Advice for employers in dispute

It can be an awful shock. One minute everything is ticking over quite nicely and the next minute you get an employee going off sick with work related stress and/or a grievance or a letter of resignation. You had not seen it coming and feel both worried and upset. Then the employee lets it be known that they have taken advice and have made lots of notes. This makes it all feel much worse.

BUT HOLD TIGHT!

The important things to remember are as follows:

  1. Stay calm and stay in contact with your employee. Most issues can be resolved by speaking face to face. But listening is the most important thing here – even if you don’t agree. Do make a note of the meeting.
  2. If an employee is off sick with stress agree how you can communicate with them whilst they are off. Directly or via someone else. Obtain their permission for you to do this. Find out if anything is worrying them that you can investigate further. Understand that they may need extra support and understanding and can’t control how they are feeling.
  3. If you have a grievance or a letter of resignation try and meet them face to face. As soon as possible but not when you feel angry or upset. Be mindful that both documents are official records and if there is any claim or allegation in there you need to take it seriously and respond. Even if they verbally retract it. Get anything in writing as that is what will be relevant in a Tribunal situation.

The types of issues we have seen include:

  • A link with health problems or experiencing work-related stress
  • Allegations of bullying or harassment
  • Allegations of unfair treatment or discrimination
  • A feeling that they aren’t valued
  • A feeling that they have no future
  • A suggestion that things are not as they seem internally
  1. Take care to keep the matter as confidential as possible. No matter how outraged you are don’t share this unnecessarily as that can cause more issues. You can’t control what others say. You also have an obligation legally to keep the matter confidential. This includes sharing it with ex employees and anyone that does not have a clear managerial or professional interest.
  2. Be wary of venting your frustrations on email as your employee could make a Subject Access Request (SAR’s) and see everything you have written. If you want to vent do so verbally and to someone that is in the loop formally.
  3. It’s important not to take your employees action as a personal betrayal. Yes they may have worked with you for a long time but no matter how close you are, you are still their employer and that brings legal and statutory obligations to your door.
  4. Make notes of all conversations and acknowledge the resignation and/or the grievance. Follow your sickness policy if someone is off with stress and consider involving Occupational Health.
  5. Seek professional advice as necessary. This could include an HR Consultant, Employment lawyer, Occupational or Wellbeing practitioner.
  6. Do not ignore how you are feeling. Is this too much on top of everything else you are dealing with? Or can you cope with some self care and support.

For more information and advice please contact ruthcornish@amelore.com

Let’s all relax…

The Mitchell Method of Relaxation

Relaxation is a skill and, like any other skill, benefits from practice.

The relaxation procedure we detail below is one that has been practised for 10-15 years. It is called the ‘Mitchell Method’. Studies have shown that it is extremely effective. The method is commonly used by the NHS in the UK.

Advise your team that you are going to talk them through the Mitchell Method of relaxation and that you would like them to follow what you say in order to practice the technique.

Ask them to get in a comfortable position; this could be lying on the floor, leaning forward onto a desk, or sitting back in their chair. It really is not important as long as they feel comfortable.

When all are in a comfortable position, you will talk them through the following script. Do not alter the words as they are designed specifically to aid relaxation.

The Script:

  1. Arms

Shoulders Pull your shoulders down towards your feet. STOP pulling your shoulders down. Feel that your shoulders are now lower and your neck feels longer.

Elbows Push your elbows slightly away from your side. STOP pushing your elbows out. Be aware that your elbows are open and slightly away from your side.

Hands Stretch out your hands, fingers and thumbs. STOP stretching them out.

Observe your hands, fingers and thumbs fully supported. Feel the surface they are resting on.

  1. Legs

Hips Roll your hips and knees outwards. STOP rolling outwards. Be aware that your legs are slightly apart and turned outwards.

Knees Adjust until comfortable. STOP adjusting. Reflect on the resulting position.

Feet Gently push your feet down, away from your face. STOP pushing them down. Feel your feet hanging loosely from the ankle joints.

