How can we be more effective?

Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® has been referenced over many years.  First published in 1989, it’s been reissued multiple times since then, and has been adapted / spun out in to targeted versions, for example focussing on teenagers, families, journals, workbooks and card decks.  He continued to release books up to a year before he passed away in 2012, leaving a legacy of effective leadership principles.

What’s it about?

Covey seems to have had a genuine wish to help others and lead by example by closely following the principles of the habits himself. He provides practical advice, which requires us to look inside ourselves.  Reading the habits, we may already find that we’re on the right track.

What are the 7 habits?

There’s much more to the habits in the book, however here is a flavour of the 7 habits:

Habit 1: Be Proactive®

Take responsibility for your life. This habit encourages us to move away from blaming external factors and responding to them in a reactive way. We should use proactive language; I will, I can etc.  and our energy should be focussed on things we can control.  The first step is to build awareness of where we expend our energy now, so we can develop into a more proactive approach.

Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind®

We will not feel successful, if we achieve things which are not where we wanted to end up.  We need to focus on what we want, and how we want to live, and then use the 1st Habit of proactivity to get there.

Habit 3: Put First Things First®

This is where the 1st and 2nd Habits come together, and we can make decisions about what we will and won’t do.  We don’t have to do everything, it’s about choosing proactively what you will do, and prioritising accordingly. These decisions will be made based on our purpose, values and role, with the end in mind.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win®

Be co-operative and collaborative.  It’s a mindset which means that we seek mutual benefit with our solutions.  Covey identifies 3 character traits; Integrity, Maturity and Abundance Mentality (believing there is plenty for everyone). It doesn’t have to be either / or, both parties can ‘win’. Further character traits identified are empathy, confidence, consideration, sensitivity and bravery, which all underpin real Maturity.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood®

Communication is key, but this Habit is more focussed on listening, and really understanding others.  We all want to get our point across, but in doing so we may not listen to the other person properly.  This means we may miss their meaning or make assumptions, based on our own point of view.

Habit 6: Synergize®

This is about teamwork, being openminded and finding new solutions. This is best done with multiple contributors who all bring different insights and experiences.  The principle of ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ is in play here.  Valuing differences is important to achieve synergy. It might feel uncomfortable initially, as there may be disagreements, but the outcome will be more interesting and successful.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw®

This means preserving and enhancing ourselves in 4 different areas of life: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual.  We need to grow in each of these areas, for example through healthy lifestyle choices, making social connections, reading, learning, spending time in the natural world, music and art. By growing in these areas we become more able to deal with challenges, grow and continue to build on the other 6 Habits.

Although a lot of focus of adopting the 7 Habits has been on implementing these principles in leadership and management, they can apply to all of us.  After all, the title of the book is simply to make us highly effective people, whether you’re a junior executive or business owner.  If you’re new to a leadership role, read one of our previous blogs to get some practical leadership tips.

Social media posts

The media has covered situations where individuals have been disciplined, or had offers of employment withdrawn, as a result of posts they put on social media.  This was because posts in question were deemed to be ‘unacceptable’ to their employer or potential employer.

But, the posts were made from personal accounts, so why did these organisations take this action?  Surely it’s none of their business what an individual posts on social media. Especially if the post was private or there was no mention of the organisation in their profile or the post?

When does it matter?

Even if a post is from a personal account, the key consideration is whether it can be linked to their employment.  Or if it could damage the organisation’s reputation.  This issue needs to be considered properly and fully before action is taken.  Of course a post by an employee or applicant may not put your organisation in a particularly positive light. But it’s important not to take a disproportionate view of the damage or potential damage to its reputation.  The facts should be considered carefully, including:

  • The employee’s role and seniority
  • The nature of the social media post
  • Whether the damage to reputation is actual or potential and if it’s a genuine risk
  • Whether the employee has received a previous warning for similar conduct
  • Whether the employee expressed regret at their actions?
  • Are there any other mitigating factors to consider?

Organisations should ensure clear information and training is given to employees about the importance of the corporate reputation and image. There should also be a clear policy about the organisation’s expectations about employees’ use of social media.  It’s also important to have clear policies on equality, diversity and inclusion and conduct training in this area.  That way the organisation can demonstrate the their stance in these areas, and therefore how the employee’s actions are a direct breach.  A clear disciplinary policy and procedure is also important, ensuring it includes the types of behaviour and conduct that will be regarded as serious, or gross misconduct.

