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Increase Productivity Using These Simple Tips

Worker productivity in the UK is continuing to decline.  This has been going on for the last decade or so since the financial crisis.  There are many reasons for this and plenty of theories about how to reverse the trend.  But why does it matter?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines Productivity  as “the rate at which a company or country makes goods, usually judged in connection with the number of people and the amount of materials necessary to produce the goods”.

It matters, according to the BBC, because it is the main driver of long-term economic growth and higher living standards.

You may think that this is for the Government or the large companies to worry about. It is not an area where smaller companies can have much impact.  This article will give you some tips about how you can make a difference in your own company and why that is so important.

What can any one employer do to increase productivity?

  • Recognition. This does not need to be a large and involved recognition and benefits scheme.  When business talks about recognition, it often means salary levels and all of the benefits which can be given to employees to retain their loyalty.  Of course, we all hope that our efforts will not go unnoticed and we like to be recognised.  Each Person, a company specialising in employee recognition,  conducted an employee survey recently.  Almost half (48%) of employees surveyed said that a simple “thank you” would make them feel valued.
  • Respect. This one is a two-way street. If you show respect to your employees, then they are more likely to respect you.  Nobody says that people have to like each other to be able to work together.  But mutual respect is important and a professional approach is always the best one.
  • Integrity. If your recognition is not genuine, then it will have the wrong effect.  If it is too casual or generic it will demoralise workers.   People can see through falsity and non-genuine approaches.  So if you find it difficult to empathise with someone, then you may need to consider some personal development in the softer skills for yourself.

Who should we include in any recognition?

  • Include everyone. When you set up a formal recognition and reward scheme, or even if you are just giving out informal thanks to employees, then make sure that these schemes and informal approaches cover every employee. I have worked in companies which give out certificates of thanks, together with some kind of small monetary gift.  This is great when you are on the receiving end.  But what if you never are?  If someone is never or rarely recognised, when others get singled out regularly, then it will lead to resentment.  It may result in  a feeling of unfairness and will ultimately end in employees becoming demotivated.  This can lead to other problems with sickness, retention, poor employer reputation – even legal action.
  • Encourage peer to peer recognition. It can be really powerful to receive recognition from a colleague, rather than from the top down. I know of a global company which encourages its employees to give unattributed small gifts to each other on Valentine’s Day (and at other times of year as well).  So an employee comes to their desk to find a mug with some chocolates in it and a thank you note.  They don’t know who it is from, but their task then is to reciprocate by giving some kind of thank you to another colleague in secret.  Now this kind of approach is unlikely to work in every company and I am not suggesting that you should implement this.  But we all like to be appreciated by our co-workers and so it would be a good idea to encourage people to thank each other for noteworthy efforts.  This could be an email, a phone call, or a sticky note attached to a computer or telephone.

Things to avoid if you want to increase productivity

A “one-size-fits-all” approach to reward and recognition is a recipe for disaster in modern diverse and varied workplaces.   Individual members of staff will prefer to be rewarded differently.  Reward schemes are as varied as the people in the workplace.  Alcohol is never a good reward – many do not even allow alcohol into the workplace and so to give it as a reward seems rather perverse.  With such diversity in our workplaces, we need to move away from rewards which people from some cultures or religions may find offensive.  Even if not offensive, they are potentially just a waste of money.

Many current reward schemes include points or vouchers to allow discounts in high street or online retailers.  Even this may not be an acceptable reward for some.  Such schemes may only have participation from the most popular retailers and not everyone uses those retailers.  Some workers may prefer time off as a reward, or additional flexibility.

The timing of rewards is another potential area for pitfalls.  It is better if the recognition can be given at a time appropriate to the work undertaken, rather than on a regular occasion.  Otherwise it becomes more of a ritual and less of a genuine appreciation. If there is too long a gap between the work and the reward, then people might feel that the recognition is only paying lip service.

Other potential barriers to increasing productivity

Many workplaces allow and encourage remote working, home working, variable or irregular working hours.  Any reward scheme must be designed to include reward for anybody who is working to non-standard working patterns.

Another potential issue is the public nature of any recognition.  You may feel it is something to be covered in team meetings or in a public area.  This would appear to bring the greatest benefit as it should encourage people to make greater efforts so they can also achieve recognition.  However, you must be aware that not everyone will feel comfortable at the public scrutiny.  Any potential benefits to retention or productivity might be lost if someone feels embarrassed or singled-out in front of colleagues.  It is important to show some empathy when dealing with any kind of people issues – good or bad.

One final point to remember is that any recognition scheme – formal or informal – must be operated fairly.  There must be no room for anyone to feel they have been treated unfairly.  If there is any such feeling, then any good from the recognition scheme risks being wiped out.

