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New Way Of Working


From today SOHAS is moving to a telephone based advice service.

If you live or work in Sheffield and you want some advice on a work and health issue, please go to our website and click on the Ask the Expert tab to send a message or ring us on 0114 2755760.

If you have been in touch with our service before, please email the adviser who gave you advice or ring on 0114 2755760 and we will arrange for the adviser to get in touch with you and give you advice over the phone.




Caffeine and Productivity

Caffeine, the world’s most commonly used drug; be it through coffee, tea or energy drinks. As someone whose coffee consumption can only be described as an aberration; having since stepped into the realm of the workplace, my consumption of coffee hit an all time high. A coffee every hour at work was becoming a regular occurrence. After initial consumption I found I was more alert, focused and motivated. However, a few hours after the last cup, I noticed a gradual decline in those areas of cognitive function in addition to feeling ‘jittery’ and overly tired. Excessive consumption has been increasingly prominent in society today and is deeply instilled among the culture of work, where 54% of caffeine intake is derived from coffee [1].

Generally, caffeine has proven to improve memory and cognitive function. Regular coffee drinking may well in fact improve focus, alertness and productivity. However, as with all stimulant drugs our bodies build up a tolerance and therefore, in order to achieve the same effect, we must consume more. This also means temporary withdrawal symptoms will be introduced once we stop fueling ourselves with caffeine. This can range from headaches to substantial changes in our sleeping patterns. Consuming limited quantities can provide us with the boost we may need but having too much can exacerbate problems such as anxiety. Personally, I found this to be mitigating my performance later in the day when I had tasks to complete outside of work. This meant I was drinking more to keep my productivity levels consistent for a longer duration meaning when it came to when I needed to sleep, I was either still wide awake or slightly anxious. Reduction in your hours of sleep are indicative that caffeine taken six hours before initial sleep can have a huge disruptive influence on the sleep cycle [2] meaning the next day I was more tired and therefore in desire of more caffeine to function throughout my working day.

Moving onto energy drinks, Red Bull being the most popular among a younger demographic. Despite the consensus, coffee tends to have more caffeine in it. The typical 250ml can of Red Bull contains 80mg of caffeine, whilst the typical large cup of coffee can contain between 90-160mg. Red Bull only seems to be more caffeinated due to the culmination of caffeine, taurine and sugar which actively increases our heart rates and blood pressure whilst enhancing the effects of caffeine. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down, ultimately resulting in a much harsher ‘crash’.

So, which one would be the better option for enhancing productivity? An energy drink or coffee? In spite of coffee having a higher dosage of caffeine than energy drinks, energy drinks tend to be consumed more rapidly, whilst coffee is generally sipped, meaning the deliverance of caffeine is much quicker so you are more likely to reach the standard quota of daily caffeine consumption (400mg) from drinking energy drinks than coffee. However, coffee and energy drinks cannot necessarily be viewed in the same perspective as they are two very different beverages.  I believe taking smaller doses, learning and understanding how your body reacts to these beverages is arguably the best method of consumption.

Upon reflection, caffeine in any form has both positive and negative attributes and similarly to most substances, should be used in moderation. It would be useful to take note that a dosage of 500-600 mg of caffeine has the corresponding effects of a relatively low dose of amphetamines [3]. Caffeine intake is not the fundamental method of enhancing productivity; especially due to it being highly addictive. Although caffeine itself makes us more alert- and this alertness is what helps productivity- there are indeed alternative methods to enhance this, such as a good, a consistent sleep schedule, exercise and a healthy diet, all believed to be contributing factors.

A few tips to implement in daily life may prove to be useful:

  1. Do not drink caffeinated drinks right after waking up as this increases tolerance to caffeine because it replaces the natural cortisol-induced boost instead of adding to it.
  2. Theobromine in caffeine is the cause of the major “crash” you usually get after taking caffeine- Drinking water after caffeine consumption helps to lessen this effect.
  3. Lifestyle changes to reduce fatigue such as exercising more, a balanced diet and sticking to the same sleep schedule
  4. The primary reason for people drinking coffee has been found to be due to liking the taste. Therefore, drinking decaf would be an effective alternative to a caffeinated beverage.


[1] Sleep and Caffeine (2013). Retrieved 24 February 2020, from

[2] Wikoff, D., Welsh, B. T., Henderson, R., Brorby, G. P., Britt, J., Myers, E., … & Tenenbein, M. (2017). Systematic review of the potential adverse effects of caffeine consumption in healthy adults, pregnant women, adolescents, and children. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 109, 585-648.

