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News in Brief: The Week in HR – HR gives stress the cold-shoulder


Catch up on the week in HR with our latest news round-up including: HR gives stress the cold-shoulder, smoking ban ignites pension fears, big business harbours bullies and Capita scoops BBC HR services contract.

W/C 13/2/06
HR gives stress the cold-shoulder
Despite the associated costs, stress has failed to move up the HR agenda.

According to healthcare outfit, HSA, meeting health and safety obligations and promoting wellbeing is the top concern, with stress polling bottom.

“Stress is estimated to cause over 13 million sick days each year, and costs employers a staggering £3.7 billion.

“Despite this, it appears that the issue has still not moved up the HR agenda,” commented Suzanne Clarkson, Head of Corporate Marketing at HSA. “We are concerned that either companies are still unaware that stress is such a serious problem, or they do not know there are solutions available that could help.”

Just 32% of businesses quizzed offer any form of employee assistance programme, while just 42% provide face to face counselling as a way of managing the problem.

HSA are offering 100 free massages as part of a stress awareness programme. To enter visit

Smoking ban ignites pension fears
The extra 600,000 people, expected to kick the smoking habit as a direct result of the smoking ban will impact upon pensions provisions, warns Aon Consulting.

According to the Continuous Mortality Investigation (CMI) put out by the Actuarial Profession, a 30 year old man who smokes can expect to live 5.5 years less, to an age of 76.8, than someone who does not who is expected to live until he is over 82. The equivalent figure for a 30 year old female smoker is a greater reduction of 6.8 years, to an age of just over 79, compared to almost 86 for a non-smoker.

Paul Dooley of Aon Consulting said: “As people give up smoking, their mortality is impacted and the cost of funding their retirement increases. For example, for a male aged 60 to retire on £10k pa, a male non-smoker would need to save around £30k more during his working life (£260k v £230k, or around 14% more) than a smoker.

“However, the health benefits from stopping smoking have been clearly proven and on the money side, non-smokers in defined contribution pension schemes may need to invest the equivalent of several packets of cigarettes a week more than smokers so that they will not only enjoy the benefits of being fitter and healthier, but will also have sufficient extra money with which to enjoy their extended retirement.”

Commenting on the impact the ban will have on the employment law relationship, David Appleton, employment partner at law firm Lewis Silkin said: “The pressure is now on for publicans, restauranteurs and hoteliers to compromise customers’ “rights” in favour of those of their staff”.

“Once this law comes into force, I predict a wave of whistle blowing claims as staff get victimised for exposing their bosses for turning a blind eye to their regulars continuing to light up.”

Smoking will be banned in all pubs and private members’ clubs in England in summer 2007.

Big business harbours bullies
Bullying is more prevalent in larger companies, according to recruitment outfit Robert Half Finance and Accounting.

Twenty-seven per cent of respondents from these companies report bullying compared to 19 per cent of those working in companies of less than 100 employees.

While one in four HR & financial professionals around the world work in offices where bullying has occurred. Twenty-four per cent of all UK respondents report to bullying in the workplace. Those working in the Netherlands and Germany report the highest figures (39% and 38% respectively) while those in the Czech Republic and Italy report the lowest figures (6% and 9%).

One in three companies (33%) do not have anti-bullying policies in place and over one in ten (13%) do not have anyone in the company that staff can speak to about the issue.

Phil Sheridan, Managing Director of Robert Half Finance & Accounting, commented: “Employers need to put in place measures to detect, respond to and prevent bullying. They should encourage their staff to report incidents of bullying to the HR department and carry out thorough investigations to identify behavioural patterns. Targets are often reluctant to come forward for fear of retaliation, so it is vital that staff know that there is someone that they can talk to in complete confidence.”

Recruiters go East to plug skills gap
The UK’s skills shortage is turning bosses away from local labour markets, according to the Recruitment Confidence Index.

Ten per cent of companies quizzed recruit from countries in Eastern Europe, compared to 7% from the rest of the EU, 4% from Asia and 4% from Canada and the USA.

The survey, produced by Cranfield’s School of Management and The Daily Telegraph, claims a lack of professional and technical skills amongst UK workers is triggering this overseas drive.

Two thirds (66%) of organisations reported recruitment difficulties due to a poor skills pool in the UK, and 39% believed the quality of job candidates to have fallen since last year.

According to the survey, the prospect for UK skills seems bleak as almost all organisations questioned (98%) predicted these problems would either remain the same or rise during 2006.

Shaun Tyson, Professor of Human Resource Management at Cranfield School of Management, commented: “The UK simply doesn’t have enough skilled people to meet the demands of a growing economy and an ageing population. Expansion in the economy is becoming increasingly dependent upon attracting high quality employees from overseas. We anticipate European labour markets will therefore grow in significance to employers”.

Capita scoops BBC HR services contract
The BBC expects to save in excess of £50m in a new ten-year contract with HR service providers, Capita.

Capita will work closely with BBC People, the broadcaster’s HR department to deliver a full range of HR services including amongst others recruitment, administration of pay, staff development and occupational health.

Stephen Dando, Director, BBC People, commented: “This deal marries both our expertise in Human Resources with the resource and expertise of a leading player in business process outsourcing. The value created from this deal is a significant step for us in ensuring the BBC is fit for the future and continues to invest in creating innovative programmes and services for our audiences.

“But this deal is about much more than that, it is about creating the right platform for BBC People to enhance its strategic and valued contribution to the BBC. We look forward to strengthening our relationship with Capita to deliver our HR vision over the next decade.”

