How To Plan A Happy Workplace Christmas

Christmas should be a really happy time of year.  It is a holiday period and we all look forward to a break from work.

Or do we?

For some people, Christmas is a nightmare.  For others it can just be a time of chaos and confusion.  Some think it is no different than any other time of year.  Others wish it would all just be over quickly.  Some want it to be Christmas all the time.

Employers have an added dimension.  We need to try and keep productive, but allow our staff some leeway and time to enjoy themselves.  But what should we allow, or not allow?  What are the pitfalls that face us as Christmas approaches?  How can we make sure our business doesn’t suffer over the holiday period, but our employees have a great time?

How should employers start to plan for Christmas in the workplace?

There are so many things to think about which can make working at Christmas either great or horrible.  It can be your most successful time of year, or your slackest time.  Of course, you may not always be able to plan which of these is the case.

Do your employees want to be at work at Christmas?  Or not?  Do you have enough volunteers to cover peak times?  Or do you need to work out a rota?  Can you allow everyone to take time off or holiday over the period?  Maybe you need to stop all annual leave.  What about time off for religious festivals?  What about time off to support family activities (school carol concerts, nativity plays)?

Have you thought about cultural diversity?  Your staff may not all want to celebrate Christmas or to have time off.  It maybe the case that they prefer to keep their annual leave for other occasions, or to have time off for other religious or cultural activities.  Can you accommodate all of these wishes?

Time out at Christmas

One contentious issue is time off work.  Do you want to close the business down for a few days?  And can you afford to do so?  If so, does everyone who works there want to have time off forced on them, or would they rather work over the holiday period?  If you are shutting down, has everyone got to use up annual leave?  Have they got enough annual leave?  Will you give extra time off?

Will you let people leave early on Christmas Eve, or do you expect them to work the full day?  Is your business going to be shut on Christmas Day, or will you be open as usual.  If it is the latter, how will you organise who works on that day?

Celebrations

Things you need to consider under the heading of celebrations are many and varied.

Your employees may want to have an office party, or a meal out.  You need to consider whether this should be in their own time or whether you will give additional time off.  You might want to contribute to the cost.

What about music in the workplace?  Some people like to have Christmas music while they work.  Others hate it.  Some like the popular Christmas music which is played on the radio and in shops all through December.  Others would prefer classical or religious music or carols.     Will you allow music all the time, or only at certain times, or not at all?

Many people like to bake cakes and food at Christmas and bring sweets, chocolates, cake or other food into the workplace.  Are you happy for that, or do you need to lay down some rules?  What about drinks?  You may not normally allow alcohol in work, but would you make an exception at Christmas time?  If so, what rules will you set around it?

Gifts and Giving

People like to give cards and presents to each other at Christmas and that, of course, is a personal decision.  But some workplaces organise a “secret santa” where each person receives a gift.  Of course this can be fun, but again you may need to set some rules about cost or type of gift.  Some people may choose not to take part and that is fine, but you need to make sure they are not made to feel uncomfortable about that decision.  I have been on the receiving end of some fairly questionable gifts through secret santa.  People think it is funny to give an offensive gift when it is done anonymously and it can be very difficult if it is not properly controlled.

This might be a good time of year to make some corporate contributions to a local charity or to encourage employees to volunteer to help others in some way.  Your employees and clients will be very supportive of you if you can give a little extra at this time of year.

Getting to Work and Flexible Working

Whether or not you already have a culture of flexible working, this might be a good time of year to relax the rules.

In the UK, the weather can be bad at this time of year and the days are short.  We have darker mornings and earlier evenings.  Travel can be difficult for people in the dark and in poor weather.  In the final run up to Christmas, there is the additional worry of drunk driving as many people have too much alcohol and don’t realise that one extra glass can make their driving very dangerous.

People have children who are taking part in seasonal activities and parents may well want to be able to take time out to attend a carol concert or school play. School holidays are an additional problem for parents to deal with and they may need some flexibility to manage childcare.   Or people may have other caring responsibilities, hospital visits or older people to consider.  Unfortunately, these arrangements can become more difficult at holiday times.