  1. Body Press your body into the support. STOP pressing. Consider the sensation of your body resting against the support.
  1. Head Press your head into the pillow. STOP pressing. Feel your heavy head nestling comfortably in the hollow you have made in the pillow.
  1. Face

Jaw Keeping your lips closed, pull down your lower jaw. STOP pulling down.

Feel that your teeth are no longer touching and that the jaw-line is easy.

Tongue Move your tongue low in your mouth. STOP moving. Register that your tongue is lying in the middle of your mouth.

Eyes Close your eyes, if you wish to, or state instead.

Forehead Imagine someone smoothing away from your frown lines from the eyebrows up over the top and the back of your head. STOP doing this. Feel the smoothing of the skin.

  1. Breathing Sigh out. Breathe low down in your chest at your own natural resting breathing rate, with slight emphasis on the out breath

Ending the relaxation

To bring this relaxation session to an end – gradually become aware of the room – feel the floor/chair underneath you – open your eyes – give your limbs a few gentle stretches – have the feeling that you are alert and ready to carry on with your life.

If you would like some training on stress management or to discuss how you can incorporate wellbeing into your People Strategy do get in contact with us.

Bereavement: beyond the legislation

As many of you will be aware, it has recently been reported that parents will become entitled to two weeks of paid bereavement leave if they lose a child. This new law will be effective from April 2020. It will be called ‘Jack’s Law’ in memory of Jack Herd whose mother has been campaigning for reform since her 23-month-old son drowned in 2010. Lucy Herd, Jack’s mother, has commented that she is proud to have achieved this in Jack’s memory and hopes this will help future families.

Whilst this new law on bereavement is a welcome step in the right direction, many employers will want to consider their approach more holistically. The death of a child is one of the most tragic life experiences and therefore an employee is likely to need significant support in order to return to work successfully after such a life changing event.

In our experience, many employers are very sympathetic towards employees losing loved ones – offering them the time and financial support they need to return to work successfully. We encounter many firms that are already going beyond the statutory minimum offering. Two approaches organisations can take is firstly provide time off and secondly support the individual at work itself through, for example, an employee assistance programme which provides access to counselling.

It is becoming increasingly common for organisations to adopt well-being frameworks and approaches which provide employees with channels of support. This support can include provisions for those suffering from poor mental health at different points in their life to help prevent feelings of isolation. Companies without a defined well-being approach should make this a priority of any people strategy.

Earlier this year the Mayor of London and Peter Cheese, Head of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, launched ‘London’s Good Work Standard’ which provides a framework of good work guiding principles. One of those is dedicated to workplace well-being and outlines that employers need to go beyond the legislation and create a channel for workforce dialogue as well as fostering a positive culture around work-life balance; offering flexible working for all and encouraging senior managers to model that behaviour.

People strategy is no longer the playing ground of just big companies and corporates, smaller organisations are also now concerned in understanding and supporting their workforces more fully in order to attract and retain talented employees. If your business is small, growing, and concerned about the well-being of its employees a conversation around your people strategy should be on your agenda as well.

If you would like to discuss how well-being becomes or remains a priority for your business, please contact ruthcornish@amelore.com for a discussion on how this could be incorporated into your business’ people strategy.

Death in Service Checklist

A death at work is as rare as it is shocking. In this article we detail a short checklist to enable you to cover all bases at a time of considerable stress for you and your organisation.

Here are ten steps to follow if an employee dies at work.

