How flexible are you?

Parents and carers were given the legal right to request flexible working in 2002. From 2014 any employee with over 26 weeks’ continuous employment with their employer has the right to request flexible working. However according to a recent CIPD report, Megatrends: Flexible Working, the number of employees working flexibly has flat-lined since 2010.

Why not be flexible?

Apprehension and at times downright negativity about flexible working is not unusual. Requests to work fewer hours, compressed hours and/or working from home often provoke this response. This is particularly the case if the employee manages other employees. Employee visibility is the issue and managers think if they can’t see their staff, they don’t know they’re working. Managers question their employee’s honesty, convinced they will be ‘out shopping, or walking the dog when they should be working’.

Trust issues?

Anecdotally, it’s reported that some employers have banned mobile phones, personal emails and phone calls during working hours. Allegedly, some employers even time employee toilet breaks. Where does this lack of trust come from? Employers need consider if they expect employees to use mobile devices to deal with work outside of normal working hours. If they expect flexibility but don’t reciprocate due to a lack of trust, employee goodwill will wane.

Reciprocal flexibility works

Perhaps this is a bit extreme, but trusted flexibility can work both ways to the benefit of everyone. It just requires a bit of extra thought about how it can work. If employees want flexibility and their employer gives it to them, their engagement, loyalty and commitment will increase. If employers refuse requests, employees will ask why they should go the extra mile when the company isn’t prepared to do the same for them. They will be less motivated and may begin to ‘work to rule’ or look for a job elsewhere. I don’t think any employer would want that outcome, especially at a time when the ‘war for talent’ seems tougher than ever.

Managing flexible employees

Some jobs really can’t be done flexibly, but requests need to be considered properly. Managers are often concerned about managing less visible employees. However, if outcome-based objectives are set and the employee’s performance dips, it should be easy to address. It’s entirely possible that managers feel overstretched and feel they don’t have the time or energy to consider how it might work. But companies that provide flexibility will benefit from increased talent retention, engagement and productivity. At a time when there are reported skills shortages, surely it’s worth the effort?

If you would like help managing flexible working in your company, or support in dealing with a request, please do get in touch.

Keep it civil

Rudeness at work seems to be on the rise. In a survey by Professors Porath and Pearson, 40% of respondents said they had ‘no time to be nice’ and 25% said they were rude because their bosses behaved that way. We live in a busy world and people have many demands on their time. That’s not news, but in the words of Harry Hart (quoting William Horman) in Kingsman: The Secret Service, “manners maketh man”. Something has obviously gone wrong. Is politeness a thing of the past?

What’s the impact of rudeness?

There’s a great opportunity for business leaders and senior managers to have a positive impact on this issue, and ensure everyone in their business is treated respectfully as a result. 48% of employees on the receiving end of rudeness intentionally decreased their work effort and 47% intentionally decreased the quality of their work. Rudeness at work causes commitment to decline, turnover to increase, productivity to plummet and recruitment costs to increase. By creating a polite and respectful workplace, commitment and productivity will increase and your turnover and recruitment costs will decrease, because you’ll be able to attract and retain the best talent.

What can you do?

Small changes can make a big difference, so here are our top tips for creating a respectful workplace.

  • Be friendly, greet people warmly, say ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’.
  • Give 100% of your attention in meetings. Put your phone down and engage in the matter at hand. The meeting will probably be shorter and more focussed as a result.
  • Listen to your team members’ thoughts and ideas – they may be on to something.
  • Make it clear that rudeness won’t be tolerated and there are no excuses for it. If you make politeness part of day to day interactions, it will be contagious, so the impact could be huge.
  • If you see rudeness, address it directly, and encourage employees to report any incidents to their line manager.
  • Establish a staff forum where employees can share concerns with a nominated senior team member and discuss how the concerns could be addressed.
  • Hire and retain employees who exhibit the ‘right’ behaviours.
  • Lead by example, regardless of who you’re talking to and your own stress levels.
  • Carry out exit interviews to find out what employees really think.
  • Train and coach line managers in respectful people management practices.

If you’re concerned about behaviours in your company and want to discuss ideas on how to address it, get in touch.

Celebration season

I’ve lost count of the number of advertisements I’ve seen for Christmas parties recently, aimed at both families and companies. It’s time to get that work Christmas party venue booked and make plans for the entertainment and catering!

Health Warning!

It’s easy to forget about the potential pitfalls of a work Christmas party. If you provide employees with an unending supply of alcoholic beverages the party can take a turn for the worse.

The case involving Northampton Recruitment Limited from 2011 is still going through the Court of Appeal almost 7 years later. It serves as a stark reminder that sometimes alcohol combined with a work social event can result in problems for employers. It can result in minor indiscretions and over exuberance which is not entirely unexpected. But in a (hopefully) small number of cases, it can result in behaviour which is career-limiting, or worse.

