The cost of living crisis and what this means for employers.

The cost of living crisis and what this means for employers.

This article was written by Jane Braithwaite and originally posted on Independent Practitioner Today. 

For the last few months, one of the top news stories each day relates to the increasing cost of living in the UK. The headline this morning is that inflation has hit the highest rate in 40 years and reached 9% in April 2022. Energy prices are increasing drastically as well as the cost of food, clothing and many other household items. As a result of the increase in inflation, the Bank of England has recently raised the base rate of interest for the first time in many years, putting more pressure on homeowners with higher mortgage payments. With the additional increase in National insurance, this is all putting a significant number of people in the UK under financial pressure.

What does this mean for us as employers?
I think it is safe to assume that most employees would like a pay rise in their current job or they will start to look for a new role with a higher salary. As employers, there is a risk that we will lose staff if we do not take action to support our current employees.

Most employees will be demanding a pay increase at least in line with inflation so that they feel they are at least standing still in terms of their financial wellbeing. But for most employers, the prospect of giving every individual within their company an inflation-based increase is simply not a possibility.

Offering every employee, a pay rise in line with inflation is not only difficult for most employers to deliver, but economists would warn us against doing so for other reasons. I am no expert when it comes to economics, but my understanding is that economists caution us against increasing salaries across the board, which will allow spending to continue at current levels, which will cause inflation to continue to rise resulting in a vicious circle. I am happy for anyone to question this of course, as many readers of the IPT will have a far deeper understanding of the issue than I can claim to have.

Research shows us that one of the most common causes of stress for individuals is their financial well-being and this is going to become a major concern for many more in the coming months and potentially years. As employers, we also appreciate that if our teams are feeling stressed in their personal lives, they are not going to be able to perform to the best of their abilities in the workplace and extreme stress can also lead to a higher absence rate from work, due to ill health.

So, what do we do to support our employees through this difficult time?

If increasing salaries in line with inflation are not possible and not advisable, then what do we do as employers? Maybe the answer is to increase salaries where possible by a margin, not in keeping with inflation, but enough to try to alleviate the situation for individuals, especially for those on lower salaries.

There may be other ways in which employers can help by thinking beyond the immediate issue of salaries.

Several schemes may be relevant to our employees including season ticket loan schemes which aim to help employees where the cost of commuting is a major budget item. Research by the company Employee Benefits confirms that this is one of the most common benefits offered by employers, with 59% of employers doing so. The season ticket loan is an interest-free loan for employees to cover the cost of travelling to and from the workplace via modes such as tram, rail, bus, etc. Some schemes can also be used to cover parking costs too. The loan repayments are paid monthly through the employee’s net pay over a set period.

For keen cyclists, the cycle-to-work scheme could be an attractive possibility. It allows employees to save 26 to 40% on their bikes and accessories. The employee has no upfront payment, and the monthly payments are taken tax efficiently from the employee’s salary by their employer.

During the Covid pandemic, when we were all advised to work from home, if possible, the government introduced tax breaks to help alleviate higher energy bills. From April 2022 this tax break has been tightened and whilst some employees can claim, for many this is no longer possible. Without a doubt, heating costs are higher for those working from home and next Winter this will become more of an issue. If the government is not going to provide support for home workers, then employers may need to step up. For companies who have introduced a working from home strategy, there will be cost benefits associated with reducing the need for office space and a proportion of this saving could be passed on to employees to help with the increasing cost of energy.

A different type of approach would be to offer an Employee Discount Scheme to help employees save money on their purchases. These schemes offer employees discounts for products and services that they are likely to buy regularly. For example, one company called PerkBox offers discounts at Sainsbury’s and M& S.

The final suggestion is to help employees manage their finances more effectively by offering access to support services and financial training. There are lots of organisations and training providers offering such support and these could prove to be very helpful to some employees. This type of approach needs to be handled with extreme care to avoid any suggestion that employees are being judged or criticised. Over the last few days, we have seen numerous politicians slated for their comments regarding individuals being unable to budget and unable to cook. Yesterday it was suggested that individuals solve the issue by taking on extra hours or an extra job. All of these comments appear tone-deaf to individuals who are working hard just to keep their heads above water!

