Are you really Listening?


Listening is one of the most important skills you can have, but research suggests that we only remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear!
Listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you’ll improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. What's more, you'll avoid conflict and misunderstandings. All of these are necessary for workplace success.

Active Listening
This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.

In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.

You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you'll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.

If you're finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them – this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.

To enhance your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you’re listening to what they’re saying. To understand the importance of this, ask yourself if you've ever been engaged in a conversation when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying. You wonder if your message is getting across, or if it's even worthwhile continuing to speak. It feels like talking to a brick wall and it's something you want to avoid.  I’ve experienced this many times when out networking and it doesn’t inspire me to want to help someone if they can’t be bothered to listen to what I have to say!

Acknowledgement can be something as simple as a nod of the head or a simple "uh huh." You aren't necessarily agreeing with the person, you’re simply indicating that you are listening. Using body language and other signs to acknowledge you’re listening also reminds you to pay attention and not let your mind wander.

You should also try to respond to the speaker in a way that will encourage them to continue speaking, so that you get the information you need. While nodding and "uh huhing" indicates that you're interested, an occasional question or comment to recap on what has been said communicates that you understand the message too.

Becoming an Active Listener
The following pointers will help you to ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they say:-

Pay Attention
Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge the message. Recognize that non-verbal communication also "speaks" loudly.
- Look at the speaker directly.
- Put aside distracting thoughts.
- Don't mentally prepare a rebuttal!
- Avoid being distracted by environmental factors. For example, side conversations.
-"Listen" to the speaker's body language.

Show That You're Listening
Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention:-
- Nod occasionally.
- Smile and use other facial expressions.
- Note your posture and make sure it’s open and inviting.
- Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.

Provide Feedback
Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. So do some of the following to show that you understand what is being said:-

- Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing for example, "What I'm hearing is xxx," and "Sounds like you are saying xxx".
- Ask questions to clarify certain points. "What do you mean when you say xxx." "Is this what you mean?"
- Summarize the speaker's comments periodically.

If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, tell them, and ask for more information: "I may not be understanding you correctly, and I find myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said is xxx; is that what you meant?"

Defer Judgment
Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
- Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.
- Don't interrupt with counter arguments.

Respond Appropriately
Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.
- Be candid, open, and honest in your response.
- Assert your opinions respectfully.
- Treat the other person in a way that you think they would want to be treated.

It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break, and if your listening habits are as bad as many peoples are, then there's a lot of habit-breaking to do!

Be deliberate with your listening and set aside all other thoughts and behaviours so that you can concentrate on the message. Ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message. If you don't, then you'll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!



6 Ways to Improve Workplace Communications


1. Create A Communication-Friendly Environment

One of your (many!) roles as a manager is to make sure that there’s always a clear and constant flow of communication with your team. Speaking up about feelings or sharing ideas and initiatives should never be taboo.

I worked in a large, open plan HR office where no one spoke, they just got their heads down and went straight to work, silently. It felt like being at school, probably worse, as we got away with a bit of talking now and then.  No wonder HR were the last to hear of any employee problems, as people really didn’t want to come into such an awful atmosphere!  And it wasn’t a productive environment – I’m sure we didn’t need the amount of employees we had in HR for the projects that were running when I was there?  I tried to change this culture and it was particularly useful for 2 new administrators in the team, as they were really struggling with certain aspects of their role, but they were afraid to speak out.  By building up a rapport with them and encouraging them to talk, I discovered which areas they required additional training on and they improved, reducing the amount of administration complaints the department was receiving.
So how do you create a communication-friendly office?

- Lead by example: Always say good morning to everyone and get the conversation flowing by asking how their evening was or if they have anything they need help with. Ask questions, challenge ideas, communicate your feelings, etc.
- Encourage social interactions: Prompt employees to eat away from their desks during lunch so they have a chance to communicate with one another and build relationships with their colleagues.
- Open-door policy: Keep it open as often as possible. On a less literal level, this reminds your employees that you’re there for them to talk whenever they need.

2. Keep It Constant
Schedule monthly 121s with your employees so that you can keep up to date on where your employees are at, how they are feeling, and what they might need from you to best contribute to the team.

Schedule one hour every month to chat. You’d be surprised how much your employees have to say that they might not bring up if you didn’t initiate this allotted space for them to talk.

3. Team Meetings
Schedule these in quarterly or bi-annually, depending on the size of your team.  There may be some collective, organisational problems that you’re not aware of and the employees may feel safer discussing them with you as a group.  However, some employees may feel shy speaking up in a public forum, so also try passing around some post-it notes and pens for people to send in their questions anonymously.

The meetings should be used as an opportunity for employees to ask questions and share concerns, you can also fill them in on new projects coming up and achievement of organisational goals etc. Including everyone in these sorts of conversations is a great way to keep your team engaged. They’ll feel a greater sense of belonging and feel part of something bigger, which will reflect in their performance.

4. Communication Methods
Face to face communication is always the best form of communication, as e-mails or text messages, as we’ve all learnt I’m sure, can easily be misinterpreted.  However, in a busy office, this isn’t always possible, so if you are e-mailing, make sure it is written in friendly but professional language and check it before you send it out – would you be happy with the content if you were the recipient?  General notices and organisational information don’t always need to be communicated face to face, however, if they are going to affect certain individuals more than others, or create a major change to their working lives, then face to face communication is a must!  No matter how difficult the message is that you have to relay, your employees will not respect you if you hide behind your computer!

5. Watch Your Body Language
Non-verbal communication is also important when communicating with others, as your body language could have a huge impact on the people around you.

Try to communicate with a positive physical presence, ensuring your body language is open and approachable.  Some tips to make you more aware of this are to:-

- Smile (unless you’re delivering bad news, of course!)
- Keep your arms uncrossed
- Maintain an upright posture
- Maintain eye contact – don’t keep looking at your phone or the clock!

6. Know When to Listen
If you actively listen to your employee, they will share much more with you and respect you more.  No one wants to open up to someone who is not actively engaged in the conversation.

You should set aside all other thoughts and concentrate on what your employee is saying. Ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message and show them that you are actually listening.  If you don't, then you'll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different! 

Of course, if you are meeting with an employee, you will have an agenda too, so make sure you prepare by writing a list of the things you wish to discuss and then when the employee has finished speaking, you can go through your list – you may find that some of your points will have been addressed by this stage anyway?

My February blog will provide some more tips on active listening, so please look out for it.




Work-related socialising – are you culpable?


I thought this an apt time to write about this, with the Christmas season now upon us!  Office parties remain a feature of most peoples employment, whether you love or hate them. They can range from a small social gathering in the pub after work at the end of a stressful day, to the full-blown Christmas party where the alcohol flows freely all night.

Unfortunately, while many employees will use it to let their hair down completely harmlessly, the office party may represent trouble for a small minority. As an employer, you should be proactive in ensuring acceptable conduct as you could find yourself vicariously liable for the actions of your employees, if those actions are deemed to have been committed "during the course of their employment", whether or not they were done with your knowledge or approval.

If a social event can genuinely be classed as an extension of employment, you might find that your company is held vicariously liable for either acts of discrimination or acts of negligence committed by its employees at the event. This would include incidents at office parties, client functions, work conferences and work-organised social events such as leaving parties.

It probably wouldn’t cover an incident where a couple of colleagues met up informally with other friends for a beer at the weekend; neither would it cover a chance meeting in the street between two employees that ended in a fight.  So, there does need to be a clear link between the employment relationship and the off-duty conduct for it to become your legitimate concern.

The employer's defence

With discrimination claims, under the Equality Act 2010, there is a defence if, as an employer, you can prove that you took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory act complained of, or from doing acts of that description in the course of their employment.

With negligence, if you can show that a particular act was expressly prohibited, this should also help your case.
The key therefore is to take sufficient steps to minimise the risk of being held vicariously liable, such as:-

Preventative measures

1. Write a Policy or Guideline setting out the standard of behaviour expected of employees at these events.  The Policy should clearly provide examples of what is considered inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour and what the disciplinary penalties will be for breach of the rules, including possible summary dismissal if the offence is one of gross misconduct.  Make it clear that fighting, excessive alcohol consumption, the use of illegal drugs, inappropriate behaviour, sexist or racist remarks and comments about sexual orientation, disability, age or religion will not be tolerated.

This document doesn’t have to be war and peace and can cross-refer to other policies.  So, make it a concise document so that it can then be reiterated by email prior to each major social event.

Employees should also be warned that they are required to take steps to ensure that they are well within the legal limits if they are going to be driving home after an event.

It is well known that alcohol loosens tongues and employees are more likely to inadvertently discuss secret company business with either fellow employees or outsiders when under its influence. Therefore, staff should also be warned of the risks and consequences of this type of behaviour in the policy document.

2. Alcohol consumption - we all know that a lot of these unpleasant incidents can be initiated by the intake of too much alcohol, so try to avoid over-indulgence by providing plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and enough food, while limiting the amount of alcohol available.  Having a live band or disco also helps, as some people will spend more time on the dance floor than at the bar!

3. Timing – wherever possible, consider holding these events on a Friday, or at the weekend, or arranging for them to end earlier in the evening, or even holding them during working hours.

But please don’t let this deter you from holding a Christmas party! 
According to an ILM survey, 66 per cent of workers say one of the key benefits of a Christmas party is to improve colleague relationships, and the same number like the opportunity to get to know each other.
So perhaps it’s just a case of finding the right balance between letting employees have a good time without letting the promise of free booze sway them to the dark side – too much!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!



5 top tips on how to avoid making poor recruitment decisions


I’ve lost count of how many times an employer has said to me “They were really good at interview, but they don’t seem to be as good as they said they were!”  If you run your own business, in particular, you may have great sales and technical skills, but recruitment is a totally different ball game!  It’s not an exact science, but there are things you can do to make sure you avoid making decisions that you really can’t afford to make!:-

1. Be clear about what you want

Have you really thought about:

- What type of person you’re looking for?
- What qualifications, skills, experience and personal attributes they’ll need to succeed in this role?
- What attributes, experience, skills etc. are essential to you and what are not?

We all would like the perfect candidate with absolutely everything we’re looking for, but how many people like this are on the jobs market?  Some of the skills you need are trainable and some people learn quickly from experience, so I personally think that attitude is just as important if not more so, in the majority of jobs!
To help with consistency and clarity of what you’re looking for, you should produce a job description and person specification for the vacancy.  Here is a link to a useful article on what to include in these documents:  https://www.tpp.co.uk/employers/recruitment-advice/general-recruitment/writing-effective-job-descriptions-and-person-specifications

2. Prepare for the interview

It’s not just about the candidate trying to impress you in an interview, you need to impress them!  By preparing thoroughly and asking competency based questions (work-based scenarios to draw out their skills and experience), rather than just having a friendly chat, you will show the individual that you are professional and genuinely interested in them being the right fit for your company.

3. Get to understand the candidate's motivation

This isn’t about asking the standard question, "What motivates you?", but about getting some real insight into why the candidate is on the market and why your vacancy interests them. This is vital to know as you don't want a ‘square peg in a round hole’.

4. Make sure there is a fit

Particularly when making senior appointments, it is important that you’re satisfied any potential employee is going to be a good fit in terms of organisational culture and team.  Clashes of personality and individuals with different values can become very counter-productive and time consuming.  If there are some gaps in technical abilities and even skills, you can plug them. However, if someone is not a good fit, you are going to make an appointment that more than likely will not be a good one.

5. Don’t appoint just to get ‘bums on seats’!

You’re desperate for some help, the team are struggling with the workload since a member left, so should you just go for the best of a bad bunch?  If from the first round of interviews you don’t feel any candidates are suitable, conduct another round or re-advertise if you have to.  The cost of having to re-recruit and train an individual if they don’t work out in their probationary period will be far higher than the time and cost involved in just re-advertising and making sure you get the right person the first time around!

So, putting this all together, make sure you have a clear job description and person specification, ask competency based questions to really draw out their skills and experience, make sure the candidate really wants the job and you really want them and you could save yourself a lot of money and pain in the longer term!
And if you think you could use some help with improving your recruitment process, then please don’t hesitate to contact me.



How to give feedback in difficult situations


Firstly, when you’re in these situations, you need to remember the “why.”  Focus on all the good reasons you’re giving the feedback.  Remind yourself and your employee by saying things like, “I need to share this with you because I want you to be successful” or, ”I want to see you develop and grow with the company.”

Prepare for the meeting. Start by increasing your own self-awareness: How do you react when another person has an emotional reaction?  Do you sugarcoat the feedback — trying to avoid conflict — or get frustrated and fight back?  Whatever you do, don’t wing it! You’ll feel better prepared if you do your homework in advance and can demonstrate your point(s) using observations, data, and concrete examples wherever possible.  

Handle reactions in the moment.  Thorough preparation won’t stop the other person from reacting negatively, but it can help you to respond calmly and effectively when the emotions arise.

Move the conversation to a productive place.  The goal is to diffuse the emotional reaction so that you can productively give the feedback and, together, come up with ideas and actions to ensure the employee’s success. This may mean having a second meeting, requesting that you regroup after the person has had time to calm down and collect themselves.  Addressing the emotional reaction shouldn’t have a negative effect on the other parts of a productive feedback conversation, including: sharing the why, naming the issue clearly, offering examples, listening and hearing the other person out, and coming to a shared agreement on next steps and actions.

