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Employees receive minimal advice on sexism, racism and stress at work, says Canada Life Insurance

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Employers are failing to provide employees with guidance on company policy for dealing with stressful HR issues at work, risking both costly periods of employee absence, and in extreme cases, legal action, reveals research from Canada Life Group Insurance.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of 1,607 employees surveyed online feel they have been left without official advice or support on how to handle sexism in the workplace, while less than half (45%) have received guidance on dealing with racism.

Both of these issues have the potential to escalate into extremely damaging litigation for employers, while causing significant stress for employees.

Similarly, 70% of employees do not know their employer's official procedure for dealing with unwanted sexual advances from colleagues - with women more likely to feel unsure (73%) than men (64%).

Just a fifth (22%) of employees claim to have been given official guidance on how to cope with workplace stress, despite the fact that it is a leading cause of employee absence. Upon encountering stressful situations at work, over half (52%) have taken time off sick due to problems caused by their colleagues or workload - and a worrying one in ten (10%) have called in sick because of perceived bullying in the workplace.

Employers not only risk exposing themselves to employee complaints by failing to communicate official practice and procedures on dealing with problems at work, but may find that staff are less motivated. Twenty-seven per cent feel as though they are not getting the support they need, while 18% believe that their employer does not care about their welfare. Just under a fifth (19%) feel as though their employer doesn't listen to their opinions. Women are more likely to feel unsupported by their employer than men (29% vs. 22%).

Paul Avis, sales and marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance, said: "It is extremely worrying that so many employees are unsure of how to deal with serious problems in the workplace. These issues are not only upsetting and stressful for employees, meaning that they may try to avoid them by calling in sick, but could escalate into potential legal action. Employers should ensure that they communicate with employees about how to handle such problems, in order that they feel supported while at work."

"From an employers' perspective, employees who are motivated and feel supported at work, are likely to be happier, more productive and also remain with them for longer. Many benefit packages include support services for employees, such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) which can provide them with counsel in stressful situations - before the problems snowball into something far more serious."

Do you have a policy in your workplace to communicate diversity and equality to staff? HR magazine is carrying out research into workplace diversity. Please take 10 minutes to fill in our online questionnaire, here.