Tips for success

Each year a large number of articles are written about the perils of office parties. They offer advice to employers on how to make sure the celebrations go smoothly.

Our 5 top tips are:

  • Make sure employees know that office parties are an extension of work.  Even if the party is off-site and after normal working hours everyone should behave professionally. It IS possible to have fun AND remain professional at the same time.
  • Consider how people will get home late at night.  Ensure you communicate the parameters before the event, for example if and when it’s acceptable to take a taxi home.
  • Try to limit the amount of free alcohol available, and include non-alcoholic drinks. With the best will in the world, some people just don’t have the self-control to turn down free drinks.  Don’t make it too easy for employees to over-indulge.
  • When planning the party, include an activity for employees to engage in. It could provide a team-building opportunity, as well as a distraction from continuous drinking and ensures the event caters for those who don’t drink alcohol.
  • Ensure the senior team lead by example, take responsibility and monitor employee behaviour. That way they can address any issues before they get out of hand.

Following these top tips should ensure a good-time is had by all. If you’re lucky, no-one will be dreading returning to work the morning after – although I make no promises on that front!

If you’re worried about your Company’s Christmas party, or need any advice in dealing with the aftermath of a Company social event of any kind, please do get in touch.

Managing Sickness Absence

Current statistics tell us that on average each year businesses lose a working week per employee to sickness absence. If your company has 10 employees, you could be losing 10 working weeks each year. A lot of business owners don’t measure the real cost of absence, but it’s definitely something they worry about.

Whilst we know everyone gets sick from time to time, effective absence management and a clear policy ensures you stay on the front foot. It will prevent a sickness absence issue from becoming a problem, financially or in terms of productivity and quality.

Top-tips for your sickness absence policy:
  • Make sure employees know when and who to call when they are unable to attend work due to sickness. Insist on a telephone call where possible.
  • Include the requirement to provide a ‘Fit Note’ covering continuous periods of absence longer than a week
  • Have a policy of carrying out return to work interviews with employees consistently for any sickness absence
  • Introduce a Sickness Absence Review process with clear trigger points, to flag high levels of absence and discuss constructively with employees
  • Ensure the Sickness Absence Review process covers short and long-term absence
  • Manage expectations around sick pay by stating the policy clearly. Ie if you have company sick pay or Statutory Sick Pay, and when they apply
  • State that the company can require employees to attend a medical examination with a doctor should it deem necessary
  • Include information and links about any support available through company benefits, or public bodies/charities
  • Ensure the policy covers support the company provides on mental health issues

By following these top tips for putting together your policy, you can address any sickness absence issues arising before they reach unacceptable levels.

If you’re worried about sickness absence in your business and would like help to introduce a policy so you can manage sickness absence, get in touch.

 

Difficult conversations

Anyone who has ever line managed will undoubtedly have had that sinking feeling at some point, knowing that they need to address some kind of problem with the performance or conduct of one of their team. All line managers should feel reassured that they are not alone in feeling this way.

The good times

When everything is going well, and your team are performing and behaving as you want them to, being a people manager is fantastic. You see great results through your people, and that reflects positively on you. Your bosses think you’re doing a great job and all is right with the world.

The harder times

Unfortunately this perfect world is very unusual, certainly in the long term, and there will be times when you have to address a problem directly with one of your team members. Whether it’s an issue with their performance or their behaviour, no-one looks forward to having a conversation about these issues and addressing it head-on. But it really is the best way to make a change for the better.

Top tips

Here are some top tips for preparing for, and having those dreaded conversations:

  • Don’t wait.  If something has gone wrong, address it privately at the first opportunity you have. Don’t wait for the next 1-1 in a month’s time and don’t address it publicly in the open office.
  • Prepare.  Make notes and identify the problem. Be specific and note exactly what went wrong and what you expected. Be prepared to share this information with the individual.
  • Have a conversation.  Everyone has a different perspective on any situation, so allow the individual the opportunity to give their view of the situation.
  • Keep it objective.  Keep it factual, balanced, constructive and objective and try to make sure that it doesn’t get personal, or heated.
  • Check for understanding.  Seek confirmation that they understand why it was a problem, by asking questions such as ‘Can you understand why this wasn’t appropriate?’ and ‘What do you think you could have done differently?’ Probe them if you feel they don’t fully accept that there was an issue, or take responsibility.
  • Follow-up.  Tell the individual that you will forward them a summary of what you’ve discussed, so that they can have a record of your expectations. It’s not a formal warning, just provided to support their learning and development.
The benefits

As managers and business leaders, if you address problems in your teams directly, you can ensure that all your team are contributing to the success of your business. One underperforming team member can do damage to your business success and potentially your brand. By ‘nipping it in the bud’ in a constructive way, you will avoid situations developing and taking a downward spiral. The longer performance or conduct issues go unchecked, the harder it is to address successfully. There’s also more chance of the wider team becoming unhappy.