When talking to an employee who starts to cry
It’s easy to get flustered or frustrated in the face of tears or when the employee says things like, “I never do anything right.” In these situations, let them know that you are just trying to help them be successful, and still put the issue on the table. This person needs to hear the message as kindly and as empathetically as possible, but the message is the message. Remember, a hard message doesn’t have to come with a hard voice or tone. Deliver it thoughtfully and considerately.” Here are some other tips you could try:-

- Deliver the feedback at the end of the day so the employee can go home afterwards.
- Have a box of tissues on hand - this acknowledges the emotion and gives the other person a chance to pause and collect themselves.
- Know that you may have to meet again once the employee has calmed down.
- Say something like: “I can see you are upset. I understand this is difficult for you. I know you want to be successful and I want you to be too. I need you to think about this. Let’s set up another meeting tomorrow morning after you’ve had time to digest.”

If tears come from an employee who doesn’t normally cry or express emotions in this way, it may be a signal that something else is wrong, so ask them if there is anything else they wish to talk about and reassure them that you are there to help them.

When talking to an employee who yells
When faced with an employee who yells or gets angry, it’s common to either feel intimidated such that you back down or feel riled up such that you lash back.  If you retaliate aggressively, you provide them with justification for their unreasonable behaviour. They think: ‘”Ah, I knew you were out to get me. This proves it.’”

Aim to stay calm while standing your ground. Say things in a neutral, composed voice, like:

- “I need to have a conversation with you. I need you to lower your voice.”
- “I need you to take a deep breath or we will have to reschedule this. This is not constructive.”

Even if the employee claims that yelling shows passion, let them know you appreciate the strength of their convictions but yelling is not the best way to express this. Reiterate your good intentions and let them know you want to hear what they have to say after they’ve taken a moment or a night to calm down.

When talking to an employee who gets defensive
You might get someone who has a reason or explanation for everything.  Have you heard the saying “This person is like Teflon — it’s never his/her responsibility and he/she attempts to shift the ownership of blame onto someone else.”?

The employee might say things like, “You’ve misunderstood. They’ve got it all wrong. You clearly don’t understand” — a tactic to avoid having a constructive dialogue.  You could respond by saying something like:

- “I see this as your responsibility — let’s talk about why you don’t see it this way.”
- “When you blame someone else, you become the victim, which isn’t helpful to you.”

When to address the bigger issue
If the employee’s behavior is a recurring pattern, you should address the person’s reactive tendency head-on.  You might say something like, “I notice every time we sit down to discuss feedback, you get [upset, angry, defensive], but I do have your best interests at heart.  What can I do to help you receive feedback positively and with less emotion?” 

Break the vicious cycle of avoiding difficult feedback conversations.  Don’t stew on things or bottle things up. Give constructive feedback as things crop up, so that it ends up being smaller.

Emotional reactions can put us on opposite sides of the table with the other person.  By focusing on good intentions, preparing with integrity, and calmly and effectively responding in the moment, we can move to the same side of the table and help the other person to grow.



5 Top tips on how to improve employee performance


1. Use a performance management system – it can be as simple as quarterly review meetings and an overall annual review, but will ensure that you monitor employee performance regularly and consistently.

2. Give praise where praise is due – to keep the impetus going!

3. Deal with performance issues as they arise – don’t save them up for a meeting you can finally get around to, when they have been repeating the same error many times, which means that by then the problem may have escalated!

4. Look at why they’re not performing – it could be that they don’t understand what’s expected of them or need more training.  If you have these conversations early on, you can fill the gaps in their experience and knowledge and gain their continuing commitment to improving their performance.

5. Be consistent – if you have disciplined one employee for making 5 serious mistakes in a few months, you need to discipline others who do likewise.  This is a very simple example, but it could negatively affect morale and hence, productivity and you need to ensure you are not open to claims of discrimination.

If you would like help with improving your employees performance, then please don’t hesitate to contact me.




Do you really know the costs of employee turnover?


Employee turnover is simply the proportion of employees who leave an organisation over a set period (often on a year-on-year basis but the periods can be set to suit your business?), expressed as a percentage of total workforce numbers.  So, the calculation for this would be as follows:-
Total number of leavers over period x 100
Average total number employed over period
And when looking at employee turnover, most think of it in terms of financial costs to their business.  These are scary enough – some estimate it to be 20% of the employee’s initial salary or if you’re trying to replace a very specialised role that’s difficult to recruit for, it could be as high as more than double the employee’s salary!  The costs incurred would include:-

- Employee replacement costs (advertising, interviews, technical tests, etc.).
- Induction and initial training costs (depending on the role, employees may not be performing fully in their role for at least 3 months)
- Lost time in terms of other employees having to cover the role whilst the above is being implemented.

But there are also the emotional costs, which can be higher, such as the effect it has on morale in your company.  If your employee turnover is high, this creates a poor company culture where everyone is waiting for their invite to a “confidential meeting” (I’ve heard this joke a few times when I’ve placed an envelope on an employee’s desk – “is that my P45?”), so no one is going to be productive or produce their best work in such an environment?!
Reasons for high employee turnover
This will depend on your industry (you could check what your competitors say?), but the most common reasons for staff leaving are:-

- To advance their career, either due to lack of promotion prospects or skills not being utilised;
- To develop their skills and experience;
- Lack of engagement with the company, i.e. poor motivation, lack of incentives to stay, poor culture (negative, bullying environments) or mis-management;
- To increase their salary, but I think this tends to be in more money-oriented roles such as sales.

Another factor which could affect employee turnover is your recruitment processes – you could be recruiting the wrong people in the first place!  Please see the section below on how to avoid this.
A good way to gauge the reasons for leaving would be to conduct a brief exit interview to encourage leavers to submit feedback about what could be improved in their role or within the company.
You could even conduct regular 121s with your staff to ask them what would influence them to leave and what could you do to make sure they stay with you?  This would be particularly useful if you’re in a business where you have very skilled workers who would be difficult to replace.
Ways to reduce employee turnover
When looking at the above reasons for leaving, there are several things you could do to ensure high employee turnover doesn’t continue to be a drain on your business:-

Improve the recruitment process
As mentioned above, you need to get this right first time!  If you recruit people that are the right fit for the job and the company culture, your employee turnover will most definitely go down.  Think about prospective employees’ expectations – be honest about the role and company so that they start with no illusions.
Create/maximise opportunities for career development and progression
What employees really want, as made famous by Dan Pink, is autonomy, mastery, and purpose. You need to discuss, understand and manage people’s career expectations from day one.  Look at ways of maximising opportunities for employees to develop their skills and move on in their careers. Where promotions aren’t feasible, look for sideways moves that vary experience and make the work more interesting.  You can easily find ways to help employees improve whatever skills they have for their job and then they’ll become better at what they do and hence be more productive, so both of you win!

Consult employees
Ensure that employees have a 'voice' through consultative bodies, regular appraisals, attitude surveys and grievance procedures. If you own a small business where many of these options aren’t feasible, ensure you at least conduct regular 121s with your staff and encourage feedback.  Otherwise, if there is no opportunity to voice dissatisfaction, resigning may be their only option.
Collect Frequent Feedback
Employees want to feel both listened to and that their opinion matters.  A great way to lower turnover is to collect feedback frequently from your employees and act on that feedback. However, if you collect feedback that you’re not ready to act upon, that will have the opposite effect of what you want. So actively listen to and show a genuine interest about the well-being of your employees and this will definitely result in reduced turnover.
Treat people fairly
A perception of unfairness, whatever the management view of the issue, is a major cause of voluntary resignations. For example, perceived unfairness in the distribution of rewards is very likely to lead to resignations.  Consult with your staff and make fair decisions on systems which reward performance, rather than rewarding those who can ‘talk the talk’ better than others.
Train Your Managers
I also mentioned bad managers as a reason for leaving, so one solution to this could be to train your managers.  I have seen many managers treating staff poorly throughout my career, purely down to their lack of knowledge of people management practices and confidence, causing them to view high performers as a threat.  I have helped by training and coaching such managers, providing them with the right resources and mental attitude to manage their staff in a fair and consistent manner.
Avoid a culture of 'presenteeism'
Where people feel obliged to work longer hours than are necessary to impress management.  This is not productive and creates a poor working environment which is bad for morale.  Lead by example and try to leave on time as often as you can – tiredness can lead to mistakes and then wasted time trying to rectify them!
Be Flexible
Wherever possible, accommodate individual preferences on working hours and times.  Work-life balance is one of the most important parts of keeping your employees happy, healthy, and productive.

Recognise Employees
Research by Bersin actually found that it’s more important to receive recognition from peers than it is from senior managers, so set up systems or encourage employees to praise and recognise each other.
When you look at the costs of employee turnover, can you really afford to ignore it?  What are you doing to ensure you keep your quality employees happy and are you analysing employee turnover to see if you are doing enough?






Why me?  Bullying isn’t just for wimps!


Research from Dr. Judy Blando (University of Phoenix) has proven that almost 75% of employees surveyed had been affected by workplace bullying, whether as a target or a witness.

And I’m sure the majority of people who haven’t experienced bullying in their working lives think that it is only the weak and vulnerable who get ‘picked on’ – this is definitely not the case!  Anyone who knows me will testify that I am a strong personality and to do the work I do, you have to be pretty thick-skinned at times!  But I have been bullied twice in my HR career and both times, it was because I was seen as a threat to those individuals.  So, who is likely to be bullied and why? :-

You are a talented or skilled worker
Many times, people are bullied at work because they receive a lot of positive attention for their work.  Maybe you are intelligent, determined, creative and regularly contribute new and innovative ideas. Or maybe you go the extra mile and gain recognition for your hard work. All these things attract the attention of workplace bullies. As a result, they target you because they either feel inferior or they worry that their work is being overshadowed by your work and abilities. Bullying bosses, in particular, will target skilled workers and either steal the credit or undermine the target's work.

You are well liked or popular
It is a myth that all victims of bullying are loners and outcasts with no friends or social connections.  Often, it is the popular and well-liked workers that are most vulnerable to workplace bullying.  Bullies believe you pose a threat to their own popularity and social status at work.  

You are a good person
Often victims of workplace bullying are the most caring, social and collaborative on the team. To a workplace bully, these characteristics drain the power they have at work because they want to be in control and to call all the shots. So you may be targeted by bullies because you are a team player. This does not mean you should change your behaviour.  You may also be targeted for being ethical and honest. For instance, whistleblowers who expose fraudulent practices are frequently bullied by others at work to keep quiet.

You are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression - There is also some evidence that depression and other stress-related conditions might attract the attention of bullies, so that the bully can show how powerful they are by choosing victims who are vulnerable and therefore easier to control. If you are suffering from one of these conditions, please seek advice from your GP and try some of the suggested techniques below to eradicate or at least minimise this treatment.

You are viewed stereotypically or prejudicially - You may be targeted because of your gender, age, race, sexual preference, religion or if you have a disability or a disease. Whatever the reason, workplace bullies single out and target people who are different from them in some way. They also tend to discriminate against others.

What does the law state about bullying?
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was originally written to protect people from intrusion by the paparazzi and can lead to claims in the County Court for a tort (wrong doing) rather than an Employment Tribunal claim and is also covered under the Equality Act 2010.

Bullying, however, is not defined by any statute, and there is no legislation that specifically covers bullying. However, an employee who feels that they have been bullied at work, irrespective of whether or not they believe that the bullying relates to a protected characteristic, can resign and claim that the bullying amounts to a breach of their contract and claim constructive dismissal under the unfair dismissal provisions of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Also, if an employee suffers any physical or psychiatric injury as a result of workplace bullying, they could bring a claim of negligence and/or a personal injury claim.

So, what can you do if you come across this type of behaviour and remember, it’s your perception of how you are being treated?  You could try the following:-

- Tackle it head on – The first thing to try to do is talk to the bully. The person in question may not have realised how badly you’ve reacted to their behaviour.  Prepare what you’re going to say, giving specific examples, so that you get the message across in the right way.

- Stay calm - Although it’s often easier said than done, letting the bully see that they’re getting to you may make the situation worse. Try to remain as rational as possible and take the right steps to find a resolution.

- Mediation - If you don’t have the courage to do this, ask a friend or colleague to act as mediator for you. 

- Formal procedures - If you have a friend who’s experiencing bullying in the workplace and they don’t have the courage to speak to their aggressor, tell them to speak to the HR department or someone else in authority who they think could help them.  And if you’re self-employed and being bullied by a co-worker or even a client(!), you can call ACAS or the CAB.

And as an employer, you can mitigate any bullying in the workplace, which could affect morale, productivity and hence your bottom line, by:-

- having a well-publicised policy on the subject that is communicated to all employees.
It’s important to include in this policy that all individuals also have a responsibility to behave in ways which support a non-hostile working environment for themselves and their colleagues. They should be prepared to challenge inappropriate behaviour and take action if they observe or have evidence that someone is being bullied;
- training managers on how to implement this policy, including being able to observe signs that this type of behaviour is occurring, so that they can nip it in the bud; and  
- being able to demonstrate that any complaints of bullying will be handled promptly and effectively, so that individuals are not deterred from reporting such behaviour.