In brief

The productivity levels in the UK are continuing to fall or at least to stagnate. We are falling behind competitors in other countries.  This will have a detrimental effect on our ability to compete.  This, in turn, will lead to lower salary increases and less growth.  On an individual company level, if you have low productivity you risk a high staff turnover.  This leads to costly and difficult recruitment.  The staff you retain are likely to be sick more often and to perform at a lower level.  This will have a direct effect on profits and growth and may affect client relationships.

One simple way you can begin to turn this around and increase productivity is to set up a formal or informal recognition scheme.  That way your employees are rewarded for their efforts and feel valued, included and part of your company’s success.

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 – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

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.  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.

Why Your Business Vision Must Include Your Employees

Let me tell you about someone who runs a successful garden centre. The business is doing reasonably well and employs 20 or so people.  But the owner is frustrated.   His business vision was to design gardens for people and then sell them the plants and equipment to maintain the designs.  He knows he can expand his business hugely, doing what he loves best.

His advertising all includes the garden design offering and he talks to customers about it if he gets the chance – but he doesn’t often get involved in the customer-facing end of the business.  He spends his time producing wonderful designs for gardens which are only in his imagination.

His problem is that he hasn’t told his employees of his vision.  They all know they work for a garden centre and they work quite hard at selling the plants and suggesting suitable tools for customers.  But they are unaware of the garden design option.

One day the owner happens to be chatting to a neighbour of his who runs a motor mechanic business.  The friend is praising the staff at the garden centre, but then says that he wants the derelict area at the back of his garage made-over to provide a garden as a benefit for his staff and customers.  Crucially, he comments that he has mentioned it a few times to the staff in the garden centre, but nobody knew of anyone who did garden design.   One had mentioned a garden designer who they had seen advertising on the internet, but they were based a distance away and the motor mechanic had hoped for someone closer.  But he was going to check out this option as he did not have any other ideas.

Sharing Your Business Vision

The obvious point of this story is that if the garden centre owner had shared his vision with his employees, then they could have directed queries about garden design to the owner.  So he might have been able to move closer to his business vision more quickly.

But there are other reasons for sharing your vision with your employees.  And the way you share it is important too.  Many organisations have their business vision written as a statement and displayed for all to see.  But even if employees know what the vision is, that does not mean they automatically buy into it.

My business is too small to bother about this

Even a business with only one employee (the owner) has a vision of why they exist and what is the purpose they are aiming to fulfil.  In fact, smaller businesses often have a much more clear idea of their vision.

If a business employs someone else as well as the owner, even just one employee, then it is important to share your business vision with that employee.   That person is critical to your success and expansion.  They need to understand that they have an important job, and why it is important.

You need to have a clear vision for your organisation.  You need to understand what it is that you are aiming to achieve and you need to be able to communicate that to your staff.  At this point, you may be thinking “but I just want to make and sell widgets”.   You need to think about what your customers want and how they want it.

Do they want fine quality, high-end widgets for which they will be happy to pay a premium?    You can then have a vision along the lines of “XYZ Company makes the best widgets in the county.  We make our widgets sustainably and sell them to people who want to buy premium widgets.”

Or do your customers want large number of cheap widgets, which are quickly available? In that case your vision can be “XYZ makes thousands of low cost widgets and we keep our customers happy by delivering them the next day”.

You could use either of these as your business vision but you would need to show your employees where they fit into that vision.

Why share my business vision?

  • If your employees know what is your business vision, they will work towards it.
  • As a result of your employee understanding how their own job fits into your business vision, they will feel more job satisfaction and a sense of belonging in the company.
  • When your employee understands how they are working towards the business vision, they will feel more loyalty to the company, more pride in your achievements and will contribute more in terms of ideas, solutions, suggestions.
  • Your employee will feel trusted and valued if they know they are part of your vision. This will help them to trust you as well.
  • If an employee feels trusted and valued and can see the importance of their job, they are less likely to leave to work elsewhere. They are less likely to go off sick. Their loyalty to you and your business will increase.
  • All of these benefits will contribute to growth and profit for your business.

How can I share my business vision?

This is about more than putting up a notice proclaiming what the business vision is.  Many companies do this and there is nothing wrong with it.  But you need to do more.  The danger is the belief that a notice stating the vision is enough to embed that vision in people’s minds.

In my garden centre story above, the owner had included his vision in his advertising, but the employees and customers were still unaware of that vision.  When we read something often enough, it ceases to sink in and have any meaning. The vision statement of a large corporate company where I worked was written in large letters in the reception area.  I walked past it several times a day for six years and I cannot tell you what that vision statement said or what the vision was for that organisation.  Certainly nobody ever talked to me about how my job contributed to that vision.

And that is the key.  Line managers need to speak to individual employees on a regular basis and outline what is the company’s vision and how that individual contributes to it.  Just telling people once is not enough.  It needs to be reinforced regularly.

Team meetings, company newsletters, appraisals, inductions for new staff, any company communications – these are all opportunities to reinforce the company vision.