Again, I repeat that I am no economist, but everything I hear and read suggests that the cost-of-living crisis is going to be a long-term issue and so, as employers, we must do what we can to support our employees. One obvious solution for our employees will be to move to a better-paid job and so if we do not take action our biggest issue will be a recruitment crisis, which is time-consuming and expensive. Retaining our employees by supporting them will prove to be the best option for both employer and employee.

If you have any specific questions that you would like answered in coming editions, please do get in touch

Jane Braithwaite
MD of Designated Medical

At Designated Medical we believe that with the right professional team to support you, your possibilities are endless. That is why we offer flexible, experienced support for all your private practice needs. An integrated approach allows our carefully selected team members to embed into your practice, allowing you to concentrate on delivering exceptional service and care for your patients. Our experts offer bespoke support across Accountancy, Marketing, Medical PA, HR, and Recruitment and can work to suit your requirements – tailored to your practice, as and when we are needed.

Working with neurodiversity

Working with neurodiversity

Most people are described as neurotypical. This means their brain functions according to society norms. However, 15% of the UK population (or 1 in 7 of us) are estimated to have brain function classified as neurodivergent, meaning the brain functions differently and has diverse ways of processing information, thinking, learning and behaving.

Neurodivergent traits are present from birth and develop in childhood and adolescence. But conditions can also be acquired throughout one’s life as a result of stroke, tumour or other brain-altering experiences.

Neurodiverse conditions such as dyslexia, autism, dyspraxia and ADHD, to name a few, are more commonly recognised and understood in today’s society. However, our workplace is typically set up for neurotypical ways of thinking and doing, so neurodivergent employees often spend a lot of time trying to adjust their work environment to suit their needs. This can hinder their contribution and undermine their confidence as well as lose the business valuable productivity.

Data suggests that neurodivergent employees can increase the productivity of a company by nearly as much as 50%*, resulting in increased profits and customer satisfaction. Innovation increases and problems are solved quickly and more effectively.

By understanding the strengths of a neurodivergent workforce and accommodating their needs, companies can strengthen their workforce with out-of-the-box thinking, creative solutions, and more.

Here are some examples of how neurodivergent individuals can contribute to productivity and creativity.

Dyslexics are more likely to think in images and are skilled in visual processing so they can consider objects from numerous angles. They have the ability to see the big picture making it easier for them to spot patterns and data trends. Their ability to think outside the box allows them to excel at problem-solving as they can discover connections that others may miss. They can also be original thinkers and inventors, bringing together information and resources from different disciplines.

People with autism have the ability to focus intensely on a given task, especially if they have a special interest in the subject, demonstrating superb attention to detail. They excel in a structured environment and their love of routine means that they are extremely reliable and punctual. Their ability to approach problems differently and their logical, straightforward thinking can help improve processes and increase productivity.

So how can employers best accommodate neurodiversity in the workplace and enable neurodivergents to excel and perform to the best of their ability?

Provide the right tools for staff to do their job. Understand the needs of your employees, consider the range of support available and match them according to their needs. Ask what they reasonably feel they need to help them work more efficiently.

For example, noise-cancelling headphones for employees with autism or ADHD, to avoid distracting or confusing noises.

Assistive technology features such as screen filters can help employees who are sensitive to the intensity or frequency of light.

Text to speech tools can help dyslexics process information more effectively through audio.

Time-management software containing calendars, planners and alerts can help people with autism or ADHD to plan daily activities, manage their time more effectively, and support any memory challenges.

Instant messaging such as Google Hangouts may be a more motivating tool for communicating with colleagues.

Mind mapping software facilitates the understanding of concepts by breaking them down into their component parts. It enables the visual development and organisation of ideas and information making it easier to see how information fits together. This tool can help employees with dyslexia to more readily understand concepts and scenarios and contribute valuable ideas and suggestions.