Or the final thing you could do as an individual being bullied, if all else fails, is:-

- Walk Away - you can try to tackle a bully, but it’s much harder if that bully is your boss.  So, if as in my case, you don’t succeed, or you see it as an impossible task in the first place, then think of your health and sanity.  I tried or thought of most of the above at the time, but in hindsight I should have left sooner, as it did affect my health and confidence for a while!  Your health is far more important than working for someone who doesn’t appreciate you and could potentially damage your career and possibly the rest of your life, if your illness becomes long-term as a result – life is too short!

I love this saying I came across a couple of years ago now (apologies, I didn’t make a note of the author!):-

Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy.



How to manage your mood


“Whatever thought that activates a negative mood in your life, absolutely doesn't deserve a single moment in your mind.” ― Edmond Mbiaka 

Have you noticed that often, when we ask someone how they are, they say things such as ‘fine’, ‘OK’, ‘tired’ or ‘stressed’, but this doesn’t necessarily tell you the whole story? We often tell people the emotion or mood that’s on top, but we are all much more complex than that.

And a lot of us hide how we’re really feeling for many reasons such as we don’t want to affect the morale of others, we know it can be counter-productive when networking for example.  I met someone I knew through networking one day and when I asked him how he was he said “Crap!  My business is doing really badly and I don’t know where I’m going to get my next client from!” – would you want to buy from this man?!

For many of us, our mood can change from day to day or even from moment to moment. Our mood then affects how we perceive the world, our behaviour and how effective we are. In terms of confidence, it is easier to stay upbeat and confident when we are in a positive mood.  Therefore, if you can learn to manage your mood throughout your working day and week, this will have a positive impact on your levels of confidence.

We all have an inner critic?
I talked about the inner critic in my last blog (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/criticism-can-you-handle-jackie-richards-mcipd), which is that demeaning voice inside our heads saying things like:-

- You’ll never be good enough for that job
- You still haven’t achieved ……………..
- You are hopeless
- You are useless

And so on... Often, this voice is in fact the voice of someone who said negative things to us when we were much younger – a teacher, a parent or sibling perhaps?  It’s a judgmental voice so if you listen to it, it can undermine your confidence and affect your mood.  The suggestions below will help you fight that inner critic and hence improve your mood so that you have the day and life you want, you don’t let it define you.

How to manage your mood
Whether you are aware of it or not, you are probably doing quite a few things to manage your mood.  The following are some suggestions of activities you might already be doing or would be good to do, together with actions you can take to improve your mood and confidence:-

At the beginning of the day

Suggested Activities: 
Sit down to eat breakfast and/or read the paper; walk the dog; meditate; listen to certain music while travelling to work; make a ‘To do’ list at the start of each day.

1. Check in with yourself – ask yourself how you are feeling. If you are in a less-than-positive mood, do something to transform it so that you give yourself the best possible chance of having a good day. If you start the day off badly, it’s going to be harder to retrieve the situation later on and this is likely to further undermine your confidence.

2. Create a ‘Well-Formed Outcome’ (WFO) - write down what you want to achieve in positive terms at the beginning of your day, which means that you focus on a positive outcome and are clear about what you expect to achieve. This will help you to feel more confident about what is ahead of you.

3. Visualise success - look up and visualise how you are going to handle the day ahead.  You will feel much more upbeat and confident if you have run through in your head how to tackle the challenges that lie ahead and what success will look like once you’ve achieved it.

4. Resource yourself - life throws lots of challenges at us and our inner critic likes to do its best to undermine us. Think of three inner resources that would help you in the situation that you are finding challenging: confidence, humour, courage and/or a sense of perspective, for example. Remember times when you have used these resources and remember how good you felt, so that you can bring that feeling to the current situation you’re facing.

5. Physical readiness - consider what you do for yourself physically before work or at challenging times. Are you eating healthily, drinking sensibly and doing everything possible to get a good night’s sleep? Do you exercise?  Think about what you can do to make sure you are in the best possible state physically.

During your day

Suggested Activities: 
Take time out over lunch; exercise or go for a short walk; read a book; chat with colleagues about non-work things.

1. Maintain rapport with self - monitor how you are feeling so you can spot when you go off centre. The quicker you can do this, the easier it will be to take action to bring yourself back into a positive state.  With practice and in time, you will be able to spot when either something outside you has knocked you for six, or when your inner critic suddenly starts to undermine your confidence and mood. Watch out for physical changes in your body that indicate a change in your thoughts and feelings, for example, a tensing of your shoulders or neck, a headache, a sinking feeling in your stomach etc. What physical signs do you notice in yourself when you are slipping into a less-than-positive state? 

2. Look up - this is a quick way of getting out of a negative mood or state. When you look up, you’re accessing your visual cortex, which has two benefits. Firstly, it’s almost impossible to experience a negative emotion while looking up and therefore it forces you to feel more positive. Secondly, when you look up and access your visual cortex it’s much easier to visualise how you are going to handle things. This is very useful if you’re starting to feel anxious, stressed, angry or under confident in a particular situation.

3. Take time out - if possible, take time out and physically remove yourself from a situation that’s making you feel negative or undermining your confidence, even if this means simply taking yourself off to the toilet or going to make a drink. This can help you to disassociate and leave your negative emotions behind. If you have time to go for a short walk, that will be even better.

4. Trigger your inner resources – As in point 4. above, remember to bring your resources into play when you need to draw on them. This is very effective for creating a more positive state.

End of the day

Suggested Activities: 
Listen to music on the way home; go to the gym or for a walk; have a relaxing bath; talk to a good friend; curl up with a good book; watch TV (this depends on what you watch, of course!).

1. Check in with yourself – even after a good day, it’s possible to feel flat or negative without any apparent cause. Rather than let this ruin your evening, do something to change your state so that you can end your day on a positive note, setting you up for a good night’s sleep and the next day.

2. Debrief in a constructive way - if you’re feeling negative about how you handled a situation and your inner critic is possibly giving you a hard time, make sure that you review what’s happened in a constructive way.  Look at what went right too, it can’t all have been bad(?!) and then think about how you could have done things better.

3. If necessary, look up and visualise how you would do it differently next time and what success would look like in this instance – you can then finally convince yourself and your inner critic that you can handle the situation in the future.

4. Celebrate! - too many people wait until everything is done, dusted and achieved before celebrating. Celebrating does not necessarily mean cracking open the bottle of bubbly, it can be simply acknowledging your achievements and successes or even the challenges you have faced during the day.



Coach, Mentor or Adviser? – The Choice is Yours?


I thought this was an apt blog to write, as I have just passed my ILM7 Executive Coaching & Mentoring Certificate and before I undertook this course, I didn’t realise that I didn’t know the exact differences between the above either!

Many businesses hire the services of a coach or consultant but some consultants call themselves coaches and vice versa, or some provide a mixture of all 3 services.  So to clarify this I have provided some definitions below:-

Coaching - "Coaching is not teaching, it is about creating the conditions for learning and growing; it is opening yourself to your true potential." (Sir John Whitmore).

Mentoring - "A mentor is a more experienced individual willing to share knowledge with someone less experienced in a relationship of mutual trust"  (David Clutterbuck, founder member of EMCC).

Advising – offering suggestions about the best course of action to someone (Oxford Dictionary).

A consultant will act more as an adviser and/or mentor, so they will either tell you what to do or guide you in the right direction using their experience as examples. 

A coach will ask powerful, open questions to empower you to find your own solutions, but they may occasionally mentor you, if you ask them for help when you are struggling to come to any conclusion, as they may have some experience or knowledge in the area that you are discussing.  Note, I say may – a good coach does not need to have any knowledge or experience in your field – their skill is to help you develop this, whereas if they are purely mentoring you, they will need this knowledge and experience to guide you.

So if you are new to business/self-employment and have no idea how to grow your business, then possibly, a Business Adviser or Consultant may be the best option for you.

On the other hand, if you have grown your business to a satisfactory level, but want to come up with some better ideas on how to take it to the next level, you may prefer a coach/mentor to help you with this.

So firstly you need to decide whether you need an adviser, coach or mentor and then secondly, who will be the best fit for you?  I would suggest you check the following when looking for a coach/mentor in particular:-

Are they qualified? – this is not essential with coaches or mentors, however, my view is that there are many self-professed ‘coaches’ out there, so a qualification would give you more of an indication as to their abilities, professionalism and commitment to their own ongoing development.

Do they have some experience of the subject matter?  When purely mentoring this is essential, but with coaching it is not.  However, a complete lack of relevant experience in the subject matter may necessitate in the coach signposting you to other experts, which adds to possibly the cost and definitely the time taken to achieve your goals.  For example, I’m a self-employed HR Consultant so I have provided coaching/mentoring to business owners/managers on people issues, improving people management or interpersonal skills, or increasing confidence when dealing with conflict, presenting or public speaking etc.

Are they professional? – during your initial conversations do they explain what coaching and mentoring is, to check which is the right development tool for you?  Do they provide you with documents to demonstrate that they work to a code of ethics and give advice on relationship boundaries etc.?  This is important, as you don’t want a coach/mentor who has a particular bias, otherwise, they may lead you along a totally different path that does nothing to resolve your problem(s) or your development.

Do they clearly explain their role in the process and what is expected of you? Experienced and qualified coaches will work with you to shape the relationship and define an agreement around the expectations of you both. This ensures a safe and confidential environment for an honest and transparent relationship.

Do they have testimonials or other people who can vouch for them?  If you work with a novice, you may have a poor experience that completely puts you off coaching or mentoring, when in fact it could have been exactly the right tool for you!

I hope you found this useful and thank you for taking the time to read my blog.


Why are Employers so poor at Employee Engagement?


Do you think that your staff are 100% motivated to produce the best results for your business?  If not, then please read on…..

Reason 1 - Communication
This seems to be the main reason for poor employee engagement in many companies.  A survey conducted by Interact found that 69% of managers are often uncomfortable communicating with employees, and 37% said they’re uncomfortable having to give direct feedback about their employees’ performance, if they think the employee might respond negatively to the feedback.

Research by Zenger/Folkman found that:
“People want corrective feedback, as we’ve defined it, even more than praise, if it’s provided in a constructive manner. By roughly a three to one margin, they believe it does even more to improve their performance than positive feedback.”

The Solution:-
2 way communication - employees need to feel that their voice and concerns are heard and if needed, action is taken. You should tell them your plans for the business and listen to their opinions, as the more involved they feel, the more committed they will be to the company.

If possible, hold monthly team meetings to give your employees updates on the company’s progress and ask for ideas for new products or services, or improvements that can be made to existing ones – this will encourage innovation and creativity within your team. 


Provide regular, constructive feedback – as part of your daily or at least weekly routine, praise staff who are performing well and for those that are not, take them into a private office to discuss this with them.  The worst thing you can do is to chastise them in public – this may affect their morale for a long time to come and could damage your relationship with them!

When providing feedback to the latter, try to start the meeting with a positive – “You’ve been producing some good work recently, but …..”.  Don’t chastise them, ask them why they are not performing and what they think they can do to put it right.  Work together to find a solution and they will feel more motivated to ensure they improve their performance in future.

Reason 2 – Training and Support
Some employers assume that once they’ve recruited someone they will ‘hit the ground running’, but no one will have every single skill or experience in the areas you are recruiting for.  Likewise, with existing employees, things can change and skills and experience need updating, so ongoing training and support is crucial to maintaining employee motivation.

The Solution:-
On an employee’s first day find out exactly what they are capable of and then fill in the gaps with some training and support.  The training doesn’t have to be by conducted you, it could be by one of your employees with as much or more experience than you in the area required.  You should then follow up and support the employee by asking them how they are getting on and if they need any further help.   And with existing employees, conduct regular 121s to gain feedback on how they are doing and whether they need any additional support or training to cope with any changes in the workplace.

Reason 3 – Recognition and Reward
We are all human – everyone needs a little praise now and then to keep them going and if someone goes that extra mile, if you don’t show appreciation, it is highly unlikely that they will repeat that performance!

The Solution:-
Give praise where praise is due and if an employee does something exceptional, thank them publicly for their efforts and give them a small reward – it does not have to be anything excessive, but a token of your appreciation will go a long way!

Also, if you can’t afford to pay high salaries or reward high performers by increasing their salary, there are some very inexpensive benefits schemes available for small businesses.  Paybooster UK for example, offer flexible health and wellbeing packages to employers costing as little as £52 per year per employee.  For more information visit www.PayBosterUK.org

Reason 4 – Health & Wellbeing
In a start-up everyone has to ‘muck in’ and do what’s required to win business, but at what cost?  Is an employee really going to be motivated and hence, productive when they are exhausted and feeling unappreciated? 

The Solution:-
Make sure you ask employees regularly how they are feeling to ascertain whether working  long hours are affecting them, make sure they have breaks and take time off wherever possible in your quieter periods.  Also, look after your own health, as this will affect the way that you work and your employees will expect you to ‘lead by example’.

