Ditching the Garbage – Taking Decisive Action

Taking decisive action in the workplace can be difficult for an employer.   It is tempting to bury our heads in the sand and hope that the problem will resolve itself.

Roseanne Barr, the American comedian, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this week.  In case this story has passed you by, Roseanne starred in a popular comedy in USA in the 1990s and a new series has recently been aired by the broadcasting network, ABC.

The new series has only been running a few weeks, but Roseanne has posted her strong views on social media.  In particular, sh has made some racist and disturbing comments on Twitter.  Her fellow actors on the series were quick to distance themselves from her views and ABC immediately pulled the series off air, to wide approval.

I don’t want to discuss racism or misplaced comedy in the workplace, at least not in this article.  I do want to highlight the lessons we can learn from ABC’s decisive action.

Taking Decisive Action

Roseanne is a big star in USA and her series makes serious money for ABC.  It would have been easy for them to publicly reprimand Roseanne and allow the series to continue.  Their swift action to close down the series will have cost them – at least in the short term – and will potentially have put Roseanne’s colleagues out of a job.

It would also have been easy for ABC to wait for a few days, to see if the furore died down .  Roseanne has apologised and claimed her comments were a joke which misfired.  There are many in USA who may well agree with Roseanne, or at least will not be unduly upset by her comments. Others think that ABC’s action is a bar to free speech.

But I believe the swift and decisive action to take the series off air was a sensible and appropriate response by ABC.  It will not be popular in all quarters, but is likely to have pleased far more people than it upset. The decision shows strength and an encouraging lack of influence by financial considerations.

I am sure the general approval of ABC’s actions will win them friends across the world.  I am also sure that the actors who have been affected are likely to get offers of other work fairly quickly, either by ABC or other networks.

What can smaller employers learn from this?

 Too often, disruptive people “get away” with bad behaviour because of their usefulness to their employer.

I once had to deal with a complaint that a sales manager was bullying a female staff member.  The company were reluctant to take disciplinary action as he was “our best salesman”. There was a fear that he would leave if he was subject to disciplinary action.  And he would be difficult to replace. The manager, of course, revelled in his seeming invincibility and his behaviour became gradually worse.

The female staff member left eventually, as did other colleagues with similar complaints.   I imagine the cost of replacing those staff was large.  The company  also had to continually deal with complaints about the manager.  They potentially lost revenue as he was unpopular with clients as well as staff.

In the end, the difficult individual left of his own accord, to suit his own timing, showing no loyalty to the company. If they had taken some disciplinary action at an earlier stage, they would have had more control over the situation.

I am not intending any criticism of the employer. They were placed in a very difficult situation and made the best decision they could, for important business reasons.  The point I am making is that sometimes the difficult path of decisive action is the better path.

 If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  -or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Managing Presenteeism – How to Make People Stop Working

People who have worked with me for any length of time know that I have a bee in my bonnet about discouraging long working  hours and encouraging the use of breaks.  I think my colleagues all got sick of me nagging them to leave on time or to go out and get some fresh air at lunchtime.

But I am vindicated by recent research from the CIPD.    Their report shows 86 per cent of respondents to their survey have seen a rise in “presenteeism” over the past 12 months. Over two-thirds reported “leaveism” (people working when they should be on annual leave).

What is presenteeism?

According to Google, presenteeism  is “the practice of being present at one’s place of work for more hours than required, especially as a manifestation of insecurity about one’s job ”.  Most commentators link this to being at work even though sick, and some refer to “workplace presence”.  I believe that it also covers people who work through their breaks, who work long hours, or who work during annual leave periods or public holidays (“leaveism”).

Why do people work when they are sick, or tired?

You may say that you do not ask or expect people to work long hours or come into work when they are sick.  If they choose to do that, then that is their own decision.

Indeed, there may be little pressure from managers for people to exhibit presenteeism.  Many people have a strong sense of loyalty to their co-workers and do not want to cause others to have more work to do because they are sick.  They “don’t feel too bad” so think they can do a day’s work.  Others may feel a loyalty to the organisation they work for and presenteeism is a misguided attempt to “be professional” or to support the organisation or colleagues.

Of course, sometimes managers do put stong pressure on people to perform and get the job done.  Whilst I am sure that every manager would say they do not want people to work when they are sick, they may not understand how implied messages can be misread.

In some industries or areas where there is little other employment opportunity, people are frightened that they may lose their job if they take too much time off sick.  Or they have personal money worries or they fear downsizing or job losses. In a smaller team, people might be afraid that the work will pile up while they are off sick. So they come in before they have recovered, or they work at weekends, to avoid the pressure of a heavy workload. This is common where people feel they have high workloads, deadlines and believe they have little support.