Tying it all up

Every business, whatever the size, needs a clear business vision to aim towards.  But just because you know your business vision, it does not mean that it is clear to everyone else.  And even if it is clear, that does not mean that your employees are all working towards it.

You need to communicate the purpose of your business to everyone – customers, suppliers, potential clients (advertising) – and, most importantly, your employees.

Your employees need to understand where their job fits into the achievement of this vision.  They need to believe they are an important cog in the wheel.  And this message needs to be reinforced and repeated at every opportunity.

Get this right and it will build trust and loyalty, which are an invaluable asset and will contribute hugely to your business growth and profit.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  to help you understand your business vision and communicate it to your employees – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

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.  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 Listening To Your Employees Can Transform Your Business

Listening to your employees is essential if you want to grow your business and be profitable. You need to carry your employees along that journey with you.

They are the face of your business, as well as the engine room,  and their actions on your behalf are key to your business success.  Critically, you must listen to their ideas, hear their concerns and ensure they have the means to voice their ideas and suggestions.

And there is little cost for a huge business advantage.

I am Jill Aburrow and I have been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades.

The purpose of this article is to explain “employee voice” and why you should care about listening to your employees.  I will share some of the mechanisms you can use and some of the barriers you may come up against.

Most of all, I hope to inspire you with some of the benefits if you get it right.

What is “employee voice”?

We all spend a great deal of time at work.  How tragic it is that some people are very unhappy at work and just live for the working day to end, or the weekend to start.

The reasons why people are unhappy at work are many and varied.  But if you can give your employees a chance to be heard, then that will be a big start to improving things.  We all need to feel that our opinion matters.

There is a great deal of discussion in management circles and the HR world about “employee voice”.  But this is not just about giving employees the chance to have their say.  It is also about the channels of communication.  Additionally, it is about the arrangements the employer makes for employees to be consulted.  It is about employees being involved in decision-making.   And it is a way of ensuring that your workers can influence things which affect them at work.

So it is not just about hearing your employees.  It is also important for you to consider what they say and act on it.

Why should employers care?

Your employees are the best placed to tell you what works and what does not work in their individual part of the business. If you can gather that information and make productive use of it, then you will improve decision making and innovation in your business.

From an employee perspective, they will feel more motivated and get more enjoyment from their work.  You will benefit from their creativity and increased commitment.  You are likely to see higher productivity and reduced absences and turnover.

What are the benefits of listening to your employees?

Your employees are also in a good position to warn you about any potential problem areas or difficulties.   This might be for them personally, or in the wider team arena.  You can then adjust the working arrangements accordingly. Or you might need to provide training, or move people around to make the best use of their skills.

If you create opportunities for employees to be heard at work, then you are treating them as valued stakeholders in your business.  They will feel able to influence their working conditions and this will help to build trust between employer and staff.

Where the working relationship is good, your employees will feel able to share suggestions for improvements in the organisation.  For this to happen, they need to trust that you will listen to their suggestions and that they will not be blamed if things go wrong.

Mechanisms for listening to your employees

The obvious way for you to be able to listen to your employees is to arrange regular one-to-one meetings with their line manager.  Of course, you need to ensure your managers (including you!) are equipped to listen properly.  They must have the communication skills to hear, deal with and respond appropriately to anything raised.

Some other potential channels for employee voice to be heard are:

  • Team meetings;
  • Trade unions (where they are recognised within the workplace);
  • Staff forums;
  • Suggestion schemes;
  • Attitude surveys;
  • Workplace social media.

It is unlikely that you would use only one of these mechanisms, but you can use a variety which suits your business.

If you have 50 or more employees in your organisation, then the Information and Consultation of Employee Regulations (ICE Regs) apply.  This means your employees have the right to request that you make arrangements to inform and consult with them about workplace issues. If you need support and advice on this, then please don’t hesitate to contact us.

What can go wrong?

If your employees do not feel they can raise issues, concerns and suggestions at work, then it is very likely that they will become disengaged.  The symptoms of this are likely to be an increased absence rate, higher staff turnover, clock-watching.  Their performance may get worse and they may have difficulty in relationships with managers and colleagues alike.

Additionally, employees may use other channels to express their feelings about work.  They may complain about work through external social networking channels.  They are likely to complain to friends and family.  This will not be good for your employer reputation and may have a negative impact on things like recruitment and marketing.  You may find your clients become less satisfied.

Barriers to effective “employee voice”

Sadly, it is not uncommon for employers to find that their employees fail to speak up about concerns or suggestions.   Even where people feel their suggestions could make a positive difference to their work or workplace, they are often reluctant to raise things.

This can be caused by a lack of trust between managers and employees.  There can be a perception that people may be blamed, or even punished, for speaking out.   Even if this is not the case, it can cause people to remain silent, which can lead to major organisational failure.  When the emissions scandal  hit Volkswagen in 2015, one of the factors was shown to be that people felt fearful of speaking out.