Rights of the parties

Obviously, individuals have rights under the Human Rights Act 1998, and the GDPR Data Protection Act 2018, so monitoring social media needs to be done with care, to avoid breaching these rights.  It requires a very careful balancing act to make sure the rights of both parties are protected.  Not easy.

When it comes to monitoring social media, it’s always best to have a very clear policy about social media and data protection, privacy and monitoring.  Equally important is ensuring these policies are within the principle of fair, lawful and transparent processing of personal data.  Generally, the most usual grounds for monitoring this activity will be legitimate interests. But again, this needs to be balanced against the individual’s rights and freedoms.  If the social media account is private, and there was an expectation it would remain so, then potentially the individual’s rights would override the organisation’s legitimate interests in monitoring that activity.

The organisation would need to articulate the purpose of the monitoring. For example, if it were to prevent sexual harassment, or ‘hate speech’, this might provide a legitimate reason.  A stronger argument might be reputation protection of the business, and minimising vicarious liability for the acts of an individual.  If the individual doesn’t have a private account and states the name of their employer on their profile, a clear connection can be made. If the named organisation were seen to tolerate posts of a discriminatory nature the reputational damage would be difficult to deny.

How do you deal with it?

If an employee puts a post on social media that is contrary to their aim to eliminate discrimination and hate speech, or which detrimentally impacts the organisation’s reputation, it should be treated as any disciplinary would.  The disciplinary policy should be followed as with any disciplinary issue.  The investigation and consideration of all the facts and impact on the organisation should be thorough. Any investigation conducted should be undertaken by someone other than the employee’s manager, or the person who will make the ultimate disciplinary decision.  Any action you take must be done within the ACAS Code of Practice for disciplinary and grievances.  Regardless of the severity of the alleged offence, employers should not dismiss an employee without following a fair process.

If one of your employees has made social media posts of concern, and you’d like advice, get in touch.

Why do I need HR?

As a small business you might ask ‘why do I need HR?’ if you have a small headcount and everything seems to be going well.  An HR Consultant is often engaged to support and advise when there are employee related issues or problems. That might be a situation involving redundancy, a disciplinary, grievance or dismissal.  Of course, ensuring that these situations are dealt with correctly is very important.  We do our job, help you to resolve the issue and that’s that.  All good.  But there IS more to HR than troubleshooting of this kind, and it’s important even (or I would argue especially) for small businesses. The way your people are managed will have a direct impact on their success, and by implication the the success of your business.  In a small business where the headcount is under 50, each employee has a greater proportional impact on the working environment, the team, the success of the business and how well it functions.

What do I need to know about HR?

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), states that Human Resources Management (HRM) is:

“…the function within an organisation that focuses on the recruitment, management, and direction of the people who work in the organisation. HRM can also be performed by line managers.”

There are multiple stages in an employment relationship, some of which are included in the definition above.  If we look at this in more detail, the stages are:

Employees experience these activities during their journey with you, their employer. But you won’t positively impact the success of your people and your business without considering the ‘how’ in each of these areas. Let’s look at each stage in more detail:

Attraction

What skills, knowledge and experience do you need, and how will you attract these people in a competitive recruitment market?

Recruitment

What are your recruitment methods, and do they successfully identify if the candidates have the skills, knowledge and experience you need?  How many of your new starters leave before they finish their probationary period with you?

Onboarding

How can you ensure effective onboarding of someone into their job and the company, enabling them to become productive quickly and begin making a positive impact on your business?

Development

How do you develop your onboarded employees? What development and progression can you provide so that your people become better and better at their jobs and become the experts, managers or leaders of the future?  Or do people leave to get that development and progression?

Retention

How do you treat your employees while they’re with you? What can you offer them that will keep them loyal and engaged?  Or might they always be on the lookout for the next opportunity elsewhere?  How do you make sure you keep all the knowledge, skill and experience you have supported and developed from walking out of the door, reducing your ROI, and increasing your costs?

Separation

How do you treat leavers? Does that change depending on whether they’re a voluntary or involuntary leaver? What do your current employee population observe when others leave, and does that process feel dignified, respectful and make them feel glad they still work there?  Could your leavers be employees of the future, once they’ve gained other experiences, and would they want to return to you?

And the cycle continues…..

What should I do?

In short, the first stage would be to look at what you currently do.  Ask yourself and selected others 5(ish!) key questions:

  1. Are your people processes efficient and effective for the business and your people?
  2. What kinds of experiences do your employees have at the various stages of the employee lifecycle?
  3. What kinds of behaviours do you value? Do you see these demonstrated by your managers and employees consistently in their interactions with each other?
  4. What kind of employer do you want to be?  How does that link in with your brand marketing and PR?
  5. How high is your employee turnover? How successful are your attempts to recruit new talent?

