Real Steps Employers Can Take for Women in the Workplace

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Inspire Inclusion’.  It’s crucial to move beyond mere recognition and delve into real actions that truly support women in the workplace.

While highlighting success stories of women is important, it’s arguably more important to address systemic barriers and create an environment where women can thrive every day. Here are some tangible ways employers can make a meaningful difference:

  • Flexible Role Design: Embrace flexibility in job roles and keep requirements concise. Women are put off applying for roles unless they meet almost all of the criteria. The less criteria the more likely they are to apply.
  • Gender-Inclusive Language: Think about using a Gender Language Decoder to ensure your organisation is using inclusive language.
  • Combat Unconscious Bias: Address unconscious bias in your processes by promoting awareness and implementing unbiased evaluation criteria.
  • Diverse Interview Panels: Foster diversity in interview panels to minimise bias and offer varied perspectives during candidate assessment.
  • Salary Consideration: Avoid basing offers on a candidate’s current salary. Instead, offer competitive compensation based on the role’s worth and industry standards.
  • Accessible Training Opportunities: Ensure training programs are accessible to all employees, accommodating diverse needs including caregiving responsibilities.
  • Leverage Apprenticeships: Engage with apprenticeship programs to broaden access to careers, particularly for underrepresented groups.
  • Objective Salary Bands: Implement transparent salary bands based on job roles, performance, and market standards to mitigate wage gaps.
  • Gender Pay Gap Reporting: Consider regular reporting and internal publication of gender pay gap data to hold the organization accountable for progress, whether this is a statutory requirement or not.
  • Enhanced Parental Leave: Offer inclusive parental leave policies, promoting shared parental responsibilities and supporting work-life balance.
  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Implement flexible working policies to accommodate diverse needs and enhance employee satisfaction.

These actions go beyond symbolic gestures, signalling a genuine commitment to fostering an inclusive workplace where all individuals, regardless of sex, can thrive. International Women’s Day serves as a reminder not just to celebrate women’s achievements, but to actively dismantle barriers and create a more equitable future for all. Let’s strive for progress that transcends a single day and becomes ingrained in the fabric of organisational culture.

This blog was written by Alice McEvoy, HR Business Partner at Optimal HR. If you would like any support with reviewing any policies to become more inclusive or would like advice and guidance on your Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy or strategy, please call us today on 0330 0881857 and we’ll be happy to help!


Understanding Settlement Agreements in UK Employment Law

In the intricate world of UK employment law, a settlement agreement, also formally referred to as a compromise agreement, stands as a legally binding contract that typically comes into existence between an employer and an employee. This agreement serves as a blueprint, delineating the terms and conditions under which an employee consents to relinquish their right to pursue specific employment-related claims against their employer in exchange for certain benefits.

Critical elements of settlement agreements:

Understanding a Fair Settlement Agreement: A fair and equitable settlement agreement is one that delivers a just and acceptable resolution for both parties involved. It typically encompasses various components, including:

  1. Fair Compensation: Often, this involves a lump-sum payment to the employee, which may encompass notice periods, redundancy pay, and other entitlements.
  2. Reference: The agreement may specify the nature of the reference the employer will provide for the employee in future job applications.
  3. Confidentiality Clause: Commonly, settlement agreements feature clauses mandating both parties to uphold the agreement and its terms in strict confidence.
  4. Non-Disparagement Clause: This clause serves to prevent both parties from making disparaging or detrimental statements about one another.

To ensure both fairness and legality within a settlement agreement, it is advisable for both parties to seek legal counsel. This brings us to the following question:

Do Employers Bear The Cost Of Legal Settlement Agreements? Legally, employers are not obligated to cover the legal expenses of employees seeking advice concerning settlement agreements. Nonetheless, many employers opt to contribute to or fully cover these costs as part of the negotiation process. Securing legal advice is indispensable for employees to comprehend the implications of the agreement and safeguard their rights.

Do I Require a Solicitor for a Settlement Agreement? Indeed, it is imperative to engage an independent legal advisor, such as a solicitor, when entering into a settlement agreement. A solicitor specialising in employment law can furnish you with essential counsel regarding the fairness and favourability of the proposed terms. They can also assist in negotiating improved terms, if necessary.

What Occurs if I Decline a Settlement Offer? Should you decline a settlement offer, you retain your prerogative to pursue legal action against your employer. Rejecting an offer does not immediately imperil your employment, but it may lead to subsequent negotiations or potential legal proceedings. It is of paramount importance to meticulously evaluate the offer and consult with a legal expert prior to making a decision.