And finally:-

Have fun! – we are in work a long part of our day, so the workplace should not be all doom and gloom, or feel like a classroom.  So introduce some humour at times (appropriately, of course!) to liven things up, encourage brief chats about home to help staff relax and get to know each other better, or go out and buy them cakes or icecream on a hot summer’s day – all these little things make a difference to making people happy and happy = productive!

If you have fully engaged staff, this will result in increased productivity and hence revenue – I’ve seen a lot of companies who are ‘surviving’ but could do so much better if they focused on the most important asset they have – their people!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog


Christmas is coming…… are you letting your employees take the proverbial?!


It’s that time of year again, the festivities are beginning and you’re feeling in a generous mood.  So, you let one employee go early because they admit they have a hangover and then an hour later another employee asks to go because they have a childcare emergency and you feel you can’t say no, but then you’re left short-staffed – oops!

Just because it’s Christmas it doesn’t mean that you have to stop being consistent in the treatment of your staff and even more so at this time of year, as Christmas isn’t a good time for everyone and emotions could be running high!

So to help with this, here are a few points you may need to consider:-

Christmas parties
Remind all of your staff before they attend that although the party is likely to be after working hours, they are still representing the company and any behaviour that puts your company into disrepute, will be handled accordingly!

Christmas bank holidays
We all know that this year Christmas Day falls on a Sunday and Boxing Day on a Monday, so there is a substitute public holiday on Tuesday, 27th December.  But remember - there is no right to have either day away from work or taken as paid time off unless the terms of your employment contracts allow otherwise. Paid public holidays can be counted as part of statutory annual leave.

Adverse weather

So what issues do you need to consider:-

Employees are not automatically entitled to pay if unable to get to work because of bad weather

Be flexible where possible – could you agree to temporarily alter employees’ working hours to minimise disruptions?

Could employees work from home?

Have a clear policy - employees need to know what you expect from them in terms of getting to work

Plan ahead - misunderstandings often lead to conflict so be clear!  For example, I worked for a company that advised us in advance that there was going to be a lot of snow over a few days, so they allowed us to go home early each day to ensure safe journeys.  They kept us informed of what time would be appropriate each day and in return we were asked to make those hours up over the coming weeks.

Travel disruption

From time to time, travel disruption can affect an employee’s ability to get to work on time, or in some cases at all. 
Here are some points to remember/consider:-

Employees are not automatically entitled to pay if unable to get to work because of travel disruption.  However, you may have contractual or custom and practice arrangements (i.e. practices you have followed for many years) in place for this, so you need to adhere to these.

Be flexible where possible, by offering alternative working patterns, home working etc.  This could go a long way to increasing staff morale and productivity.

Deal with issues fairly.  For example, if someone is late a few times through disruptions to public transport, investigate to ensure what they are saying is correct, rather than immediately jumping to conclusions and disciplining them.  If someone else is late as many times, then make sure you investigate them too.  This will help maintain fair and consistent employment relations and help prevent complaints to employment tribunals.

Plan ahead – as mentioned in ‘Adverse Weather’ above, it would be good practice to have an 'adverse weather' or 'journey into work' policy or include sections in your absence policy or staff handbook to cover this.  Ensure it covers the steps employees need to take to try to get into work on time and how the business will continue if they cannot. You need to decide how to deal with lateness and what will happen with regard to pay. This will avoid any future confusion and ensure consistent and fair treatment for all of your staff.

If you have any concerns regarding the above or need help with drafting policies to cover this, then please don’t hesitate to contact me.



How to Build Good Working Relationships


How many of you out there have spent countless hours trying to resolve relationship breakdowns in the workplace, when you could have been spending it on growing your business?  And how many of you (who bother to ask or do exit interviews?) find the main reason people have been leaving your company is because they didn’t get on with someone or felt unappreciated?

Human beings are naturally social creatures – we crave friendship and positive interactions, just as we do food and water. So it makes sense that good working relationships result in a happier and more productive environment.

Other benefits of forming good working relationships can include:-

work is more enjoyable, so employees are more motivated;

employees are more likely to go along with changes that you want to implement;

people are more innovative and creative;

the whole business is focused on opportunities instead of wasting time and energy resolving problems associated with negative relationships.

Defining a Good Relationship
There are several characteristics that make up good, healthy working relationships:-

Trust – This is the foundation of every good relationship. If you trust the people you work with, you can be open and honest in your thoughts and actions, and you don't have to waste time and energy "watching your back."

Mutual Respect – When you respect the people that you work with, you value their input and ideas and they value yours. Working together, you can develop solutions based on your collective insight, wisdom and creativity.

Mindfulness – This means taking responsibility for your words and actions. Those who are mindful are careful and attend to what they say and don't let their own negative emotions impact the people around them.

Welcoming Diversity – People with good relationships not only accept diverse people and opinions, but they welcome them. This means that differing opinions will be considered and factored into the decision-making process.

Open Communication – All good relationships depend on open, honest communication. My view is that if you are open and honest with others they are more likely to reciprocate with you.

How to Build Good Working Relationships

So, to build better relationships at work, you should:-

Schedule Time to Build Relationships - devote a portion of your day toward relationship building, even if it's just 20 minutes, perhaps broken up into five-minute segments.  For example, having a quick chat on a Monday morning about your weekends, or spending time at lunch with people.

Appreciate Others - genuinely compliment the people around you when they do something well. We all enjoy being praised and it goes a long way to building up a good relationship.

Be Positive - positivity is attractive and contagious and it will help strengthen your relationships. No one wants to be around someone who is negative all the time.

Manage Your Boundaries - make sure that you set and manage boundaries properly – it’s good to be friendly, but people can sometimes take advantage if you’re too friendly and this could start to impact on your job, especially when someone begins to monopolise your time.
Avoid Gossiping - don't gossip – office politics and "gossip" are major relationship killers at work. If you're experiencing conflict with someone in your team, talk to them directly about the problem. Gossiping about the situation with other colleagues will only exacerbate the situation and will cause mistrust and animosity between you.

Listen Actively - practice active listening when you talk to your customers and team. People respond to those who truly listen to what they have to say. Focus on listening more than you talk, and you'll quickly become known as someone who can be trusted.

Difficult Relationships
Occasionally, you'll have to work with someone you don't like, or someone you simply can't relate to, as we all know that recruitment methods aren’t always an exact science!  However, for the sake of your business, it's essential you maintain a professional relationship with them.

When this happens, make an effort to get to know the person. It's likely that they know full well that the two of you aren't on the best terms, so make the first move to improve the relationship by engaging them in a genuine conversation, or by inviting them out to lunch.

While you're talking, try not to be too guarded. Ask them about their background, interests and past successes.  Instead of putting energy into your differences, focus on finding things that you have in common.

Remember – not all relationships will be great, but you can make sure that they are at least workable!






And don’t know where to start?  Then read on……

Firstly, think about what type of contract you should employ your new recruit on – do you just need someone during your busy periods or do you have enough work to keep them going full-time and do you have the budget to cover the odd quieter period?  My blog from June this year - https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/you-recruiting-right-types-workers-jackie-richards-mcipd?trk=mp-author-card will help you with that.

Secondly (and some employers forget this?!), you need to know exactly what job you are recruiting for and what type of person you’re looking for.  Draw up a job description and person specification*, because if you don’t have a clear vision of what you need, then you will definitely recruit the wrong person!
This doesn’t have to be complicated - simply draw up a list of duties you’ll expect this person to carry out (job description), then think about what qualifications (if any?), experience and interpersonal skills they will need to do this job (person specification).

You may need to know where to advertise your vacancy– you can pay agencies to help you find candidates, but they can be expensive, so a suggestion is to use the resources around you.  This may be old work colleagues who have been managers and recruited staff, new networking colleagues who have already recruited, or you may even know a recruitment specialist on the circuit, who will offer you some free advice?!
Alternatively, if you have a small advertising budget, place your advert on job sites such as Indeed. However, be prepared for hundreds of responses to deal with, depending on the type of vacancy you’re advertising!!

Or if you already have someone in mind, make sure you properly vet them – I’ve heard some horror stories of even family members causing major problems once employed!  So I would always recommend you source other candidates to compare them to, as business is business – you want the best person for the job, don’t recruit a family member out of a sense of loyalty – it may do more harm than good!

My best practice advice would be to always conduct interviews with another person where possible, they will be more neutral than you, as it’s not their job and/or company they’re recruiting for. 

And make plenty of notes during the interview – in the past I have been blown away by people who can ‘talk the talk’, then when I’ve gone over my notes and reflected, I’ve realised that they weren’t even answering some of the questions properly or they were just blatantly blagging in parts!!

This is why it’s also important to use competency based questions, to really drill down into their experience so that you can check the information on their CV.  For example, “Can you give me an example of when you did……., how did you do that?, what was the outcome?, was there anything you could have done better?”

And once you have recruited the right person for the job…….

Employ the services of a HR Consultant or Employment Law Solicitor to produce a Contract of Employment, don’t just pull a copy of the internet – it may not be fit for purpose or up to date legally – there is a minefield of old as well as new stuff on the internet - beware!  This is important to ensure that both you and your employee are aware of employment rights and having these in writing can help avoid problems in the future.

If you are only recruiting one employee to begin with, the Contract of Employment will be sufficient enough to point them to their more important rights, such as the ACAS code of practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures for example.
However, if you plan to grow your business rapidly and recruit more staff, I would also recommend that you have a Staff/Employee Handbook produced, to inform your employees of all their rights and also the rules of your business, such as appearance and use of technology etc. so that everyone has consistent information and knows exactly where they stand.

Dealing with employment law is not something you can learn overnight, so you do need to pay for the services of a HR Consultant, when dealing with issues such as disciplinary matters, grievances, bullying and harassment, absence or performance issues, family friendly rights etc.

This also does not need to be expensive, as some companies such as mine offer pay as you go services, so you only pay for HR services as and when you need them.  Shop around and find a local company, as most Consultants may also charge travel expenses if they are a distance from your premises.  You also need to find someone you can work with, in particular when you are dealing with sensitive people issues, so meet with them, to ensure it’s someone you like and trust to do a good job for you.

I hope you have found this useful, but if you need any further advice and guidance on any of the above, my first hour’s consultation is free of charge, so please don’t hesitate to contact me.


How to Handle Workplace Conflict


Definition of Conflict:  An active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles (Cambridge Dictionary)

"The more we run from conflict, the more it masters us; the more we try to avoid it, the more it controls us; the less we fear conflict, the less it confuses us; the less we deny our differences, the less they divide us." David Augsburger

Do you avoid conflict because you think (/hope?) it will go away or you think it’s a waste of management time?  Well, think again, because no matter how you try to avoid conflict, you cannot escape it, it will find you whether you look for it or not. The ability to recognize conflict, understand the nature of it and bring swift and fair resolution to conflict will serve you well as a leader – the inability to do so may well be your downfall.

Every workplace is plagued with manipulative people who use emotion to create conflict in order to cover-up for their lack of substance. These are the drama queens/kings that when confronted about wrongdoing and/or lack of performance are quick to point the finger in another direction. I’ve met quite a few of these, as I’m sure many of you reading this will have?  These people are adept at using emotional tirades which often include crocodile tears, blame shifting, little lies, half-truths and other trite manipulations to get away with total lack of substance. 

Developing effective conflict resolution skills is an essential component of building a sustainable business model. Unresolved conflict often results in loss of productivity, the stifling of creativity and the creation of barriers to co-operation and collaboration. Leaders with good conflict resolution ability will have good employee retention; those who don’t deal with conflict will eventually watch their good talent walk out the door in search of a healthier and safer work environment.

Concealed, avoided or otherwise ignored, conflict will likely fester only to grow into resentment, create withdrawal or cause factional infighting within a business.

So, what creates conflict in the workplace? Opposing positions, competitive tensions, power struggles, ego, pride, jealousy, performance discrepancies, compensation issues, just someone having a bad day, etc.? While the answer to the previous question would appear to lead to the conclusion that just about anything and everything creates conflict, the reality is that the root of most conflict is born out of one or both of the following factors:-

Poor communication: If you reflect back upon conflicts you’ve encountered over the years, you’ll quickly recognize that many of them resulted from a lack of information, poor information, no information, or misinformation. You could even have received good information, but didn’t know what to do with it? - that’s still a communication problem, which in turn can lead to conflict!  Clear, concise, accurate and timely communication of information will help to ease both the number and severity of conflicts.

Inability to control one’s emotions: Another common mistake made in workplace communications which can lead to conflict, is letting emotions drive decisions.  Have you ever witnessed an employee throw a fit of rage and draw the regrettable line in the sand in the heat of the moment? If you have, what you really watched was a person indulging their emotions rather than protecting their future.

It is essential for your business’s health and performance that conflict is accepted but addressed through effective conflict resolution processes. The following tips will help you to handle conflicts in the workplace more effectively:-

Define Acceptable Behaviour: in your company policies or handbooks, so that people are aware of their boundaries and make it known clearly and publicly what will and won’t be tolerated.  Having clearly defined job descriptions so that people know what’s expected of them and knowing the ‘chain of command’ to allow for effective communication will also help avoid conflicts.