This is just the start of the process, and it will lead to further conversations and questions, no doubt.  Maybe this next year is the year you start to take a strategic approach to your people management practices?

If you’re asking yourself “Why do I need HR?” and you’d like more information, or if you would like support to look at any or all of these areas to make your business even more successful, get in touch.

Presenteeism

The Covid-19 pandemic had an undeniable impact on everyone’s lives.  During that time, the requirement to work flexibly created a new landscape, which employers are still having to navigate.

For some employees, that switch to remote, flexible working appears to have resulted in the ‘always-on’ phenomenon. There’s no real boundary between work time and personal time. This means that employees can work around other personal commitments or activities, if they wish. However some people find it difficult to switch off, in some cases leading to a culture of presenteeism.

What is Presenteeism?

The CIPD states that presenteeism occurs when people work when in suboptimal health.  Your employees are attending work when they are unwell, and are therefore unable to be productive.  Absenteeism has a huge cost implication for employers.  But interestingly, the CIPD also reports that presenteeism has a much bigger cost (according to research by Deloitte).

Why is it a problem?

Unless addressed, presenteeism can lead to a culture where presence indicates commitment and success. I.e., if you turn up early and leave late you’re doing a great job, you will be more valued, and potentially rewarded accordingly.  What it doesn’t do is lead to an increase in productivity and it can cause a toxic culture. These things will drive away talent, further decreasing productivity.

There are also other effects, for example:

  • Employees come to the workplace with contagious illnesses, which spread through the workforce, increasing absence and / or presenteeism.
  • Employees won’t take the rest from work they need to recover, therefore stay unwell for longer, or their health deteriorates further.
  • Employees working while unwell will understandably demonstrate less enthusiasm and motivation, leading to low morale. This low morale may be contagious within the workforce, even in your healthy employees.
  • Depending on the sector, employees who are unwell are more likely to have workplace accidents, putting themselves and others at risk.
  • Presenteeism means that employees aren’t giving their full commitment to their work, and therefore will not progress and develop, which may lead to further demotivation and disengagement.
  • The quality of work produced is less likely to be as high as it might otherwise be, if the employee was healthy. This may have a knock-on effect on colleagues, for example causing frustration, or blockages and delays in systems and processes.
What can you do about it in your business?

Leaders need to be proactive in changing the narrative about the behaviours that are valued in their business. They need to move away from a ‘bums on seats’ approach (i.e. presenteeism), and instead focus on outputs and achievements. One of the first things they can do is lead by example. Create those work and home time boundaries. For example, only respond to emails during working hours, or as close as you can get (unless it’s business critical). Encourage employees to leave work, or if remote, switch off at the end of their contracted hours.

Tips to reduce presenteeism
  • Find out why people are behaving this way, either through focus groups or an anonymous survey, and find out about their concerns around taking time off ill, and blurred work / home boundaries.
  • Look at your sickness absence policy. Will employees suffer significantly financially every time they take a day off sick?  Do you have a fair sickness absence review policy which is consistent, reasonable and supportive?  And if you make changes to your policy, ensure these changes are communicated. Create clear messaging that supports taking time off if it’s needed, so people can fully recover and then return to work.
  • Consider what you could do to promote a healthy working environment that supports mental and physical wellbeing.  For example discounted gym membership, walking meetings, cycle to work schemes, wellbeing apps, mental health first aiders and training for all employees.
  • If you use zero hours contracts, consider if this is a factor. Review your resourcing model to establish if you could reduce these and create more stability for your workforce.
  • Improve manager / staff communication, so that managers are familiar with their employees and have positive working relationships. Employees may then feel the can share any health concerns with confidence, and managers will spot warning signs of any health or wellness issues.

If you’ve noticed your employees seem to be working when they are clearly unwell, and you want to find out why, or need support to change those habits, get in touch.

How to give feedback

In the workplace, managers and colleagues give feedback to others as part of their normal management and team practices.  Feedback should be constructive, and it’s a valuable process, aimed at improving skills, communication, relationships and success (individual and organisational).

In a study by Christine Porath[1], she found that higher levels of feedback were associated with 89% greater thriving at work, 63% more engagement and 79% higher job satisfaction.  She also found that giving honest, careful feedback and creating a ‘feedback loop’, (where team members provided feedback to each other), created stronger connections, and better relationships at work.  Adding recognition and / or reward in to the mix lead to employees becoming happier and more engaged.