Strained Relationships

Christmas should be a time to relax and enjoy ourselves. But for many, the stress just piles on us before and during the holiday period.  There is so much to organise, so many calls on our time and our money. We sometimes dread spending time with difficult family relationships or unwelcome guests and we put pressure on ourselves.  All of these things can cause major health and wellbeing issues.

Additionally, the increased likelihood of colds, flu and seasonal illnesses.  Not to mention self-inflicted problems from too much alcohol or too little sleep.

All of these things are generalisations and will not affect many of us.  But they will definitely affect a large proportion of our workforce.

Giving employees their best Christmas ever

Christmas needs careful planning – as with so many other things in the world of work!

As always, if you want to give your employees the best Christmas present, then consult with them about what works and what doesn’t work.  You will never please everybody all the time.  But if you know what the majority of people want, then you have half a chance of giving them a happy Christmas at work.

And who will benefit most from that?  The employer, of course.

This could be your best Christmas ever!

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – contact us for a no-obligation chat.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

How High Productivity Will Prevent Resignations

What is high productivity and how can we achieve it?

I have been writing articles about improving productivity for the last two or three months.  There are often press items about how the UK is suffering from low productivity.  Employers are continually being encouraged to do things to improve productivity.

But what does high productivity mean?

What does “high productivity” actually mean?

Essentially, to be highly productive, we need to make the best use of our time and resources.

This does not necessarily mean doing things more quickly.  If we rush things and make mistakes, we might need to do them again.  So that is not very productive.

Productivity is not about perfection.  We might want to be the best at what we do.  We might want to manufacture the very best products in our field.  Or maybe we want to beat the competition and make our items better than others that are on offer.  But being the best may not be productive.  It can take a long time to produce something which is better than the competition. Others might be churning out something which is not quite as good, but at a faster rate, or lower cost.  So who is then the more productive?

Sometimes “good enough” is good enough

If our products are of a standard which is acceptable and which sells well, then we may not need to produce the very best.  Of course, we may want to have a reputation as “the best”.  In that case, we need to strive to create perfection.  But the majority of businesses can do very well by producing a quality that is good enough, but not perfect.

If we do want to produce premium goods and be known for being “the best”, then our measure of productivity will be different to that of our competitors.

High productivity is not an absolute and is not strictly measurable.  It is also something which changes on a daily basis.  It depends on a variety of things, only some of which are under our control.

Factors which affect high productivity

Things which affect high productivity are many and varied.  If we employ people, then those employees have a large impact on the rate of productivity.  If they work quickly and accurately, then the business is more likely to be highly productive. When they are not able to work as speedily as we would like, then they may be less productive.

The availability, cost and quality of raw materials to produce our end goods has a huge impact on the productivity of our business.  This may – or may not – be within our control. But how we manage the supply chain is critical. We may need to regularly review our suppliers.

The weather, state of the transport system, global economy, clearly all have an impact.  These things affect us all and so our competitors also have to manage these peaks and troughs.  But they are often outside our sphere of management.

Managing people to create high productivity

The one factor which is in our control is the way we manage the people who work for us.  On a daily basis, there may be external factors in their lives which affect their individual productivity.  We may have a limited ability to change that.

But how we manage people in general, and individuals in particular, is a critical factor in the level of our business productivity.

As human beings, we all want to be valued.  We all want to be loved and appreciated.  This is true in the workplace as much – or more – than in our private lives.  We have a need to be accepted and to believe that we are useful.  We shine more brightly when we know our purpose and feel appreciated.

The one, major, thing which every employer can do to improve productivity within the workplace is to value, thank and cherish our employees.  Do they know their purpose and how their particular role fits into the overall business vision?  Do they understand that you appreciate their efforts and value their input?Can they be sure they have the right skills to do the job well?  Do they believe they are being paid fairly for their work?  If the answer to all of those questions is “yes”, then you are well on your way to high productivity in your workplace.

A salutary tale

I had coffee with a friend this week.  She has recently left her workplace after 9 years in her job.  When she told her boss she was leaving, he said he was really disappointed.  He said she was highly skilled and that he really appreciated her work.

Too little, too late.

Her feeling was this.  Had he told her how she was valued earlier in their working relationship, she would probably never have got to the point of moving on.  Had she felt appreciated and fairly paid, then she would never have looked for another job.