If you or your management team need support in addressing difficult situations, HelpfulHR can definitely help – whatever the issue. Get in touch, and let’s get them back on track.

Love is in the Air

Valentine’s Day is less than a month away, so our thoughts are turning to ‘romance at work’ and the questions that subject raises. During a working week we spend up to half of our waking time with our work colleagues, so it’s not surprising that close friendships and romantic relationships form.

We all know people in long-term relationships with partners they met at work. Whilst personal relationships can cause issues, it’s probably unrealistic to ban personal relationships at work. If you introduce a ban, it would inevitably force budding romances and friendships to become covert. This would lead to an environment of mistrust, deception and fear. However it would be unwise to stay silent on how you deal with relationships as an employer. So, what is the best way to approach them?

Developing a policy

Here are 6 top tips for a developing a policy:

  • Be Realistic. Focus on transparency and create a working environment where your employees can be open with you.
  • Be Specific. Define the point employees need to declare a relationship beyond that of a good working relationship – be it a close friendship or a romantic relationship.
  • Be Cautious. Include clients, suppliers and customers in the policy.
  • Be Fair. Ensure you are clear about the possible outcomes of declaring a relationship. For example in a management relationship, allow for a change to reporting lines.
  • Be Professional. Clearly communicate expectations about professional conduct, i.e. public displays of affection and favouritism.
  • Be Prepared. Accept that sometimes relationships don’t work out, and this too will need to be managed appropriately.

Following these top tips will ensure your policy is realistic and practical, and will ensure your business isn’t compromised by relationships at work.

So, while things can go wrong and issues may arise, having a clear policy will make it easier to take a fair and consistent approach, with the least disruption to your business.

If you would like help developing a policy about managing personal relationships at work, please get in touch.

Blue Monday?

Apparently this coming Monday, 15th January 2018, is ‘Blue Monday’, the most depressing day of the year.  January can be a tough month after the (hopefully) joyous Festive Period and a welcome break from work. But can we really pick one day out of the 31 in January, or the 365 in the year, and say that this coming Monday 15th January 2018 is the most depressing of all?

The science bit

The term Blue Monday was, so we’re told, invented by the marketing team at Sky Travel in 2005 in an attempt to encourage people to buy a holiday at a quiet time of year. There’s even a formula for calculating the date, which includes weather, debt, days ‘til payday, time since Christmas, resolutions broken. It also includes some feeling factors which somewhat compromise the ‘science bit’.

Resistance is not futile

There’s definitely a case for rebellion here. January is tough, but we shouldn’t be told how to feel on a particular day, should we? There are enough challenges to face in this fast-moving world, so let’s all resist this phenomenon! To help us, there’s even a website dedicated to encouraging positive acts on Blue Monday.

Blue at work

The Blue Monday phenomenon does have potential implications for businesses. There may be many people who believe the hype and expect to feel blue on Monday 15th January 2018. And purely for this reason, they may succumb to the negative feelings Blue Monday is designed to exploit.

Be part of the solution

What can employers do to counter these negative feelings? We live in a time when businesses are struggling and ‘austerity’ feels like it has become part of our culture. So how can you motivate a workforce who are feeling the pinch and maintain positivity at work?

There’s no easy, one-size fits all answer. People are motivated in different ways, whether it’s hitting advertising targets and achieving bonus, or receiving accolades for good performance.

Top tips

Here are 5 top tips that should support the rebellion against Blue Monday:

  • Spend time getting to know your team as individuals. Find out hat they enjoy, what motivates them, how they like to be recognised.
  • Make sure you diarise regular 1-1s with your team for the year. Show your commitment to them through the giving of your time.
  • Give thought to what you can do to help them achieve their career aspirations. It may be development, training, work-shadowing, job swapping, coaching and/or action planning. There are many possibilities to consider.
  • Start the year with a team meeting to share ideas and make a plan for the year ahead to which everyone can contribute.
  • Consider a physical activity, to get those endorphins flowing, maybe a team walk at lunchtime, or a sponsored activity which everyone can engage in.

These top tips should help to create a positive working environment where employees can flourish at any time of year. Developing an open, inclusive work place where everyone feels valued will definitely help to build this positivity.

So, while these top tips won’t necessarily stop people from being conned into feeling Blue on this coming Monday, it might help in the longer term.