The good and the bad

Provided the feedback is truly constructive, there’s no such thing as ‘bad’ feedback as all feedback of this nature will be valuable.

But if that feedback is not constructive, or not delivered in an appropriate way, I think we can probably call it ‘bad’ feedback, as it will often have the opposite effect of what is desired. i.e., it resulted in a disengaged, demotivated employee, and ultimately damage their success and potentially that of the team.

How to give good feedback

For many years there was a well-known saying linked to giving feedback which was referred to as the ‘**** sandwich’ i.e., say something nice, say something negative and then distract the person with something positive again. It seems this doesn’t work because the ‘negative’ points get lost, with people, understandably, clinging to the positive messages.

Here are our top tips for preparing and providing good quality feedback.

Preparation:
  • Be clear what you’re providing feedback about and consider what you want the outcome to be
  • Allocate enough time to the feedback session and make sure it’s in a confidential setting without interruptions
  • Be factual, specific, kind and objective – describe behaviour / actions / outcomes, not personality, attitude or character
  • Provide the context and describe what you noticed.  E.g., “I noticed that your reports have been submitted 2-3 days late on a couple of occasions lately”
  • Outline the impact and why it’s a problem
  • Write down the key points you want to get across.
The meeting:
  • Present your prepared observations
  • Be mindful of your body language and tone.  Keep it calm and respectful
  • Ask for their perspective of your observations
  • Encourage them to explore alternatives – ways to improve next time
  • Present feedback as a positive opportunity, not a threat, and include a balance of feedback (i.e., if some things went well, say so)
  • Listen actively, show empathy and demonstrate you’re listening – paraphrase and reflect what you’ve heard
  • Acknowledge their feelings
  • Reaffirm that your intention is to offer feedback to help them improve their performance, and help them progress, develop, grow in their role and the organisation.

Feedback should be given as close to an issue arising to ensure it’s relevant, and to demonstrate that it’s important.  Don’t wait for your next scheduled monthly or quarterly 1-1 to share the feedback.

If you need to give difficult feedback to an employee and you’re not sure how, get in touch.

 

[1] Mastering Community: The Surprising Ways Coming Together Moves us from Surviving to Thriving by Christine Porath 2022

Unconscious bias

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is a term which is commonly used in relation to equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.  In this blog post we try to demystify unconscious bias and explain what it really means.

Unconscious bias is an unconscious inclination or prejudice.  It can be referred to in the context of a ‘gut’ feeling, or instinct feeling people have. These feelings will be informed by experiences and influences during their lives.  There is usually no ill will, but it is nevertheless seen as an issue in workplaces.  This bias can influence business decisions, and can compromise an employer’s ability to be an inclusive and equal workplace.

From a legal perspective, the areas to be aware of are around certain criteria, which could be covered under the description of a ‘protected characteristic’ most commonly related to age, gender, race, religion/belief, disability, sexuality and marital/partnership status.

Unconscious bias around gender, for example is the way someone might assume that a pink clothing item is appropriate for a little girl, or that little boys play with trucks while girls will want a dolly to play with.  Or age bias might be that an older person is overqualified for a junior role they’ve applied for.

We’re all human, and our decisions are informed by our own experiences.  So if it’s just about being human, why is it a problem?

What’s the problem?

Put simply, not tackling unconscious bias, means that those experiences and influences informing our decisions will continue to harm certain groups or individuals, unchecked.  Being aware of our natural bias, means that we are more likely to look beyond the assumptions we may instinctively make about an individual or group, and prevent us from treating those people differently.   Ultimately if they are treated differently, or they suffer a detriment as a result, they may have a claim for (indirect or direct) discrimination.

Over time, employees who think they are treated differently due to unconscious bias, develop feelings of isolation and alienation, and feel uncomfortable being themselves. This would take its toll on anyone, and may also affect the organisation’s performance overall.  Employees who experience bias and prejudice often actively disengage and reduce their contributions, and ultimately seek a role elsewhere.

What are the benefits of tackling unconscious bias?

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is seen as an increasingly important part of what a business has to offer.  To be an inclusive employer means that employees feel welcome, valued and included. This in turn means team members will stay longer and be more engaged and productive.

Diversity in the workplace is a serious competitive advantage with immediate and tangible benefits. It ensures a variety of different perspectives and a variety of different skills and experiences.  It gives organisations access to a greater range of talent, potentially increasing creativity and innovation.

The best way to overcome unconscious bias, is to ensure people become more self-aware (and self-critical) about their decisions and behaviours.  This can be done via training in a variety of formats. Alternatively, you could develop some supporting systems and processes, to ensure decision makers at all levels are challenged in a safe setting.