I have known employers who offer a pay rise to prevent someone from leaving the company.  Sometimes that offer is accepted.  But it is never a good solution. People will not feel the warmth from a pay increase for long.  They will remember that they had to resign to get the appreciation.  So they will keep looking for a better employer.

If you want to improve productivity, then look after your employees – and do it now.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support to work out a plan for higher productivity, then  contact us for a no-obligation discussion about how we can help.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

Presenteeism And Productivity – What Is The Connection?

Absenteeism from work is never productive. But it does not necessarily follow that being present goes hand in hand with high productivity.

There is a growing problem with presenteeism in the workplace. But what is presenteeism and why is it an issue of concern?

What is presenteeism and how does it affect productivity?

In the past, presenteeism was a term used to describe a situation when people stayed at work, even when they were sick. It arose when people were not paid for sickness absence and could not afford to lose a day’s pay. So they went to work and became guilty of presenteeism. They were present at work, but not productive or able to contribute, due to their ill-health.

These days, the term “presenteeism” is used to describe any situation where people are present at work, but are not being productive. Have you ever known anyone who has finished a specific piece of work, but stays at their desk for a further half an hour, so they can be seen to be there? Or what about the person who spends most of their day checking their social media or emails and does not actually produce any work?

Why do people need to be seen to be present?

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.  So they 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.  Their presenteeism is a misguided attempt to “be professional” or to support the organisation or colleagues.

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.  Maybe 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 or tight deadlines and believe they have little support.

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

Why is presenteeism so bad for productivity?

Presenteeism can raise a range of concerns about the work environment.

Firstly, the person who is guilty of presenteeism is clearly not very productive. Just because someone is in the workplace, they may not add a valued contribution to the organisation. This might even be more costly for the employer than their absence would be. The quality of their performance will reduce.  This could lead to poor judgements which cost time and money to fix.

My second concern is about the company’s culture and whether that brings out the best in people. Presenteeism is a big pointer that someone is feeling insecure in their job. These are people who need to be seen to be working to prove that they are valuable. The message that a manager can take from this is that people need to understand their value to the organisation and why their role is important.

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. They will probably pass their bugs on to colleagues.  This can 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.

What can an employer do to prevent presenteeism?

Have you thought about training your managers 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.

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 may want to make it a priority to give more manageable workloads.

Leading 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, of course.  But they may 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.

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 have a problem with presenteeism and productivity in your workplace, then contact us  for a no-obligation discussion about useful steps to take.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR . She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list? Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

How Office Design Can Increase Productivity

Office design is important.

Over the last three decades or so, I have worked in a variety of different offices.  One of these was a small private office, where there was only just enough room to open the desk drawer.  At the other end of the scale was a large open-plan office housing fifty people.   I have worked with a hot-desking policy. There have been times when I have worked in a co-working space.  Now I work at home.

I have worked both in the city and in a business park.  I have worked in a historic, listed building and a new, purpose-built office block.   The view I have looked at has ranged from a blank wall to rolling countryside to an industrial landscape.

All of these have advantages and disadvantages.  I could tell you which I liked best and why.  I can also tell you some stories about how they all made me feel (looking at a blank wall was incredibly depressing). But I cannot tell you what works and what doesn’t work.  We are all different, with different needs and experiences.  And so some environments suit one person, but not another.

The aim of this article is to help you understand how the environment we work in can affect our productivity.  There are some simple changes you can make which might have a huge effect on how well and quickly the work gets done.

Office design considerations

The Estate Agency, Savills, ran a Europe-wide “What Workers Want” survey  earlier this year.  This looked at how office design can affect the satisfaction – and productivity – of the people who work there.

The survey found that some of the key factors which affect productivity are:

  • Length and cost of commute;
  • Hot-desking;
  • Open plan offices.

Another important factor for a business to consider are the ability to work in a variety of workspaces.  Some other considerations are the provision of quality IT structure; natural lighting; plants; colour; temperature; smell.   An easy, but important, area to regulate is cleanliness.  It is easier to keep a work area clean if it is organised.  I have looked at the advantages of being organised in a previous article.

How the journey to work can affect productivity

If you are thinking of moving your business, or if you are a start-up, then have you thought about the site of your office?

