Author: Neil Ferguson

Seminar Summary – Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental Health in the Workplace Seminar – A Reflection.

Gravitate HR recently hosted a lunch time seminar on tackling mental health in the workplace, in conjunction with Sara Maude of The Mind Solution and I thought it might be useful to blog the key discussion points from the session.

Attendees of the seminar ranged from Directors and Managers within SME organisations in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Fife to Sole Traders and Consultants within the healthcare industry. All guests had a keen interest in learning more about this topic which is an important one for employers and employees alike.

Understanding the Term

Initially, Sara engaged the audience by asking for their interpretation of what mental health meant. A discussion around common terms given to mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the stigmatisms and associations which still surround mental health issues then followed.

The general consensus was that the effects of these conditions general led individuals to suffer, often in silence, until they reached breaking point.

Understanding the Impact

Sara provided some statistics and numbers which helped to contextualise how common mental health issues were and the impact of absence as a result of mental health issues has on a business. Using a company of 25 employees and some average statistics on mental health conditions, Sara was able to demonstrate the financial impact that absence related to mental health can have.

Company of 25 employees

1 in 4 has a mental health condition = 6 people

Average salary = £26,500

£100 per day (including on costs)

Average number of days absence = 9

Cost of absence = £5,400 (based on 6 people)

Similarly, Sara demonstrated the cost that presentism can have, i.e. where an employee is not absent from work due to a condition but is not operating at anywhere near their 100% productivity potential:

6 employees operating at 50% for 20 days = 120 days

50% of daily rate = £50 cost

X 120 days = £6,000

Total cost = £11, 400

As well as cost to the business, other impacts identified included the wider impact which mental health conditions can have on the individual who is affected and the knock-on effect this can have within the wider team. All in all, it was seen as prudent to have a mentally healthy workplace.

Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace

The final section of the seminar provided some practical steps and considerations for businesses to make when seeking to create a working environment that promotes positive mental health. Some of these steps included:

• Ensuring commitment to any initiatives from the top levels of the organisation is achieved to ensure staff are aware that it is being taken seriously;

• Having clear objectives and knowing what you are trying to achieve by implementing any initiatives;

• Linking your wellbeing initiatives and approaches to your overall business strategy – not “throwing jelly against the wall and hoping it sticks”; and

• Creating a sustainable approach – being aware that one-off events will not elicit the positive results that regular and relevant initiatives will.

The seminar proved to be a thought-provoking one with delegates leaving reflecting on how they might implement some of the learnings within their own organisation. We thank Sara for speaking at our seminar. We look forward to our next lunchtime seminar – details to follow.

Coming Soon – The (National) Living Wage

Coming Soon – The (National) Living Wage

Around 12 months ago I attended seminar in Edinburgh hosted by the Living Wage Foundation and subsequently wrote a Blog article detailing the Living Wage campaign and what it may mean to SMEs in the UK.

Fast forward one year and there have been some very important developments in this area and so I thought it worth writing again on this topic and detailing what those updates are.

The main headline is that as of 1st April 2016, all employees and workers aged 25 and over will be entitled to £7.20 per hour which is a 50p per hour increase to the current National Minimum Wage which will remain in place at current levels for those below 25. Employers would be well placed to carry out a review of their salaries and their employee’s ages to determine if any salary increases are required when April comes around.

The Name

I try not to give too much in the way of opinion when blogging and it is important that there is no bias present when disseminating this sort of HR related information, but I do feel there is a point to be made here. The National Living Wage (NLW) is the term being used by the Government which has been somewhat hi-jacked from the pre-existing Living Wage Foundation (LWF) who campaign for employers to pay their staff a higher amount.

The LWF’s voluntary rate (£8.25 per hour or £9.40 per hour in London), which is calculated independently, is already ahead of the new NLW which does not go live until April 2016. This hijacked term, I think, could potentially cause unnecessary confusion for employers and employees in terms of entitlements and furthermore clouds the work that the Living Wage Foundation have been carrying out for well over a decade.