Then, of course, there are people who are addicted to work – “workaholics”.

But surely it is good for an employer to get unpaid work from employees?

Just because someone is in the workplace, they may not be adding a valued contribution to the organisation.  If they are ill or tired, then their productivity will be low. This might even be more costly for the employer than their absence would be.   The quality of their performance will reduce and this could lead to poor judgements which cost time and money to fix.  Not to mention the detrimental effect on their colleagues or poor client relations.

Another issue is poor health – for both the individual employee and their colleagues.  If someone continues to work when ill or exhausted, then they are likely to fall victim to other sickness as their immunity levels will reduce.  They will probably pass their bugs on to colleagues and cause a rash of absence as others have to take time out to recover from a stomach upset or cold which has been  passed on to them.    It will take the individual longer to recover from sickness as they have not taken enough rest. This will make them unpopular with their colleagues who become sick or who have to pick up the workload.  This has the potential to damage general staff morale.

How does this affect the Company?

The Business will suffer reduced quality and volume of work.  In itself this may lead to people needing to work longer hours (a vicious circle) to compensate for time off.  This can lead to reduced staff morale, poor employee engagement and yet further loss of productivity.

There is increasing evidence that the amount of time lost to absenteeism is dwarfed when compared to the productivity lost through presenteeism. A study by The Work Foundation has found that the cost of presenteeism in the workplace could account for one-and-a-half times the cost of sick leave. A separate study in the USA showed that the cost of health-related presenteeism could be as much as ten times that of absence.   And that doesn’t include the people who stay at their desk surfing the internet or checking social media, waiting for their boss to leave.

What can an employer do to prevent presenteeism?

The CIPD report  showed that only a quarter of firms surveyed are taking steps to discourage unhealthy working patterns or tackle stress, which is strongly linked to conditions like anxiety and depression.  A previous JMA HR article has touched on mental health and could help you to tackle depression and anxiety in the workplace.

People managers need to be trained to recognise presenteeism and to discourage it.  For example, technology is widely seen as positive in the workplace, but many people find it difficult to “switch off” outside working hours.  I have known many people who deal with emails late into the night, or even take laptops on holiday so they can keep up with work.  This negates the benefit of having an overnight break or a holiday.  You could consider banning the use of email outside of working hours or after a set time.

Many of us work in high-pressure cultures or deal with heavy workloads.  This can push unwell employees into the office.  It can also lead to people using annual leave and weekends to catch up with a backlog of tasks.  This requires some serious management and job design.  You may well be concerned about the additional cost of an extra salary if you take on more staff.  How much more does it cost for your current employees  to manage the tide by working when they are unfit, only to drown when they are engulfed?  You need to make it a priority to give manageable workloads.

Lead by example

Simple steps to take include sending unwell employees home.  You could also  encourage  – or even enforce – breaks and reasonable working hours.  Make it clear that your Company expects sick employees to stay home and recover. How about sending a “hometime” reminder from the CEO to come up on every computer screen at the end of the working day? The workaholics among your staff may resist this, but they will thank you in the long run.  You will definitely see the benefit yourself.

Deadlines are a factor of the modern workplace and there is probably nothing you can do about that.  There may be occasions when you need people to work late or out of hours.  Keep these to a minimum, rather than an expected pattern.  You will find that people are willing to help you to meet an important deadline.  Then thank them!

A really basic step for business owners, CEOs and managers to take is to be the role model of the behaviour you require.  This is simple, but surprisingly rare.  Your staff will look to you for a lead and they will follow your pattern.  If you work long hours, don’t take breaks and work when you are sick or on holiday, then you cannot expect them to behave any differently.  You are the key to changing the culture.  You are not made of steel, either.  All of the disadvantages that presenteeism brings for your workplace also apply to you.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Facing the Mental Health Demons in the Workplace

Approximately 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health problem each year.  Yet we are still reluctant to talk about it.  We find it easier to discuss a physical problem than to tell our employer about a mental health issue such as depression, stress or anxiety.  It was reported in the press last year that one in three Fit Notes  issued in the UK are related to mental health.  Even more significantly,  of those signed off for these reasons, one in five remain off sick for at least three months.

On that basis, this is a major concern in the workplace and employers need to manage this as part of the overall wellbeing of their workforce.

Cause for concern

The problems which poor mental health can cause in the workplace are wide and can be costly.  Clearly, the first concern is someone’s absence – but this is far from the only worrying factor.  There will be those who are afraid to take time off for some reason.  Either they don’t want to tell anyone of their health problems or they need the money. Maybe they feel under pressure to perform or they don’t want to “let their colleagues down”.  So they may come to work when they are not fit to be there, which brings its own problems.