Employees may stay silent because they are frightened of being viewed negatively or of damaging working relationships.   In order to combat this, you need to make sure that people feel safe to raise issues or suggestions.  They also need to feel safe to raise a complaint.  This can only happen where there is trust between employees and employer. It is not good enough to say that there will be no blame.  You must demonstrate that this is true.

People may also think it is not worth raising suggestions because “nobody listens”.  This is why it is critical to respond to all suggestions.  This does not mean you have to agree to every suggestion.  But you need to give reasons why you are not going to take up the suggestion.

The changing work environment

The way we work is constantly changing and this brings new challenges with listening to your employees.

The rise of remote working, variable working hours, alternative work arrangements all have an impact on when and how you can ensure you hear your employees. Changing technology can also have an impact.  It is important that you consider this when you are agreeing to changes or recruiting for new jobs.

Another challenge is the increased diversity in the workplace.  There is a need to consider how you communicate with everyone.  Some may have mental or physical challenges.  Others may be affected by cultural differences.  All of these things must be considered to ensure that you consider all needs when you identify mechanisms for your employees to give their views over their work conditions.

Getting it right 

Listening to your employees can bring positive outcomes for your business and for the individuals who work there.

Being able to participate in decision making is important for employees – both for their wellbeing and their motivation.  It can be the means of improving their working environment and conditions. It can give them a sense of control over their own work.  And it can help them to use their knowledge and develop their skills.

If you listen to your employees and engage with them, you are  likely to benefit from their improved job satisfaction.  You will see higher productivity and innovation.  Your absenteeism levels will reduce and staff turnover will improve.  You are likely to see reduced workplace conflict.

If you get it right, your employees will be involved in decision-making and managing change as you will have effective communication and consultation in the workplace. Your managers will be skilled in listening to people. They will seek the views of employees and make sure their responses are appropriate and timely.

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 – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

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.  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.

Managing People – And Why You Need To Get It Right

You understand that your employees are key to your business success and you know what are the key ingredients to ensure that morale is high and people are loyal.  You pay well and your staff benefits are as good, or better, than those offered by your competitors.

But you are still having problems recruiting the right people.  Your sickness levels are higher than average, with people constantly taking days off sick.  What is more, you are finding it difficult to keep good people once you have managed to recruit them.

Is there anything you can do to improve things?

Managing people, on a day to day basis, is a challenging task which needs a comprehensive set of skills.  If your managers  do not have the right skills then you are leaving a big part of your business success to chance. This includes you,  if you are managing people yourself.

Choosing Your Managers

When we need to set up a management structure, then our first consideration is who should be promoted into a management position.  Often the choice falls to the person who is the best performer in the team.  This can be a short-sighted way of selecting a manager.  Just because someone is good at the job, does not mean they will be good at managing people who do the job.  Some people do not have the ability to manage people. Others may not have any desire to do so.  There may, of course, be some who want to have the “power” of being a manager, but who have none of the necessary skills..

Skills for Managing People

In order to manage a successful team, managers need to have a variety of skills, and those are not necessarily practical task-related skills.  So the best person for a job may not be the best person to manage others doing that job.

In particular, you need to ensure your managers have a range of more human, so-called “soft” skills.  This includes things like leadership, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, change management.

Some Key Skills for Managers

You might expect a list of the key skills needed to include some of those in the list below.  But others may be more of a surprise. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but covers some of the skills which your people managers need to have.

  • Communication Skills. Every manager needs to be able to communicate with their team members.  This is more complex in these days of remote working and more diversity in the workplace.  Giving and receiving the right messages are both absolutely key to managing a team.
  • Emotional Intelligence. This skill is quoted a great deal as a necessity. A quick look on Social Media shows that Emotional Intelligence is a subject for much discussion. So what is it?  It is difficult to define, but includes things like: keeping an open mind; being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes; compassion and caring; the ability to engender trust;  integrity; honesty; following up on promises; thanking people; engaging with people.
  • Change Management. Any workplace is likely to go through change from time to time.  Sometimes such changes are brought on by external events – eg. legislation.  Or they may come from a changing market or different leadership.  Whatever the reason, people can find it extremely difficult to be productive during periods of change and it is essential that managers have skills to be able to support their teams through it.
  • Stress Management. The mental health of employees is something which is acknowledged more and more in the workplace and managers need to be able to judge stress levels and likely consequences.    They also need to know how to manage employees who have mental (or, indeed, physical) health challenges or issues.
  • Conflict Management. A successful manager needs to be able to resolve conflict between team members. There are likely to be occasions when two people have a difference in opinion and the manager needs to be able to resolve that with a fair and transparent approach.

Managing Time

You may wonder why time management is not included in the list above.  And, of course, it is a critical skill for any busy manager.  But there is also a key role for the Managing Director in this one. You may recruit a new manager, or promote someone into a management role.  But often they are then expected to do their “day job” as well as managing a team of people.  Managing people is a role in itself.