  1. Call 999 and notify the HSE, ASAP. https://www.hse.gov.uk/riddor/reportable-incidents.htm There is never ever a reason to wait to inform the authorities and doing so will only cause problems.
  2. Immediately thereafter, notify the employee’s emergency contact person, preferably in person. This news should not be delivered over the phone if at all possible. If you must deliver the news via a phone call, arrange for a company representative to meet the family, likely at the hospital. Alternatively the police will do this in your behalf and they are trained to do so.
  3. Notify Directors, key stakeholders and other employees with a need to know what happened. If you work in the public sector you will also be required to complete a SitRep (situation report) so ensure you follow the correct procedure.
  4. Notify your remaining employees of the fact of the death and let them know that further details will follow. Identify if anyone is significantly destressed and send them home or provide additional support. Take care not to share details unnecessarily.
  5. Follow your internal procedures for contact with the media. If you do not have any such internal procedures, or if you are not comfortable with anyone in your organization facing the media, engage a public relations firm, as soon as possible. You will need someone to say something. “No comment” is not a good statement under these circumstances; it will look like you’re hiding something or don’t care.
  6. Show extreme sensitivity to the family of the deceased. Who do they want to be their contact person? Who will disseminate funeral arrangements and how? What are the family’s wishes regarding flowers, donations, calling, visitations, and other contact? How and when does the family want to handle necessary employment issues (final pay and holiday inc bonus, pension, company car, death in service benefits, access to Employee Assistance if relevant etc)
  7. Designate one suitable internal person as the main contact who is briefed to communicate information to employees, and for employees to ask any questions. Take care to appoint someone that you judge can handle doing this as not everyone could no matter how senior. Unless the family directs otherwise, instruct employees not to contact the family.
  8. Arrange for counselling or other mental-health services for those employees who witnessed any accident, or are otherwise impacted.
  9. Don’t forget yourself. Are you OK? Who is supporting you? Have you eaten or contacted home. What do you need?
  10. Once the initial actions have been taken it is important that someone leads a debrief for all that are involved. This may be a week or two later. Think about what the company can do with regard to the funeral (sending flowers etc) and how to pack up belongings and get them to the family. The company may also consider making a corporate donation (with the families permission) to a suitable charity in memory of the employee.

And finally

If the death at work was in any way suspicious the police will investigate as will the HSE.  However you may also wish to lead your own investigation and appoint someone independent – either internally or externally to enable you as an organisation to reflect and learn at a later date.

If you would like any help or support do get in contact with us.

www.amelore.com

CHRISTMAS TIPS from the AMELORE HR HELPDESK

CHRISTMAS TIPS from the

AMELORE HR HELPDESK

At this time of year our helpdesk always gets busier. Here are some tips taken from all the queries we have answered in December for the past 3 years.

H – Holiday rules. We get lots of questions about this. The main issues are Annual leave entitlements, Employees fighting over holiday dates and Holiday approval disputes. All much more easily resolved if you have a clear policy and HR system in place to manage it. Harassment claims do rear their heads around now and are to be treated seriously.

A – Arguments just seem to increase about now. Do try and resolve informally and listen to both parties. A is also for Adults and that is generally how we want people to behave; but if you feel further investigation is needed, do one. Alcohol is something that needs managing especially if you are offering it to your staff. Provide alternatives as well and food to soak it up.

P – Pregnancy is wonderful! It leads to the creation of little humans and is to be celebrated regardless of gender. Take a festive look at your parental policies.  P is also for Promotion. Remember that a talented employee remains talented regardless of any assumption you might make about their ambitions because they are about to become a parent.

P – PARTY TIME!  Christmas party for the office can be lots of fun but also might cause a few problems; also, from the effects of attending too many! Decide what your approach is going to be by the culture you want to create.

Y – Young People under 25 are often in need of a bit more guidance at this time of year.  Unplanned absence is often a problem. Help them understand what is OK and what they must avoid.

C – Coughs and colds are rife. There are a lot of germs around at this time of year so manage absence according to any policy you have but remember no-one can prevent the lurgy. Having the goodwill of your staff is everything but so is being fair and consistent.

H – Home is a good place to be and fine for staff to be based there or work remotely. Think about whether this could become more of a thing for you in 2020. In a positive way rather than putting energy into stopping it.

R – Reward time for all that hard work. It’s the season of good will so thank whoever has helped you. Don’t forget the contractors and consultants. Everyone is a worker in your business. Resolutions to make changes at work often happen about now. Make sure you go one step further and get a plan in place.