Is a Settlement Agreement a Prudent Choice? The wisdom of entering into a settlement agreement hinges on your unique circumstances. Such an agreement can proffer advantages such as a swift resolution, financial compensation, and the avoidance of protracted legal battles. Conversely, it entails relinquishing the right to bring certain claims before an employment tribunal. Before making a determination, it is crucial to confer with an experienced employment law solicitor who can furnish personalised counsel tailored to your situation.

In summation, settlement agreements wield substantial significance in the realm of UK employment law, offering a mechanism for employers and employees to amicably resolve disputes. If you are contemplating a settlement agreement, getting legal advice is paramount to guarantee that the terms are equitable and advantageous.

If you require expert guidance, you can reach out to our Employment Solicitor Matthew Brain here at Optimal HR to obtain professional assistance custom-tailored to your specific needs. We are committed to supporting you in addressing workplace issues, including unfair dismissal and discrimination.

Blog written by Mel Stead FCIPD, Managing Director of Optimal HR Services who has 30 years’ experience in HR and employment law matters.

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

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Managing Workplace Relationships

Let’s talk about something that affects every one of us in the workplace: relationships. We’re not talking about your coffee break chat or watercooler gossip. We’re diving deep into the importance of having a policy for interpersonal relationships at work, especially in the UK. With ITV recently issuing new relationship guidance stating that all personal relationships – romantic or otherwise – should be declared what does your business need to have in place to create a harmonious, safe, and inclusive work environment for everyone? And how do you get the balance right between employees right to a personal life, and ensuring that this doesn’t lead to problems at work?

Things to consider:

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t just be a buzzword; and there’s more and more focus on embedding this in workplace culture. Having a clear policy ensures that everyone is treated equally and with respect and minimises the potential for claims for less favourable treatment and discrimination.

Dignity at Work

Nobody should feel uncomfortable, humiliated, or degraded at work. A well-defined interpersonal relationship policy reinforces the importance of maintaining dignity and respect in all interactions. It provides guidelines on how to address and report issues if anyone feels their dignity is compromised, and makes it clear that unwanted and inappropriate behaviours are unacceptable in the workplace.


Harassment, in any form, is unacceptable. UK law is very clear on this, and your workplace policy should be too. If interpersonal relationships end, or are going through challenges, or an individuals is pursuing a relationship that is unwanted it can be difficult to avoid it impacting the work place. Your policy should define what constitutes harassment and outline the procedures for reporting it. It also should ensure that those who report harassment are protected from retaliation, regardless of any relationship – past or present.

Communication Channels

Emails, chats, and work phones are part of our daily work life, and it’s easy for people to blur the lines between personal and professional when using these platforms. Your workplace policy should emphasise using these channels responsibly. That doesn’t mean no ‘chat’ but should be clear that messages should not be inappropriate or offensive. Remember, written words can leave a lasting digital footprint.

Perceived Power Balance

Relationships between managers and subordinates need special attention. It’s vital to avoid any favouritism or misuse of power, real or perceived. A good policy should provide guidelines on these relationships, such as disclosure requirements and how this type of situation can be mitigated.

So, why does all of this matter?

A Harmonious Workplace

Having a clear policy helps to maintain harmony in the workplace. When everyone knows the rules, they’re more likely to follow them, creating a positive atmosphere for all.

Legal Compliance

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Remember, an employer has the responsibility to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination. Having a well written and clearly communicated policy makes it clear that this is taken seriously and that all employees are aware of what is considered appropriate – and inappropriate.

Employee Wellbeing

When relationships in the workplace are healthy, employees feel valued and secure. This boosts their morale, job satisfaction, and productivity.

Inclusive Culture

Embracing diversity and inclusion isn’t just about ticking boxes. It’s about creating an environment where everyone feels welcome and respected.

A clear policy on interpersonal relationships in the workplace is becoming more and more relevant. It’s not just a set of rules; it’s a reflection of your values and commitment to making the workplace a better place for everyone.

So, if you need any assistance, whether that’s support dealing with existing interpersonal issues, or with creating and implementing a policy that works for your business, call us today on 0330 0881857. Together, we can create a workplace culture that’s truly inclusive and respectful.