The leadership team play a key role in championing and promoting diversity in the workplace by supporting an inclusive working environment and educating their teams. Win their support by preparing and presenting a clear business case, providing a clear statement of the business requirements and potential solution, the consequences resulting from specific actions and metrics for the proposed solution.

As well as support from the top, educate and train all staff on neurodiversity awareness. Accredited training can help line managers to spot any potential barriers to diverse ways of working, identify employees that may be experiencing challenges and provide neurotypical employees with the knowledge and confidence to offer support where necessary.

Educating employees about neurodiversity can also help to remove any preconceptions and encourage teams to adapt so that the specialist talents of neurodivergent employees can flourish.

Appoint DI&E Champions at all levels across the organisation. Champions are the visible role models for inclusion and take action to ensure that objectives are achieved. Their passion and knowledge on the strengths and benefits of neurodiversity can drive change and influence – sometimes helping with business cases by reporting successes and giving feedback on a regular basis. Provide them with the necessary training and support to equip them with the skills required to achieve an inclusive culture

Finally, create a more inclusive working environment with a few simple changes that can make the biggest impact for neurodivergent employees.

For example, provide flexible working hours that allow them to arrive earlier and leave earlier, avoiding large groups of people and making travelling and/or parking less stressful. An early start can also mean they benefit from quiet time to focus on tasks without the usual daily office distractions.

Working from home allows them to work in their own quiet and familiar space. This can be beneficial when completing tasks that could cause anxiety in a busy workplace, for example, preparing for and practicing delivering a presentation.

Provide ‘thinking spaces’ for quiet contemplation. Noise and distractions can be counterproductive for neurotypical employees at the best of times, and this can be significantly worse for neurodivergent individuals. Quiet areas provide a sanctuary from the busy open plan office, enabling them to concentrate and focus on getting the job done.

Desk location should also be considered. Some individuals may prefer to be located in a corner – away from visual and audio distractions.

Ultimately, what underpins the success of all these measures is a workplace culture that considers individual needs and has the capacity to meet them.

*Siemens

 

 

 

How to hang onto your employees

How to hang onto your employees

In this article, our Managing Director Jane Braithwaite turns troubleshooter to answer independent practitioners’ frequently asked questions on business matters. Today she is answering a question on employee retention. This article was originally written for Independent Practitioners Today. 

This month: ‘How do I improve staff retention and ensure my team is stable? Recently, I have lost two members of staff and it will take me a long time to recruit and train new team members.

Losing a member of staff is always painful and has a significant impact on team performance and the morale of the remaining team members. When an individual chooses to leave their role, it is natural for their colleagues to feel unsettled and to question their own position within the organisation.

They are also likely to be asked to pick up extra work while a replacement is found and then take responsibility for training and mentoring the new recruit. The whole episode puts immense pressure on the entire team and can have a damaging effect on service delivery. When the Covid pandemic first hit us, many of us suspected that one of the negative outcomes would be high unemployment. But we were wrong and the opposite appears to be true. The majority of jobs survived the end of the Government furlough scheme and the fear of a huge spike in unemployment has not materialised.

Record number of vacancies
Vacancies are now at a record high, with some newspapers reporting 1.2m vacancies and a shortage of skilled workers, which is having a drastic impact in many industry sectors, including the healthcare and care sectors. One recruitment specialist has reported ‘fierce competition for talent’ and there are reports of graduate lawyers being offered starting salaries of £150,000 and signing-on bonuses by employers desperate to compete in this shortage market. In general, though, average pay rises are not keeping up with the increase in the cost of living, and while wages are rising, they are not rising as fast as prices. This will lead to more people searching for a new role purely for better remuneration. Currently, it is so much harder to recruit due to a shortage of available candidates and so replacing staff is much harder and more time-consuming. Retention of key staff is vital to protect our organisations in the current climate.