If you would like to find out more about what you can do to build a positive working environment, we can help, so do get in touch with Helpful HR.

The Season of Goodwill

As the festive season approaches, business leaders have probably been thinking about goodwill gestures they could make, to show their employees they recognise the value they bring to the success of the business. This might be an additional day off, or an end of year bonus and both or either of those options would obviously be very welcome, I have no doubt.

Is it reciprocal?

But how many business leaders approach the end of the year and consider goodwill from a different perspective; that of the employee? How many business leaders will question the goodwill their employees feel towards them as an employer? And how many employers have been pro-actively creating goodwill throughout the year, through their everyday working practices?

Why does it matter?

As Linda Ray commented here, employees who feel appreciated will have a positive attitude towards their employer. As a result they will be much more engaged and loyal, which will help to keep employee turnover rates low. This will lead to reduced recruitment and on-boarding costs, both in terms of money and time. Ultimately this employee engagement, when coupled with structured performance management processes will increase employee productivity and performance, making a direct contribution to the success of the company.

We can help

If you would like to find out more about how to gain or grow the goodwill of your employees, and discover how engaged your employees are, we can help, so get in touch with Helpful HR.

The Employment Status Conundrum

The ‘gig’ economy has been centre stage recently in the news and has caused confusion around individual’s employment and tax status.

Recent cases

Uber is adamant its drivers are NOT employees. However, an employment tribunal  concluded they are, ‘workers’.  Addison Lee  also had a recent employment tribunal judgement, which came to the same conclusion.

The consequences

These cases demonstrate the pitfalls of getting it wrong, on a large scale. The judgements of the tribunals have definitely provided Uber and Addison Lee with bucketloads of negative PR.  They also have the administrative headache of changing their status, backdated rights to holiday pay and the National Living Wage. There’s also a strong chance that HMRC will collect backdated employer’s tax contributions for all of their newly defined workers.

How to establish status

In order to avoid the same problems as Uber and Addison Lee, employers are well advised to make a proactive and honest assessment of people they hire and ask the following:

  • Does the individual work off-site?
  • Are they using their own equipment?
  • Is there a mutual obligation about you offering work and the individual having to accept work when offered?
  • Does the individual regularly work for other companies?
  • Can the individual send someone else of their choosing by way of a substitute, to carry out the work?
  • Does the individual control how or when the work is completed?

If the answer to one or more of the above questions is ‘no’, the individual you’re hiring is probably not self-employed. If you treat them as self-employed, in the long-term you may very well come up against some difficult and costly issues.

We can help

If you need any advice or support on determining the employment status of individuals working for your company and what it means, get in touch with Helpful HR.

What does being a ‘Manager’ mean?

I’ve come across several situations where a team, or individual members of a team, are suffering with low morale and poor performance. They’re on a downward spiral as not enough care and attention has been paid to the management of that team and the individuals within it.

Some managers genuinely think their Human Resources department are there to line manage each employee in the business. They don’t feel HR is part of their role and concentrate on providing functional business leadership.

Managing people as well as a function is not easy. As a manager you have several things to think about and probably several people, all with different needs and abilities. The role of HR is to help and guide managers through this aspect of their role and it’s a constant learning curve.

Top tips for successful management

I’ve come up with some ‘top tips’ for managers to help them flourish as a truly good manager:

GET TO KNOW YOUR TEAM.   You may think you know them, but have you spent any quality 1-1 time with them?Do you really know who they are, what they do, what they want to do and what they think of what they do? Regular 1-1s are invaluable and should be in the diary at least monthly.

ADAPT YOUR STYLE.   Remember that as the manager it’s your responsibility to adapt your management style to get the best out of your team. It’s not their job to adapt to you.

MANAGE PERFORMANCE.   Make sure you ask people in your team what they think of their performance. Ensure  you discuss and agree with them what their specific objectives are, and when they are expected to achieve them.

COMMUNICATE.   Ensure you communicate any non-confidential management and financial information to your team. This can include any information you think is relevant, useful and of interest. No-one really complains about being given too much information.

CELEBRATE DIVERSITY.   Accept and ENJOY the fact that you have people in your team with different goals, skills, experience and beliefs. Provided you’re all working to the same departmental goals, it’s a benefit to have such diversity within the team, so draw on it.

PROVIDE CLARITY.   Ensure that everyone in your team knows what their role is, what the boundaries are, where they have authority and what you expect of them.

This isn’t a definitive list, but it should set you up for success as a manager. If this doesn’t work, or you have a more specific need then that’s what your manager is for, to provide you with guidance.

If you advice and support to grow and develop to become the best manager you can be, get in touch. We can’t do the job for you, but we can definitely help!