Blog written by Alice McEvoy, HR Business Partner at Optimal HR Services

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

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How To Deal With Internal Politics At Work

Dealing with internal politics at work can be challenging, but here are some general tips that can help you navigate such situations in the organisation that you work in:

  1. Understand the dynamics: Take the time to observe and understand the political landscape within your workplace. Identify key players, alliances, and power structures. This awareness will help you anticipate potential issues and make informed decisions.
  2. Stay neutral: It’s essential to maintain a neutral position and avoid taking sides. Refrain from engaging in gossip or spreading rumors. Focus on your work and maintain professionalism, treating everyone with respect and fairness.
  3. Build positive relationships: Cultivate positive relationships with colleagues across different departments and levels of the organisation. This can help create a network of allies and supporters who can provide guidance, information, and potentially advocate for you when needed.
  4. Focus on your performance: One of the best ways to counter internal politics is to excel in your job. Concentrate on delivering high-quality work, meeting deadlines, and achieving targets. Demonstrating competence and professionalism can help you gain credibility and mitigate the impact of office politics on your career.
  5. Communicate effectively: Develop strong communication skills to ensure your message is clear and understood. Practice active listening and seek to understand different perspectives. When conflicts arise, address them directly and professionally, emphasising problem-solving rather than blaming individuals.
  6. Be politically savvy: While you should strive to stay neutral, you also need to be aware of the political landscape and potential challenges that may arise. Be cautious about sharing sensitive information, understand the implications of your actions, and anticipate potential consequences before making decisions.
  7. Seek advice from mentors: Identify mentors or trusted colleagues who have experience navigating office politics. Seek their guidance and advice on how to handle specific situations. They can provide valuable insights and help you develop effective strategies.
  8. Document important interactions: In case conflicts escalate or misunderstandings arise, it can be beneficial to keep a record of relevant conversations and events. Having documentation can provide evidence if needed and help protect your interests.
  9. Maintain a healthy work-life balance: Office politics can be mentally and emotionally draining. It’s crucial to maintain a healthy work-life balance and engage in activities outside of work that bring you joy and relaxation. Taking care of your well-being will help you stay resilient in challenging situations.

Remember, every workplace is unique, and the strategies that work in one environment may not be as effective in another. Adapt these tips to fit your specific circumstances and use your judgment to determine the best course of action.

Blog written by Mel Stead, Managing Director of Optimal HR Services

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

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How To Manage Difficult Conversations In The Workplace

Difficult conversations are a part of any workplace. Whether it’s delivering negative feedback, addressing a conflict or discussing sensitive topics, these conversations can be uncomfortable and challenging to navigate. However, with the right approach, difficult conversations can be managed effectively, leading to positive outcomes for all parties involved. In this blog, we will explore some tips on how to manage a difficult conversation in the workplace.

  • Prepare

Before having a difficult conversation, it’s important to prepare yourself. Take time to plan what you want to say, how you want to say it, and anticipate potential reactions from the other party. This can help you to stay calm and focused during the conversation.

  • Choose the Right Time and Place

Choosing the right time and place for a difficult conversation is important. It’s best to choose a private setting where both parties can speak openly and without interruption. It’s also important to choose a time when both parties are free from distractions and can give their full attention to the conversation.

  • Use Active Listening

Active listening is an important skill when managing difficult conversations. It involves listening to the other person’s point of view, acknowledging their feelings, and responding appropriately. It’s important to avoid interrupting, judging, or dismissing their perspective, as this can escalate the situation.

  • Stay Calm and Professional

It’s important to remain calm and professional during a difficult conversation. This can help to de-escalate the situation and maintain a respectful dialogue. It’s also important to avoid getting defensive or emotional, as this can undermine the conversation and make it more difficult to resolve.

  • Focus on the Issues, not the Person

When having a difficult conversation, it’s important to focus on the issues, not the person. This means avoiding personal attacks or criticisms and instead focusing on the specific behavior or situation that needs to be addressed. This can help to keep the conversation objective and avoid escalating emotions.

  • Explore Solutions

The purpose of a difficult conversation is to resolve a problem or issue. It’s important to explore solutions that are acceptable to both parties. This may involve compromising or finding creative solutions that meet the needs of all parties involved.

In conclusion, managing difficult conversations in the workplace requires preparation, active listening, staying calm and professional, focusing on the issues, and exploring solutions. By following these tips, employers can navigate difficult conversations effectively, leading to positive outcomes for all parties involved.