Hit Conflict Head-on: You can’t always prevent conflicts, but by actually seeking out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervening in a just and decisive fashion, you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising. If a conflict does flair up, you can minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly. You should spend time identifying and understanding natural tensions to help avoid unnecessary conflict, as in the long run, escalated events could lead to more time wasted.

Understanding the WIIFM Factor: Understanding the other person’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is critical. It is absolutely essential to understand other’s motivations at the beginning of your discussions.  If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking action that will best help others to achieve their goals, you will find fewer obstacles standing in your way to resolution of the conflict.

The Importance Factor: Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict.  If the issue, circumstance, or situation however is important enough, and there is enough at stake, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional and/or philosophical gaps.

View Conflict as Opportunity: Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. If you’re a leader who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building and development purposes, you’re missing a great opportunity.  Conflicting interests or differences of opinion, if addressed properly, can stimulate innovation and learning in ways that minds can’t even imagine.  Effective leaders look for the upside in all potential conflict situations.

I believe resolution can normally be found with conflicts where there is a genuine desire to do so. Turning the other cheek, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, finding common ground, being an active listener and numerous other approaches will always allow for successful rapport building if the underlying desire is strong enough.  However, when all else fails and positional gaps cannot be closed, you should resolve the issue not by playing favourites, but by doing the right thing.

"A good manager doesn't try to eliminate conflict; he tries to keep it from wasting the energies of his people. If you're the boss and your people fight you openly when they think that you are wrong - that's healthy." Robert Townsend



How to become more confident
Have you ever thought “I wish I was as confident as so and so…” or “If I was more confident, I could achieve so much more”?!
I learned to ‘feign’ confidence in my late teens when I moved to Surrey – I was a Black Country lass mixing with high flyers who spoke very posh and I always felt like the underdog.  However, the woman I shared a house with seemed supremely confident, until I really got to know her.  She was just as lacking in confidence as I was, but her mindset was that if she didn’t look confident, no one would believe in her – she was in sales!  So I took my cue from her and over time, with people encouraging and praising me, I became more confident and now run my own business.  So below I’m going to share some tips with you on how to do this.
Techniques for boosting your confidence
There’s a range of techniques you can use, but not all of them will work for you, as each individual is different and it has to be a method you are comfortable with.  So experiment with different techniques and maybe you’ll find one or two of them that you think could work for you. Then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE until you are that confident person you so long to be!
Visualising success
A very effective way of undermining your confidence is to think about and visualise the worst possible outcome in a situation. You end up anxious, worried and doubting your ability to cope and perform effectively. So if this is you, start to visualise yourself succeeding instead.  When you visualise yourself handling situations successfully, even very challenging ones, you’ll feel more confident, which will then impact on your behaviour and greatly increase your chance of success.

Listening to yourself
We can all have that inner critic, where we sometimes berate ourselves before, during and after events. This can lead us to doubt ourselves and undermine our confidence. However, there are other parts of you that you should listen to that can be very effective in terms of dealing with your fears and boosting your confidence. For example, you might have genuine fears that get ignored by the inner critic, which, if addressed, would help you to feel more confident. Also, your rational, wise self can get lost amongst the negative messages that you send yourself. Therefore, if you tap into this more logical side of yourself, you will feel more confident in dealing with different situations.

Appreciating yourself
With confidence comes a natural tendency to appreciate our strengths, achievements and all the things that we do in our lives. However, if you’re feeling under confident a lot of the time and have an inner critic, you will often see the glass as ‘half empty’ rather than ‘half full’. You will focus on what you haven’t achieved, your weaknesses and the little things that go wrong, failing to acknowledge all the positive things about your life and yourself. To overcome this you need to create a new positive habit of acknowledging your strengths and achievements, making you feel more confident and positive about yourself.

Balanced debriefing
When under confident people debrief after a presentation, meeting, difficult interaction or even a whole project, they tend just to focus on what went wrong. They therefore end up with a very negative view of what they have achieved and learned, which is demotivating and further undermines confidence. Balanced debriefing is about focusing on the whole picture and learning how to repeat the bits that went well, as well as learning how to avoid or handle differently anything that didn’t go so well.

Asking for constructive and balanced feedback
It’s very important for our development that we get feedback to help us to learn and grow, feedback that will motivate us to take action in the future.  Some people struggle with asking for feedback, as there is that fear of receiving only negative comments. However, if you ask for feedback in the right way and a person you trust gives you constructive and balanced feedback, (i.e. start with the positive, give some negative but discuss how these can be improved, ending on a positive note), your development and confidence will vastly improve, but only if you take their comments on board and act on them.

Dealing with criticism from others
Criticism is ‘the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes’ (Oxford Dictionary).  Those who lack confidence may fail to challenge or respond to criticism and instead, end up dwelling on it, using it as fuel for their inner critic to further undermine their confidence. Confident people are in a better position to deal with criticism, as they believe in themselves and therefore will assimilate whether the point made is useful or not without taking it personally.  So if you work on believing in yourself, focusing on your strengths and achievements, not your weaknesses and non-achievements, you will be in a better position to deal with criticism in a more positive way.

So being confident isn’t about whether you are the best at something, it’s about believing you are the best and by your persona and behaviour convincing others that this is correct.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog


How to handle an underperforming employee

During my HR career I’ve seen some managers shy away from managing underperforming employees, either because they hate conflict or their view is the department/organisation is doing “OK”, so why bother?!

There is also the fear when managing performance that you can run the risk of:-

a) undermining the mutual trust and confidence you’ve built up with your employee, which may cause them to resign and claim constructive dismissal, or

b) dismissing an employee who retaliates by bringing a claim for unfair dismissal.

Is “OK” good enough for your organisation and do you avoid managing underperforming employees due to the above risks? If so, please read on to see how you can alleviate these fears and get the most out of your employees:-

The initial response to poor performance
Feedback on poor performance should be given in private and in a calm and professional manner. It should be as objective as the circumstances allow and, wherever possible, should be based on what you have directly observed. Feedback should be factual and related to the work, not the personality of the employee. For example, if the employee has written a report that contains errors, you should tell them that there are too many errors in the report, not make a general, unfounded observation such as “you are a very bad writer”.

The employee should be given the opportunity to respond to the feedback, as their perceptions of this observed performance could differ and you would need to re-align/agree on these to move forward. Then provided that the employee’s performance doesn’t present a risk to the organisation or to health and safety, the employee should be allowed the opportunity to take the feedback on board and continue with their work.

Where the issue is ongoing, however, the employee should be informed that their performance will be monitored in the area discussed for a specified time, to ensure that the necessary improvement takes place.

Brief notes should be kept regarding the employee’s underperformance and what has been done to address it.

 Action short of formal procedure
Where the feedback has had no effect and your employee continues to underperform, a meeting should be held with them to discuss the issue. The purpose of this meeting will be to produce and agree an improvement programme with the employee.

You should encourage the employee to identify any factors outside work that may be affecting their performance. For example, the employee may be having trouble concentrating at work because of a difficulty at home or health issue. There may be some simple measures you can put in place to resolve this, for example, allowing time off to attend to family matters so that their focus goes back to their work when they return. By meeting them half way, you will (hopefully?!) improve their commitment and performance.

Or the employee’s underperformance may be a straightforward competence issue that can be addressed through training or additional support, or they may be underperforming because of an excessive workload.

Alternatively, I’ve noticed in some cases underperformance can simply be a case of poor time management, which can easily be addressed.

 Addressing barriers to effective performance
Some barriers can be removed by retraining or organisational changes, such as reallocating duties between employees, or changing administrative procedures.
Where the poor performance has arisen as a result of changes introduced by the employer, an Employment Tribunal will expect to see more support from you than when the employee is simply failing to perform in a core area of their role.

If the employee has a disability that affects their performance, then reasonable adjustments should be considered to help remove any disadvantage. This doesn’t mean that you must tolerate poor performance, the purpose is to remove the barriers to good performance. It is up to you to decide what your organisation can reasonably accommodate, bearing in mind that you may be required to defend that decision if challenged.

Setting a standard for the employee to meet
It is important that you set an agreed standard for the employee to meet. Best practice would be to set them SMART objectives, as follows:-

Specific         should describe precisely the required end result.

Measurable   state when the objective should be achieved.

Achievable    check if there is a realistic chance of the objective being achieved.

Relevant        to both the needs of the business and the role of the individual.

Time bound   state clearly when the task must be completed.|

So identify what has to be achieved, write it in the positive, make it specific, identify a measure, identify a deadline and include milestones if needed.   An example of a SMART objective could be “to generate an income of £25k on the [project title] Project by the end of 2016.”

Reviewing progress
Regular feedback sessions, for example once a week or fortnight, should be arranged to discuss the employee’s progress. And you don’t have to wait until the end of the agreed period to tell the employee if you think that insufficient progress is being made. The feedback sessions should be constructive and acknowledge any progress made by the employee, whilst being clear about any areas where the expected improvement is not being made.

At the end of the agreed timescale you should review the progress that the employee has made. The employee’s performance may have improved sufficiently so that no further action is required, or you could consider extending the review period if you think it is likely to result in the employee reaching the required standard within a reasonable time frame.

However, if it’s clear that the employee has failed to improve or has not made sufficient progress to achieve the required standard, you may have to instigate formal disciplinary proceedings.

In certain cases a formal procedure may be considered necessary after just one or two informal meetings with the employee, depending on the severity of the poor performance, the consequences and whether this is down to incapability or attitude.

This is when it becomes extremely useful to have the support of a qualified HR professional, as they can advise on what is legal and appropriate in these circumstances.

Small business owners in particular can’t afford to get it wrong – the maximum compensation for unfair dismissals is currently £78,962, but if an employee sees the potential to instigate a discrimination claim, that one case could possibly put you out of business!!


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How to conduct effective 121s


In the corporate world, annual appraisals have long been a fact of working life. But research suggests that the days of the yearly performance review are numbered. 
What seems to be more effective is the movement towards a continuousfeedback culture, rather than relying on an annual catch-up to improve performance.  A large majority of employees need to know how they are doing on a regular basis and to feel appreciated when they are doing a good job, but also need to know when they are not so that they can improve their performance.  If regular 121s become the norm, working relationships will improve and issues that in the past may have been left to escalate, will be addressed more speedily and effectively.

So, how do you get the most from your 121 meetings?

Fail to Prepare = Prepare to Fail!
Have a list of things you wish to discuss with your employee and give them an agenda before you meet so that they can prepare their responses to the points raised.  If you don’t prepare, you may waste more time discussing subjects that are irrelevant and start the meeting on the wrong foot with the employee if there are some issues raised that are a complete surprise to them.

During the Meeting
- Ask open questions to encourage the employee to speak more freely, such as “How do you feel things have been going?”

- Actively listen to what they’re saying to you – concentrate so that you understand where they are coming from and demonstrate that you’re interested in what they have to say.

- Provide feedback on instances of unsatisfactory performance or conduct by explaining the problem, listening to the individual’s side of the story, and explaining what improved performance/conduct should look like and how it can be achieved.  Any feedback should be based on fact, not subjective opinion and ideally backed up with evidence and examples. 
Feedback works best when there is an understanding about what went wrong and an emphasis on putting things right, rather than censuring past behaviour.
If there’s something you’re not happy with, constructive criticism always works best, for example “I feel you are doing xxx well but you could improve on xxx”.

- Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound) objectives, for example:- “To generate an income of £5,000 on the xxx project by the next quarter. 
The willingness and ability of individuals should also be considered when setting objectives, as what is easy for one person may seem very difficult to another. 

- Achieve the right level of challenge during the meeting; too much or too little can both be harmful. 

- Ensure you follow up on any actions agreed, including support offered to help them achieve their objectives. 

After the Meeting
- Send written confirmation of what was discussed including any actions agreed.  This is important to help monitor progress for each of your employees and for them to reflect on what has been discussed and agreed.

- Arrange a date for the next 121 to review any objectives or actions set.

- Follow up before the next meeting to ascertain progress towards objectives/actions and ascertain whether any further support is required.

So, why do so many managers not conduct regular 121s with their staff?  Lack of time is the most common reason, however, if they are structured well, they will save time.  Because employees know they have some dedicated time with their manager, they will hold non-critical issues until the 121, instead of raising them whenever they have the chance, so interruptions are significantly reduced.

Therefore, rather than viewing 121s as a waste of your time, you should see them as a motivational tool, as the employee will feel listened to and appreciate having regular feedback, but they will also help you make that transition from fire-fighting to genuinely managing and developing performance.



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Employment Law Update


Did you know that?.....

Some employment law updates and tips:-

Some good news first – Statutory Rates will not be increasing in 2016!...There is no statutory requirement to uplift these rates every year, but they normally increase each April in line with the consumer price index (CPI).  As the CPI fell by 0.1% in the year to September 2015, there will be no increase to the rates in 2016/17.

This means that Statutory Maternity, Paternity, Adoption and Shared Parental Pay will remain at £139.58 per week or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings if this figure is less than the statutory rate.  Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will also remain at £88.45 per week.

