The gender pay gap. Workplace harassment and bullying. Mental health. The spotlight focused on these issues, by both the traditional and social media, has never burned so bright. That they are now openly discussed is a good thing. Yes they have opened up a Pandora’s Box of debate, and they are not going to fade away. Gender pay gap reporting is now with us for good. Employees are going to be looking to next year’s figures and expecting to see them change for the better.
So there has never been a better time for HR to scrutinise existing policies on these areas and make sure they are as good as they can be; make any amends that are needed, and ensure that company policies on each are effectively communicated. It’s a time to be proactive and transparent. This not only reassures existing employees, but acts as a signal to everyone – including future talent – that your business cares: that these are issues that matter and that you are prepared to act on them.
If you don’t employees will vote with their feet – and through social media. Not only that, but poor pay gap figures, reports of bullying, or the poor handling of mental health issues can land your business up before a tribunal with all the costs that entails.
So what steps should you be taking, and what questions should you be asking yourself, to make certain your policies on these critical areas are as up to the minute as they can be?
1. Scrutinise your company approach to pay and remuneration
Gender pay gap reporting legislation, as anticipated, has moved pay and gender issues to the top of the agenda. Though not the same as equal pay, the reporting has nevertheless highlighted that significant gender-based pay differences exist in far too many businesses.
So you need to scrutinise your company’s approach to remuneration. Check for any unjustifiable differences between male and female employees. If there are differences the onus is on you to prove that these differences are not gender related.
2. Be open with your staff
According to a recent CIPD survey the trend among employers is already towards greater openness on reward packages and pay rises. Clearly this is driven to some extent by the gender pay gap reporting, but other legislation has contributed too, such as the Equality Act of 2010 that makes it illegal to prevent or restrict employees discussing pay.
Any employee can make a claim for equal pay at a tribunal – and retain that right for up to six months after they leave your employ. A tribunal can order contractual terms to be equalised in future, and order arrears to be paid for up to six years.
So you need to check for discrepancies in job types and pay structures, set up evaluation schemes to assess what constitutes equal work, check you are not discriminating against part-time workers, and build awareness with the business of barriers to women’s progress.
3. Harassment and bullying – take a stand
From unwanted physical contact and unwelcome remarks to shouting and persistent unwarranted criticism – harassment and bulling can take many forms.
You need to make clear what constitutes harassment and bullying and communicate your policies, including your grievance and disciplinary procedures. Be aware of cyber bullying too. Even if content is posted externally on someone else’s website, you could find yourself liable if it originates in your workplace.
Make sure people know how to get help and how to complain formally and informally. Treat all allegations quickly and confidentially, and show that victimisation will not be tolerated. Keep records – names, dates, nature and frequency, action taken and follow up. Treat these with the utmost confidence.
Offer counselling by trained internal or external consultants. This should also be extended to those whose behaviour is unacceptable. They may, for whatever reason, not recognise what the problem is and should be given an opportunity to change.
4. Encourage good mental health
According to NHS figures at any given time one sixth of the adult population will have some form of mental health issue. Despite this prevalence mental health can still be seen as more difficult to deal with than physical health issues. Firstly you need to ensure your company fosters a supportive culture. Remember that legally a mental illness is classified as a disability, so you must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the individual’s needs.
There are a range of actions you can take to improve employee mental health, ranging from training to improve people management skills, to offering third-party assistance or counselling. You need to give your line managers the confidence to spot the warning signs and know how to react.
Ask yourself if it's a workload issue. You need to get the balance right for all employees. Also would an interviewee coming to your business feel comfortable disclosing a mental health issue? Do your interviewers make your company policy on this area clear? It’s a good test of how confident you are (and how clear your policies are in this area).
Yes there is a legal agenda behind all these workplace ‘issues’. But above all they are about the overall good of your present and future workforce. If you want to attract and retain the very best talent having clear and well-communicated policies on gender pay, bullying and harassment and employee mental health will not only ensure you do not fall foul of the law – a law your employees have the power to enact though a tribunal – but also make for a better, happier, more empowered, and more productive workforce.
Find out more by downloading our guide to Mastering the People Power Revolution