It is not as simple a choice as you might think.  For example, if you like peace and quiet you may want to place your business in the heart of the countryside.  But have you considered how your employees can get to work?  Not everyone can drive or wants to do so.  Your ideal employee may prefer to work in town, with plenty of public transport.

And for the drivers, have you considered the parking facilities.  The ease, cost and availability of secure parking is one of the major factors that people consider when they are job seeking.

As a business owner, you may consider that rent and availability of premises may be much cheaper and easier outside the city centre.  But if that means you cannot attract people to work for you, then your business is a non-starter. Even in the city, you need to be aware of the parking situation.  Some of your employees may be commuting for up to an hour and if that is a drive, they will want to be able to park easily and cheaply.  The Savills’ survey found that a high proportion of workers were concerned about the length, cost and ease of the commute to work.

Does a hot-desking policy work?

Hot-desking has become more popular in recent years.  Employers see it as a great way to maximise the use of desk space.  It is likely that a percentage of people will be away from work at any one time (on holiday, off sick, working elsewhere, or at meetings).  So hot-desking surely makes sense?

The Savills’ survey would suggest otherwise.  The number of employees who said that hot-desking harmed productivity was about one-third and this had increased since the previous survey.  More than half of the workers surveyed said that they would prefer to have a dedicated desk.  People like to personalise their workspace.  We are creatures of habit and like to work in a familiar setting. Specifically in the UK, 50% of workers feel that hot-desking has had a negative impact on their productivity and only 12% feel it has increased productivity.

Open Plan Offices

Open plan offices have become commonplace and many people believe that they encourage collaboration and so increase productivity. But a third of people in open plan offices feel that their workplace layout has a negative impact on their productivity levels.  This can be linked to other factors like smell and noise.

From a personal perspective, I have worked in open plan offices where people persist in having lunch at their desk.  If this includes a meal which has a distinctive and evident smell, others around may find this very distracting.  Even strong perfume or air fresheners in an open plan office can cause difficulties for some people.

Many workers are introverts and these people are less likely to be comfortable in an open plan environment.   Even the more extroverted among us need to concentrate on some tasks.  An open plan office is not going to be helpful where a job requires concentration rather than collaboration.

This is where it is important to provide a variety of workplace options.  An open plan office can be combined with some break-out spaces, or even some private offices available. People like to have the choice and some control over where they choose to work.  Few roles need to be done completely in one place or at one desk.  So good office design needs to give people options, including somewhere for some privacy.

Keep the noise down

As well as smell, noise can be a source of contention in an open office.  Some people like to work with background music or some noise.  Others cannot concentrate if there is noise, even if it is just subdued conversation elsewhere in the office.

The What People Want survey found that 83% of workers said that noise levels are important to them.   Leaders and managers need to consider solutions to some of these issues.   If you are designing an office, then you need to consider the acoustics.  But it may be difficult or important to change the physical aspects of the office.   It is never helpful to enforce a strict ban (on radios or music, or conversation).  But, for example,  you might want to consider allowing people to use headphones to listen to music.

What about the air that we breathe?

There are other office design factors which may impede productivity.  An important one is air quality.  Stale and polluted air can lead to tiredness, headache and difficulty in concentrating.   So the provision of fresh air in the office is really important.

Machinery, fabrics, building materials can all affect this.  An ability to open windows may be all that is needed.  But some buildings don’t have this facility.  It can also be a source of contention due to the temperature variation which can be caused.  Air conditioning might be the answer, but how fresh is the air which is circulated?  There may be a large cost implication for solving this one.  But it might bring a good return on investment in terms of productivity; absence and retention.

Human beings need to connect with nature.  More plants in the office can improve the quality of the air in the office and will also help the wellbeing of the employees.  Studies have found that plants  and natural light can have a major impact on productivity.

Small changes to office design can improve productivity

It is well documented that employers in the UK are struggling to increase productivity levels.  One place where we can make a difference is the workplace environment.

I am a big believer in collaboration and consultation in the workplace.  If you talk to your employees, then you will find out what works for them and what does not work so well.  No doubt, they will come up with some wildly impossible and expensive solutions.  But they will also tell you the small things which might make the biggest difference.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – contact us for a no-obligation chat.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.