Poor mental health impacts on their performance, their attitude, their interactions with colleagues and clients.  It also affects the quality of their work and their productivity.  This can lead to further actions such as disciplinary or performance discussions, lay-offs – all of which are likely to worsen the situation.   Then there is the impact on others around them.  Colleagues may feel they overloaded due to someone’s absence or poor performance.  Customers may be getting poor service and support.

Poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, so it would be sensible for employers to consider prevention.

What can we do?

Any organisation can – and should – create a Mental Health plan and then follow it and communicate it to all employees.  Here are some suggestions to help you to create good mental health within the workplace and to combat mental health issues at work:

Promoting Good Mental Health

  • Create an open atmosphere where people feel they can talk about such issues. You can do this by making employees aware of what help is available and where they can access it. Facilitate open discussions amongst employees.
  • Ensure you offer enough breaks from work and make sure people take them. When we get engrossed in a piece of work, it is easy to skip lunch, or work late, but this can be counter-productive and lead to other problems.  Make sure people take regular breaks from work and have a change of scene.  Try and encourage a good work-life balance – and LEAD BY EXAMPLE.  If people see you working all hours and not taking breaks, they will follow your lead as they will think that is what you expect of them as well.
  • Try and give people interesting, varied work which they can excel at. This will increase their sense of worth and happiness at work.
  • Praising people when they do well, exciting them about challenges and opportunities, recognising them when they do well. All of these will help to prevent mental health problems from occurring in the first place. 

Combatting Mental Health Issues

  • If you manage people, or have line managers who support teams, then train the managers to recognise mental health problems and in how to manage such conversations.
  • It might also be worth training one or two employees as mental health mentors, so that people feel they can go to these people if they have any issues but can’t approach you or their manager.
  • The Mental Health Foundation provides a series of guides about dealing with mental health problems. You  can download these at no cost, or you could order some paper copies to keep in the workplace for anyone who needs them.
  • If someone does disclose that they have a mental health problem, it could be made worse by other things – money worries, fear of losing job, fear of taking time off, fear of talking about it. Investigate gently with the individual  – there might be something you can do to help with those concerns.
  • Offer access to a counselling service or at least a helpline.
  • Many Mental Health charities can provide support to you and your employees. Investigate the options which work for you and your company and provide details to your employees.  Provide a list of those charities to any employee who discloses they have a mental health issue.  There is a huge amount of help available for those who need it.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  -or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

 

 

Human Resources, Personnel and Pineapples

Should it be Human Resources or Personnel?  Two people have raised the point with me this week that it was “better” when it was Personnel.  After all, people are people –  not resources like staplers or widgets, which employers can discard when there is a problem, without considering feelings or anxieties.

Why Human Resources?

Historically, the Welfare department looked after the people.  Then Welfare was re-branded as Personnel, to get away from the “nanny” image.  But we have moved on a bit since then.  People are a resource and there is no getting away from that.  Of course, they are different from staplers and need different treatment, but they are a resource which contributes to the effectiveness and success of a business.  So calling them “Human Resources” does what it says on the tin – they are human and they are resources  – and the role of the HR department these days is very different.  Whilst there is still an element of pay and rations, the HR director acts as a strategic partner to the business.  HR is there to help the organisation to use their workforce in the best way to achieve their business aims.

So what is the problem?

The real message behind this concern about the name, is that people feel unloved in the workplace.  They feel as though their employer does not consider their feelings or consult them.  They feel used (like a stapler) and then ignored. As I have stated before, people want to feel they are part of the organisation.  They want to feel that they matter,  and they want to be treated fairly and professionally.

If you get this right, then it doesn’t matter what you call the workforce – personnel, human resources, pineapples (!).  They will be happy and loyal and will be a great asset and ambassador for your business.

We will provide some help for you to achieve this in the near future.  Watch this space!

If you think this article is useful  and you would like more advice on dealing with this  -or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Counting The Pennies

This is a guest-blog written for The Female Money Doctor, Dr Nikki Ramskill.  To read more, please go to http://thefemalemoneydoctor.com/blog

Are you giving your employees financial advice and support?

Your financial responsibility towards the people working for you shouldn’t stop with their pay cheque.

When people are struggling financially, they always hope for more income.  They try to find an extra job.  They volunteer for  some overtime, or hope to get a pay rise.  This is all so that they can pay their bills and feed their families.  Many people have more than one job or work overtime, so they can bring in a bit more money.  As an employer, you are already helping them by paying for their services.  But is there more you can and should be doing?

 

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  -or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.