Employers will now have to pay commission as part of holiday pay…  In Lock v British Gas Ltd, the EAT found in favour of Lock, as he was a salesperson and commission makes up much of his monthly salary.  Lock argued that not being paid commission as part of holiday pay was a disincentive to take any leave, which would be in breach of the Working Time Regulations.

In a similar case, Bear Scotland v Fulton, the EAT ruled that employers should take into account regular overtime payments when calculating holiday pay.

So, if you have employees who have contractual payments that are regular and make up a reasonable percentage of their take home pay, then be prepared to factor this into their accrued holiday pay should they go off long-term sick, for example.

Possession with the intent to supply, supply or produce ‘legal highs’ is now illegal… under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which came into force on 6th April.  Legal highs are often sold as incense or ‘plant food’ which imitate the effects of illegal drugs and contain synthetic chemical compounds.

Possession of legal highs is not an offence, however, ACAS advise that the abuse of these should still be approached in the same way as drugs and alcohol use.  A simple guide to this new Act can be found on http://www.drugwise.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Psychoactive-SubstancesAct.pdf

Employers can be liable for staff misdemeanours…A customer can sue an employer if an employee commits an unlawful act that affects them during the course of their employment, regardless of whether that specific action features in their job description.  In the recent case of Mr Khan, a worker at Morrisons petrol station, who verbally and physically assaulted a customer whilst at work, Morrisons was found to be vicariously liable for Mr Khan’s actions. 

This is why it is imperative to have company rules and procedures in writing regarding such conduct and carry out proper training on what is acceptable behaviour and what is absolutely not!

Dismissal for an employee’s breach of an exclusivity clause in a zero hours contract will be deemed automatically unfair… The Exclusivity Terms in Zero Hour Contracts (Redress) Regulations 2015 came into effect in January this year and now make it unlawful to submit a worker to any detriment if they work for another employer in breach of an exclusivity clause. 

So basically, if you have an exclusivity clause in your zero hours contracts, re-issue these taking out this clause and don’t treat them detrimentally because they do work for other employers.

77% of pregnant women and new mothers still experience negative or discriminatory treatment at work!... The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) claim that of this 77% however, only 28% raised these issues with their employer, 3% used the company’s grievance procedure and less than 1% pursued an employment tribunal claim! 

The research also found that 70% of employers thought a woman should disclose at recruitment stage if they were pregnant and about 25% thought it was a reasonable question to ask during an interview about their plans to have children!  I was once asked this question during an interview for a HR position – needless to say, I did not accept their job offer!

This report has been passed to the Government and the EHRC have asked them to take more effective steps to prevent employers asking about a woman’s pregnancy or her plans to have a family during the recruitment stage and to explore making it easier for mothers to take such claims to an employment tribunal. 

So to avoid discrimination claims of this nature, you should ensure that

- your recruitment practices are completely unbiased and consistent, i.e. during the interview process, ask both sex candidates the same questions and

- ensure that your policies and procedures clearly demonstrate that your practices are not discriminatory and that you and your staff adhere to them.

If you need advice on any of the above or other people management issues, then please contact me on 07807 166456 or jackie@jr-hrsolutions.com

 Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

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Why should I employ someone with a disability?


Nearly eight million people of working age in the UK have a disability, according to the Office for National Statistics. However, figures from the Office for Disability Issues show that fewer than half of disabled people are in employment.

A "disabled person" is legally defined as someone with "a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his/her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities".
So, this means that there are many types of disabled people, not just those who use wheelchairs or guide dogs and you can’t always tell just by looking at someone if they are disabled or not. You could already be employing a disabled person and not even realize it, the person themselves may not choose to describe themselves as disabled.  However, you could be protected by law protected if someone who is disabled suffers a detriment at work and has not informed you of their impairment, but if it is obvious that they are disabled then this would be more difficult to negate.

Recent studies have shown that disabled people take less time off sick and are more loyal to their employers than their able-bodied counterparts. Other business benefits could include:-

Being an Employer of Choice - attraction of employers through access to a broader talent pool as people with a disability can bring a diverse range of skills and abilities and new and valuable perspectives to the workplace;

Retention – retaining existing employees who develop or acquire a disability as they age;

Shifting demographics – an ageing  population and increased incidence of disability not only impacts the workforce but also means changing markets;

Increased use of technology - enhancing opportunities for people with a disability;
Greater creativity, innovation and product development - understanding the needs of people with disability as a service provider is critical in retaining those customers;

Improved customer service and attraction - being disability confident, including how to  communicate with customers with disability, enhancing customer service;

Reputation and Brand – some companies prefer to give their business to companies that fulfill their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) commitments which could include hiring people with disabilities;

Strengthened workplace morale and productivity through a more committed and diverse workplace.

Sometimes only very minor adjustments are all that are required to recruit a disabled person and adding flexibility to your policies and procedures would probably benefit your existing workforce, as well as encouraging many more applicants for you to select from.

Even if you are a small business owner, there is plenty of support and financial assistance you can obtain when employing disabled people, such as Access to work which aims to overcome any additional problems associated with employing a disabled person. For a new disabled employee, a grant can be applied for up to 100% towards any additional costs involved in employing them; for an existing employee, the grant is for 80% of the costs above £300.

Gov.uk provides a concise but very useful guide on employing disabled people:-

So employing disabled people is not as onerous or as difficult as you think?

And if you know someone that is disabled and struggling to get into or return to employment,  Steph Cutler’s website http://making-lemonade.co.uk/about-2/ is certainly a good place for them to start!


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Redundancy – or an excuse to oust poor performers?!


Have you ever been in a situation where someone is not performing, but you run a small, hectic business and don’t have time to re-train or support them, so you think “Oh, I’ll just make them redundant and then cover the gap whilst I look for someone better to replace them”?

However, it is the post you are making redundant, not the individual, so you have to have a very firm business reason for doing so.  Your business case for redundancy must be robust and genuine, such as:-

- reduced levels of business, lost clients or efficiency savings that need to be made, resulting in your need to cut costs and reduce the number of staff

- new technology making a job unnecessary

- business closure

I was inspired to write this after reading a news article published by Charles Wynn-Evans, Dechert LLP in October 2015, which covered the risk to employers of unfair dismissal claims if they follow the wrong procedure.  The difference between poor performance and redundancy dismissals is quite significant:-

Poor performance is normally dealt with by meeting with the employee to discuss their performance, giving them opportunities to improve, then setting them targets/objectives and providing support in order to achieve those targets/objectives, with regular reviews.  This could take possibly 2 to 6 months, but if you try to speed things up by not offering any training or support to achieve set objectives, a claim for unfair dismissal may be the result.

By contrast, a redundancy dismissal (for up to 20 employees) can be conducted far more quickly, as this involves a minimum two week consultation period and then the notice period, whether worked or not.  During the consultation period you need to meet with the employee and demonstrate that suitable alternative employment was sought, where applicable.  Then you could leave a gap of as little as a month before recruiting a replacement, as long as you had justifiable grounds for this post becoming active again. 

This will not stand up in all cases, it has to be genuine, for example, if you had a downturn in business, causing the need to reduce headcount and then the business began to increase again, ACAS advise that you could recruit someone straight away.  They also stipulate that it would not have to be the employee you had just made redundant, however, this can and does happen in some circumstances. 

Redundancy and poor performance can in certain situations be different sides of the same coin. You may be tempted by your need to address a problem and take the view that the business can do without the employee’s role, so this looks like a redundancy situation, whereas if the employee were performing their role sufficiently well, they would be retained.

In such circumstances, however, you may find it difficult to persuade an employment tribunal that it was reasonable to take the view that there was no need to pool the employee with colleagues for the purposes of redundancy selection and that redundancy was the true reason for the employee’s removal. Whether or not this is actually the case, a redundancy can come under attack in a tribunal on the basis that it’s a sham and a substitute for performance concerns.

So the best thing to do in this situation would be to take some advice from a more neutral party, such as a HR Consultant, who can look at your reasons for redundancy in a far more objective light and also help you to conduct a fair and appropriate procedure.

Thank you for reading my blog and I hope you found it informative.

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Sickness absence – an expensive game?!


Sick leave costs UK employers £29bn a year according to PwC and not all of it is genuine!  New research conducted by Actimel found that 32% of employees in Britain pretended to be sick to miss a day off work last year.

They stated the top reasons for feigning illness were workload (41% of women), a hangover (27% of men) and boredom (20% of men).

63% admitted to feeling guilty about pulling a sickie, but despite these feelings of remorse, they still felt it was worth it.

Conversely, when employees are actually ill, they do go into the office (67%).  Dr. David Lewis, a Psychologist, said: “It is interesting that nearly two-thirds of the nation (63%) say 'it's worth it' to pull a fake sick day, but those who feel genuinely poorly go into the office so as not to put extra workload onto their colleagues.”

The argument here could be that even if it’s demotivation that is causing the ‘sickie’, an employee is less likely to be productive if they come into work, rather than having a day off to re-charge their batteries and come back feeling energised and therefore more productive than before they went off?  This is also an argument for those ‘martyrs’ who drag themselves into the office when poorly, particularly if they have a contagious illness, as this could possibly lead to them needing more time off or causing others to be absent!

So the trick is finding the balance between the belief that a healthy employee is a productive employee, but at the same time ensuring that people don’t take advantage of this and then the burden falls on those that are only off if they really are too poorly to work.

The only way you can do this is by communicating to your employees that you don’t want them coming into work if they genuinely feel too ill (it’s also not good for morale if you have someone, for example, coughing and spluttering everywhere!) or in particular if they have something that is potentially contagious. However, it should also be made clear that those that are seen to be having excessive absence will be dealt with accordingly.

This is why it’s important to have some form of absence management policy or guidelines in place, to ensure a fair and consistent approach to this problem and to let employees know where they stand.  You also can’t go around accusing employees of not being genuine when they phone in sick, so having regular monitoring systems in place and talking to employees when sickness absence does become an issue, will all help to ensure they don’t risk losing their jobs because of the desire to have so many ‘duvet days’ in a year!

Other preventative measures could include:-

regular one to ones to make employees feel listened to and involved in the business and/or nip any problems in the bud before they escalate;

introduce healthy snacks in the workplace, encouraging a more healthy eating regime where possible;

set up a deal with a local gym for discounted membership for your employees; or
conduct sponsored events for a local charity which involves sports/exercise and perhaps a bit of healthy competition;

monitor working hours to ensure no employees are working excessive hours and accept flexible working requests where possible.

According to a survey by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), part-time workers are more motivated than full-time employees. When asked about attitudes to their jobs, 75% of part-time workers classified themselves as "highly or fairly motivated", compared with 68% of full-timers. The ILM survey also found that part-time workers are more likely to have a higher respect for their manager and a more positive attitude towards their employer (57%) than full-time staff (49%). 

So in summary, if you strive to make your workplace a healthy and happy environment to be in, you will have more motivated, productive employees and less absence costs reducing your bottom line!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog – I hope you found it useful?

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Christmas Parties - Don't be a Bah Humbug!


Most Christmas parties are outside working hours and in a location other than the office, so employees presume that they can behave how they want?!  However, in Employment Law you are still responsible for employees' actions 'carried out in the course of their employment', which does include events organised by management, such as a staff party. If an employee carries out an act of bullying, harassment or discrimination at a Christmas party, even if it is held at a venue other than the workplace, you could be liable if you either don’t take reasonable steps to prevent it or deal with it as soon as you are made aware!

By ‘reasonable steps’ this means having a policy in place that everyone is aware of, which explains how to prevent and deal with discrimination, bullying, harassment etc. Action taken as soon as you are aware should include taking disciplinary action against the offender(s) and if possible, you could further minimise the risk of an employee making a successful claim against you by providing the right training, to ensure that your employees are aware of the consequences of any inappropriate behaviour when they are still in effect, representing their company.

The scary part of this is that there is no upper limit on compensation for discrimination claims and should a case go to Employment Tribunal, it could be in the 100,000s (depending on the severity, of course!), which could potentially put a small business out of business!!
So, how can you minimise the chances of anything of this nature happening:-

Alcohol consumption
We all know that a lot of these unpleasant incidents can be initiated by the intake of too much alcohol, so try to avoid over-indulgence by providing plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and enough food, while limiting the amount of alcohol available.  Having a live band or disco also helps, as some people will spend more time on the dance floor than at the bar!
Consider holding the event on a Friday, or at the weekend, or arranging for the party to end earlier in the evening, or holding the event during working hours.
You should remind staff that the Christmas party is an extension of the workplace and although you want them to have a good time, inappropriate behaviour will be dealt with in the same way that it is during working hours. 

As best practice, each year you could provide employees with clear written guidance (in the form of a letter or statement, issued to them at a team meeting, for example) about acceptable standards of behaviour at work-related social events, as well as the disciplinary sanctions that could result from breaches of the rules. Make it clear that fighting, excessive alcohol consumption, the use of illegal drugs, inappropriate behaviour, sexist or racist remarks and comments about sexual orientation, disability, age or religion will not be tolerated.

But please don’t let this deter you from holding a Christmas party! 

