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A week in HR: Matters of the heart blamed on bad bosses

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HR week
The traditional ‘sick note’ is being ditched in favour of a ‘fit note’; whilst a separate study reveals that bad bosses are contributing to heart problems. And in news from the dock, a lesbian soldier has scooped £187,000 for sexual harassment. Annie Hayes reports.


The ‘sick note’ is being ditched in a bid to get people who are ill back to work. Reported by The Guardian, the government hopes the plans will “significantly reduce” the £100bn cost to the economy of people’s ill-health. Instead of issuing the traditional sick note, doctors will instead dispense ‘fit notes’ outlining what the person can do. According to the newspaper “there is little detail” so far, but HRZone.co.uk can throw some light on the scheme – earlier this year it looked at the plans to find out whether it would be a cure-all.

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Sadly, part of Britain’s absence problem is being blamed on bad bosses. A new study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine claims there is a strong link between poor leadership and the risk of serious heart disease and heart attacks among more than 3,000 employed men. And the effect may be cumulative – the risk went up the longer an employee worked for the same company. Experts said that feeling undervalued and unsupported at work can cause stress, which often fosters unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, that can lead to heart disease. For the full story see the BBC website.

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In the face of exhaustion, a new report claims that workers are spurning technology in favour of face-to-face correspondence. Half of workers say whilst email is the main form of communication, over a quarter believe it is used unnecessarily. Almost one in 10 employees even admit that excessive email consumption has resulted in a negative impact on their communication skills. Office Angels, the recruitment outfit behind the report, has coined the phrase ‘Facemail’ to describe the move towards more personal communication.

Read more about the impact of email in the workplace, in this week’s Editor’s blog.

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The recession is still biting, with experts predicting that ‘painful’ wage cuts should be expected for millions of workers worldwide. The Global Wage Report 2008/09, by the International Labour Organisation, predicts that global growth in wages will be just 1.1% in 2009, down from 1.7% in 2008. Overall pay growth in industrialised countries is also expected to contract, from 0.8% in 2008 to -0.5% in 2009. The report also shows that since 1995, inequality between the highest and lowest wages has increased in more than two-thirds of the countries surveyed, often reaching socially unsustainable levels. Among developed countries, Germany, Poland and the United States are amongst the countries where the gap between top and bottom wages has increased most rapidly. In other regions, inequality has also increased sharply, particularly in Argentina, China and Thailand.

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Big firms are amongst those that continue to suffer at the hands of the downturn – and unsurprisingly redundancies are not being received well. Unite the union has today slammed HSBC’s announcement to axe 500 jobs calling it a “disgrace”. Unite says the firm is using the economic downturn as an excuse to make cuts. Derek Simpson, Unite’s joint general secretary, called the timing of the redundancies into question: “Unite is appalled that this news has been delivered so close to Christmas.” Yet according to a report by the BBC, HSBC has justified the decision following “a review of the business and current economic conditions”, and admitted it “deeply regretted taking the step”.

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In some favourable fiscal news, Aon Consulting, the pensions and consulting firm, has reported that the final salary funding position has improved by £38 billion in November, which is the largest monthly improvement in the history of pension schemes. This means that schemes have leapt back into a surplus of £23 billion. Aon account for the turnaround in fortunes by falling expectations of future inflation, which has fallen from 3.2% to 2.6% over the month. Yet given the unprecedented uncertainty, Aon warns employers and pension scheme trustees to look very carefully at market conditions and review each pension scheme’s exposures to market risks.

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In news from the dock, an accountant who made thousands of pounds by accusing 22 firms of age discrimination, has had her latest claims thrown out by an employment tribunal. Reported by The Telegraph, Margaret Keane, 50, responded to dozens of job adverts appealing for “newly qualified” and “entry level” candidates even though she had 18 years’ experience. After her applications were rejected, she took legal action under European age discrimination legislation introduced in 2006. Twelve firms agreed to out-of-court settlements, earning Miss Keane payouts of between £4,000 and £10,000 each time and the name ‘serial litigator’. But yesterday an employment tribunal rejected five more of her claims. Keane, from north London, once earned £75,000-a-year working for HSBC after graduating as a chartered accountant in 1991.

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Kerry Fletcher, the lesbian soldier who claimed that she had been sexually harassed by a male sergeant, has been more successful, however, after being awarded £187,000 in compensation. She told an employment tribunal in Leeds in November last year that her career in the army had collapsed after she was propositioned by a sergeant. He suggested that she join in a threesome with another woman and that he might be able to convert her from being lesbian. For more on the story see: Times Online.

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And in HR career news, Steve White, from Badenoch & Clark, says in his blog that the recession is driving a trend for HR specialists to be increasingly required to include more generalist duties within their role. According to White, the most popular mix now sees employers seeing 70% of the remit being specialist and a sizable 30% being generalist. White says that in the short term, “this is probably a good thing for HR generalists”, because it enables them to get a foot in the specialist door. Whilst for existing specialists it will mean a ‘change of focus’. White believes it will be a relatively short-lived trend.

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Annie Hayes

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