You can find out more about the benefits of tackling unconscious bias and what approach works here.  And if you’d like some advice about EDI issues in your business, please do get in touch.

Successful hiring

Obviously, employers are always keen to make successful hiring decisions. However it is common for a new hire to be unsuccessful in probation. This is often because it transpires that they don’t actually have the skills and experience needed for the job.

Why does this happen?

There are two potential answers to this question:

  • The criteria for the job was not correctly defined at the start, and / or
  • The questions during the selection process did not successfully establish the skills and experience of the candidate.

A great deal of management time and effort (and often direct cost) goes in to recruiting and onboarding a new employee, so when it doesn’t work out, more management time goes in to dealing with the problem. There are often direct costs in paying notice in lieu and untaken holiday when the leaver is processed.  You then end up doubling the recruitment costs and time for filling that role, when you repeat the process to recruit a better replacement.  So, getting the selection process right, makes business sense.

Tips for making successful hiring decisions:
  • REALLY think about the job you need to fill. Consider the skills and experience that person needs to have.
  • Create a job ad and job description which clearly articulates the qualifications, skills and experience you’re looking for. This will enable potential applicants without the skills you need to self-select out of the process.
  • Involve more than one person in the shortlisting and interviewing process and spend time preparing together.
  • Devise interview questions which are open and based on the candidates’ experiences. Plan to have a two-way conversation with them about it, so you can assess them against what’s required.
  • Probe the candidate on their experience to ‘drill down’ in to the detail.  This will eliminate any potential embellishments, assumptions or misunderstandings about the experiences they have actually had.
  • Ensure all candidates are interviewed in the same robust way, regardless of whether they are recommended by a contact, or you have worked with them before.
  • Ensure one of the interviewers is taking notes of the candidate’s responses (the content, not their opinion about it). This will serve as an accurate reminder about the candidates, so you can discuss your thoughts about them effectively afterwards.
  • If you’re in doubt about a candidate, ask them back, or meet them for coffee so you can ask them more about the areas where you feel less convinced. Or involve a third interviewer to do this – prepping with them about the areas of focus/concern.
  • Do not appoint someone just because they are the best in an unsatisfactory group of candidates. If they do not have the essential skills and experience, and these areas cannot easily be developed or trained upon joining, do not appoint them.

Not everyone has a natural ability to interview well, but training or coaching can help your managers run an effective selection process, so they can find the right person for the job.

If you or your team need support in making more successful hiring decisions, get in touch.

Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health Awareness week in the UK is an initiative introduced by the Mental Health Foundation.  In 2023, Mental Health Awareness week is from 15-21st May and the theme this year is Anxiety.

Anxiety can affect people both physically and mentally. People may experience different symptoms, including increased heart rate, headaches and chest pains.  It can cause people to feel tense or nervous, making it hard to relax and detrimentally affect sleep and concentration.

Mental health is something everyone has, like physical health, and they are connected – you will have noticed physical symptoms of anxiety described above.  Equally, those experiencing physical health problems can experience declining mental health as a result.

Mental health at work

Your employees’ mental health problems have a big potential impact at work, for example:

  • Increased absence from work
  • Lack of concentration leading to reduced productivity
  • Increased accidents at work due to lack of attention
  • Increased attrition rates
  • Poor morale and low-esteem in the workforce

It is estimated that cost to employers of poor mental health at work cost £56 billion per year [1], consisting of:

  • absenteeism cost: £6.1 billion
  • presenteeism cost: £24.8-£27.6 billion
  • staff turnover cost £22.4 billion

So, if you consider the cost, investing in ways to support good mental health at work seems to be a ‘no-brainer’.

Promoting good mental health at work

Businesses can take small steps to support their employees’ mental health. Here are some ideas:

  1. Talk to people in your team and get to know them, so you can notice any changes in their behaviour and demeanour.
  2. In your regular 1-1s with your team, ask them how they’re feeling, if they have any worries or concerns, and respond constructively. Normalise that kind of conversation.
  3. Encourage your staff to ‘switch off’ out of work, especially when it comes to accessing and responding to emails outside of working hours.
  4. When addressing issues with your staff, make sure you deliver difficult messages in a kind and supportive way.
  5. Consider introducing an Employee Assistance Programme which offers a confidential counselling support service.
  6. If you operate as a remote business, think about introducing more face-to-face interactions with your team, or alternatively review the frequency of video / phone calls.
  7. Encourage employees to take physical exercise, whether lunchtime walking or yoga, walking meetings, sponsored challenges, subsidised gym membership, volunteering days or competitive ‘step challenges’ between teams.
  8. Introduce a ‘buddy’ system, where a colleague is allocated to an employee as an additional support. This provides another way for them to flag concerns.
  9. Train some employees as Mental Health First Aiders, and provide regular training about mental health to all employees and managers.
  10. Ensure your managers are meeting their team members regularly and providing feedback to them, not just via an annual appraisal system.

