Stress More Common Than The Common Cold 
For the first time since the survey began 12 years ago, stress is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence for employees, according to this year’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Simplyhealth Absence Management survey.

Apparently most of the stress is caused by worries about job losses, with particularly acute stress levels in the public sector, where half of employers reported an increase in stress-related absence over the past year.

Other causes of stress are tougher workloads, having a ‘bad’ boss and money worries leading to problems at home. All these add to a “vicious circle” of workers’ woes according to the survey.

However, the report praised many workplaces for increasing their focus on worker wellbeing despite squeezed budgets. Counselling services were being offered by almost three-quarters of the 592 employers surveyed.

But CIPD adviser Jill Miller seized on evidence of the downturn's repercussions for mental health to urge employers to do more to reassure nervous staff.

"Stress is a particular challenge in the public sector where the sheer amount of major change and restructuring would appear to be the root cause," she said.

For manual workers stress is now level with acute medical conditions as a cause of absence and has overtaken musculoskeletal problems to become the main cause of long-term absence.

UK employers estimate that they lose an average £673 per employee per year because of time away from work for reasons ranging from serious illness to stress and family responsibilities, according to the report.

David Frost, the former head of the British Chambers of Commerce, is leading a review for the Government on what the country can do to reduce absence rates. The review was commissioned as part of the Government’s drive to create the right conditions for economic growth.

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B2B Companies Lack Social Media Skills 
According to a survey conducted by PwC, B2B companies know that they need a social media strategy but are not spending their money in the right places, effectively wasting millions.

Despite investing financially in social media, to the tune of over £1m, fewer than 12 per cent of the companies surveyed have full time social media teams in place and those that do are not backing this up with clear strategies to their staff on how to use it.

Sean Mahdi, director in PwC’s digtal transformation group, says that B2B companies should follow the example of B2C companies, which are using social media much more effectively and profitably.

"The results of our survey demonstrate that, although B2B is investing in social media, they appear to be doing so with limited strategies that don’t fully exploit social media in the way that B2C is doing, There is evidence that sectors you might expect to be proficient in this area such as Technology and Entertainment and Media have much better tools and processes in place, but the majority of B2B organisations have much work to do to effectively use this 'new' medium to interact with their clients and customers."

The report also discusses how social media can be used not only to drive sales but also to create brand loyalty and a two-way channel of communication between the business and its customers.

"As embracing social media represents a significant change to the way in which many organisations interact with their customers, a social media strategy is essential. Becoming a social business requires insight ... about your customers, about what your brand stands for; and about the additional value that you can provide your customers through social media engagement," Mahdi added.

However, some of the more cautious business advisers criticise the use of social media as a strategy to drive sales because of its lack of accountability.

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Agency Workers Gaining Additional Rights 
New legislation coming into force on Saturday will see agency workers gaining additional rights in pay and benefits.

Agency workers will be entitled to similar rights to permanent staff, as of October 1, after they have completed 12 weeks of service in a temporary job role.

These include pay, overtime, shift allowances, holiday pay and bonuses attributable to individual performance, as well as maternity rights.

The rules are being brought in after long negotiations between unions and the Government.

Stefan Martin, an employment lawyer with law firm Allen & Overy, said: "It won't give them equal rights in terms of protection from dismissal."

"What it is going to give them is equal rights in relation to pay and other basic employment rights.

"It's going to be extra basic pay, [and] extra shift allowances potentially, where those workers are not paid at the same level as the equivalent permanent employee.”

Various legal protections are already in place for agency workers, which include the minimum wage and basic holiday rights. However, under the new European rules, agency workers will also be entitled to the use of the same facilities as staff.

From the first day of employment, they can use a creche, canteen or transport services. They will also be entitled to information about internal vacancies at the company they are working for, and to be given the opportunity to apply for them.

Business groups suggest the new rules will cost firms up to £2bn a year, with concern that the new legislation will lead to more red tape for already struggling small firms who depend on agency workers.

There have also been fears that some agency workers will simply be laid-off after 11 weeks so they do not benefit from the increased rights.

Agency workers, however, will not be entitled to all the same benefits, such as occupational sick pay, redundancy pay and health insurance.

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Don’t Cut Lending, Cut Bonuses 
The Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee (FPC), the financial sector’s new super-regulator, yesterday advised banks to cut their dividends and bonuses in order to strengthen their balance sheets.

Following its second quarterly meeting, the FPC, which is due to take over from the Financial Services Authority, released the statement yesterday which also warned about the eurozone crisis being a risk to the financial stability of the UK.

The minutes from the FPC meeting recommended that banks "strengthen their levels of capital and liquidity so as to increase their capacity to absorb flexibly any future shocks, without constraining lending to the wider economy." It also stated that these efforts should include "ensuring that discretionary distributions reflected any reduction in profits".

The FPC also advised that banks should allow their capital ratios to run down in the event of an overseas financial shock, rather than attempt to protect their buffers by cutting lending.

However the Bank of England’s quarterly Credit Conditions Survey showed signs that the squeeze on domestic UK borrowers continues.

The survey said that the supply of secured credit to households increased slightly in the three months to September, however, lending to businesses remained low. And the findings also led the Bank of England to warn that “adverse wholesale funding conditions” might restrict future lending to the British economy.

In its statement, the FPC also suggested that it will need regulatory tools to carry out its works on ensuring financial stability in the UK. These would include powers to set maximum leverage ratios for banks and the authority to dictate maximum loan-to-value ratios on mortgage lending.

The FPC, which is chaired by the Bank of England's Governor, Sir Mervyn King, is currently an advisory body but it will gain formal powers once legislation, presently before Parliament, is passed.

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UK Not In Favour of EU Financial Tax Proposals  
A financial tax has been proposed by the European Commission, but the UK has said it will “resist” the financial transaction tax on EU members.

Under the proposals, the financial tax would be levied at a rate of 0.1 percent on all transactions between institutions when at least one party is based in the EU. The tax would raise about 57 billion euros a year and would begin from the start of 2014.

A spokesman for the UK Treasury said it would “absolutely resist” any tax that was not introduced globally.

“We would not do anything that is not in the UK's interests," the spokesman said.

In order to be implemented across the EU, the tax would need to be approved by the UK. But the commission said if the UK did not give the tax approval then it would look to having it implemented across the eurozone instead.

Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said Europe was facing its “greatest challenge” and banks must "make a contribution".

The commission said the tax was “to ensure that the financial sector makes a fair contribution at a time of fiscal consolidation in the member states".

It also said that financial firms were “under-taxed” compared with other sectors, and that they had played a role in the current “economic crisis”.

The commission also stated that the "significant additional revenue" raised would contribute to public finances.

City of London officials have said that about 80 percent of the revenues of any Europe-wide financial tax would come from London.


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