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Human Resource Management International Digest

WYPS cuts stress-related illness: Individualized training helps managers to become better supervisors
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, (2008),"WYPS cuts stress-related illness", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 16 Iss 1 pp. 35 - 37
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WYPS cuts stress-related illness
Individualized training helps managers to become better supervisors

mployee absence fell so dramatically after managers were trained to become better
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E supervisors that ‘‘it was like adding eight or nine new employees when considering
the increase in efficiencies,’’ according to the HR manager at West Yorkshire
Probation Service (WYPS), Ian Brandwood.

He explained that the probation service in West Yorkshire, UK, had been promoting great
case-workers to managerial posts for some time, but these people were not necessarily
equipped to handle the demands and strains of this new kind of position. It required a new
way of thinking and working that demanded an equally new skill set. One unfortunate
by-product was a significant increase in instances of ‘‘throwing a sickie,’’ or unplanned
absences, and stress-related illness.

However, the number of days lost to these kinds of absence was dramatically reduced after
the managers received individualized training from Isobel Rimmer, managing director and
founder of UK training and HR management consultancy Masterclass.

Example: a side-effect of poor management

Isobel Rimmer, who has more than 20 years’ experience in this arena and who works closely
with the National Bullying Helpline, commented: ‘‘Statistics from the National Bullying
Helpline paint a grim picture of ‘Workplace UK’ today. One in four people say they are
affected by bullying. More frightening is the fact that at least 80 percent of calls to the
helpline come from the public sector. Many managers feel that the fears and risks of actually
being a manager more than outweigh the returns and rewards – considering the recent
amount of new legislation, employee relations, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration
Service, tribunals and large compensation awards.’’
In addition, 80 percent of managers know that bullying is occurring in their workplace, and
few admit being involved. Yet, almost 50 percent of managers polled admit to having been
bullied as well.

Isobel Rimmer described two questions that managers commonly ask during training
1. When does giving an individual clear, data-based feedback become bullying or
2. How can I prevent staff from making work-stress-related illness claims simply because
they are failing to achieve their realistic targets and are being intimately monitored by their

DOI 10.1108/09670730810848342 VOL. 16 NO. 1 2008, pp. 35-37, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 0967-0734 j HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT INTERNATIONAL DIGEST j PAGE 35
Recent statistics reveal that bullying in UK workplaces costs 19 million sick days and more
than £13 billion each year. High-profile organizations are often targets for disgruntled
employees. The assumption is that if the organization is profitable and wants to avoid bad
press, it will settle employee claims quickly and probably generously.
Christine Pratt, of the National Bullying Helpline, emphasized that supervisors need to be
able to:
B manage employees fairly and consistently;
B possess the skills and confidence to deal with performance issues; and
B dissuade unfair claims from disgruntled employees and team members.
‘‘All managers need to be fully informed of the latest legislation in place and what constitutes
best practice with regard to performance management, appraisals and the
employee-manager feedback process,’’ said Isobel Rimmer.

Solutions: set clear objectives

First, managers must set clear objectives, which need to specific, measurable, agreed,
realistic and with a clear timeline (Smart) in their approach. Managers must observe and
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measure their team members’ performance against these impartial objectives in order to
give accurate feedback on their performance.
‘‘It is key that one communicates Smart objectives at the outset and continues to review them
with the appropriate people on an ongoing basis,’’ said Isobel Rimmer. ‘‘This builds a more
transparent and productive relationship between manager and team member. The Smart
objectives need to be aligned with prescribed business, organizational or departmental
goals. They need to be measurable in such a way that both parties can understand how
everyone needs to be committed to them.’’
Second, regular feedback is essential. ‘‘Giving and receiving feedback need skill and care,’’
Isobel Rimmer explained. ‘‘Lack of data in itself might not demonstrate whether a strength or
a weakness exists. If someone fails to deliver against an objective once, it does not
necessarily mean that he or she will continue to fail.’’

Employment legislation is often based on the principles of natural justice, or fairness. This
involves consistency, and an open dialog between employer and employee.
Third, investing in practical training is essential to preparing managers to handle any
number of employee-relations challenges. ‘‘Adding management training with an overview
of current employment legislation is a winning combination that will help managers better to
understand the obligations and parameters of their new position,’’ said Isobel Rimmer.
‘‘I have run management and leadership programs for clients in the public and private sector
for over 15 years. One thing that is common among all trainees is that they almost
unanimously align their programs to specific metrics to allow the organization to see the
gains they are making.’’

‘‘ Statistics from the National Bullying Helpline paint a grim

picture of ‘Workplace UK’ today. One in four people say they
are affected by bullying. More frightening is the fact that at
least 80 percent of calls to the helpline come from the public
sector. ’’

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Her programs address critical topics that influence the way managers might successfully
handle a variety of situations. She explained that a successful workshop, such as that she
ran for WYPS, might involve:
B incorporating best-practice techniques in performance management, giving delegates
the opportunity to practice a range of skills – from observing and giving feedback to
avoiding common; and
B using at least two facilitators – one of whom should be an employment-legislation expert
– for groups of more than ten people, so that the workshop is highly interactive and fast.

Typical results
Isobel Rimmer believes that WYPS managers are now better able to manage their people,
even under difficult or demanding circumstances, from a skills as well as a confidence
WYPS managers understand the importance of keeping good notes and an ‘‘audit trail’’
when dealing with poor performance. In addition, as a best-practice tip, they practice the art
of giving feedback when faced with poor performance – be it based on capability or
The ‘‘trained-up’’ managers are now fully aware of discrimination and the law; what is and is
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Management skills,
not permissible. No longer are they worried about what questions they can or cannot ask
Management effectiveness,
during interview, or what is ‘‘politically incorrect’’.
Management development,
Stress, Finally, the managers have the self-assurance to manage their people firmly, fairly and
Sick leave, effectively, avoiding the cost and aggravation of a costly and protracted employment
Bullying tribunal.

David Pollitt, Human Resource Management International Digest editor, wrote this article.

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