[3] Lane, S. D., Green, C. E., Schmitz, J. M., Rathnayaka, N., Fang, W. B., Ferré, S., & Moeller, F. G. (2014). Comparison of caffeine and d-amphetamine in cocaine-dependent subjects: differential outcomes on subjective and cardiovascular effects, reward learning, and salivary paraxanthine. Journal of addiction research & therapy5(2), 176.

Sleep and Work

In the 1980’s I remember politicians and businessmen telling people how little sleep they needed to a run a country or a conglomerate. The magic figure seemed to be 4 hours with the implication being that if you slept any longer you wouldn’t be able to manage the pace of life and weren’t leadership material.

The perception that the pace of life is part of the cause why we don’t to sleep for long as we used to is an interesting but misleading one. Go back to the 1840’s and the introduction of the telegram meant that the middle and upper classes started to complain that their pace of life was too fast and the idea of a double sleep (1) started to change into the sleep pattern we have today.

Coming back to the present day, the issue of lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep is beginning to receive the same levels of attention as the menopause and working carers within a work context. It is estimated that 200,000 working days lost due to insufficient sleep each year in the UK. There is not a lot of research on sleep and work. However, research published in July 2016 by Hult International Business School suggests improving employees’ poor sleep may not only boost their health and wellbeing but may give businesses a competitive advantage. (2)

Why is lack of sleep getting lots of attention? I believe it’s because businesses are starting to look in more detail of the UK’s dismal record on levels of productivity over the past 12 years. While getting people to sleep better is not going to solve the countries productivity problem on it’s own, better sleep can as a contributor to living better, which may help people be more productive at work.

If you are sleeping poorly, recent research identified the following signs of how that can affect behavior in the workplace:

  • Decreased communication
  • Reduced performance
  • Greater risk taking
  • Increased intake of caffeine/energy drinks
  • Poor concentration/easily distracted
  • Poor mood/inappropriate behaviour (3)

A way of working out the best sleep pattern for you is find out where you are an owl or a lark (4) This can be important as it may indicate why you might not be sleeping properly. e.g. if your body clock is based around going to sleep early in the evening and you are consistently going to be later in the evening,

One of the most effective ways to help improve your sleep is to work out your circadian rhythm. Adults have a circadian rhythm of 90 minutes and this is very regular. The cycling of sleep follows this rhythm along with hunger and thirst, alertness and creativity. To work out the timing of your circadian rhythm, wait until the early afternoon and take a note of the time of when you yawn. This is a sign that you are your alertness is at your lowest and where you are most suspectable to go to sleep. You can then work out the times during the evening when you are most likely to go to sleep easily, by adding on 45 minutes to the time you yawned.  If you miss your optimal time to sleep, wait for around 45 minutes or until you yawn again and then should be able to go to sleep.

If you think that you don’t sleep well that are some practical things you can do to improve your sleep, these include:

  • Try not to eat 2 hours before you go to sleep. Digesting food will make your body active and produce sugar which will give you energy which will make it more difficult to go to sleep.
  • Try and set a regular time to go to bed and wake up including at the weekend.
  • Alcohol and caffeine intake can affect your sleep so try not to drink too much of either in the afternoon or evening.

While the issues around sleep and how much are or should be getting are not going to diminish whether from a business or personal point of view, It is important that everyone tries to maximize the quality of sleep they get. As ever change sometimes takes a long time to put be put in place, but I hope that you have found the practical steps in this blog useful.






Is the UK the statutory sick pay person of Europe?

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is widely used in the UK but the clarity and understanding of how it works is sometimes unclear to organisations and employees.

What is clear is that if you compare statutory sick pay with other EU countries, the UK lags pay behind e.g. in Italy you can claim between 50 and 66% of average pay for up to 22 weeks which is roughly £1100 per month, with SSP being paid by the organisation.

Here in the UK, an employee can get £94.25 per week of SSP if they are deemed too ill to work. It is paid by the employees’ organisation for up to 28 weeks. The SSP weekly pay equates to £377 a month, whereas the average wage in the UK monthly is £2,307 and the average mortgage payment is approximately £670 per month. While many large organisations have company sick pay schemes which do pay 50%-100% of pay, 95% of people in the private sector work for small organisations and many of these do not have a company sick pay scheme. Add in the mix that in large parts of the UK, the average household has enough savings to pay for one month’s mortgage payment, you might think the title of this blog post maybe correct.