The Impact

Moving away from the trivial matter around how we should refer to the Living Wage, there are more significant issues that are brought about by such a jump to the rates. Businesses who employ staff over the age of 25 will need to consider how they will cope with the higher payroll costs that an involuntary salary increase brings about.

Similarly this creates yet another continual personal details review that affected employers are required to carry out to ensure they are compliant. As with Auto-enrolment, monitoring of an employee’s age to ensure they are paid appropriately is essential.

From a positive impact perspective, employers will be hoping that this increase, although compulsory for those employees who qualify, will perhaps bring about increases to motivation and productivity however improved commitment is perhaps unlikely given any alternative role will also pay this as a minimum.

Finally, as with any increases to salary or similar changes to terms and conditions, employers should inform their staff in writing of the change and place a copy in the personnel file to ensure everything is kept up to date.

Christmas 2015 Shutdown

This year we will finish up on Christmas Eve at 12pm and will reopen 8.30am on Tuesday 5th January 2016.

If you have any urgent queries during this time please contact Margery McBain by email or on 07743 936 137. Leave a message and your call will be returned.

We would like to wish all of our clients and contacts a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

National Minimum Wage Increase

National Minimum Wage Increase

Please note that as of 1st October 2015:

The adult rate (21 and over) will increase by 20 pence to £6.70 per hour.

The rate for 18 to 20 year olds will increase by 17 pence to £5.30 per hour.

The rate for 16 to 17 year olds will increase by 8 pence to £3.87 per hour.

The apprentice rate will increase by 57 pence to £3.30 per hour (for apprentices in their first year. (This rate is for apprentices aged 16 to 18 and those aged 19 or over who are in their first year. All other apprentices are entitled to the National Minimum Wage for their age.)

National Living Wage (from April 2016)

Ordinarily, we would not expect the minimum wage to go up again until October 2016, however earlier this year the Government confirmed that a new tier of minimum wage will be introduced. The provisions are as follows:

From April 2016, the national living wage will be £7.20 an hour for workers aged 25 and older. The minimum wage will still apply for workers aged 24 and under.

Tribunal Fees to be abolished in Scotland?

Tribunal Fees to be abolished in Scotland?

If you work in the HR or employment law arena then you are unlikely to have missed the news last week that one of the Scottish Government’s pledges for the next Parliamentary year is to abolish Tribunal fees .

These fees were introduced in July 2013 and have been a constant source of debate since; with some saying they are justified through reducing the backlogs of cases through the courts whilst others saying they allow employers to make unlawful decisions and deny access to justice.

What are the plans?

At this stage it is a proposal which stipulates that more will be known once the Scottish Government gains additional information on how powers of this nature will be transferred to Holyrood under the Scottish Bill. The amendments to this particular aspect of employment law could be further reaching than just the removal of fees, with the Scottish Government vowing to increase fairness at work. The timeline itself for when this may be rolled out is therefore also presently unknown.

What will it mean?

Nothing is certain but it would not be too wild a guess to suggest that the number of claims going through the Scottish tribunal courts will rise and the back-logs will begin to take effect again . Access to justice is an important cornerstone of everyone’s Human Rights, however this must be balanced to ensure the judicial system is fit to carry out its purpose and lay down this lawfulness.

It may also mean that England and Wales take up a different position from Scotland on this matter. The Trade Union Unison has been challenging tribunal fees though the English courts and recently hit another stumbling block in their bid to have tribunal fees overturned. Whilst Unison is set to appeal this decision and the UK Government themselves will review the set-up, which may mean a change to fees in England and Wales in the future, at present fees are set to remain there for the time-being.

At Gravitate HR, we work with our clients and their employees to ensure the policies, procedures and practices are in place to minimise the risk of their employment issues ever seeing the inside of a tribunal court. If you would like to find out more information on our services or discuss how Gravitate HR might support your business please call Neil on 0131 243 1379.