A manager may be able to oversee one or two people as well as doing other work, but they cannot do a good job of managing a whole team of people, as well as having to meet other work deadlines.

This is another reason why it is not a good idea to promote someone to manager because they are good at the work done by the team.  You do not want to lose the skills of a high performing team member.  A good manager will spend a large proportion of their time managing people and so cannot do another full-time job as well.  If you do promote someone, then you need to ensure at least some of their work is taken from them.  This is so  they can concentrate of their management responsibilities.  You also need to invest in some training for them in those required skills.

In conclusion

If you want high performing teams who are productive, loyal and happy at work –  then you need to make sure they are managed properly.  And this does not mean micro-management.

To achieve such growth and productivity for your business, then you need to choose and train your managers carefully.  This will ensure  that they can work with your employees to achieve the best possible results for your business.

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

The Truth About Employees Who Clash With Colleagues

An employer recently told me that he had difficulty in recruiting people who got on with their colleagues.  He thought it was a recruitment problem and the type of people who applied for the fairly basic, menial jobs he had on offer.  The work is boring and so some of the people doing it seem to be unpleasant to others around them.

Then there is either a complaint from someone, or a disciplinary issue.  Or someone leaves work.

But there are things which we can do as employers to improve this type of situation.  And it is worth making the effort.  A happy workforce equals improved loyalty.  That, in turn, brings increased productivity, growth and profit.

What can an employer do about employees who clash with colleagues?

There will always be people who have an “attitude” problem, or who are just plain nasty.  But there is usually a reason for that and most people want to get on with their colleagues.

Firstly, you need to get to know all your employees, especially those employees who clash with colleagues and don’t fit in well.  Have regular conversations with them and build a relationship.  There could be a whole variety of things they are unhappy about – and they may not be keen to talk about some of them.

If you appear to be a remote figure in authority, then you will probably never find out about the problems.  If you are approachable and have a regular chat, then your employees will be able to raise issues with you.

So what can you do, if you have a “difficult” employee who doesn’t make any effort to get on with their colleagues?

Stepping in when people don’t get on with each other

When there is a specific issue which has blown up, then it is helpful to speak to both parties and find out their view and position on the subject.  Don’t be afraid to ask them what they think the solution to the issue might be.  You can then give realistic advice about whether or not their desired outcome is achievable.  If they want something which you cannot provide, then you need to be honest.  But there may be a simple solution which would help everyone to settle down.

You may want to use mediation, which can be really helpful in these situations.  This involves a third party overseeing a discussion between the two parties to try to resolve the issue.  If you think this may be a useful way ahead, then see my article last year about mediation.

Getting it right

There are some key factors which you need to have in place to ensure that employees can work effectively together.

  • Set up a buddy system, so that one of your employees “buddies up” with a new employee. The new employee has someone to ask about things and this will help them to feel less strange.
  • People at work do not have to like each other – they may have nothing in common other than the work. But you need to make it clear that they are expected to behave professionally towards colleagues, clients and anyone else they may meet in the course of their work.
  • We all need to feel we have been treated fairly and with transparency. This builds trust in any relationship and will help an employee to feel valued. So make sure you are treating people equally.
  • There will always be times when people disagree about something. They need to know that their point of view has been considered.  You need to ensure they have an explanation and understanding of why their preferred action has not been taken.
  • If there has been a disagreement and upset at work, then the individuals involved need time to recover. You should not try to micro-manage them or even just keep checking that everything is fine, then they will feel that they are being watched.
  • If the work is boring, then try to introduce some variety into the working day – change teams around. Make sure there are regular breaks. Make sure you thank people for doing work well – and mean it!  Don’t just pay lip service.
  • If possible, try and provide an area where people can get away from colleagues for a few minutes. We all need to cool down and let off steam sometimes and it is good to be able to do that away from prying eyes.

Back to basics

In a recent article, I touched on the four basic reasons why people might not be interested at work.

If an employer concentrates on these four things, they will also help employees to get on with their work colleagues.

Our contribution. We need to be able to understand what our employer’s ultimate aim is and how our work contributes to that.

Appreciation.  The more menial a task might be, then the more important it is that you notice and thank the person doing that task and doing it well.

Our voice. If we have a great idea, we need to be able to explain it to someone who can put it into practice.  If it is not practical, then we need to know why.

Trust. If a job is simple and boring, it doesn’t mean that the person doing that job is stupid.  So trust them to do the job and do it well.  You don’t need to keep checking up on them, or instructing them on how to do it better or differently.

If you get these four basics right, then people will feel more fulfilled and happier at work.  They won’t feel inclined to argue with colleagues or cause a problem in the workplace.

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 –  then please join our mailing list or  contact us for further guidance.