According to an ILM survey, 26 per cent felt that their company party had positively impacted their career, and 66 per cent of workers say one of the key benefits of a Christmas party is to improve colleague relationships, and the same number like the opportunity to get to know each other.

So perhaps it’s just a case of finding the right balance between letting employees have a good time without letting the promise of free booze sway them to the dark side – too much!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and prosperous New Year!

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Employee Engagment - Why Bother?


You’re a busy small business owner, running around trying to be everything to everyone to ensure your business thrives, but what about the staff you’ve left floundering back at the office?  Do you think they will be motivated if they never get to see their boss, for help, reassurance and most importantly, a bit of praise now and then for all their hard work?

I have worked in all sectors during my 20+ years in HR and have seen many disengaged employees for usually similar reasons, the main ones being as follows:-

  - They have been in the same job doing the same thing for many years and lack motivation;
  - They are in the wrong role but too afraid to admit this and look elsewhere;
  - They have poor managers who do not care about what they are doing, so do not make the work interesting, or show an interest in their employees;
  - Lack of communication within organisations – the people at the top don’t communicate what they are doing and where the company is heading, so the staff don’t feel involved in the bigger picture.

And all of these factors result in reduced productivity and hence revenue – I’ve seen a lot of companies who are ‘surviving’ but could do so much better if they focused on the most important asset they have – their people!
Improving motivation of staff and hence engagement in your business, does not have to cost the Earth.  Here are some suggestions on how to do this, so that they look forward to coming into work and want to do their very best for you and your company:-

1. Communication - In any business it’s important to ensure two way communication. Employees need to feel that their voice and concerns are heard and if needed, action is taken. You should tell them your plans for the business and listen to their opinions, as the more involved they feel, the more committed they will be to the company.

If possible, have monthly team meetings to give your employees updates on the company’s progress and ask for ideas for new products or services, or improvements that can be made to existing ones – this will encourage innovation and creativity within your team.  You should view your team as a family working together to achieve a common goal and let them know that too.

2. Trust your staff – give them some autonomy and/or responsibility for their work.  If they are doing a good job, this will give them some public recognition for their efforts.  Find out what motivates each employee, as it will be different in each case and then work with that to get the best out of them.

3. Training and support – don’t assume that once you’ve recruited someone they will ‘hit the ground running’ – find out exactly what they are capable of and then fill in the gaps with some training and support.  This can be provided in-house, by whoever has the most expertise they require training on, then support and encourage the employee by asking how they’re getting on and if they need any further help.

4. Recognition – give praise where praise is due and if it’s something exceptional, thank them publicly for their efforts and give them a small reward – it does not have to be anything excessive, but a token of your appreciation will go a long way!  We are all human and need praise from time to time, so encourage a culture of employees congratulating co-workers for their achievements, so working relationships remain healthy.
George Dickson at Office Vibe has recently posted The 12 Things You Need For Successful Employee Recognition which provides even more tips on doing this for free, the link is below:-

5. Offer incentives to high performers – they don’t have to be expensive rewards, just a bottle of wine for your top performer of the month or a gift voucher, anything to show appreciation will incentivize them to keep performing at that level, or indeed higher, to beat the competition!

6. Constructive feedback – if someone has done something wrong, take them into a private office and discuss it with them.  Try to start the meeting with a positive – “You’ve been producing some good work recently, but …..”  Don’t chastise them, ask them why they made the error and what they think they can do to put it right.  Work together to find a solution and they will feel more motivated to ensure they don’t make that mistake again.

7. Employee wellbeing - in a start-up everyone has to ‘muck in’ and do what’s required to win business, but at what cost?  Is an employee really going to be productive and sound motivated on the phone to your potential customers when they’re exhausted and feeling unappreciated?  Make sure you ask employees regularly how they are feeling to ascertain whether for example, working long hours are affecting them and make sure they have breaks and take time off wherever possible in your quieter periods.  As in my October blog: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/workplace-stress-things-ever-going-get-any-better-richards-mcipd?trk=mp-author-card workplace stress can lead to a number of ongoing mental health problems which will result in reduced productivity and absenteeism costs in the long run if you do not put in some preventative measures to deal with this.

8. Employee benefits – if you can’t afford to pay high salaries or reward high performers by increasing their salary, there are some very inexpensive employee benefits schemes for small businesses.  Paybooster UK offer flexible health and wellbeing packages to employers costing as little as £52 per year per employee.  For more information visit www.PayBosterUK.org

9. Have fun! – we are in work a long part of our day, so the workplace should not be all doom and gloom – introduce humour at times (appropriately, of course!) to liven things up, encourage brief chats about home to help staff relax and get to know each other better, or go out and buy your staff cakes or ice cream on a hot summer’s day – all these little things make a difference to making people happy and happy = productive!

Author and Thought Leader Vlatka Hlupic, was asked “In a start-up when it's all hands-on-deck and the main focus is on getting the business off the ground, how important is employee wellbeing? Would you say it's less important, or even more important at this point?”
He replied
“Employee's wellbeing is very important at any stage of an organisational cycle, in start-ups and in mature organisations. Neglecting people and focusing on numbers can only bring short term monetary gains, but it will lead to long-term attrition of people and bottom line profit. Focusing on people and purpose (individual and organisational) will ensure a long-term, sustainable financial health of an organisation as well as having happy, engaged and innovative employees.”

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog

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Employment Law for Small Businesses (Part 2) – what happened in 2015 and how it affects you!


This is Part 2 of my more informative blog regarding what’s happened in employment law this year and how it affects all small businesses out there.  If you missed Part 1, please follow the link below:-


From Autumn 2015
The Fit for Work service provides access to a website portal containing health and work information and a telephone advice service is available to employers, employees and GPs.

The service also offers a referral system under which qualifying employees on a period of sickness absence lasting four weeks or more can be referred for a free, confidential occupational health assessment and a return to work plan.

More information can be found at: 


IMPACT:  This provides a FREE occupational health service to those small employers who cannot usually afford this, which will help reduce sickness costs by getting employees back into work earlier.

October 2015
National Minimum Wage rates – increased on 1 October: the standard adult rate to £6.70, the development rate for those aged 18-20 to £5.30, the young workers rate for those aged 16-17 to £3.87, and the apprentice rate to £3.30.

IMPACT:  These continue to rise annually causing additional financial burden to SMEs, however, please beware that the maximum penalty for ignoring these rates is now £20,000!

NOTE:  These costs will rise again in April 2016, as all employees over the age of 25 will be eligible for the National Living Wage at £7.20 per hour (50p increase from the above).

A recent Spanish case may have some impact on UK businesses as the Working Time Regulations are a European Directive:-

In Federación de Servicios Privados del Sindicato Comisiones Obreras v Tyco Integrated Security SL and another, ECJ September 2015, the rulings were changed regarding working time being counted when workers have no base and travel to work from home. 

It was ruled that the time spent travelling to and from the workers' homes during the first and last journeys of the day was working time rather than simply a rest break because the workers cannot use that time freely to pursue their own interests.

This is not as detrimental as it sounds as:-

It will only apply to workers who have no office base.

Although time counts as working time for the purposes of assessing the number of hours worked, this does not necessarily mean that time should be paid.

Those workers who have no fixed work place and a large territory may clock up more working time by their travelling to and from work, so the way around this is to schedule early and late appointments at sites close to workers’ homes.

Most employers can opt out of the Working Time Directive (48-hour working week) as this is still permitted in the UK. 

This issue will only be clarified in the UK if a worker actually makes a claim to test the point.  The issue and hearing fee would be enough to put most people off and as this is a technical and complex question, they would also need a lawyer to represent them.

Ian Pettifer of Davies and Partners provides good advice regarding this recent case:-

“If you have workers whose job is to do a lot of travelling on company business, so that they are travelling as part of their job, it would be a good idea to pay them enough, so that they are on no less than minimum wage, even including that travelling time.

At worst, this will mean you become a better-paying employer, with a good chance of attracting the best staff.”  

 So, quite a busy year again in terms of employment legislation and I am sure this will continue, so that is why it is important for you to seek advice wherever possible when facing these situations, as the penalties really are not worth the risk! 

Thank you for reading my blog, I hope you found it useful.

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Employment Law for Small Businesses (Part 1) – what happened in 2015 and how it affects you!


So, every year we get the usual changes to statutory rates in April and the National Minimum Wage in October.  However, below (and in my Part 2 out soon!), I have provided a summary of what these were, together with other changes to employment legislation that could affect you as a business moving forward:-

April 2015

The new shared parental leave (SPL) scheme came in to place for parents whose babies were due on or after 5 April 2015, or who had children placed for adoption on or after that date. The SPL rate from 5 April is £139.58, in line with the other statutory  allowances – see below.
BIS and Acas have both published guidance on this complex legislation, however, there is no indication that there has been much take up for this scheme?  Even the Government, in a report published in 2013, anticipated that only 8% of Fathers would take up the scheme – perhaps there will be statistics out next year to substantiate these initial expectations?

Adoption rights - the 26 week qualifying period for adoption leave was removed, which brings it in line with maternity rights.  Statutory adoption pay was brought in to line with statutory maternity pay, by setting it at 90% of average weekly earnings for the first six weeks.  Adopters can also take paid time off for some 'adoption appointments' – from 5 April and surrogate parents will also become eligible for adoption leave from this date.

The right to take parental leave was extended to parents of any child under the age of 18 from 5 April.  Employees are entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 18th birthday, with a limit of 4 weeks for each child and it must be taken as whole weeks (1 or 2 weeks), unless you agree otherwise or if the child is disabled.  The leave does not have to be taken all at once.

Basic rates of statutory maternity pay (SMP), statutory paternity pay (SPP) and statutory adoption pay (SAP) all increased to £139.58 from 6 April.
The rate of statutory sick pay (SPP) increased to £88.45 from 6 April.

IMPACT:  These rates increase by around £1 each year, causing increasing costs to employers.

May 2015
A ban on exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts came into force on 26 May.

IMPACT:  This means that workers on these contracts can work for other employers and should not be treated detrimentally as a result.  For further information, please see my July blog on this - https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/exclusivity-clauses-zero-hours-contracts-finally-richards-mcipd?trk=mp-reader-card

A new regime for English apprenticeships came into force on 26 May, which simplifies the legal framework for apprenticeships in England. For further information, go to https://www.gov.uk/

A maximum £20,000 penalty for underpaying the national minimum wage, on a per worker basis, came into force on 26 May.  Please see below for current rates.

July 2015

Holiday pay – the Deduction from Wages (Limitation) Regulations 2014 came into force, placing a two year limit on claims for unfair reduction from wages claims in respect of holiday pay which applies to claims presented on or after 1 July 2015. The regulations also state that the right to paid holiday is not incorporated as a term in employment contracts. 

IMPACT:  This is good news as it removes any chance of employees bringing long-term claims for back holiday pay, either in the tribunal or civil courts.

Don’t miss Part 2 coming out next week, where I will take you through the other half of the year so far!

Thank you for reading my blog, I hope you found it useful.

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Workplace stress – are things ever going to get any better?!!


Not that old chestnut again, I hear you cry!  But this problem is not going away, in fact it seems to be getting worse!

According to research from Russam GMS, 80% of senior executives say the workplace is a more stressful place than five years ago, with three quarters blaming mobile technology for creating a more stressful environment. 

60% of those respondents stated that their employers expect them to answer emails outside of work hours and a fifth of respondents said that “switching off from work at home” is their biggest challenge in terms of looking after their health.
Other contributors of stress included more demanding financial targets, the pressure to be on call 24/7 and email which ‘makes things relentless.’

At the same time, more than 80% of senior executives said their company has no procedures in place for recognising stress in the workplace.
Fewer than 15% of organisations reported they openly discuss stress in the workplace and/or offer stress counselling or mentoring programmes.
Failing to look after the health and wellbeing of employees has been shown to contribute to stress.  The Health and Safety Executive report that 11.3 million working days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety in 2013/14, an average of 23 days per case and the Centre for Economics and Business Research has suggested the cost of work related stress to the economy is £6.5 bn!
70% of the respondents said that a company would be a more attractive employer if they offered more health benefits, and almost a quarter said they would prefer more health and well-being benefits to a pay rise.
However, many of Britain’s workplaces are failing to offer even basic health benefits with a quarter of companies offering no benefits at all. Almost two thirds (65%) don’t encourage employees to take regular breaks from their desks.
According to the research, the top health benefits people would like are measures to encourage cycling, running or walking to work, mindfulness sessions, fitness classes at work, meditation and yoga sessions, plus more health advice available on the intranet. Of those that do, the top four benefits are private health insurance, cycle to work schemes, encouraging lunch breaks and subsidised gym membership.
Ian Joseph adds: “Putting benefits in place to help employees be healthier and less stressed is crucial. These don’t have to be complicated or expensive . Initiatives such as having fruit in meetings, encouraging people to take regular breaks from their desk and allowing them time to visit the gym can contribute to people’s good health and support their well-being.
“If organisations are going to be fit for the future, leaders need to recognise the issue of stress and do something about it. Setting expectations about the use of mobiles and unplugging from emails during holidays is something senior executives should be doing as matter of course and leading by example.”