How do we ensure we retain our employees?
Most managers assume that salary is the major motivator for their employees. While salary is important, especially with the rising cost of living, for many people there are other more significant factors. Many employees are more highly motivated by other factors such as flexibility, culture, career development opportunities, geographical location and their relationship with their direct manager.The pandemic has led to many people thinking about what they want from their working lives with a new perspective. They have been reminded that life is short, and they want to make the most of their time, both at work and in their social lives. Many are burnt out by the pandemic and desperately in need of a break to regroup and recover. Most have taken fewer holidays over the last couple of years and this has had a cumulative effect on exhaustion. The well-being of employees should be a major concern for all employers. The recruitment firm Randstad UK says that, in a typical year, 11% of workers would move roles, but its recent research in a survey of 6,000 workers found that 69% of those surveyed were feeling confident about moving to a new role in the next six months.

The Great Resignation
This trend is often referred to by the press as ‘The Great Resignation’ and is going to be hard for industries like healthcare, where the prediction is that some employees are looking to leave the sector completely, resulting in a reduced pool of available workers. If you have had resignations within your organisation, one valuable way to learn why your employees are unhappy is to hold exit interviews with employees before they leave. An exit interview should be hosted by an individual who is not directly working with the emp­loyee so that the meeting can be credibly viewed as confidential to encourage honesty and transparency. The interview offers an opportunity for the employee to express their reasons for leaving and to suggest ways in which the organisation can improve to retain valuable workers in the future. A similar approach should also be adopted with all employees to understand what motivates them most about their work, what they are happy about currently and where your organisation is able to improve. Asking questions like what additional support would benefit them will give you valuable insight into options to improve. An HR expert will wisely advise you to create the Employment Value Proposition (EVP) for your organisation, to help you with the retention of employees and the recruitment of new team members.

Employees’ perspective
As business owners, we spend much time thinking about patients and clients and how we want them to perceive our organisation, but, to create an EVP, we need to think about our organisation through the eyes of our employees. An EVP states what employees receive in return for the talent, enthusiasm, loyalty and contribution they deliver to our organisations. Your EVP will give you a competitive advantage in retaining your employees and attracting the best employees to join your organisation. This is especially relevant to organisations that do not have the budget to compete with the remuneration offered by larger competitors. You can promote other unique qualities that differentiate your business from your competitors, thus attracting the right talent.

Provide incentives
An EVP should provide incentives that reward hard work and create a supportive, inclusive working environment. Start by identifying all the benefits of working at your company and the unique strengths of the organisation versus its competitors in terms of remuneration, working environment, career progression, learning and development and culture. This could be done as a team exercise at a workshop-style meeting or through the use of a simple questionnaire sent to all employees. Covid has changed the face of the working environment and more companies are adopting a hybrid working solution. Where this is not possible – for example, in many healthcare settings – businesses are providing more flexible working solutions such as job sharing and condensed hours to attract target audiences who value flexibility and a healthier work-life balance. Opportunities for career progression are also an attractive proposition for high potential individuals who are looking for challenge and growth. Many employers like to showcase success stories of people who have risen through the ranks and who have been encouraged and supported throughout their career journey from entry-level positions to senior-level roles.

Company policies
Examining the company’s policies on training, performance development and promotions will give clarity on the company’s attitude towards career progression and growth and how the company supports this by providing opportunities for learning and development and rewarding good performance management and development practices. The culture reflects everything from human, social and even political issues. Identifying with the corporate culture can help candidates determine whether or not their values and beliefs are aligned with those of the company. If candidates share the same beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours as those identified by the company, this gives them some reassurance of a harmonious working environment which could lead to a longer-term working relationship. Other benefits can also cover aspects such as financial strength and constant growth, unique services and a strong commercial footing, and reassuring candidates in terms of security, stability and longevity. In each stage of the EVP definition process, consider how the company fares against its competitors in terms of remuneration, working environment, culture, and career progression. This will help to establish the company’s unique selling points against the competition and promote aspects that are more generous or attractive than your competitors. Creating your EVP will help you identify areas where you need to improve in your organisation and this will lead to increased emp­loyee retention. According to research from Gartner: ‘Organisations that effectively deliver on their EVP can decrease annual employee turnover by just under 70% and increase new hire commitment by nearly 30%.’