4 Secrets to Stop Your Employees Leaving

A client recently told me he was concerned as his employees don’t want to be at work.  As a result, people go off sick, or they leave.   Sometimes they have not worked for the business very long when they decide to leave.

Another client told me that some of his employees don’t perform their jobs very well.  They just don’t seem to be very interested in being at work. He thought the problem was that the work is boring and he cannot offer much variety.

The reasons why employees become disengaged may not be what you think

The boss often thinks that the reason why people don’t stay long is because they are not paid enough.  Or it may be that the work is boring and mundane and people get bored quickly. Maybe they are just lazy.

Of course, all of those things – and others – could be part of the problem.

But there are some more fundamental reasons why businesses may have trouble in keeping their employees.

The 4 main reasons why people are not interested in their work

1.Our contribution. We all like to believe that we are important.    The need to contribute something to the world is in all of us.  No matter how mundane, “boring”, or repetitive our job may be, it is critical that we can see why we are doing it.

2.Appreciation.  We also want to believe that what we say, think and do is noticed and valued.  We all like to be thanked for things we have done.  It gives a warm feeling.

3.Our voice. Part of being appreciated is being able to give an opinion and knowing that it has been heard.  No matter how mundane the job may be, the person who does it every day is an expert.  They may have a good idea about making it more interesting, or speedier.

4.Trust.  We like to think we can be trusted to “get on with it” without interference or micro-managing.  We want to be able to trust those around us and, particularly, those in a position of authority.  In return, we want them to trust us.

These things are inter-related, but all stand alone as well.  They are the four critical factors if you want to engage with and motivate your employees.

So what should the employer be doing?

1.Vision. You should share the vision for your business with your employees.  All of them.  If your aim is to provide the cheapest Will Writing service in your town, then make sure your employees know that.  Make sure you show each employee that their specific role contributes to that goal.

The work placement student whose job is just to answer the phone needs to know that he/she is a critical part of the operation.  If the phone calls don’t get answered quickly and politely, you risk losing business and credibility.  It doesn’t matter how cheap your service is if you don’t have any customers.

This message should be repeated often.  Make sure your employees know the importance of their part of the business.  Ensure they don’t forget how important you believe they are.

2.Appreciation.  It doesn’t cost anything to thank people for their efforts.  You may think that someone hasn’t actually made much effort.  So thank them for the time they have invested.  Sometimes just an acknowledgement that someone has turned up for work is all that is needed.

One of the most successful managers I know made a point of going to the desk of each of her staff every day and saying “Good Morning”.  She would ask them how they were and have a one or two line conversation, passing the time of day.  It reaped huge benefits for her in terms of loyalty and effort on the part of her staff.

3.Listening.  Many managers say they have an open door policy.  But do they really mean it?  Are they so busy that their diary doesn’t have a free space for two weeks? So if your door is not really open very often, don’t advertise that it is.  Your employees may be brimming with fantastic ideas which could save time, money and effort.  Or they may have a pressing issue which really needs your input.  Or they may just want to let off steam.

You need to ensure that your employees can raise suggestions, complaints or ideas, whatever their reason.  And you need to really listen to those things and respond carefully. If they feel they cannot be heard, they will leave your employment to go and work somewhere else where they can be heard.

4.Integrity and Trust. Your employees need to know that you trust them.  They may need some supervision if they are unsure of the work, or are new to a process.  But once they have learnt the ropes and feel confident, then you should trust them.  Of course, if they abuse that trust, you will need to take action.  But it is much better to trust them until they prove untrustworthy. The vast majority will bend over backwards to deserve your trust.

Strangely, you will find that if you trust your employees and show them that trust, then they are very likely to trust you as well.  That is the basis of a sound working relationship.  Your employees are far less likely to leave your employment if they feel valued and trusted.

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.

 

The Facts You Should Know About Employee Engagement

There are many things which are talked about in the Human Resources (HR) world which employers don’t understand or pay much attention to.  They just think it is so much jargon. If they don’t understand it, the danger is that they ignore it.  This can cause them problems in their business.

Employee Engagement probably comes under that heading.  So the purpose of this article is to explain employee engagement.  It is important to you as an employer – for business success and growth.  It should be easy to achieve, at least on a basic level.  And it is something which needn’t cost you much money.

So what is employee engagement and why should you care?

What is employee engagement?

Essentially, it is the ingredient that makes an employee want to come to work every day. It is what makes employees give commitment and loyalty to their work and workplace.

For employees, it is the feeling of being trusted and valued by your employer.  And it is about understanding your job and how that fits into the overall direction of the organisation. Another element is being free to give your opinion, or raise concerns.  You want to feel that you have been heard and your view is valued.  This doesn’t necessarily mean your suggestions will be acted on or agreed with, but your view is valued and you are encouraged to voice it.

There are many, many factors which contribute to employee engagement and they all inter-connect, but the things outlined above are the basics the employer needs to ensure are in place to help employees feel  engaged.