Blog written by Mel Stead, Managing Director of Optimal HR Services

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

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Managing Redundancies In The Workplace

Redundancies can be a difficult process to manage in the workplace. They can cause disruption and distress to the existing staff and can mean difficult decisions must be made by management. However, with the right guidance and support, a redundancy process can be managed successfully. The following steps can help to maximize the effectiveness of managing redundancies in the workplace.

1. Analyze the Situation: When a redundancy is necessary, management should begin by thoroughly analyzing the situation. This should include a review of the existing workforce to determine the potential risks and any potential legal implications involved. This analysis should also provide guidance on who will be affected by the redundancies, when they should take effect, and any other details relevant to the situation.

2. Create a Strategy: Once the redundancies have been identified, management should create a comprehensive strategy to manage them. This should include a timeline for when the redundancies will take effect, an effective method of communication, and a plan for how to ensure that all employees are treated fairly throughout the process.

3. Provide Clear & Transparent Communication: Transparency is essential when it comes to managing redundancies in the workplace. Employees should be clearly informed of any changes in their roles and any other details pertinent to their future. Doing so will allow them to prepare for changes ahead of time and provide an opportunity for them to raise any concerns that they may have.

4. Offer Support: While it is important to provide employees with clear communication, it is also important to provide them with the necessary support and resources to help them through the transition. This could include providing access to career guidance, financial advice and other resources that can help employees as they transition from their current role. Additionally, management should be willing to provide a listening ear and address any concerns that employees may have.

5. Follow Up: Once the redundancies have taken effect, it is important to follow up with those affected and ensure that they have the support they need. Management should check in with employees after the redundancies have taken effect and monitor their progress as they transition to their new roles.

Redundancies can be a difficult process to manage in the workplace, but with the right guidance and support it can be managed effectively. By following the five steps outlined above, management can ensure that the redundancy process is managed in the most effective and dignified way possible.

Blog written by Mel Stead, Managing Director of Optimal HR.

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

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What To Do When An Employee Is Off Work With Stress

When an employee is off with stress, it can be a challenging and stressful situation for both the employee and their employer. In this blog, we will explore what to do when an employee is off with stress to ensure that they receive the necessary support and to minimize the impact on the business.

  • Contact the Employee

The first step when an employee is off with stress is to contact them to express your concern and to let them know that you are there to support them. It’s important to approach the situation with empathy and to listen to the employee’s needs and concerns.

  • Discuss a Return to Work Plan

Once the employee feels ready to return to work, it’s important to discuss a return to work plan that is tailored to their needs. This may involve adjustments to their workload, working hours, or working environment. It’s important to ensure that the plan is realistic and achievable, taking into account the employee’s needs and limitations.

  • Provide Support

Providing support to an employee off with stress is crucial to their recovery. This can include providing access to counseling or other mental health services, offering flexible working arrangements, and ensuring that they feel supported and valued in the workplace.

  • Maintain Regular Communication

Maintaining regular communication with the employee is important to ensure that they feel supported and to monitor their progress. This can involve regular check-ins, meetings with their manager or HR, and ensuring that they have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities.

  • Review and Monitor the Situation

It’s important to review and monitor the situation regularly to ensure that the employee’s needs are being met and that they are making progress. This may involve making adjustments to the return to work plan, providing additional support or making other accommodations.

In conclusion, when an employee is off with stress, it’s important to approach the situation with empathy and to provide the necessary support to ensure their recovery. This involves discussing a tailored return to work plan, providing support, maintaining regular communication, and reviewing and monitoring the situation regularly. By taking these steps, employers can support their employees and minimise the impact on the business.

Blog written by Mel Stead, Managing Director of Optimal HR Services

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

Call us on 0330 0881857 or email enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk

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Causes and Signs of Poor Mental Health

Poor mental health is a widespread issue that affects millions of people around the world. It can manifest in different ways and can impact a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. In this blog, we will explore what poor mental health is, its common causes, and how it can be managed.

What is Poor Mental Health?

Mental health refers to a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It impacts how we feel, think, and behave in our daily lives. Poor mental health occurs when a person experiences mental health issues that negatively impact their ability to function effectively. This can include conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorders, among others.