 

 

GDPR and Subject Access Requests

GDPR and Subject Access Requests

Our fifth blog from Karen Heaton of Data Protection 4 Business covers how to handle a request from a patient or customer for details of the information that you hold on them.

In our blog today, we look at a data subject’s right to access, a powerful tool for individuals who have concerns about what information organisations hold about them.  Unfortunately, it can also be used for litigious purposes and such a request should be taken very seriously within your organisation, so please read on!

A data subject, in other words, you or I, can request a free copy of all personal data relating to us that an organisation holds – in any format – paper files, digital, videos or voice records.  Ok, do I have your attention now?  Even for a small organisation, that can amount to a lot of data.

Oh, and you have one calendar month to respond.

So, what must you provide and what is exempt?  Well, let’s see…

What information must I provide?

You must provide the following long list of information in relation to the personal data being processed as well as the data itself:

  • the purposes of your processing
  • the categories of personal data concerned
  • the recipients or categories of recipient you disclose the personal data to
  • your retention period for storing the personal data or, where this is not possible, your criteria for determining how long you will store it
  • the existence of their right to request rectification, erasure or restriction or to object to such processing
  • information about the source of the data, where it was not obtained directly from the individual
  • the existence of automated decision-making (including profiling)
  • the safeguards you provide if you transfer personal data to a third country or international organisation
  • the right to lodge a complaint with the ICO or another supervisory authority

I have a question or two:  would you know where to find the data? Would you be able to respond to the other information points above regarding the data you hold?  This is not a simple task and can amount to an operational headache for many organisations.

What information can I withhold?

The most common type of data that should be withheld is data mentioning third parties (unless they have given consent for their data to be shared or it is reasonable not to require such consent – confused?).  For example, an email chain where people other than the data subject are mentioned would need to be considered for redacting.  How easily can your organisation find, review and redact third party information?

Other examples of exempted information:

Specific information regarding medical organisations

Often, my clients have concerns that some law firms may use SARs to obtain medical data for free that was previously chargeable.

Subject Access Request (free) vs Access to Medical Records Act 1988 (chargeable):
Requests from Solicitors acting on behalf of a Patient

The British Medical Association advises that a patient can authorise their solicitor, or another third party, to make a SAR on their behalf. There are very few circumstances when a medical practice will be able to lawfully decline such requests. In this instance, you should ask the person acting on their behalf if there is specific data that they require, for example, are they requesting data covering a specific time period or illness or operation?  This is a valid question for you to ask if the patient data file is substantial.

Tip:  Don’t forget to get valid consent from the patient to disclose their personal and sensitive data to the Solicitor or third party. 

If, however, the request is asking for a report to be written or it is asking for an interpretation of information within the record, this request goes beyond a SAR. It is likely that such requests will fall under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988, for which a fee may be charged.

Requests from an Insurance company

The British Medical Association, ICO and Association of British Insurers currently advise that Insurance companies should use the provisions of the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 to seek access to medical records and that the use of SARs to obtain medical information for life assurance purposes is an abuse of subject access rights.

So, that scenario is a bit more clear cut.

The bottom line is….

Your organisation or medical practice must take the time to consider and plan how to respond to a Subject Access Request from an operational perspective.   Don’t wait until you receive one to work out how it should be done.  The clock starts ticking from the day you receive the request.

 

Today’s fact.   Access to your data is a basic Right under GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018.   A data subject can make a complaint to the ICO if an organisation fails to respond to a Subject Access Request. Further failures to respond to requests from the ICO and any Enforcement Notice they serve, is a criminal offence.

=>   This is worst case scenario and easily avoided.  Ensure you have a robust operating procedure to handle Subject Access Requests and train your staff in how to respond, when to respond and what information to provide.

See you next week!

Karen Heaton Data Protection 4 Business

 

Karen

Karen Heaton, CIPP/E, CIPM
Certified Information Privacy Professional
Data Protection 4 Business Limited

Previous blogs in the series:

GDPR – is your practice ready for May 2018? 