People Management published an article in July this year entitled ‘Mental Health: it’s crunch time’, in which Tony Irwin, MD of Priority Wellbeing Centre claimed that “A French worker works four days a week to produce the same amount as a British worker produces in five, despite – or because of – France’s much shorter working hours”. 
I have always viewed a culture of long working hours as being counter-productive.  Business owners should be improving efficiencies and utilising their staff in different ways (for example, job share, flexible working, homeworking) to help maintain their health and wellbeing and hence increase productivity within their organisations.
What do you think? – your comments would be welcome.

Thanking for reading my blog

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Why I became Self-Employed


I started up my business because I want to make a difference to people’s lives, developing them through training and coaching to become better managers and people!  I found that the restrictions of being employed and the politics involved in HR roles prevented me at times from doing this.
As I became more experienced as a contractor I also struggled to adapt to the HR approaches in some organisations I worked for.  Some were bureaucratic when solving employee relations cases, leaving the individual fretting for months wondering whether they were going to have a job or not.  Also, as I’ve mentioned in my blog “How to tackle your bullying boss”, some HR Directors I’ve come across were bullies and controlled the management team, not allowing them to think or develop themselves, as a result the organisations were standing still.  It was frustrating to witness and be powerless to do anything to change it.

The freedom of being self-employed will give me the opportunity to do the work I love and in the long run, provide me with the work-life balance I desire to do the other things I’m passionate about, such as walking and travelling.  I now have the time and freedom to share my knowledge and expertise with others, helping them grow as individuals, so it becomes more a part of my life, rather than a luxurious add on to my other responsibilities.  For me now, there is no going back to the world of employment – I am determined to succeed!

What’s your story?  I would love to hear it…..

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What are you afraid of? Manage those 'problem' employees!!


“I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand.  If you hold it too tightly you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it” - Tommy Lasorda

I thought about writing this post after advising a small business owner on how to handle an employee who was great at first, but then suddenly ‘went off the rails’, costing him a significant loss of revenue and reputation!

Like this client, you may be a small business owner who is great at what you do, but you may have limited recruitment and/or management experience.  If this is the case, you could be taking on people who will cause you no end of wasted management time and if they are really astute at ‘playing the game’, hefty tribunal costs!!! 

Recruitment as we know, is not an exact science and many candidates are very good at selling themselves – even if they are a friend or family member, how can you predict that their personal circumstances might change, influencing them to damage your company in some way for their own personal gain?!
Then you have those people who you recruit because you can see that they are so desperate for the role, eager to impress you and you like them, so you give them a chance?

I can give you a good example of such a situation, in which an inexperienced  manager recruited a tutor for vulnerable young adults, he was very likeable and came with good references, but she found very quickly that he was totally unreliable and did not like following instructions!

This employee had no car, so he travelled the 50 miles every day to work by bicycle and train.  There are of course, delays on public transport, but this individual was late at least once a week for several months, sometimes giving an under-estimated ETA so that the young adults were left unattended causing mayhem in the classroom, or wherever possible, a member of staff would have to be called in at the last minute to cover for him.  Sometimes he would not report that he was running late at all, or indeed if he was not going to be in all day due to sickness.  He also abused the organisation’s flexi-time system, by recording longer hours than he had actually worked and leaving during the core hours he was required to be working.

However, he was good at his job when he was there and the manager did not like conflict, so she would occasionally, casually mention her dissatisfaction, to which he responded in an aggressive and defensive manner.
But things then got worse – this employee started to be late more regularly with unbelievable excuses and the morale of the team began to suffer.  The final straw came when he breached an important safety policy, by making a hasty decision because he was keen to leave on time!

Then the manager finally(!) discussed these issues with HR.  I supported and coached her during the disciplinary process and together we drafted a comprehensive investigation report, which prompted the employee to resign rather than face dismissal.
Had the manager sought advice earlier regarding this situation, she would have gained more respect from her team and more importantly, avoided the damage caused to the organisation’s reputation and potential loss of clients!
So, the morale of this story is – if in doubt, don’t leave it out – seek some professional advice and deal with those problem employees immediately rather than allow things to escalate!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

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Small Businesses Beware! – to have or not to have a contract, that is the question?


On my networking travels recently, I have met quite a few small business owners who have employees but don’t have contracts of employment for them.  They say things like ‘Oh, he’s my brother, I trust him’ or ‘we have worked together for 15 years, so what’s the point?’  They are human and when things go wrong, they will look for someone to blame, that’s the point.  And without anything in writing, in an employment tribunal it will be your word against theirs – not an easy one to defend!

So, did you know that...... employment contracts do not need to be in writing to be legally valid, however, by law within two months of starting their employment, all employees must have a Written Statement of the main terms and conditions of employment?

I don’t think many people know there is a difference between these two documents and to be honest, there isn’t much.  The written statement of particulars of employment contains the main terms and conditions, but contracts are also made up of terms that have not been spelt out. This is either because:-

- they are too obvious to mention, for example, you would not expect a contract to say that 'an employee will not steal from an employer'; or
- they are necessary to make the contract work, for example, if you are employed as a driver it is assumed that you have a valid driving license; or
- custom and practice, where some terms of a contract can become established over time.

The last point in particular can pose a serious threat to businesses, as without having what these practices are in writing, inconsistencies can occur and employees may take advantage of this.  It is best practice therefore to put a contract in writing, as simple misunderstandings over what is or what is not in a contract tends to be one of the main causes of employment tribunal claims.
So if you need to put your terms and conditions of employment in writing to your employees, or perhaps just need a review of your current contracts, as they have been in place for many years and your circumstances and the law can change(!), then please contact JR-HR Solutions to make sure you get it right!

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ACAS Early Conciliation – is it working?


I had a conversation with one of my colleagues the other day about how much more difficult it is for individuals to make tribunal claims, since the introduction of tribunal fees in July 2013 and then early conciliation in May 2014.  This prompted me to think ‘I wonder if it’s working?’, as the impact of this I feel has not been well publicised. 

For those of you who are in the fortunate situation not to have had any dealings with tribunals and no time to read updated employment legislation(?!), I will firstly explain in brief how this works:

What is Early Conciliation?
If someone has a dispute at work, the individual or their employer can ask Acas to work with them to find a solution acceptable to both, so that they can avoid the need for an Employment Tribunal claim.  However, although it is a legal requirement that prospective claimants must contact Acas before making a tribunal claim, this is a voluntary service, so they only need take part in discussing the matter and attempt to resolve it if they want to and either they or the employer can stop the process at any time.

If you wish to find out more about this process, you can go to the Acas website at www.acas.org.uk/early conciliation

The results so far….
- ACAS dealt with over 83,000 EC cases between April 2014 and March 2015.
- Of the notifications received between April 2014 and December 2014:-

63% did not proceed to a tribunal claim;
a further 15% resulted in a formal settlement; and,
22% progressed to a tribunal claim; and
of the 22% in which a claim was issued, more than half (51%) subsequently settled by way of Acas (Acas makes conciliation available, right up to the day of hearing if necessary).

Acas states that “Evidence on the impact of the new Early Conciliation arrangements is developing as more cases go through the system and will continue to do so over the coming months. In addition, Acas has undertaken an evaluation of the service in order to gain feedback and support continuous improvement.”

It is certainly a step in the right direction and let’s hope this rise in cases not reaching Tribunal continues, as it will have a positive effect on businesses and therefore the economy as a whole.  However, I also hope that this new system, together with claimant Tribunal fees, does not deter the genuine cases from pursuing their claims, so that improvements to employment practices throughout the UK continue to be made.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog

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Exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts finally banned!  
Some two months after claiming that they had been banned, the government outlawed the use of exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts, which came into effect on 26 May 2015.

This is a significant step towards tackling the perceived abuse of such contracts by employers especially for low-paid workers. However, there is an obvious flaw here – there is still nothing to prevent employers penalising workers who have jobs elsewhere, for example, by offering them less work as a result or even dismissing them.  

All reputable employers out there should use zero-hours contracts for the purpose they were intended, for flexibility on both sides. If that does not suit you, then you should be recruiting individuals on different types of contracts, such as part-time or fixed term contracts.

I have a good example of how I used different types of contracts to achieve flexibility on both sides. I worked in a charity where we employed sessional workers on zero hours contracts, as some of the projects were seasonal or for a specified time period and the required tasks were varied. This meant that the number of hours could only be estimated, but not guaranteed.

One of these workers was excellent at her job and we found that she was actually working a regular 15 hours per week to fulfil the requirements of a current project. 
She was thinking of leaving due to the instability of her role, as her hours were still not guaranteed and she did not have the employment rights of permanent staff. I therefore explained to her manager that we could put her on a part-time fixed term contract for the duration of the project and then continue to look for work for her on other projects after it expired, so that we could retain this valuable employee and keep her motivated.

To resolve this ongoing issue with all of the management team, I designed a monitoring system for sessional workers. This involved the manager holding a quarterly meeting with the worker to discuss their hours and contract, using a guideline document that I had drafted, providing advice on the different types of contract and when to use them.  They could then decide together which contract the worker would be employed on in future. This would be formalised by the completion and signing of a form to confirm what had been discussed and agreed.

There are other anti-avoidance regulations still being drafted, but with no indication as to when they may be finalised and brought into force. So, if you have employees on zero hours contracts (or working casually for you without a contract!) but you want to ensure that you are managing this process correctly, we would be happy to chat informally to you and offer our expert advice. 

Thank you for reading my blog

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How to tackle your bullying boss!

Did you know………that 75% of employees indicate that an immediate supervisor’s management approach causes the most stress in their jobs
(“Good Boss, Bad Boss” by Bob Sutton, Business Plus)

There is a lot of press these days on bullying in schools and the odd tribunal case concerning bullying and harassment, but I’m sure from my experience, there is a lot more bullying going on in the workplace than we are made aware of.

I am writing about this not with my HR head on (although it will have an influence, having been in the field for over 20 years!), but from a personal perspective.  I have met 4 people during my career in senior HR positions who I would class as bullies and I am going to share with you the most painful experience I had with a direct boss, who was a HR Director.

At first we got on very well, she encouraged me to develop my skills and praised me on my achievements.  She admitted she was not a good trainer and did not know what coaching was(?!), but I had sufficient experience and knowledge to perform without this and she gave me support when it was needed.

However, as time went on and I was gaining more confidence and credibility with the staff, things started to change.  She began to patronise and undermine me when given the chance, taking credit for the work that the HR Assistant and I had produced with very little input from her.  She became lazy, treating us like her PAs and the HR Assistant in particular found her aggressive nature very unsettling at times.

So I decided to challenge her about it and her response at first was ‘Oh, I didn’t realise I was doing that and didn’t realise how I’d made you both feel’.  But then a few weeks later when she’d had time to further digest what we’d discussed, she read out to me a two page, patronising document, using the metaphor of me as the sous chef to her master chef, basically explaining that I should not be so sensitive and when she is stressed, she is entitled to behave in the way she does, as she is the boss!

After that our relationship began to deteriorate further, with us only speaking to each other when we needed to, which made me feel awful for our HR Assistant, as the atmosphere in such a small office was far from pleasant at times!  So, I tried a different tack, to build bridges and occasionally pamper her ego when I needed something from her (when I could manage to swallow enough of my pride to do this!).  This worked for a while until the next chance she had to undermine me and then we were back to square one!  I then dug my heels in and thought ‘I’m not going to let her win, I am not leaving’.  I began keeping a note of our ‘exchanges’ and I kept a copy of the essay she had written to me before, with a view to reporting her to our harassment advisor.  However, after going through all the possible consequences of this action, I realised that the anit-harassment advisor group was something that she had set up and co-ordinated, so I didn’t think I would get very far with that one?!!

So, I had 2 or 3 more miserable months of surviving in this frosty atmosphere, using the psychology that this wasn’t about me, it was about my boss and her lack of ability and self-esteem.  But then the work started to deplete through reduced headcount and my up-skilling of managers – I had worked myself out of a job!  So at this stage I decided I should start looking for another job.  Then, I received a complete bombshell – I was made redundant to reduce costs!  This was a small company and so the part-time Director wasn’t earning much more than me, but I was told there was still a need for a Board level Director there, which shocked everyone, considering the organisation only had a headcount of 100?!  Then during the redundancy process, I was treated even more appallingly, being made to do any menial tasks that my boss desired to keep me there during all of my notice, just in case some big issue arose, so that she didn’t have to deal with it!  So I walked (I had less than 2 years’ service so wasn’t owed any redundancy pay) and sent her a lengthy e-mail explaining why I was doing something so out of character, copying in the Chair of the Board and CEO.

So, the moral of this story is, you can try to tackle your bullying boss, but if as in my case, you don’t succeed, then think of your health and sanity – they are far more important than working for someone who does not appreciate you and could potentially damage your career – life is too short!

However, on a positive note, this Director gave me more confidence in my abilities and strengthened my resolve to become a self-employed HR Consultant, so that I don’t have to be managed by someone like her ever again!

Have you had a similar experience you want to share with the group?  How did you tackle it and did it work?

Thank you for reading my blog

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