I – Icy outside so take care and make sure avoid anyone having an accident on your premises. However, don’t stray into giving staff too much advice about how to handle ice and snow.  Other than to enjoy it! Decide what your position is if there is a snow day before you have a snow day! I is also for Image.

S –  Self-care is king. If you feel someone is frazzled or stressed and hasn’t booked holiday or isn’t looking after themselves intervene! Great companies help their staff. S is also for Stay interviews. The opposite of Exit Interviews. Do these for the people you want to keep whilst you still have them. Shutting the door after the horse is bolted is not where you want to be. To be called in and told you are part of the future is powerful.

T – Tribunals are actually quite rare. Don’t overreact if someone mentions one. It’s to trigger you into offering a settlement often. Just take good advice from a professional that doesn’t benefit from going to an ET, follow a process, know your rights and obligations.

M – Mince pies are delicious. However every day from now until Christmas Eve might just be making your workforce feel slow sluggish. Get the Satsumas in!

A – Ameliorate –meaning ‘to better or improve’ your performance review process. Lots of tech solutions out there but often un-needed. Just think about how you can have regular supportive conversations with your teams. That are two way.

S – SAR’s requests. Sorry but they spring up like mushrooms at this time of year. Often deliberately timed to run over the Christmas period. Don’t panic – you can ask for an extension but also, we really like this company who can help the process. It’s the redaction and GDPR that take time.  www.contentcaptureservices.co.uk S is also for Single. Remember that some staff struggle at this time of year which is very geared towards couple and families.

If you would like to find out more about subscribing to the Amelore HR Helpdesk for unlimited access to HR support, please email us at  office@amelore.com

 

 

 

 

Health, Safety and Wellbeing – is it possible on a tight budget?

Small and growing businesses need to keep a tight hold on their budgets if they are to get through those first critical months and years.  One cost that is sometimes forgotten or overlooked is for ensuring that your employees and workers are kept safe, healthy and well at work.  If you have more than five people working for you, you need to ensure that you comply with all of the current Health and Safety regulations.

That sounds daunting and potentially expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Now I’d never advocate cutting corners on health and safety to help with the cash flow, but there are ways and means to help your finances.  You could spend a considerable sum, and there may be some unscrupulous people out there who will scare you in to thinking that you have to; but that really doesn’t have to be the case.

Often the Health and Safety essentials needed by law aren’t as complicated as they sound, so you don’t need to be an absolute expert to put them in place and monitor them.   The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have a lot of free, helpful guidance available online and your own industry association / federation may also provide free or reasonably priced guidance too.  Essentially it will boil down to how complex and dangerous your workplace is – after all, there is a big difference between working in a small office and a nuclear power station.

Some aspects of health and safety might not cost you anything apart from staff time, as long as you already have the basic skills and knowledge in place. Examples can include ensuring that you have the required welfare facilities (eg. a toilet, wash hand basin and drinking water – hopefully things you already have?), that risk assessments and safe working procedures are in place, that staff take rest breaks and staff know what to do in the event of fire / accident / incident.  If you don’t have someone with the necessary knowledge in place already (known as a “responsible person”) you may need to get someone trained or you could buy in the expertise to get you set up.

Other aspects of health and safety will cost you some money, but these could be modest amounts and will certainly be a lot cheaper than doing nothing, only for an accident to occur later.  Examples here could include providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – such as warning or hazard signs, “high viz” wear, steel toe capped boots, gloves or safety goggles / glasses – having a basic workplace first aid kit and fire extinguishers.  As with most things in life, shopping around and comparing quality and prices is key, as it would be very easy to spend a lot of money when you really don’t always have to.

Health and Wellbeing is a growing area and has the potential to cost you nothing or an awful lot.  Keeping your employees healthy and well doesn’t have to involve expensive gym facilities or memberships.  Sometimes the most simple things can reap the biggest benefits.  Recent research has shown that employees who take even just a 15 minute lunchbreak and spend it having a short walk outside are happier, healthier and more productive than those who don’t.  That doesn’t cost you, the employer, a thing – especially bearing in mind that staff typically aren’t paid for their lunchbreaks.