Why does employee engagement matter?

If your employees like coming to work and are happy when they are at work, then they will be productive.  They will be loyal and will do what they can to support your business.  This equals growth and is likely to bring you increased profits and a more successful business.

Your people are key to business success and you need to put them at the centre of your plans for the business.  Of course, there are other things that are critical to your success.  Some of these are finances; customers; regulation; your ability to innovate.  But these things (and many others) are all impacted by the people in the business and your relationship with those people.

If you do not engage with your employees, then you risk high absence and high turnover of staff.  You will find that your staff lack motivation and cannot interact well with your customers.  They will not be creative or innovative.  They are the key to the success of your business, or its decline.

You can measure employee engagement and you can take steps to increase it.

How can an employer achieve employee engagement?

Employee engagement is a gradual change to the culture of the organisation. It can take some time to achieve changes, but there are things which you can do immediately.

The key is for this to be a genuine change in direction on your part.  It is no good just to pay lip-service to the idea of employee engagement.  In essence, you need to cultivate a real desire and intention to engage with your employees.  You need to listen to them, understand their needs, make changes as a result.

Managers in any organisation are critical to the success of employee engagement.  You need your managers to buy into the change. They may even need some development and skills training.

You need to have a clear vision for your organisation.  For a start, you need to understand what it is that you are aiming to achieve and you need to be able to communicate that to your staff. Ideally, you can then help your staff to understand how their specific job contributes to the success of that vision.  They need to be able to see that their job is important and valued by the organisation.

It will really help you if you take steps to ensure that you and your managers are effective at managing people.  You need to know how to listen to people and have the skills to motivate and empower them.

Listen to your employees  

Another key to having motivated employees is for them to feel that their views are valued.  They know the job and what works – or doesn’t work.  Undoubtedly, they will have views about the best way to achieve results.   You need to ensure you have a method for hearing what they say.  They will probably have some good ideas, which could make positive changes in your business.  If they come up with a suggestion which isn’t practical, then it is fine to turn the idea down.  But you must explain why it won’t work, or why it needs to be delayed.  The employees want to feel that you have really considered their views

Trust and Integrity – a two-way street

The final key step to an engaged workforce is potentially the most important one.  It involves  building an environment where there is trust between you and your staff.  You need to live up to your promises.  You need to make sure your managers are living up to them too.  It is all very well to have policies and rules, but you need to ensure they are followed – by everyone.  Managers and employees alike.

Summing up the basics of employee engagement

The four key steps to successful employee engagement are:

Vision – have a vision of where your organisation is heading.  Make sure you are able to communicate that vision to your staff, so they can see the importance of their own role in achieving that vision.

Management Skills – make sure you and your managers are skilled in listening, empowering and managing staff.

Listen to your employees – make sure you have a mechanism in place for your employees to voice their ideas, concerns and suggestions.  And ensure that you consider those ideas and give them proper feedback.

Ensure trust is a two-way street – trust your employees and make sure they can trust you.  Live up to promises made.  Apply rules and procedures to everyone, including managers.

These steps are just the starting point, if you really want to engage with your employees.  Over the next few weeks, this blog will cover each step in more detail and talk about some of the many other things you can do to engage with and motivate your staff.

If you can connect with your employees and make them understand their contribution to the success of your business, then you will have a loyal, engaged workforce who will help you to grow your business and increase your profits.

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.

Why Succession Planning Is Necessary As Part Of Your Recruitment Toolbox

Succession Planning has been around for years.  It has traditionally been something which is only done in larger organisations and if you are in a smaller business you may not think it is appropriate for you.

If this is the case, you might want to think again.  If you want your business to grow and develop in line with potential future opportunities and challenges, then you need to have succession planning in your recruitment toolbox.  Otherwise, you may miss out on a pool of talented, skilled and enthusiastic candidates for your current or future critical rules.

In my two decades as a Human Resources partner, I have seen succession planning in many different businesses.  Where it is done well, it can really ensure that a business is well-placed to take advantage of new opportunities.  It can also remove some of the worry about losing critical skills and experience.

By the end of this article, you will know why you need to include succession planning as part of your recruitment strategy.

What is succession planning?

You need to identify the roles which are critical to your business .  Then you need to plan how you would fill those roles effectively if the current job-holder were to leave the organisation.  This is not just about your managers but any role which requires specialist skills, where speedy recruitment may be difficult.

In the past succession planning was only done by larger companies.  Now, however,  it is recognised as a crucial business tool for any size of business.  Your succession planning should be part of your recruitment planning and strategy.  It is a mix of recruiting externally and developing suitable internal replacements.

For internal candidates, it is an opportunity to gain experience and training in suitable areas to enable them to fill future roles.

Part of your Recruitment or Total Talent Management Strategy

Total Talent Management helps you to consider alternatives to recruiting a direct replacement when someone leaves your employment.  It includes temporary cover, contractors, apprenticeships, work-placement, even automation.  It should also cover succession planning and looking at internal talent.

