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News in Brief: The week in HR – No cure for office party hangover


In this our last news round-up for 2005 we report on why yuletide emailing interrupts the festive holiday season, staff call time on scrooge-like bosses and why spurious hangover cures should be resigned to the bin and not the morning-after.

W/C 19/12/05
Yuletide emailing interrupts holiday
Just under half of workers (42%) will be working over the festive period. These are the findings according to research by Fujitsu Siemens Computers who say that over 11.5 million British workers plan to check their work emails over the holiday season.

Almost half (48%) of the nation’s male workers will log in compared to 33% of female workers.

Regionally, workers in Greater London are the biggest email addicts, more than half the workers in the area will check work emails over Christmas. This compares to 35% in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber.

The Fujitsu Siemens Computers survey also found that nearly seven million of Britain’s Christmas e-mailers plan to make the process easier by using a mobile device, such as a PDA, laptop or internet phone to access work emails.

Forty-two per cent even say that mobile devices enable them to spend more quality time with their family over the festive period.

Garry Owen, Head of Product Marketing at Fujitsu Siemens Computers, said that new technologies made it easier for workers who have to continue over the holiday period to spend more time with their families.

“However, there is still some way to go and it is sad that so many will have to interrupt their family gatherings this Christmas to work. We would encourage employers to explore how they can help employees to limit time spent working during family times such as Christmas.”

Staff blow the whistle on scrooge-like bosses
The spirit of Scrooge is alive and in many modern day workplaces, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Tales of Dickensian-style bosses have flooded into the TUC after an appeal to employees to spill the beans on their less than generous bosses.

Examples include employers who forced staff who would normally be in work on the day on which Christmas Day falls, either to lose pay or make up the time at a later date.

Equally common were employers who made staff use their statutory annual leave to cover the days off over the festive break.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Christmas should be the time when bosses show a bit of gratitude for all the hard work their staff put in all year round and spread some Christmas cheer around their workplaces. But sadly this show of goodwill is beyond a minority of employers.”

Examples of Christmas meanness emailed to the TUC last Christmas included:

  • Turning the heating off to save money when only a skeleton staff are working over the Christmas break.

  • Forcing staff who are usually at work the day that Christmas or New Year’s Day falls to make up the time or lose a day’s pay.

  • Counting the Christmas bank holidays as part of their employees’ four weeks of statutory leave.

  • Threatening staff who take a day off ill with the loss of their Christmas bonus.

  • Refusing to allow Christmas decorations to go up, cancelling the office party and not allowing staff any time to attend the office Christmas lunch.

  • Only paying staff at work on the Christmas bank holiday the same hourly rate that they earn the rest of the year.

  • Shredding Christmas cards sent to staff and taking home any presents received for themselves.

  • Giving presents to permanent employees but nothing to long-serving agency workers.

Managers resolve to chase pay and promotion in 2006
Promotion and pay rises top managers’ wish lists for 2006, a new poll has found.

The survey by PTP Training & Marketing found that over half the 300 managers questioned (54%) had made work related New Year’s resolutions to improve their working lives.

Almost a third (30%) wanted to ‘be promoted’, ‘get a pay rise’ or ‘get another job’ in 2006, while 50% of them will be putting the focus on ‘getting a better work/life balance’ and on ‘improving their health’ and ‘reducing stress levels’.

Although there were plans made by a number of respondents to walk or cycle to work and to go to a gym after work – the Friday lunchtime drink in the pub was one area respondents refuse to give up in the name of good health! Other resolutions included ‘retirement’, ‘increasing sales’,‘improving performance’ and ‘being more organised at work’.

The survey also found that over a third (34%) of workers admitted to slowing down in the festive month and being less productive in December.

Of those who were less productive, just under two thirds (64%) said their work level dropped by up to 20% while one in five said it dropped by up to 40%. However 10% claimed that their work rate was down by 80% in the run up to Christmas.

No cure for office party hangover
Despite the plethora of treatments available, there is no proven cure for a hangover, medical researchers have concluded.

This time of year sees many a staff member suffering, and in Britain, alcohol hangovers account for about £2bn in lost wages each year, mostly due to sickness absence.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, analysed randomised controlled trials of any medical intervention for preventing or treating alcohol hangover.
Most trials reported no beneficial effects, although encouraging findings existed for borage, a yeast based preparation, and tolfenamic acid.

“We are confident that our search strategy located all published trials on the subject,” the authors said. “Our findings show no compelling evidence to suggest that any complementary or conventional intervention is effective for treating or preventing the alcohol hangover.”

They concluded that the most effective way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol-induced hangover is abstinence or moderation.

No short-term let up in IT skills shortages
IT skills shortages increased over the past year and look set to continue in the short term, according to research by the National Computer Centre (NCC).

The Benchmark of Salaries and Employment Trends for 2006, from not-for-profit NCC, showed that more than a quarter – 26% of respondents identified specific IT skills for which they had encountered recruitment or retention difficulties in the past 12 months, up from 20% last year.

A further 26% of respondents identified a requirement for specific skills over the next 12 months. These skills included .NET and Java development skills, Windows 2003 Server, VoIP, and business analysis skills.