The impact on a small organisation of someone who goes off sick can be considerable in terms of productivity. Many find it difficult to get someone to cover another role and unless it’s clear that the person is going be off sick for a considerable amount of time, it is isn’t practical to employ someone on a short term contract to cover their work. If your company does pay sick pay then they will have an additional wage cost if they want to back fill the role while the person is off sick.

There is also a health dimension in relation to SSP. If you work in an organisation where there isn’t a company sick pay scheme and you become ill, you have three choices: either you go to your GP and get a fit note, you come into work or you book the time off as a holiday. There is data to show that people are making the decision to come into work while ill or take holidays to mask their illness, but what effect does that have on an organisation? Levels of presenteeism and leaveism are increasing and the natural conclusion is that productivity will reduce when these factors are in place.

So, what can be done to try and mitigate the effects of SSP on an organisation? In SOHAS’s experience we know that many organisations do not take a proactive approach to managing sickness absence. I often have conversations with managers and owners where they tell me they know how much sickness absence in their organisation is costing them and the problems it causes. Yet they often have no measures in place that tell them that someone is not well while they are at work. Is one of the issues at play that because the rate of SSP is so low compared to the average wage level, that they measure their bottom line rather than the health and productivity of their employees? If SSP was at the same level as other countries would that change their response?


It is worth looking at how other countries manage SSP. In Germany, the national health insurance compensates organisations for 80% of sick pay so long as the organisation does not employ more than 30 employees. Where an illness lasts longer than six weeks, the employee will receive a sickness allowance from the national health insurer amounting to 70% of the employee’s salary for a period of up to 78 weeks. In the UK, organisations ability to claim SSP back from the government was abolished in 2015.

A review of SSP in this country is long overdue and in the recent DWP consultation, SSP was recognised as an issue that need to be addressed. While we wait for the results, what would a fit for purpose SSP system look like?

  • SSP raised in line with other countries with similar economies
  • SSP aimed at small organisations, that allows them to claim back SSP from the government in a straightforward way.
  • Small organisations are given practical help to introduce preventative measures to manage their employees’ health before they go off sick.

The impact of the low rate of statutory sick pay for people aren’t in a company sick pay scheme is significant, not only from a financial point of view, but also for their future employment prospects and health. It is time for the government to recognise that a well-funded and managed SSP scheme, would be beneficial for employers, employees and the productivity of the nation.






Mental Health Resiliance

I’ve found that the term “resilience” is used a lot in describing the mindset that organisations want to see in their employees as a way of improving not just personal, but organisational wellbeing. While this is welcome, the increasing focus on workplace wellbeing provision should not come at the expense of effective workplace management cultures, which I think is overlooked by lots of the organisations I come into contact with, so what does resilience look like?

A good description of resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, threats or significant sources of stress” I think you can relate this to what happens in everyday life, either from a work or personal point of view.

I have a teenage daughter who I try to talk to about resilience. Her response to me talking to her usually involves lots of eye rolling and calling me names…. You may ask why I do this, but I think there is a value in me giving her some information about developing a quality that allows people who are knocked down by life, to come back stronger than ever. While the term resilience may be new, what it describes is not, as you’ll see from the examples on how you can improve your resilience.

  • Mental Flexibility – The ability to view many situations and challenges in an optimistic way and think of possible alternatives to success.
  • No overthinking – ‘Thoughts are not facts’ Having the ability to elevate yourself from any unwarranted stress of the mind and not seeing situations worse than they are.
  • Feeling comfortable with the unknown – Life will throw many curveballs your way, so being content with the uncertainty and seeing it as an avenue to grow and learn new things.
  • Build positive beliefs in your ability – Believe in your capabilities.
  • Build a community of support – Surround yourself with caring, supportive people who are keen to see you flourish at life, as well as appreciating the loved ones currently in your life.

Personally, I’ve got to the stage where I try and see failure as good feedback which   is useful, but maybe that has something to do with my life experiences, age and the job I carry out. We, as a society are now much more aware of the effect that mental health can have on our lives. You only have to look at the pressure that Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services are under and the explosion in private counselling services to see that people are increasingly looking for mental health related health and support.

Resilience is an important tool that can be developed and improved upon; it is not just something you either have or do not have. Having that ability to not hide from challenges but welcome them, and deal with a possible defeat but know how to overcome it and succeed the next time around. A healthy personal life in terms of surrounding yourself with people who will be a positive influence, eating healthily, getting physical exercise can all amount to a better mental health and increase resilience. So while there is a strong case about why personal resilience is important, what happens in organisations?

