Summer fun? Not likely

Glass on the beach

Summer should be an easy time for bosses, with trips abroad and work dos taking over from the normal drudgery of deadlines. Business Europe finds out why that’s just a pipedream.

The trouble with summer is you’re almost always short-staffed.

Presuming that everyone wants to take two weeks holiday, a company employing 10 people could be at least one person down for the whole season.

And if – as is the case with many small firms – no two people can realistically take time off together, then the ordeal is extended further.

Business advisers PKF say workplace stress is likely to build up over the summer months because workers not on holiday must cover for absent colleagues.

Peninsula, a UK based employment law firm, says just 54% of employers and 64% of employees booked holiday last summer, indicating that workloads are too heavy for key staff to take a break.

This is despite an apparent contradiction: the annual slowdown in business activity must mean that there’s less work on. Right?

Not so. Less bustle – at least in terms of deal-making – can leave small firms short of funds, lumping even more pressure on sales and marketing departments.

“These days most companies need to keep business activity high throughout the year, so employees have to juggle extra workloads during the summer,” Martyn Potter, human resources consultant at PKF, told Business Europe.

“Working parents have a particularly tough time ensuring that children are properly looked after during the summer months and paying out extra costs, or losing money through lower hours, in order to cope.

“Even factors like whether the office has air conditioning can contribute to a stressful environment, sending productivity levels lower,” Potter added.

Recently, the problem has become more pressing for bosses, after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched its six-point stress code.

Simply put, the code compels employers to make sure that their workplace is reasonably calm. But if fewer than 85% of staff members think that stress levels are manageable, the company could end up in hot water.

The HSE argues that its code will make it easier for people to take action against their employers, and give inspectors a gauge to measure company performance.

Workers can already sue their employer if they can prove they are under too much pressure, but stress is hard to pin down and some of its symptoms are easy to explain away.

The code makes it harder for employers to dodge the issue, and could lead to a small rise in tribunal applications.

Safety officers justify the code with statistics: half a million people in the UK believe their health is suffering because of work-related pressures. And up to 5 million people feel “very” or “extremely” stressed by their job.

The condition is linked to a clutch of ailments of varying in seriousness; including backache, nausea, sleeplessness and high blood pressure.

It is estimated that the problem costs the economy between £3.7 billion and £3.8 billion every year, much of which is made up by business productivity drops. In fact new data from Vitality reveals that the UK economy lost almost £92 billion in 2019  (£91.9 billion) as a result of ill-health related absence and presenteeism in the workplace. Almost three-quarters of the £91.9bn (£68 billion) productivity loss can be attributed to factors such as poor mental wellbeing and unhealthy lifestyle choices.

So what can managers do to combat the strain of summer (after all, survey evidence shows that 83% of bosses are keen to improve the work/life balance of the employees)?

PKF has produced a checklist for companies wanting to keep a lid on the problem. It suggests all the normal stuff like having regular breaks, prioritising work and making sure people can take holiday if they want to.

But, among the less common suggestions, it says bosses should treat themselves and staff members to small rewards when things go right. These could range from a chocolate bar to night out in a snappy summer wine bar.

Another idea is to strike a deal with the local gym, offering subsidised membership to staff members as well as time for a workout during the day.

If all else fails, PKF advises businesses to bring in a counselling professional, either that or designate an existing member of staff that other workers can go to.

“No one benefits from a stressed employer and no one wants to work for a company where they are going to be unhappy,” said Potter.

“Businesses definitely benefit from having a formal stress policy and making sure managers not only pick up on signs of stress early on, but informally train staff and set the tone for the workplace.”

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