Zero-Hours Contracts: Friend or Foe?

Zero-Hours Contracts: Friend or Foe?

For this article I thought I would reflect on one of 2015’s political “hot-potatoes”, now that the dust has settled on the general election and a majority Conservative Government. The infamous ‘Zero-hour contract’ is seen as somewhat of a poisoned chalice for organisations who wish to use them, not least due to the way they have been portrayed in the media , in my opinion. So through this blog I will try to give some of my own thoughts on the matter as well as some updates from the world of employment law.

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The Living Wage – What’s it all about?

The debate and coverage that the Living Wage (LW) is receiving continues to grow so I wanted to write a short blog on it. I recently attended a seminar titled “Making Work Pay” at Tynecastle stadium where Hearts of Midlothian FC – a living wage employer, are based. The seminar was put on by Edinburgh City Council in conjunction with The Edinburgh Partnership.

What is it?

The LW is an hourly rate calculated independently each November by the University of Loughborough’s Centre for Research in Social Policy and updated annually. It varies from the National Minimum Wage (NMW) in a number of ways, most notably in that it is currently £1.35 per hour higher (£7.85 as opposed to £6.50 per hour). Additionally, whilst the NMW is set by the Government and compulsory for businesses to pay, employers can decide themselves to pay the LW.

The Living Wage Foundation advocate for the payment of the LW as a minimum, offering that the NMW is not sufficient to keep the lowest paid workers in society above the poverty line.

To further boost their reputation and profile, businesses can elect to undergo LW Accreditation. This allows businesses to make a statement that not only do they ensure all of their “direct” employees are paid at least the LW – but that they have plans in place for any subcontracted staff to receive it as well.

Why pay it?

The Foundation make a number of cases for why employers should choose to pay the LW:

The Social Case – This refers to the difficulties many people face when they are in work but still rely on food banks and unsustainable high interest loans due to low pay or not enough hours available. The Foundation make a moral plea to employers to pay the Living Wage to help lift the lowest paid out of this rut and allow people to live a better life.

The Public Policy Case – The argument for the LW here relates to the increased tax revenues and reduced tax credit expenditure that the UK Treasury would benefit from if more people were in higher paid employment. Additionally, the Foundation offer that the LW will help upskill the UK’s workforce and increase overall productivity again benefitting the economy.

The Business Case – Perhaps the most important aspect when it comes to convincing employers to pay their staff more than they legally have to. The Foundation state that research has shown that paying employees the LW can result in:
• Increased employee productivity;
• Reduced absenteeism;
• Increased staff retention – saving on recruitment/on-boarding costs; and
• Improved morale and commitment.

So why Isn’t everyone paying it?

The seminar I attended was full of praise for the LW and the businesses and organisations that pay it – as well they should be, it is an honourable thing and I would encourage any business who can pay it to do so.

What I felt was somewhat lacking from the discussions however was any notion of why businesses might not be able to meet the LW. Whilst the business cases mentioned above are all possible through increased salary, they are not guaranteed and businesses will be cautious about outlaying first to recoup second.

What is guaranteed if shifting up from the NMW to the LW is higher costs through payroll – which for most businesses is already their highest cost. At the seminar, I felt this was somewhat brushed off as an issue, businesses were encouraged to add “value” to their services and they will see the higher costs nullified. I work with businesses who I know would have to scale back the number of hours available to staff and the number of staff they employ if they had to pay them the LW, so I don’t see how this benefits everyone.

Perhaps it could be argued that this is short-sighted and the wrong mind-set but I certainly feel it is realistic. I would reiterate that I like the idea of the LW and firms who can afford to should absolutely consider it. I see it from both sides however and for many SMEs it is something they would hope to aspire to more than simply making a choice of whether they want to.

What does the future hold?