Mental Health problems affect one in four people in any given year [2] so if you have a team of 12 people, 3 of them may be struggling.  If those three employees are absent as a result, then that could have a big impact on your business.

If you would like help with supporting the mental health of your employees, get in touch here.

References:

1 – Source: Deloitte | March 2022

2 – Source: Mind.org.uk

Bullying at work

The topic of bullying at work was in the mainstream media in April 2023 after the resignation of the then deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab after an investigation in to claims of bullying made against him; especially after his underwhelming acceptance of the allegations against him, famously stating that “in setting the threshold for bullying so low, this inquiry has set a dangerous precedent” in his resignation letter.

Dominic Saab’s resignation came less than two years after Priti Patel (then Home Secretary) was accused of bullying and was found to have been in breach of the ministerial code.

What is Bullying?

When it comes to dealing with bullying at work, as a business you need to identify or define what ‘bullying’ is, so you can ensure your employees have a clear understanding of what it actually means.

In guidance from ACAS they say that there is no legal definition of ‘bullying’ but it is described as unwanted behaviour from a person or group that is either:

  • Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting
  • An abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, or causes physical or emotional harm to someone.

This behaviour could be a pattern or a one off, face to face, on social media, emails, phonecalls, outside of work or in work, and it can go unnoticed by others. It could be among peers, or in a senior/junior relationship (and despite what you might think, a senior person can be bullied by a junior person).

The union Unison also has some clear guidelines and defines bullying as persistant offensive, intimidating, humiliating behaviour, which attempts to undermine an individual or a group of employees.

Likewise Indeed.com has some advice about bullying, describing a workplace bully as someone who repeatedly harms or mistreats employees by causing them pain or engaging in other forms of physical or verbal harassment.

Legal firms often describe bullying as offensive, intimidating, malicious, insulting or humiliating behaviour, or an abuse of power or authority which attempts to undermine an individual or group of employees, and which may cause them to suffer work-related stress.

There is no shortage of information about what bullying may involve, leaving organisations with no room to claim ignorance on the subject.

Examples of bullying

Bullying takes different forms, so to illustrate the breadth of possibilities, it’s helpful to outline some examples to bring the topic to life.  Examples could include:

  • Setting someone up to fail / setting impossible targets
  • Spreading malicious rumours about someone
  • Making humiliating comments about someone online
  • Undermining someone’s authority
  • Undermining someone’s competence with constant criticism
  • Ridiculing someone openly, by blaming or criticising them in front of others
  • Making threats about the security of someone’s employment if they exercise a right, or make a reasonable request

At work, it’s unlikely the bullying will take a physical form, and it will be more verbal and emotionally challenging behaviour.

Reality

If someone expresses upset about another person’s behaviour towards them does that automatically make them a bully?  Unfortunately, there are shades of grey when it comes to this issue.  The investigation into a complaint will be key in identifying if it was a reasonable response to someone’s behaviour.

If a someone says, “Your shoes are an interesting colour!” and the recipient of the comment states they are offended or feel belittled, does that mean they’re being bullied?  The question is whether it was reasonable to expect someone to be offended or feel belittled by a comment.

However, if someone says, “Come on, old man, do you need a sit-down?!” even as a joke, the question of whether it was reasonable to be offended by that comment may be easier to answer.  But it’s rarely that easy, so the investigation into the behaviour and the context needs to be done with an open mind, and with the definition of bullying and the relevant complaints procedure front and centre.

Direct financial risks to your business

The most obvious risk employers will be concerned about is the risk of a legal claim.  So what does that actually mean, and what is the risk?

Under the Equality Act 2010, if the bullying is due to a ‘protected characteristic’ then it is classed as harassment.  Protected characteristics are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Pregnancy (also covered under direct discrimination legislation)

Any harassment claim at an employment tribunal under the Equality Act 2010 has an uncapped potential award. This means it’s difficult to quantify the potential financial risk, but the cost of defending a claim will be substantial (by current estimates, upwards of £15k), without including the compensation the Tribunal panel may award, if the claim is successful.