Around 260 jobs will be transferring to Capita and 100 new jobs will be created in Belfast, one of Capita’s centres for BBC activity.

Learners snub the classroom
Nine out of ten adults prefer learning to take place away from the classroom, a survey claims.

According to research from solutions provider Thomson NETg, most learners favour independent study supported with regular communication and progress reports to boost motivation levels.

Mike Summers, director at Thomson NETg, said that the findings reveal a change in how people choose to learn.

“The results of our poll demonstrate a clear shift in learning trends. More people are turning to independent training and like to use their own initiative, but they recognise a need for input and feedback from experts in the discipline.”

In accordance with the overall survey results, Summers advises trainers to offer a blend of learning techniques.

Train line managers or lose profits, says CIPD
Employers must train line managers or lose the return on investment from pay and benefits schemes, says the CIPD.

According to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 51% of companies quizzed believe salary and benefits packages are less effective because line manager skills are poor.

Over a third (36%) of companies questioned cited poor communication as a problem while 26% criticised the attitude of line managers.

Charles Cotton, CIPD reward adviser, said that communication and understanding between line managers and staff would improve if they were brought further into the decision making process.

For more on this story see: TrainingZONE

Public sector in urgent need of skills reform
Skills training within the public sector must be improved if the government is to achieve its programme of reform, says the CBI.

According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), nine out of ten businesses believe the education system requires significant improvement while 81% cite improvements to public transport as being a top priority.

The CBI found widespread disappointment with the progress and quality of reforms to date. Just 13% of organisations said they were satisfied with current standards, while only nine per cent found the rate of proceedings to be acceptable.

Sir Digby Jones, Director General of the CBI, said that a lack of skills and high training standards was affecting the ability of UK companies to compete in the international marketplace.

“The competitiveness of the economy and its ability to create jobs and increase national prosperity is being severely damaged by a reform process that is often well meaning but rarely effective.”

Big players dominate IIP
Twice the number of large businesses, compared to those with fewer than 50 staff are employing the Investors in People standard.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) quizzed 500 members and found that 86% working in organisations employing 50 to 200 staff were accredited with the employee development recognition or were committed to achieving it, compared with only a third of smaller businesses.

Just under half (45%) of companies with over 200 employees used the standard.

Head of business policy at the IoD, Dr Richard Wilson said that smaller organisations would benefit more than their larger rivals from involvement with the IIP body.

“Larger businesses are less likely to recognise the benefits of being IIP-accredited. It’s very easy for businesses to spend money on training without understanding the personal objectives for employees.”

Poor IT skills trigger offshore frenzy
A lack of specialist skills in the IT sector is moving jobs abroad, research shows.

Although IT professionals with business expertise are highly sought after, the need for basic skills is declining, according to a survey from analysts SSL and magazine Computer Weekly.

Growth in demand for senior IT staff has fallen for the first time in two years.

Philip Virgo, strategic adviser at the Institute for the Management of Information Systems, said: “Except for those who have got skills that are in short supply, such as project management, business understanding and multimedia skills, we will see a permanent shrinking in demand. If it can be moved offshore, it is.”

Advertised salaries have decreased in over half of the job classes monitored by SSL over a six month period. The number of vacancies advertised online also fell by 6% during the second half of 2005, the first drop since 2003.

Earlier this year, TrainingZONE reported on claims that almost half of new IT graduates believe that their degree course has failed to provide them with relevant skills. The research found that 41% felt that in hindsight, they would have skipped university and gone straight into work.

Princely sum awarded in dismissal row
Prince Harry’s former art teacher has been awarded £45,000 for unfair dismissal.

According to a report in the Times, Sarah Forsyth, who won her case against Eton College in July of last year only received details of her settlement this week.

The case centres upon allegations that the Prince cheated in his art coursework with help from Forsyth.

The teacher later claimed that she had been bullied by the head of her department and unfairly sacked after publicising the cheating scandal.

While the court ruled that Forsyth had abused her position by taping an alleged confession by the Prince it said that Eton had been high-handed and unprofessional in the way it removed Forsyth from her post in 2003.

Eton said in a statement: “Given that the college had successfully defended at tribunal her more extreme allegations, we felt it sensible to bring this matter to a close in relation to the unfair dismissal element of her claim.”

TUC launch long hours culture website
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has launched a dedicated website ahead of Work Your Proper Hours Day on Friday, 24 February.

According to the TUC, nearly five million employees (4,759,000) last year worked, on average, over a days unpaid overtime a week (7.4 hours), and lost £23 billion in unpaid wages. Next Friday, 24 February, will accordingly be the first day of the year that those who do unpaid overtime would start, on average, to get paid if they did all their unpaid work at the start of the year.

TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, said: Work Your Proper Hours Day is a light-hearted way of encouraging staff and managers to think about how they can work together to take on the UK’s damaging long hours culture. The website is a fun and informative way of getting this message across.

Knitter shortage threatens industry
Knitwear companies in Shetland are failing to fulfil orders due to a shortage of knitters.

Reported by the Telegraph, the garments which are highly prized in Japan are under threat because skilled knitters are a ‘dying breed’.

Doreen Brown, of Shetland Collection, the largest hand knitting company in the islands, said: “We have two dozen knitters but they are a dying breed,” she said. “Our oldest is 94 and the youngest is 60 and we can’t get any more.”

Turnover in the sector, which has 150 full-time staff and hundreds of knitters working from home, dropped from £4 million in 1996 to £2.5 million in 2003.
Higher wages offered by the oil industry are blamed, claims the report.

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Annie Hayes


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