The most successful and effective health and wellbeing initiatives are often simple yet still manage to catch the interest of staff.  I’ve worked in organisations where groups and activities, such as a running group or a meditation session, are run by passionate volunteers who are keen to involve their colleagues. Group activities and interaction can really help staff morale and wellbeing even if they aren’t necessarily “active”. A popular workplace choir in one of my former workplaces springs to mind…..

So even if you are feeling the pinch financially, I hope that you do recognise there is still a need to keep your staff safe, healthy and well.  It doesn’t have to cost a lot and I can guarantee that even by doing a little, it will help save you a lot more money in the long term.

Time for a lunchtime walk anyone?

Creative people need a creative support team

We have just heard that Chef Benoit Violier, whose Swiss restaurant was named the best in the world in December, has been found dead at his home.

BBC News reports that Mr Violier, 44, ran the Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville in Crissier, near the city of Lausanne.  It earned three Michelin stars and came top in France’s La Liste ranking of the world’s 1,000 best eateries.

Swiss police said Mr Violier, who was born in France, appeared to have shot himself. We can only speculate as to the reasons for Mr Violier apparently taking his own life. It is hard to keep at the top of your game especially in the hospitality industry. Sadly, his death comes some six months after that of Philippe Rochat, his mentor and predecessor at the Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville.

Working with creative people

In our business we have a creative approach to HR and work in a flexible and fluid way with many creative people including chefs.  Often our role is as much about looking after the needs of the creative individual who becomes under increasing strain the more successful their business is, as much as we support the business.

Key stressors for creative leads

  • Excessive working hours.
  • Managing investors and shareholders.
  • Managing demanding staff.
  • Having too many direct reports that are time bandits.
  • Being accountable & responsible for everything.
  • Press, PR, Marketing, HR, Payroll – requiring decisions.
  • Poor work life balance (need to attend events & lack of personal time).
  • Poor diet (yes even chefs) and lack of exercise.
  • Not working in a structured way – giving into the creative side and letting the business side back up.
  • Letting the paperwork get out of control so the paperwork starts to control.
  • Hiring and firing on a whim and getting caught up in Employment Tribunals.

Mistakes that get made

Many creative businesses are often poor at the paperwork side, and when they do realise they need to get more organised often attempt to quickly implement something that is not fit for purpose (way too complicated or generic – more suitable for a very corporate business).

Likewise many businesses will have an Office or Studio Manager or Restaurant Manager attempting to do everything from the website to contracts of employment. It’s very hard to keep control of the situation in this way; and the stress levels!

What works well

We work with businesses in a variety of ways from retained to ad hoc.  In businesses with a strong creative lead we find attending regularly is key so we can pick up what is going on and head off any issues quickly.  Being external helps as does paring back all the paperwork to a core. So everyone understands it and there aren’t long winded staff handbooks that no-one dusts down until there is an ET.

At Amelore we simply don’t do ET’s.  Our approach is one of pragmatisim, commerciality and flexibility.

Give us a call on 01453 548070 or visit our website if you’d like to find out more.

Planning your Christmas party – don’t let it all go wrong

Whilst we appreciate that some will say that it is “only” November and therefore too early for a festive article, our local council has started decorating the town with Christmas trees and fairy lights and so, as far as we are concerned, the festive countdown is on!

A recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) case of MBNA Limited v Jones (UK EAT / 0120/15/MC) is a good example of a staff night out gone wrong.

The Background Facts

MBNA Ltd (the “Bank”) hosted a corporate event to celebrate its 20th anniversary. All staff were told that it was a work event and that normal standards of behaviour and conduct would apply and any misbehaviour would be subject to the Bank’s procedures and guidelines.

An employee called Mr Jones (the “Claimant”) together with other employees had started drinking prior to the event. At an early stage of the evening, the Claimant was kneed in the back of his leg by another employee to which the Claimant responded by licking his fellow employee’s face. Onlookers considered the incident to be no more than “fun / banter”.