There is an assumed importance of resilience in an organisational setting and there have been programs developed to try and increase resilience of employees. As we know, resilience is this idea of persevering during tough times and facing adversity head on. This can be an incredible trait to possess not only in everyday life but also at the workplace.

A useful definition of workplace resilience is “A functioning team will be acutely aware of the need for its team members to feel consistently psychologically well, as this, combined with motivation and a positive attitude, offers the opportunity for it to perform at its peak”.

Workplaces that promote a vibrant, friendly, hardworking environment that also take interest in their employees’ health can result in better performances as well as better overall mental resilience

Mental resilience is not a trait you are born with and cannot acquire; it is more something you can learn, harness and really improve upon with time and effort. I’m hoping that eye rolling is some sort of subliminal evidence of learning how to become more resilient…..



Can cake enrich an organisations employee culture?

Does cake equal happiness at work?

I’ve met with a number of organisations recently where cake has been raised as something that makes people happy. It doesn’t appear to be anything to do with the size of the organisation; when I talk to people about what makes people happy at work, cake is high on their list.

It is the same at my organisation.  We have discussed the role of cake in the past and as I’ve talked about in a previous blog, we have gone a step further and introduced “cake on your birthday” where people can choose what cake they want from a menu and we have a professional cake maker who makes them exactly the type of cake they want. They have the option of taking it home or sharing it amongst everyone. What people like is that it’s their cake and it’s a nice way to have their birthday celebrated at work.

However, I did recently come across an organisation where cake was perceived in a negative way. When I asked why this was the case, I was told that there were quite a few people who really liked Bake Off and had started making their own cakes and taking them to work for people to share and comment on, which had led to a “cake overload”. People said that they didn’t want to be seen to be rude by not eating the cake and so cake wasn’t seen as something that was pleasurable or made them happy.

So, can cake in any form be a force for good or ill in an organisation? One of the outcomes of implementing cake on your birthday in my organisation is that no-one brings in a cake in between birthdays; (and for a health orientated organisation that’s important) it’s like everyone is happy with the amount of cake in the organisation. The cake tends to be eaten at the start of meetings and usually involves eating while having conversations about family, friends or holidays and very rarely work.

Can it be the case that the reason why people can equate cake with happiness is that it is seen as a part of the social interaction between them? maybe it gives them a chance to do something that they find pleasurable and gives people a chance to take a break from work for a few minutes. It is relatively passive and usually combined with a cup of tea, before the meeting starts and work begins.

The other issue that is being increasingly being raised in my discussions is loneliness at work. Can a cake intervention help to reduce people’s isolation by giving them a chance to talk and interact and talk briefly on a personal level? Whilst I’m not claiming that introducing cake on your birthday will solve the problem of loneliness could it be the start of bringing people together where the agenda is just cake.

A ‘cake on your birthday’ initiative won’t work for all organisations, but it’s clear from my organisation that people like to have the time to disengage from their work even if it’s for a relatively short period of time and eating a piece of cake is a good way of doing this. I think it helps to set the culture within an organisation, it gives out a positive signal about our approach to how people carry out their work. When we next recruit staff, cake on your birthday will be on the list of organisational benefits alongside holidays and pensions, it’s part of who we are as an organisation.

Mental Health Awareness

I was at a meeting recently and I was talking to a boss of an SME about mental health in the workplace. I had been talking to him about the current issues and while he appeared interested, his response was “If anyone in my company had a mental health condition I would know about it”. Our conversation drifted off onto other subjects and we then parted. The name of his organisation did seem familiar and when I was back at the office I looked at the data we hold and found that we had supported a number of his employees with mental health and work issues….

We do see this kind of lack of awareness a lot in organisations and it doesn’t matter what size it is. It often comes across to SOHAS advisers that employers have a lack of awareness of their lack of awareness to mental health and work issues.

In the job retention service we provide in Sheffield, the number of people who want to access our service with mental health problems is growing and the issues we see are becoming more complex.

The people we see are increasingly uneasy about talking about their mental health with their employer as they believe that their capability to do their job will be questioned. The outcome of this is that they turn up for work when they are not well. When they aren’t well enough to work they tell their employer that they have a physical problem or they take holiday instead of calling in sick. As a last resort they will go to their GP who will sign them off sick for 14 days and their employer will get a fit note saying the cause of their absence is from stress, but it will not provide any clue as to the cause of the stress.