The momentum behind the LW seems to be growing each week and as we enter the last couple of months before the General Election it will be an important topic. Just this week, as record contracts valued in the billions are agreed between the Premier League and Sky/BT Sport in England, the LW debate arose quickly. Surely these are the types of businesses who should be making a statement and paying the LW.

An important takeaway point from the seminar I attended was that public sector organisations such as Edinburgh City Council who pay the LW, are looking into making it mandatory for anyone who works with them to prove that they pay the LW in their organisation when tendering for work. It may be this sort of requirement where we begin to see more wide-spread uptake of the LW, particularly in the SME community.

The future may well see the LW become a requirement but at present, whether companies should be forced to pay it is another discussion for another blog. What businesses should ensure is that they at least pay their staff the NMW, details of which can be found on the Direct Gov website.

Building and Maintaining a Winning Team – A Reflection

Gravitate HR recently co-hosted a seminar with The Career Management Organisation (TCMO) which focused on an issue close to SME’s hearts. The session covered the challenges and opportunities that SMEs are faced with when it comes to retaining their successful staff in the smaller organisation.

We approached the topic from two angles, Gravitate HR covered how an organisation can build a winning team and get the best out of them; while TCMO looked at the issue from the individual employee’s perspective and how they might enhance their career through becoming a successful team member.

We received positive feedback regarding the session from our guests and so we thought it might be useful to Blog the highlights of the session for anyone who could not make it along!

Employer Perspective

This part of the session initially looked at the challenges which employers face when building a successful team. This included recruiting new members into existing teams, providing opportunities for employees to develop their careers within relatively flat structures and trying to avoid internal power struggles.

Margery then spoke about some potential options which businesses may consider to overcome these challenges. These included the importance of ensuring new recruits are the right cultural fit for the business, actively seeking out business opportunities which provide development opportunities and tailoring rewards to the values of the team (not just financial rewards).

Employee Perspective

Rob Moore of TCMO then spoke about career management from an individual’s perspective and the areas that should be focussed on, to ensure career goals and objectives can be achieved. Rob’s talk encouraged us to put ourselves first when thinking about what we wanted from our careers. He spoke about the importance of planning out our own expectations and aligning them to those of our employer and the teams we work in, in order to maximise the positives for both parties!

Case Studies

Before tucking into some pakora and a glass of wine, our attendees were given some sample case studies from both the employee and employer perspectives, to discuss in groups and report their thoughts back. This allowed some reflection on what Margery and Rob had spoken about during the seminar as well as attendees being able to share their own experiences. The general consensus was that characteristics of winning teams were that they:

• Were well balanced with different social styles
• Had clearly defined roles
• Communicated well and were honest with each other
• Were working together towards a common goal

Keep an eye out for our 2015 Seminar programme if you would like to come along to an event!

Dissertation Diary – Entry 3

In April when I submitted the second entry of my dissertation diary blog, I was about to undertake the research part of the project where I would speak to business owners and managers about their positive and negative experiences of social media usage in the workplace. It hardly seems like any time has passed but just a month ago I handed in the completed project and I await my (hopefully positive) mark back shortly.

Given the project is in and my fate lies in the hands of the markers, I thought it would be useful to provide a summary of my findings and recommendations as a result of the project.

Research Findings

After speaking to 10 different respondents from a range of small business types across the sectors, I felt I had gathered a wide range of useful material to help inform the project. Through a process of coding the data and sorting it into key findings per previously identified theme, I was able to determine where social media may be able to add value to the business.

In summary, the key findings centred around the opportunities which SMEs felt they could realise through utilising social media technology within their businesses. These included improving their customer service through communicating with customers and clients; as well as being able to grow and develop awareness of the business to potential customers.

Recruitment and selection through social media was also seen to present opportunities. In the first instance, being able to advertise vacancies at a relatively low cost through social media to a potentially huge audience of candidates was a key positive. Within the selection side of things, being able to access candidate’s personal social media profiles in order to assess how interested and active within the industry they were. This finding came as somewhat of a surprise as I had always thought recruiters looked at candidate’s personal social media profiles to look for reasons not to hire rather than the opposite!

