission has urged trade unions to
raise awareness of occupational health issues among their members, it may
appear hypocritical that stress-related ill-health is still regarded as a poor
relation to chemical poisoning, asbestos or other physical injuries.

Employers often assume it is the employee who is faulty and dismiss
suggestions that the employer’s systems, management culture or the environment
of the workplace could be at fault. But even if we accept this diagnosis, are
there any benefits to be gained by improving the lot of the employee at work?

There have been a number of authoritative writers on employee retention and
motivation who have demonstrated that money is not the only answer. Staff want
to be heard, treated fairly, managed properly, and most of all, valued. This
takes time and communication and listening skills. Unfortunately, the pace of
business life lends itself to providing excuses and reasons for not engaging in
listening, valuing and treating staff fairly.

What evidence do we have to support this and what, if any, is the cost to
industry? The out-of-court settlement to Leslie North for stress in August was
greeted by a spokesperson from the Institute of Directors with derision. It was
quoted in a national newspaper as referring to the settlement as "the
litigation and compensation culture gone absolutely barmy".

Ever since the landmark Walker case of 1996, there has been a queue forming
from teachers to council employees to many unreported cases of employees
seeking compensation for the ill-health effects of workplace stress. It is
difficult to see the tide turning and employees returning to putting up with
poor work conditions for longer-term security of tenure.

Employers can no longer offer this and the new generation of staff may not
want it. They are highly mobile with portable skills so it may be more
financially beneficial for employers to channel the efforts expended in
fighting claims into assessing risk and removing the causes of workplace
stress.

If people are an organisation’s strategic advantage, why do some forget to
listen, value them and assess the risk to their well being and productivity in
the name of expediency?

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