How to avoid yet another “say-do” gap

Guest Blog by Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Jelf

One of the biggest workplace topics of the last 12 months is that of the Gender Pay Gap.  The figures now slowly – and sometimes rather reluctantly – emerging from many major organisations show that this issue is perhaps much bigger than even the more pessimistic commentators originally predicted.  So what lessons can employers learn from this, and how can that knowledge be applied to other key issues in the workplace?

The primary lesson here is that there still appears to be a significant distance between the public and private positioning of many employers on key employment topics.  Equal pay for equal work has long been an assumed given within the British workplace – and legislation even exists to support this aspiration – so until fairly recently most employers would have claimed full compliance with this approach.  Yet it is now undeniable that a Gender Pay Gap still exists in 2018 at many organisations.

Such a confused picture is often, and rightly, referred to as the “say-do” gap.  The name is self-explanatory, and perhaps suggests that there is more to workplace change than good intentions and employment law in isolation.  The reality is that the say-do gap is one that can only be adequately bridged with a change in company culture which embraces all grades and employees within any organisation.

And such a wholesale change of approach is something that will be much needed if UK employers genuinely seek to meet and best a further challenge of 21st Century employment – that of poor Mental Health in the workplace.  It’s been estimated that the cost to employers here is between £33bn and £42bn, so tackling this issue is a high priority for the Government, employers and (of course) their workers as well.

This is why the recently published Thriving at Work report suggested 6 core standards for employers of all sizes to help tackle this issue.  The 6 standards are:

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees
  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  4. Provide your employees with good working conditions
  5. Promote effective people management
  6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

I’m sure that many employers are already working towards these 6 objectives, and indeed recent voting responses at the Jelf Employment Seminars suggest that around 1 in every 20 employers may have already met or surpassed these core standards.  Yet the concern remains that this may again be only part of the answer.  Having a set of policies and procedures in place does not necessarily imply that the workers that have to implement them on the ground have engaged with the ideals presented to them.  Or, more bluntly, mere formal compliance of a tick-box nature is not the same as genuinely changed attitudes.

This is why the more ambitious objectives detailed in Thriving at Work for all Public Sector employers – as well as other large employers with more than 500 staff – may be critical if another example of the say-do gap is to be avoided.  The additional suggested requirements are:

  1. Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting.
  2. Demonstrate accountability
  3. Improve the disclosure process
  4. Ensure provision of tailored in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical help

Items (7) and (9) are perhaps the most likely to result in a similar level of “naming and shaming” as that being exposed by Gender Pay Gap reporting – which in turn should drive employers to try much harder to better embed these principles across their entire workforce.

Despite the above, the bottom line is that Workplace Mental Health may still become the latest example of a say-do gap unless employers ensure that the mindset of all executives, managers, and co-workers to this important issue changes.  The ultimate end-game of this process must be that every single employee can feel confident that their admission of a problem in this area will not unfairly prejudice their current – or future -employment prospects, and that support from their employer will be provided when needed.  Yet the sad truth is that there is a very long way for employers and their workforce to go before that particular chasm can be safely crossed.

The Thriving at Work recommendations are an important first step in this ambition.  However the key to success will remain a mixture of both formal compliance, legislation, and the all-important culture change.

Author: Editorial Team

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