You can understand an employee’s anxiety about mental health and employment when you consider some key points from a recent survey of managers on mental health.

  • 29% believe employees should not discuss mental health issues at work, with the percentage higher (36%) among younger managers.
  • 19% would not want to hire someone with a declared mental illness, more so in bigger firms.
  • 28% admit not knowing how to deal with employees’ mental health issues, with 71% interested in more training.
  • 38% believe workplace stress is inevitable and out of employers’ control, but 77% concur that employers have a responsibility to tackle it. (1)

The reality is that mental health and employment issues are not getting better. A recent BBC news item reported up to 300,000 people a year leaving their job as a result of depression or other mental health illnesses. The figure was taken from Thriving at Work: a Review of Mental Health and Employers, a government-commissioned independent study that also found that mental health illness costs the economy nearly £99bn a year.

Sheffield has approximately 1% of the working population in England, so if the figure is to be believed, then 3,000 people left their job because of a mental health condition or 57 people a week. We know from the people we give advice to, who either quit or lose their job due to a mental health condition, that they struggle to get back to work. While there are a variety of back to work scheme’s our experience is that many of them don’t have trained mental health specialists who can give the right kind of support to get a job.

We think it’s time to a draw a line in the sand on mental health and employment issues. There is an urgent need to destigmatise mental health. That’s easily said, but what can be done to change the culture on workplace mental health issues?

When you start to read the statistics about mental health it is thought provoking information, but we worry about the believability of the figures being used. If you are running a small business and told that the cost of mental health issues is £99bn a year, I don’t think you connect with that. If you are told either 1-6 or 1-4 people will have a mental health condition during their life time and you have 5 employees does that make it real to you? We think the answer is no….

We think the problem is about how mental health is regarded as an illness, it’s about we view it. We talk to people who we give advice to with a mental health condition and they don’t see it as an illness. It is a health condition that they are managing whether through medication and/or therapeutic support. The issues are complex for employees and employers to manage and not helped by the views held by employers in the statistics above.

The conclusion we draw from talking to employers and line managers is that many believe mental health is a character flaw and not a psychological illness and if people wanted to get better they could if they wanted to. They can see a broken leg or wrist, it’s tangible and it makes sense for people to take time off, but the often invisibility of a mental health issue seems to cast doubts on what they are being told, they can’t see a clear end point where someone is healed, and they return to work as they were.

We seem to have built up mental health conditions on a pedestal with the potential for increasing the stigma around mental health and we would include ourselves as a part of this as we strive to provide advice and support to employees to stay in work.

Mental and physical health issues should be seen as significant and equal as each other, each with its own treatment pathways and well worked solutions on how to manage health in the workplace.

Here is what we think could be done to reduce stigma:


There is obviously a need for employers to engage with the mental health and employment issues as it is the key driver of sickness absence. Line managers need to be upskilled in how they support employees.

There needs to be review of the role in HR in organisations. The delegation of HR traditional roles to managers who receive little training to carry out the role is causing a huge amount of conflict between employees and line managers which is causing employees to go off sick with stress.

Every organisation should have a clear mental health policy which outlines the kind of support available in the workplace, currently only 30% of organisations have one

Train line managers in mental health and employment issues and how to use practical tools like wellness action plans to facilitate quicker returns to work and help their employees manage their mental health. This does not mean training people as Mental Health First Aiders as we do have evidence that some employers using people who are trained in this way to act as their mental occupational health service for their employees


Engage with support services and look at ways of how you can manage your mental health outside of work. We see too many people who self-medicate mental health problems with alcohol and drugs. Encourage people to try and articulate their mental health issues both in and out work. Wellness action plans are a good way for people to give information to their employer on the best way they can provide support that is tailored to their awareness of employee assistance programmes and primary support like IAPT


The government took away the ability of organisations claim back statutory sick pay to fund the failed Fit for Work service. When an employee is off sick, often other employees are expected to cover their colleagues role as well as their own, creating further pressure in the workplace. A move to reinstate the ability to claim back SSP restricted to the small businesses would give organisations the flexibility and money to back fill posts

Give a signal to employees and employers that it’s ok to use Personal Independence Payments if employees have a long term health condition


Provide support to GP’s on providing meaningful information on fit notes that can help employers provide the right kind of support to their employees

Invest more in job retention specialists in IAPT services who can play a crucial part in keeping people in employment