The study also revealed that the rate of staff turnover over the past 12 months was 12%, a significant increase from 9.4% in 2004.

However while a quarter of respondents identified specific recruitment or retention problems over the last year – up 5% on 2004 – there was a slight decline in projected demand for IT workers generally.

For more on this story see:

Third of workers lose holiday
A third of workers will not take their full holiday entitlement in 2005, despite complaints of being overworked. This could mean more than £14.5 billion worth of unclaimed holidays going to waste this year.

According to employment law and HR advisors, Croner employers could be the real losers as insufficient holiday time means staff are struggling to achieve a work/life balance, leaving them open to stress and other health problems.

The research into UK ‘holiday debt’ carried out by Croner/YouGov revealed that, with only a few working days left in 2005, just one in five people whose holiday entitlement runs from January to December have taken their full allowance. Over a quarter (26%) have seven or more days left, and a further 26% have between four and six days remaining.

Of the 33% who said they won’t be taking their full holiday entitlement this year, seven per cent – which equals 2.2 million of the total working population – will lose the holiday altogether, 21% expect to carry it over to next year, with four per cent opting for payment instead.

The survey results also indicate that many employers need to brush up on the legal aspects of annual leave, as the Working Time Regulations 1998 stipulate that all employees should have a minimum of four weeks’ paid leave.

Employees most at risk of missing out are those who haven’t planned their annual leave far enough ahead.
Seventy-two percent of the 536 polled admit to sometimes or regularly booking leave at a moment’s notice. Six per cent (around 1.8 million) admit to always booking time off work at the very last minute.

Richard Smith, employment services director at Croner, says that poor planning and management of annual leave policies is to blame for the billions in holiday debt that UK employers owe their staff this year. Employers have a lot to gain through making a New Year’s resolution to help staff achieve work/life balance in 2006 he said.

Auditors warn employers miss benefits of training
More English employers need to be persuaded of the value to their businesses of employment-related education and skills training, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

Despite expenditure by employers in both public and private sectors estimated at £23.7 billion on education and training, the NAO reports that 6% of employers have skill shortage vacancies and 20% have skills gaps. This is estimated to cost £10 billion a year in lost revenue – or £165,000 a year in a typical business with 50 employees.

According to the report, many employers want incentives to train their staff more and the NAO highlighted the imperative to engage ‘hard to reach’ employers, rather than subsidise those who would have trained their staff anyway without government support.

For more on this story see: TrainingZONE

Training plan to cut prisoner re-offending
The Government is unveiling plans to help reduce re-offending through improving training and education to help offenders into jobs when they leave prison.

The plans, outlined in a new Green Paper: Reducing Re-Offending through Skills and Employment, focus on working with employers and training providers to boost inmates’ skills.

Key proposals include:

  • A stronger focus on jobs, with more relevant skills training, designed by and responding to employers’ needs.

  • A new ‘contract’ for offenders, with incentives for participation.

  • A campus’ model for offenders to ensure continuity of education from prisons into the community.

Home Office figures show that released prisoners are more likely to continue to offend than they are to be rehabilitated, with up to one in five crimes committed by ex-prisoners. The cost of this crime is estimated at £11 billion a year, with a re-offending former prisoner costing the criminal justice system an average of £65,000 up to the point of re-imprisonment and £37,500 each year in prison.

For more on this story see: TrainingZONE

Look into the future of training at Learning Technologies
Learning and Development Partner with IBM Business Consulting Services Dr Mary Kay Vona plans to predict the future for training at next month’s Learning Technologies Conference.

Speaking on ‘Realising the Vision of the Future of Learning’, her plenary session will aim to be an interactive journey into where learning is going and what steps learning managers can take to drive learning transformation and impact in organisations.

Dr Vona said: “We have entered an on demand era where organisations must transform to become more responsive to shifting market needs, more flexible in how they operate, more focused on their core competencies, more nimble at partnering, and more resilient to external threats.

Learning should play a critical role in enabling these organisational transformations.

“This will require learning professionals to become change agents in areas such as learning alignment, design, technology, governance, and culture,” she added.

For more on this story see: TrainingZONE

New quality mark for coaching courses
The European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) is launching a new quality award in a bid to simplify the confusing array of coaching and mentoring qualifications.

The new Quality Standard Awards aim to act as assurance to both those taking the qualifications and those looking to hire them.

EMCC Standards committee chair Gil Schwenk said: “At the moment it’s not always easy to tell how well qualified a coach or mentor is unless you are an expert on the many different training courses available.

“This scheme is an independent quality award given to training providers to make the qualifications they offer widely and immediately recognisable. It’s great news for the industry because it will help raise standards and will also make choosing a coach or mentor easier for clients.”

The first pilot organisations are currently working their way through the assessment process, and the first set of awards will be announced in March.

Gil Schwenk added: “The award offers substantial advantages for organisations that go through the process. It provides an audit check on quality, allowing an organisation to reflect on its processes, procedures and outputs.”

The EMCC says all organisations training coaches/mentors or running in-house coach/mentor programmes are eligible to apply for the award.

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Annie Hayes


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