Common Causes of Poor Mental Health

Poor mental health can arise from a variety of factors, including biological, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Some common causes of poor mental health include:

  1. Trauma – Experiencing a traumatic event such as abuse, neglect, or violence can lead to poor mental health outcomes.
  2. Genetics – Some mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be inherited.
  3. Chemical imbalances – A chemical imbalance in the brain can contribute to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
  4. Substance abuse – Substance abuse can lead to poor mental health outcomes, such as addiction and depression.
  5. Social isolation – Social isolation and loneliness can lead to poor mental health outcomes, particularly in older adults.

Managing Poor Mental Health

Poor mental health can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. However, there are steps that individuals can take to manage poor mental health, including:

  1. Seeking professional help – Talking to a mental health professional can provide support, guidance, and treatment for poor mental health outcomes.
  2. Practicing self-care – Engaging in activities that promote physical and emotional well-being, such as exercise, meditation, and spending time with loved ones, can help manage poor mental health.
  3. Building a support network – Building a support network of friends, family, and other trusted individuals can provide emotional support and help manage stress.
  4. Managing stress – Practicing stress management techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques, can help manage poor mental health outcomes.

In conclusion, poor mental health is a common issue that can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. It can arise from various factors, including genetics, trauma, chemical imbalances, substance abuse, and social isolation. However, there are steps individuals can take to manage poor mental health, such as seeking professional help, practicing self-care, building a support network, and managing stress. It’s essential to prioritize mental health and seek help when needed to promote overall well-being and a better quality of life.

Blog written by Mel Stead, Managing Director of Optimal HR Services and Trustee of Unmasked Mental Health

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

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The importance of a good night’s sleep – WORLD SLEEP DAY – 17TH MARCH 2023

Sleep is essential for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It’s a natural process that allows our bodies and brains to rest, repair, and recharge. Unfortunately, many of us underestimate the importance of sleep and neglect to get enough of it. Poor sleep habits can have a significant impact on our health and quality of life. In this blog, we’ll explore some of the ways that poor sleep can affect us.

  1. Reduced cognitive function

One of the most significant impacts of poor sleep is a decrease in cognitive function. Lack of sleep can impair attention, memory, and decision-making abilities. It can also affect our reaction time, making it more challenging to process information quickly and accurately. This can be particularly problematic in situations where we need to be alert, such as driving or operating machinery.

  1. Mood disturbances

Poor sleep has also been linked to mood disturbances, such as irritability, anxiety, and depression. Sleep helps regulate our emotions and manage stress. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies produce more stress hormones, which can contribute to these negative emotions.

  1. Weakened immune system

Sleep is essential for our immune system to function correctly. During sleep, our bodies produce cytokines, which are essential for fighting off infections and inflammation. If we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies may not produce enough cytokines, leaving us more susceptible to illness.

  1. Weight gain

Poor sleep has also been linked to weight gain. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies produce more of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger, and less of the hormone leptin, which signals fullness. This can lead to overeating and weight gain over time.

  1. Increased risk of chronic diseases

Poor sleep has been linked to an increased risk of several chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. This is likely due to the impact poor sleep has on our immune system, metabolism, and cardiovascular health.

  1. Impaired physical performance

Finally, poor sleep can also impair physical performance. Lack of sleep can affect our coordination, reaction time, and endurance, making it more challenging to exercise or perform physical tasks.

In conclusion, poor sleep can have a significant impact on our health and quality of life. It’s essential to prioritize sleep and establish healthy sleep habits to ensure we get the rest we need to function at our best. Some tips for improving sleep include sticking to a regular sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and ensuring our sleep environment is comfortable and conducive to sleep. With a little effort and attention to our sleep habits, we can reap the benefits of good-quality sleep and enjoy better health and well-being.

Blog is written by Mel Stead, Managing Director, Optimal HR Services

National Minimum Wage Increases From 1st April

The rates for the national minimum wage will increase on 1 April 2023. The hourly rate of the minimum wage will increase from:

  • £9.50 to £10.42 for workers aged 23 and over (the national living wage);
  • £9.18 to £10.18 for workers aged 21 or 22;
  • £6.83 to £7.49 for workers aged 18 to 20;
  • £4.81 to £5.28 for workers aged under 18 who are no longer of compulsory school age; and
  • £4.81 to £5.28 for apprentices under 19, or over 19 and in the first year of the apprenticeship.

Employers should check their pay rates against the forthcoming minimum wage rates and ensure that, where necessary, they increase remuneration for the first pay reference period beginning on or after 1 April 2023.

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