‘Always on’ communications: stressful but hard to police
Wednesday 22nd March 2017
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Companies with more than 50 employees must set out the hours when they do not expect employees to send or answer emails. The justification for the law is that workers were not being paid fairly for the unofficial overtime the evening and weekend correspondence involved.
France has a history of radical labour regulation: it introduced a statutory 35-hour working week in 2000. But, like King Canute, it also has a history of trying to control the uncontrollable. Repeated government attempts to stop thousands of English words such as "networking", "weekend" and "hashtag" infiltrating the French language have had little effect outside official documents.
Senior managers in many businesses see themselves as permanently on call and that is spreading through white-collar occupations. Research in the US found that 63% of workers issued with Blackberrys and company mobiles felt they increased demands that they work more hours, and 30% felt as though those demands had increased "a lot".
Many organisations have long turned a blind eye to high levels of unofficial overtime among office-based employees but intruding into home life introduces another level of stress.
It brings extra ergonomic hazards, too. At the Health and Wellbeing at Work conference (March 2017) in Birmingham, consultant Ed Milnes warned of "mission creep" among employees using mobile display screen equipment, including phones and tablets, which could lead to long hours reading and writing on unsuitable screens, compounded by personal use, exacerbating musculoskeletal problems. Milnes came back to the idea, enshrined in the French law, of limiting the hours employees were allowed to send and reply to work emails.
But blanket approaches are not always popular with employees. In a later session at the Birmingham conference, Professor Craig Jackson of Birmingham City University said that staff had rebelled when car maker VW agreed with German unions to reset its servers so they would not send employee emails to mobiles outside of working hours.
Portable DSE in general and smartphones in particular are an example of a technology that became ubiquitous before we had the protocols for their healthy use. Now we need to catch up.
Imposing rules about use of portable technology is unlikely to be the answer. As with most workplace initiatives, visible leadership -- discouraging executives from sending emails at 10pm -- and gaining employee consent are most likely to produce a sustainable answer.
Cormac Gilligan, CMIOSH, is concerned about the millennial generation. Specifically, about how to hold on to the brightest and the best of those who reached adulthood since 2000.“It’s the talent conundrum that we generally have in our field,” he says, “how to engage the millennials – the oldest of them are entering their mid-30s now.”
It is well established that active safety reps make for safer and healthier workplaces. Surveys show that organised workplaces are safer workplaces and many reps put in far more hours on health and safety than they are paid for. They tend to be highly committed to improving health and safety in their workplaces. The best employers take advantage of this and encourage and support them.
In most cases a push for supply chain improvement, whether it was cutting energy and materials use or pollution control, balanced the stick with the carrot.Suppliers might be advised they would be expected to cut waste by a set percentage or to achieve accreditation for their management system by a certain date or they would lose a contract. But the client organisation often provided encouragement and advice to help them reach that point by the deadline.
In recent years Sterling Events’ two-day Health and Wellbeing at Work conference and exhibition has featured updates on the UK government’s efforts to cut long-term sickness absence in the working population. This year’s event, held on 7 and 8 March at the Birmingham NEC, was no exception. Dr Lucy Goundry, medical director of the publicly funded Fit for Work programme in England and Wales, summarised progress since its launch last year.
Many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who feel able to work are missing out on the right support in the workplace, according to a UK parliamentary report. A year-long review by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for MS found that the fluctuating nature of the condition, which affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, is a particular barrier to work.
Launched in November 2014, IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign is raising awareness of occupational cancer around the world and helping businesses take action and protect their workforces by providing free, practical resources.Wills Bros Civil Engineering Ltd is the 100th organisation to commit to the No Time to Lose pledge, a six-step plan to capture key actions each organisation is planning to take or already taking to manage carcinogenic exposures in the workplace.