Steve’s Blog: Our research tells us…

Our popular guest blogger, Steve Herbert explains why research reported in the media may not always be of value to employers, but sometimes it can be genuinely useful and important.

Open any newspaper or current affairs website and you are sure to stumble across the latest “findings” or “research” from a variety of organisations in any number of disciplines.  Yet it is often difficult to gauge the real value or application of most such information.

And sometimes the coverage of research is disproportionate.  A light-hearted item – of little practical value – may well receive much greater coverage than those insights which could and should generate a reaction from individuals or businesses on important matters.

With this in mind, let’s look at three items of research published in the last few weeks, together with any practical applications or insights that employer’s might take from these findings.

Research 1:  Beer before wine

The first item relates to that old water-cooler conversational staple, the horrible hangover.

Now no one likes that “morning after the night before” feeling, so scientists from the UK and Germany set out to see if there was any truth in the old saying “beer before wine, and you’ll feel fine”.  The research was undertaken in carefully controlled lab conditions, during which 90 test volunteers were provided with large quantities of both drinks.

The scientist concluded that regardless of whether you start with wine or beer, there appears to be an equal chance that the drinker will be left with a rather nasty hangover if too much is consumed.  This only goes to confirm the findings of the more rudimentary research that so many of us have inadvertently undertaken in our own time, and often at our own cost (both fiscal and physical).

So other than limiting the amount of free alcohol served at the next office “do”, there is perhaps little for employer’s to gain from this insight.  Yet this research was reported pretty much everywhere in the news-media space.

Research 2:  Night Owls v Morning Larks     

Receiving somewhat less coverage than the hangover story was this item, which relates to the differences in peak brain function between those that prefer a later start to the day (the Night Owls) and those that are somewhat better in the mornings (the Morning Larks).

Now this is clearly more important than the hangover story, as the outcomes have potential implications for health and productivity.  The research was based on 38 people who fell into the above two categories, with scientist monitoring both the brain function at rest, and the success of a series of tasks at various times during the day.

Yet the findings were again not that surprising or enlightening.  The so called “Morning Larks” were least sleepy and had their fastest reaction time in the early morning tests, whereas “Night Owls” reacted better later.

It is however worth noting that the research did also suggest that the Night Owls were probably at something of a disadvantage throughout most of their working lives, given that their peak activity times were not a good match for the “norms” of the usually expected working day.

More research will undoubtedly follow as to what impact this all has on health.  But one practical point does present itself for employers; the need to offer flexible working wherever possible.

After all, most employers want to maximise productivity from every single worker.  It follows that enabling and allowing employees to work at their optimum time must be a sensible ambition for so many more organisations.  Of course this does mean that some employees might be working at 5am, and others at 10pm.  But as long as the work is done (and done well), then this should be embraced rather than shunned.

Interestingly this approach is perhaps the polar opposite of recent moves by some employers to limit the use of office systems – and in particular email – to “traditional” working hours only.  So if your company is one considering introducing such limitations, then perhaps this research might make you think again?

Research 3:  Employer communications to employees on Brexit planning 

This takes us to our last research item of the month – and one that is arguably the most important and immediate to most UK employers.  This data relates to the key political and business story of the moment, which is of course Brexit.

At the time of writing the UK’s future remains deeply uncertain.  A direct consequence of this uncertainty is a surge in media stories relating to job-loses and/or lost investment to the UK from overseas employers.  It follows that many millions of the nation’s employees are becoming genuinely worried regarding their job prospects, future employment rights, and earnings potential.

Yet a Howden Employee Benefits survey of 152 senior HR and Finance professionals in February suggests that more than half of employers have not yet communicated their corporate Brexit planning to workers.  This seems like a potentially significant failing, given that workers who are left without the reassurance of knowing their employer’s plan to survive and thrive post-Brexit may well fear the worst.

So a lack of regular and clear communication could be potentially damaging for both employer and employee.  Workers may begin to display signs of genuine stress and/or poor mental health.  Absence rates may increase and engagement levels decrease (both of which are bad news for productivity too).  Or employees may just decide that the future looks less uncertain with another organisation that is taking the time to really communicate its post-Brexit plan to workers.

Clearly any or all of the above outcomes are bad news at any time, and particularly now with the future so uncertain.  Yet these issues could be heavily mitigated or removed altogether with regular communications and/or the targeted use of company sponsored employee benefits as appropriate.

The full Howden survey findings can be found on the Employer News website here, and I would really urge employers to give some urgent and serious thought to better and more regular communications in this key area.

So despite any worries about the future hangover, let us raise a collective glass to research.  Because sometimes – just sometimes – it can be genuinely important and useful to employers.

Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits

 

 

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