GDPR – is your practice ready for May 2018? 

UPDATED OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2018

We are currently publishing an up-to-date series of blogs related to GDPR, data protection and private medical practices, written by Karen Heaton of Data Protection 4 Business. Click here to start the series:  GDPR for Healthcare – Introduction

UPDATED: JUNE 2018 – This blog was originally published in November 2017 in order to help private medical practices prepare for the implementation of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Whilst the deadline for compliance with the GDPR officially passed on 25th May, it is not too late to ensure that you have implemented the correct procedures in order to protect your patients and employees’ data.

Please read the blog for more information and useful links.

ORIGINAL BLOG:

Next May sees the implementation of a new piece of EU regulation – the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  

Any business, including private medical practices, should be working in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 where any personal data is used or collected. There are similarities between the GDPR and the DPA, but this new regulation has some additional requirements that will need to be addressed. So, what are these requirements and what does your practice need to do to ensure you’re ready for May 2018? 

New requirements for data controllers and processors 

This new data regulation is applicable to data controllers and data processors. In the context of a private medical practice, a data controller could be the principal consultant and the data processor could be the practice manager, medical secretary, IT consultant, or anyone who acts on the processor’s behalf.  

Data processed within a medical environment will include names, addresses, email addresses and medical information. For self-pay patients, bank details will also need to be processed in line with the regulations. Medical photography will also be considered personal data, as will any social media interactions you may have with patients (although any communications made in this way will also be subject to additional guidance set out by the GMC).  

Key changes

Although the main principles of the new regulations are still the same as those set out in the previous directive, some of the key changes are: 

  • Penalties Breaches of the GDPR can result in a fine of up to €20 million or 4% of annual turnover, whichever is the larger amount. This amount is in relation to the most serious violations. A company can also be fined up to 2% for less serious breaches. 
  • Consent Terms and conditions relating to consent need to be accessible and clear, using plain language. Companies can no longer use lengthy and ineligible terms and conditions, and must make it easy for subjects and clients to withdraw their consent.  
  • Breach notifications The relevant regulatory authority will need to be notified of any breaches within 72 hours of the data processors and controllers becoming aware of the breach. This is a mandatory step where a breach is likely to put at risk the “rights and freedoms of individuals”. 
  • Right to access – Data subjects (patients, in the case of private medical practices) have the right to request and obtain from the data controller information relating to whether or not their data has been processed and for what purpose. The controller is obliged to provide a free electronic copy of any personal data being held. 
  • Data portability This relates to a subject or patient’s right to request and receive their data, and the right to transfer that data to another company. 
  • Data protection officers The new regulation requires a DPO to be appointed only in situations where the company’s activities include the “regular and systematic monitoring of data subjects on a large scale”, or if the company is a public authority. 

More information on all changes and requirements, including the full criteria for DPO appointments, can be found HERE. 

What about Brexit – do I still need to prepare for the GDPR? 

The GDPR applies to all companies located within the EU that process and hold personal data. Companies located outside of the EU will also need to comply with the regulation if they provide services to people residing in the EU. In the international arena of private healthcare, there is a strong likelihood that services will be offered to EU residents. As a result, it would be sensible for practices to ensure they are working within the regulatory framework of the GDPR, so they are compliant even after the UK leaves the EU. 

How do I assess my practice for compliance? 

For business managers or principal consultants who are unsure how compliant their practices are, the ICO has a useful self-assessment toolkit. 

What happens if my practice does not comply? 

The GDPR came into effect last year, but will be enforced in May 2018. Non-compliance could result in a fine of up to 4%, so it is crucial to take a look at your data management policies and procedures to ensure that you comply with the regulations. 

Data protection at Designated Medical 

Designated Group, including Designated Medical, is committed to protecting client’s privacy and conducts all work in line with the Data Protection Act 1998. We work closely with clients to ensure that data protection laws are adhered to, and all data is stored securely and is encrypted when necessary.  

For more information on our services please call 020 7952 1008, or visit our website at designatedmedical.com 

 

 

 

 

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