The other risk of a bullying claim is for constructive dismissal (Unfair Dismissal). This would arise if the employee feels the bullying is so bad they have no option but to leave.  Awards for Unfair Dismissal are capped at around a year’s salary, or c.£90k, so still represents significant financial risk.

Indirect financial risks to your business

The impact of having a workplace which tolerates (or fails to address) bullying could be serious.  Your workforce will operate in a state of fear,  afraid to make mistakes or put forward new ideas.  This does not engender creativity or engagement at work, both of which will affect your productivity.

Your attrition rates will increase as employees leave what they feel is a ‘toxic’ culture. As a result your recruitment costs will go up, and you will lose talent.

In addition, do not underestimate the power of reputational damage.  Social media platforms provide an opportunity for unhappy employees to share their experiences. With the advent of websites like Glassdoor, employers who fail to deal with bullying will quickly be exposed, making it even harder to attract and retain talent. It may also affect the success of the business. Potential customers may choose a competitor due to the reputation you have as an employer, directly hitting your bottom line.

Practicalities of dealing with it

The first thing to do is make sure you have an anti-bullying and harassment policy place. You should ensure it’s shared with all your workers, and that it is followed. This is a communication and training piece, AND a leadership one.  Leaders must lead by example, otherwise the policy ‘isn’t worth the paper it’s written on’ (to coin a phrase).

Best practice is for employers to create an inclusive culture.  Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD states workplaces should have a “safe culture where people can speak up, where differences are respected and celebrated.” Research by the CIPD shows that employees are looking for an inclusive and supportive culture.

As well as having a policy and communicating it to everyone, leaders and managers need to ‘walk the walk’. Managers need training to recognise bullying, encourage people to flag concerns to them, and ensure they investigate and address it.  There should be a consistent approach, therefore following policy and procedure is key.  The investigation must have integrity and confidentiality so any subsequent decisions are fair and reasonable, and are seen as such.

 

Dealing with bullying is never easy, undoubtedly, but it needs to be done reduce risk to your business. If you have concerns about culture in your business and you don’t know where to start, get in touch here.

Employment legislation changes – April 2023 and beyond

As an employer it’s important to know of any forthcoming employment law changes. Being aware of the changes ensures you can prepare for them and protect your business from any legal claims. Here’s a rundown of the changes taking effect from April 2023.

Payroll costs – National Minimum Wage rates

The cost of living increase continues to be a key issue for many employers who are facing pressure to increase wages.

Whilst there is no legal requirement to increase pay to address issues with high inflation rates, the National Minimum Wage/living rates are going up on 1 April 2023, therefore if your pay is based on minimum wage rates, you will need to implement these changes:

Age group​ Up to 31/3/2023 From 1/4/2023 % Increase​
23 and over​ £9.50 £10.42 9.7%
21 or 22​ £9.18 £​10.18 10.9%
18 – 20​ £6.83 £7.49 9.7%
16-17 £4.81 £5.28 9.7%
Apprentices under 19 (or over 19 but in year 1 of apprenticeship​) £4.381 £5.28 9.7%
Statutory pay rates
Family friendly leave

From 3 April 2023 Statutory Maternity, Adoption, Paternity, Shared Parental and Parental Bereavement pay will increase to £172.48 per week.

Statutory Sick pay

On 3 April 2023 Statutory Sick Pay will increase to £109.40 per week.

Statutory redundancy payments

With effect from 6th April 2023, the statutory redundancy pay cap increases to £643 per week, therefore for anyone who leaves due to redundancy on or after this date, you will need to calculate their redundancy pay on this new rate.  If the redundant employee’s normal weekly rate is under this figure, you should calculate their redundancy compensation based on their actual weekly pay rate.

Bank holidays – The King’s Coronation

In 2023 there will be an additional Bank Holiday to celebrate the King’s Coronation, on Monday 8th May 2023. This is in addition to the usual May Day Bank Holiday on 1st May, and the Spring Bank Holiday on Monday 29th May 2023.

An employee’s individual contract of employment will dictate whether they are entitled to take this additional day off and how this day’s leave will be treated.  Employers should check the wording in their employees’ contracts, and communicate clearly to employees if they are expected to work on the additional bank holiday, and / or if they need to take it from their annual leave entitlement.