Later in the evening the Claimant was again kneed in the leg and at this stage the Claimant punched his fellow employee in the face. The corporate event then ended and the night continued with some employees going to a local nightclub. While the Claimant was inside the nightclub, his fellow employee waited outside and sent the Claimant a number of text messages threatening to (inter alia) “rip your ******* head off”.  However no further incident did in fact occur.

The Bank conducted a disciplinary investigation and brought charges against both the Claimant and the other employee. The Claimant was charged with, among other things, punching his colleague and behaviour which could harm the reputation of the Bank.

The Claimant claimed self-defence however he was was dismissed. His colleague, however, was not and received a final written warning in circumstances where it was found that the inappropriate text messages were made as an immediate response to the Claimant hitting him.

The Claimant brought a claim for unfair dismissal, arguing that he had been subject to inconsistent treatment which was unreasonable. The Employment Judge agreed with the Claimant and found the dismissal to be unfair.  The matter was thereafter appealed to the EAT.

The EAT overturned the Employment Tribunal’s decision. In particular, the EAT noted that the Employment Judge had not, when considering any argument on disparity, expressly drawn a distinction between a deliberate punch in the face at what was designated to be a workplace and a threat afterwards that was never carried out.

Lessons Learned

This case is but one further example in a body of case law which has arisen as a result of behaviour and acts committed at social events and/or Christmas parties which are considered to be an extension of the workplace. It is most definitely the season to be jolly and whilst an employer can’t always stop bad behaviour, induced by alcohol or general festive exuberance, it can manage the expectations of staff so that everyone knows the standards of conduct that will be expected from employees at work social events and the consequences if these are not maintained.

While it may be too early to wish readers a Merry Christmas, planning the office Christmas party should act as a timely reminder to employers to ensure that company disciplinary, harassment and discrimination policies are in force and up to date.

And that everyone understands that they are bound by them. No matter how senior.

Have a wonderful party.

Sports Direct – not the place for the unfit

ambulance_1817580bIf I was the CEO of Sport’s Direct, I would be arranging a swift overview of HR practices after the undesirable press today following a BBC investigation.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the East Midlands ambulance service were called to the head office more than 76 times in two years, for some workers with what was described as ‘life threatening conditions’.

It is apparent that Sports Direct have relationships with recruitment agencies that operate a 6 strike policy for temporary staff. According to this policy, workers can receive a strike for a range of “offences” including:

  • Periods of reported sickness
  • Excessive chatting
  • Excessive or long toilet breaks
  • Using a mobile phone in the warehouse

A document produced by one of the agencies stated that they can end an assignment “at any time without reason, notice or liability”. The article reports that “Former workers said some staff were “too scared” to take sick leave because they feared losing their jobs.”

Unite commented in the BBC article today that it had been told that last year there were about 3,000 agency workers at the Shirebrook headquarters of Sports Direct on zero-hour contracts.

A further 75% of staff across its UK stores are also on zero-hour contracts, with Sports Direct accounting for a fifth of all such contracts in the retail sector, according to Unite.

Sports Direct has also reported accidents in its warehouse have doubled in the past financial year.

Amelore comment

Whilst managing sickness absence is key for any employer it is important that any incentive practices don’t encourage workers to attend work if feeling unwell. This can result in the serious situations that have required ambulance attention that could perhaps have been avoided – ambulances that could be needed elsewhere threatening the health of others.

One should always take care that any practices comply with the Equality Act and that organisations are certain that the reason for absence is not linked to a disability.

We are aware of a primary school Head teacher who has implemented a policy of non-uniform day once a month for all children that have had 100% attendance. The ones that have had even 1 day off, are publically identified because they have to by wear full school uniform.

Naming and shaming young children who don’t decide for themselves whether they are well enough to attend is an extremely poor practice.

Sports Direct’s HR Director, CEO and H&S lead would do well to listen to their workers and union representatives and make some changes to their working practices to ensure any preventive accidents or health problems are prevented NOW.