The project sought to uncover drawbacks to social media as well and this was seen through some respondents who had experienced issues with employees posting damaging comments whilst identifying themselves as working for the business. There was a concern around the permanency of information posted onto the internet and the lack of control over how easily (not necessarily true) information can spread.


A requirement of the project was to provide a set of realistic, practical recommendations based on the findings of the Dissertation as a whole. My recommendations focussed on providing suggestions which smaller businesses might consider when looking to integrate social media into their workplace. These included:

• The importance of maintaining an online profile once it has been established.

• Providing training for staff on how to use social media platforms as required. Although not applicable to all, some businesses may seek to provide training on how employees should conduct themselves whilst online on behalf of the business.

• Placing a degree of trust in employees when they are using social media and distributing leadership, through allowing autonomy for social media activities (i.e. do not restrict when employees access social media or strictly monitor the content they are distributing – again, not suitable for all businesses.)

Project Completed!

I am delighted to have completed my dissertation and indeed my Masters Course as a whole. It has been a tough but enjoyable two years as I attended Napier University once a week whilst working full time.

I finish the course with more HR knowledge than I started, a pending post-graduate degree and pending full CIPD membership. I also feel I have honed my planning and time management skills, gained through having to balance University and work during busy times.

Special thanks to all who helped me with the research phase of the Dissertation and to my MD, Margery McBain for allowing me the time out to attend the Course over the past two years.

Data Protection – Employment Minefield

Our most recent lunchtime seminar on data protection in employment got me thinking about the sheer number of measures employers must go through to ensure they keep on the right side of data protection legislation. Helena Brown of Burness Paull spoke to our attendees and answered their questions in what proved to be a very useful and interactive session. I thought it might be useful for me to provide a summary of what I took away from the seminar for anyone who was unable to make it along.


The seminar covered the importance of the Data Protection Act 1998, which provides guidance on how businesses should control and handle the information they have collected on their internal and external stakeholders. There are a great deal of intricacies at play within this piece of legislation however I also believe that common sense can play an important role in reducing risks of a business falling foul of their obligations.

Why does compliance matter?

One area covered was the importance around complying with the law and why this was so important. While there are financial penalties for serious non-compliance, there are some perhaps more relevant deterrents for smaller businesses. This included the reputational damage incurred when breaches are made public by the Information Commissioner’s Office and media, which can easily cause a loss in brand confidence. Another key reason for compliance is the time cost of having to retrospectively ensure compliance in the area where the breach has been picked up. Overall, it is better just to ensure you are complying with the requirements of the Act.

Staff Monitoring

The area of Staff Monitoring was an interesting one as I think this is often thought of in a different way to Data Protection, which is perhaps more concerned with the storage of personal information than for example the CCTV recording of employees while in (or indeed outside of) their workplace.

A basic rule provided here was as a business you should ensure you have identified all the monitoring you are doing. In the same vein, companies should only monitor what is actually required to be monitored and should inform staff what monitoring is being carried out and why. This could be covered in the contract of employment or staff handbook.

Subject Access Requests

Subject Access Requests (SAR), where an individual is given the right to request copies of information held on them from a data controller was the last key area covered in the seminar. While only one member of the audience had previously had any experience of dealing with a SAR, it was interesting to learn the key elements of this area of Data Protection.

One point which was raised was that on occasions, an SAR can be submitted as a mechanism to disrupt and aggravate a business by a disgruntled client or former employee. Even where this is the case however, the business must still comply with the law and respond within 40 days. The specifics of what should and should not be included in the information provided are too detailed for a simple blog post such as this. Further information on this and all aspects of Data Protection compliance is available at

From keeping customer information secure to ensuring employee files are only accessed by an appropriate person, aspects of Data Protection are present in most business processes. If you require any additional support to ensure you are complying, speak to Gravitate HR or Burness Paull.