Upcoming changes to be confirmed

2023 is potentially going to be a busy year for changes in employment law, with lots of Bills under consideration.  This is a summary of what may be in the pipeline.  There are no firm dates for implementation, but in the meantime it pays to be ahead of the changes and consider how they may affect you and your business in advance of the bills being passed in to law.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

During her brief time as Conservative Prime Minister, Liz Truss expressed the Party’s commitment to change Working Time Regulations’ rules on taking breaks, limiting the 48-hour working week and calculating holiday pay. In addition, the government introduced the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill which, if passed unamended, will remove all UK laws containing EU law by the end of 2023. In addition it will give the government powers to repeal or replace those laws without Parliamentary scrutiny. As well as the working time rules, the TUPE and the agency workers regulations may be at the top of a possible list for reform, due the fact that these laws derive directly from EU regulations.

Anti-strike policies

Conservative proposals for restricting the effect of industrial action were outlined by the the previous Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps in July 2022. Consequently, some anti-strike measures are already passing or have passed into law, such as the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill and Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022 which allow organisations to use agency workers to cover striking workers.

However, the Regulatory Policy Committee have stated the Strikes Bill is ‘not fit for purpose’ and subsequently have suggested another impact assessment is needed. In addition, the TUC has mounted a legal challenge to the agency worker rule change, which is due to be heard in March 2023.

The Carer’s Leave Bill

The Carer’s Leave Bill will give carers one week’s unpaid leave a year to care for a dependant with a long-term care need that is:

  • likely to last more than three months;
  • is a disability under the Equality Act 2010; and/or
  • connected to old age.

This will be a day one right for employees.

Many organisations already support carers and have policies in place, however this will involve changes to flexible working policies and practices, therefore communicating any changes relating to flexible working requests and requests for carer leave to managers will be very important, to ensure any speculative enquiries are dealt with appropriately.

The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill 

This bill extends the right to be redeployed during pregnancy (including miscarriage), maternity and family leave for 18 months after the start of that leave. These are important considerations that will have to be managed during an employee’s family/maternity leave and in restructuring or redundancy exercises.

Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill

The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill will allow parents whose babies need hospital neonatal care to take 12 weeks’ paid leave in addition to their statutory maternity or paternity leave. The right will:

  • be available from day one of employment;
  • apply to parents with babies who are admitted to hospital before they are 28 days old;
  • apply to babies who need to stay in hospital for 7 days continuously or more.
Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill

This bill will make it unlawful for employers to withhold tips from staff.  A new statutory Code of Practice on how tips should be distributed will be developed, and in addition workers will gain a new right to request information on an employer’s tipping record to help them to bring a tribunal claim under the new rules.

Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill

This new legislation would:

  • make flexible working requests a day one right for employees (thereby removing the current 26 weeks’ service requirement)
  • allow employees to make two requests a year (currently only one request is possible)
  • require employers to consult with the employee, before rejecting a request
  • shorten the time employers have to reply to a request from three to two months
  • remove the requirement for employees to set out the likely effects on the business of the change.
Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill

This bill will give all employees and workers (including agency and zero hours workers) the right to formally request a more stable working pattern and will be available to those who:

  • have worked for the employer for 26 weeks (not necessarily continuously)
  • are on work patterns that lack certainty in the hours and time they work
  • are on fixed term contracts under 12 months’ in duration.

Workers will be able to make two requests a year, however employers will be able to refuse requests on specific grounds, e.g. due to the additional costs involved or a lack of work at the times requested.  This reform is intended to rectify one-sided flexibility favouring employers to the detriment of workers.

Office of the Whistleblower

A Bill on whistleblowing could, if passed, repeal the current framework in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 and introduce broader protection with a bigger range of penalties. The bill involves the creation of a new body, potentially called the Office of the Whistleblower, which would be given investigation powers and have the authority to order redress.

Auto-Enrolment Pension Changes 

There is an Automatic Enrolment Private Members Bill moving through Parliament which looks set to bring in changes to the Automatic Enrolment populations and employers who use Qualifying Earnings to calculate contributions:

  • Lowering the age criteria for auto-enrolment from 22 to 18 years of age
  • Removing the Lower Earnings Limit of £6,240 if you’re using qualifying earnings

Predictions are that this particular change will come in to effect either in April 2024, or at the earliest in October 2023.

And….

The government is also backing the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill currently passing through Parliament, which would cover the following:

  • reintroducing employers’ liability for the harassment of their staff by third-parties (whether they are customers, clients, or suppliers). This liability was previously removed in 2013;
  • requiring employers to proactively prevent the sexual harassment of their staff;
  • allowing for a 25% uplift in any award in a successful sexual harassment tribunal claim where the employer failed to prevent the harassment occurring.
If you’re concerned about what these employment law changes mean for your business and need help in preparing for them, please get in touch with Helpful HR.