 

Flu have got to be serious!

It’s that time of year when GP surgeries and private health organisations are promoting flu jabs. We often get asked about the benefit of flu jabs and what impact, if any, does the injection have on sickness absence in the workplace.

Flu marketing

Why bother?

Minor illnesses (such as flu) accounted for 27.4 million lost working days in the UK economy in 2013. This is 30% of all sickness absences in the same year, which is by far the most common reason given. A survey carried out by the Co-operative Group in 2010 found that a total of 7.6 million working days are lost each year in the UK specifically because of flu, costing the British economy £1.35bn.

It is usual for an individual with flu to take up to 5 days absence from work and it is estimated that sickness absence causes by flu costs an employer £522 per employee.

A review of 55 case studies found that there were immediate and financial benefits from wellbeing interventions found in a number of cases across all sectors and business sizes (Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2008).

One example of this was an NHS organisation, where a voluntary flu immunisation programme for staff led to two fewer working days absence among those who were immunised. In monetary terms, over two years the benefit of this programme was 9.2 times the cost: good health was found to be good business for employers.

Vaccination really can work. A workforce can reduce lost work days by up to 45% during an outbreak of flu.

NHS Hospital staff in South Tyneside are preparing for the impending winter by getting their flu jabs.  The Trust has trained ‘flu champions’ to help its occupational health department deliver the campaign at South Tyneside District Hospital and at community health venues in Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

Dr Bob Brown, executive director of nursing and patient safety, said: “The flu vaccine is the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus which can cause severe illness and deaths among at-risk groups, including older people, pregnant women and those with a health condition – even one that is well-managed.

More about Flu vaccinations

Flu vaccination by injection, commonly known as the “flu jab” is available every year on the NHS to protect adults (and some children) at risk of flu and its complications.

Whilst Influenza or Flu can be unpleasant, if you are otherwise healthy it will usually clear up on its own within a week. However, flu can be more severe in certain people, such as:

  • anyone aged 65 and over
  • pregnant women
  • children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or respiratory disease)
  • children and adults with weakened immune systems such as those without a spleen etc

Anyone in these risk groups is more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia (a lung infection), so it’s recommended that they have a flu vaccine every year to protect them.

The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS as an annual injection to:

  • adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone aged 65 and over)
  • children aged six months to two years at risk of flu

But does it work?

Last winter it emerged that the seasonal flu vaccine used offered barely any cover against the main strain of flu encountered in the UK. Mutations in the HA molecule on one of the most common circulating strains, H3N2, meant that the seasonal flu vaccine offered little protection. Public Health England said in February that the less effective vaccine was likely to have been behind a steep rise in flu deaths.

Ministers are urging people not to be put off by failures of the flu vaccine last year. They say those who qualify for a free jab, or spray for children, should take up the offer this winter as it still offers the most effective cover against flu.

Dr Hugh van’t Hoff, GP, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire and Lead for Facts4life commented “Vaccination is one of the triumphs of modern medicine. It has a very good safety record and provides a way of alerting the immune system about dangerous illnesses.”

What is the future?

A universal flu vaccine that protects against multiple strains of the virus is a step closer after scientists created experimental jabs that work in animals.

The vaccines prevented deaths or reduced symptoms in mice, ferrets and monkeys infected with different types of flu, raising hopes for a reliable alternative to the seasonal vaccine.

Doctors hope that a universal flu vaccine would do away with the need for people at risk to have flu jabs every year, and even protect the public from dangerous, potentially pandemic, strains that jump from birds or pigs into humans.

Conventional flu vaccines target the “head” of a molecule called haemagglutinin (HA) that sits on the surface of flu viruses. But because the head of the HA mutates so rapidly, seasonal flu vaccines must be continually re-formulated to ensure they are effective.

Health and Wellbeing strategies

Many employers recognize the benefit of proactive wellbeing strategies. Even if they are not arranging for an in-house vaccination program they are reimbursing employees who get this done privately. Moneysavingexpert has an up to date .