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Your employees: explained

05 April 2016

Your employees: explained

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Everything you’ve ever wanted to ask about physical and mental wellbeing at work.

If your car was leaking oil, you’d be straight under the bonnet or on the phone to a mechanic. Or if key machinery in your factory started to fail, you’d expect it to be serviced as soon as possible. So why do employers fail to see the same warning signs when it comes to their staff?

The CIPD’s latest research on wellbeing shows that, while most employers accept a duty of care for the people they employ, and realise that reduced absence is good for the bottom line, too often this is where their commitment to wellbeing in its most holistic sense ends. “Where companies have taken it on board at the very top, where everyone promotes wellbeing and is even appraised on how they support their staff, that’s where we see reduced absence and improved morale,” says Dr Karen Walker-Bone from the University of Southampton.

With a recent survey by Canada Life Group Insurance suggesting more than half of UK employees have suffered from mental health problems at work, and 131 million days lost to sickness absence in the UK in 2013, it’s imperative that organisations get a better idea of how their staff work. Prevention is of course the ideal, but recognising those warning signs is part of an employer’s responsibility to take care of its staff. So you think you know your way around your employees? Take a look at our guide and you might be surprised.

Neurodiversity: the next big (brain) idea

Most businesses will have an established diversity and inclusion policy when it comes to race, gender, ethnicity and religion. But growing numbers of employers now also acknowledge that many people in the workplace have neurological differences such as autism, epilepsy and Tourette syndrome, which means they process information and communicate differently to ‘neurotypical’ employees.

Rather than being concerned that these individuals might not be able to cope in a typical work environment, employers such as professional services firm EY and software provider SAP are embracing the alternative ways of thinking that a neurodiverse team can provide. “We are learning that people on the autistic spectrum can bring qualities into the workforce that we don’t have enough of. We have to strike a balance between achieving consistency in processes while ensuring that we think imaginatively and creatively about clients’ issues,” says Iain Wilkie, head of EY’s disability network, Ability EY. Under the umbrella of Ability EY, staff run six support networks: for autism, stammering, deaf and hard of hearing, dyslexia, mental health and mobility.

The key to supporting employees with autism and other neurological conditions is getting job design right, says Wilkie. “It comes down to the culture of the team, being receptive to the strengths of someone with autism and accommodating of the challenges.” It’s commonly reported that employees on the autistic spectrum work well in analytical environments or where there’s a need for attention to detail, while dyslexic colleagues tend to excel at coming up with innovative strategies because they are used to finding alternative ways of gathering knowledge. Meanwhile, those with a stammer will typically be good at listening, adds Wilkie.

Even making small changes to the way things in the office work can have an impact. For example, a new lift system at EY meant staff had to key in their desired floor on a screen, which created issues for some employees with dyslexia, and so it was quickly changed. “It’s incumbent on employers to create an atmosphere where employees feel confident that the risk of revealing they have a disability is worth taking – that they will be supported if they do,” says Wilkie.

And of course, neurodiversity isn’t just about people with recognisable conditions; the work of business thinkers such as Susan Cain has pioneered the principle that having a mix of people who think differently (including both introverts and extroverts, for example, or those who are impulsive and more considered) means more rounded decision-making and less groupthink.

Size matters

A new study by the University of Exeter has revealed that “awful but true” unconscious biases affect pay rates. After examining weight, height and earnings data, the researchers found that men who are shorter than the national average (5ft 9) and women who are heavier than average (11 stone) earn around £1,500 less per year than their colleagues.

Please visit CIPD to read more