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A week in HR: ‘Tis the season to be stressed

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HR weekPosties are being told to pick up the delivery pace; thousands are being given jobs warnings; and the government is bracing itself this week for the unemployment count to rise above the symbolic 1m level. Annie Hayes reports on why there is little ‘ho, ho, ho’ this Christmas.



Snail mail is back, according to a story that has dominated the headlines lately, which reported that postmen are allegedly being bullied by bosses at the Post Office to quicken their pace. According to the Communication Workers Union, postal workers are under pressure to complete unrealistic delivery routes because of a misuse of the new software system Pegasus. The BBC, however, said Royal Mail denies forcing staff to walk at a pace of 2.1 miles an hour.

If the claim is true, a Manchester law firm is warning it could have some employment law repercussions. Stephen Robinson, of Davies Arnold law firm, said: “Claims that postmen are being bullied to walk faster on their rounds and improve efficiency should be carefully handled. As an employment lawyer I would be interested to see if the Post Office has entered into any consultation with unions or employees regarding their objective to achieve a pace of two miles an hour. There also needs to be consideration to postmen with disabilities who cannot realistically achieve the target pace. The question of age discrimination also needs to be taken into account as this may have an effect on physical ability.”

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It’s not just posties that are feeling the stress, however. A new report from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), Europe’s largest professional health and safety body, has highlighted that those working in shops, pubs and restaurants are likely to find themselves under greater pressure than normal this Christmas, with many enticing people with cut price offers in a desperate bid to boost sales figures.

Natsasha Freeman, IOSH’s president, said: “The last few weeks before Christmas are traditionally busy times as people go out to buy last minute presents. This rush places extra demands on employees who are already likely to be working at capacity, so employers need to watch out for signs that their employees are unable to cope.”

Recent statistics indicate that work-related stress accounts for over a third of all new incidences of ill health, with each case leading to an average of 30.6 working days lost, and in 2007/8, 13.5 million working days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety; it also has a damaging effect on employee commitment, performance and productivity.

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Bosses are also feeling the strain. Research carried out by the Employment Law Advisory Services shows that Britain’s bosses are risking their health and their marriages by working longer and harder trying to push their businesses through the recession. Two-thirds of chairmen, CEOs and MDs told employment law experts that they are now committing “significantly” more time to their companies. More than half admit this is also putting increasing strain on their health or family life or both. Some blame these extra hours for the break-up of their marriages or long-term relationships.

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It’s a theme that has also been picked up in a global survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting. According to its report, companies are anticipating a tough 2009 with 81% expecting a decline in their own company’s business performance next year and 35% likely to make significant workforce reductions. Most respondents are likely to curtail overall hiring, reduce 2009 salary increases and cut bonus payouts, while continuing to hire talent to fill shortages in key skill sets.

Worry about retirement investments tops the list of employee concerns, respondents report, outweighing employee anxiety about job security. And according to Mercer, many fundamental HR-related decisions are likely to be revisited in response to year-end results and updated economic forecasts for 2009. And in further bad news for HR, 62% of respondents to the Mercer survey said they are likely to reduce planned investments in HR services. However, nearly twice as many respondents (38%) said that they planned to maintain the level of HR investments as those who said they are “highly likely” to make such cuts (21%). Additionally, 75% of survey respondents said that their company is not likely to invest more to outsource HR functions in 2009.

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Sadly the bad news doesn’t stop there. The centre for economics and business research (cebr) reports that 275,000 jobs will be lost across the business services sector. Business services jobs will decline by 169,000 in 2009 from 2008 levels, and a further 106,000 will be lost in 2010 as a result of the recession, it says. Those sectors that rely on the investment cycle, discretionary budgets and the property market will be worst hit.

The figures fit with a report from The Times, which reveals the jobless total is set to reach an eight-year high. The government is braced for the news this week, which is expected to take the unemployment count above the symbolic 1m level. The US isn’t faring any better with unemployment soaring to levels last seen in 1982.

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If you’re counting the pennies this Christmas in light of all the gloomy news, then don’t miss the top 10 festive tips from The Times for a cut-price Christmas. Pointers include asking guests to bring a dish and substituting the champers for some vintage cava. And check out this HR blog on the top 10 Christmas gifts for recruiters.


The HR news round-up will be back in January 2009. The HR news team would like to wish you season’s greetings and a happy new year.

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Annie Hayes

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