Every organisation needs a healthy mix of internal and external recruits.  Your current employees have critical business knowledge, are engaged and enthusiastic about your business.  They have skills and experience gained in your workplace.  Knowing that they feature in your succession planning  will make your staff feel valued and is a great way to retain and encourage your current employees.

On the other hand, you also need to bring in new talent, with different ideas and a different approach.  Otherwise your business will stagnate.

Identifying your key roles

The first step is for you to identify the business-critical roles for which you need potential successors.  This may mean one specific role (normally a senior manager), or it might mean a group of highly skilled specialist roles.

Some of the roles may require similar skills to other roles in the business.  If so, then you could consider developing one or more individuals who could fill more than one of those roles.  For instance, there may be a specific technical skill which is part of several different roles.  That skill may be hard to find in the recruitment market.  You could develop someone internally, including giving them some experience in using that skill.  Then you have a candidate all ready to take on any one of those roles should someone decide to leave.

What should be included in a succession planning programme?

There are a wide range of things which could be included in succession planning, depending on your individual business needs.

You may need to arrange some formal training for the identified individuals.  Alternatively,  some informal training from the current job-holder might be enough.  You need to ensure that you include some work experience so that the individual becomes adept at using their new skill in the workplace.

You may need to move people around, so that they get experience in different areas of the business.  Or you might be able to move them sideways into a new role where they can use their new skills.  Where applicable, you might even consider promotion.

It might be worth thinking about secondment.  This could be internal, if your business is large enough.  Alternatively, a smaller company might look at collaboration with another business in the same or similar industry to provide secondment opportunities for employees from both companies.

Who should be a successor?

There is no given way to decide on who is suitable for a succession planning programme.  It should be part of your discussions with your employees – whether formal review sessions, or more informal regular “chats”.

You need to identify whether people are interested in being considered as a successor for one or more roles.  The system must be transparent and all employees need to understand it fully.  This includes the effect it might have on their work life and, potentially, their home life.  For instance, they may need to work different hours.

What are the benefits of succession planning?

Succession planning is a way to include your current workforce as part of your recruitment strategy.  You may already be employing the perfect candidate for that highly skilled role.  It would be a shame to overlook them because you had not planned properly.

Your first action needs to be a review of your business-critical roles.  If the current job-holder left and it would give you a major problem, then succession planning may well need to be your next step.

Of course, succession planning can help you to fill a potentially difficult role.  But the other benefits of a bit of planning are more intangible.

You can give yourself the comfort of knowing that you have a contingency plan in place.  That should save a few sleepless nights. At the same time, your employees will feel valued and engaged.  They will go the extra mile for you, and your productivity is likely to increase.   Your business can grow at the pace you want with plans in place to cover potential future skills gaps.

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.

 

The Truth About Zero-Hours Contracts

In recent years there has been a great deal of discussion in the UK press about zero-hours contracts and how they are used to exploit workers.  It is rare to find a positive word and there have been calls for such contracts to be banned.

Yet the majority of people do not even know what a zero-hours contract is.  And many of those who actually work on such a basis are quite happy to continue.  So what is the truth and should you consider offering zero-hours contracts to your employees?

In my many years of working in Human Resources, I have seen examples of zero-hours contracts which work extremely well for all parties. I have also seen evidence of exploitation.  The devil, as they say, is in the detail.  As with all things that involve people, the key is common sense, flexibility and  good intentions.  Where those factors are brought into play, this type of employment contract can work really well.

By the end of this article you will understand what is involved in  zero-hours contracts.  You will know the advantages and disadvantages of using them and what the changing legal picture around them looks like.

What is a zero hours contract?

There is no legal definition of  a zero-hours contract.  It is just a contract between a business and a worker which outlines how the work is done. So for employees it is an employment contract, but unlike other contracts of employment it does not specify a number of hours to be worked.

Typically, such a contract is offered where work fluctuates and an employer cannot anticipate how many hours per week might be needed. So in some weeks there is a need for, say, 37 hours (a full-time week) and other weeks might only require a few hours – or even none at all.

The benefit (and sometimes disadvantage) of such an arrangement is that there is no guarantee of any paid work at all in any given week.  For the employer, the benefit is that they only have to pay for work when it is needed.  For the worker, the advantage is that they can fit work around other commitments.  This type of contract is popular with students who can work and still find time for their studies.  Some parents of young children or people with caring responsibilities like these contracts.  It means they can manage work to fit around family or other commitments.

The agreement between the two parties is that the business may ask an individual to work for them, but there is no minimum number of set contracted hours.  The contract states what the individual will be paid if they do any work.  It also covers what will happen when they turn down any work that is offered.  There is a statement about what will happen if there is a change or cancellation of the work.

What are the advantages of a zero-hours contract?

If care is taken with introducing a zero-hours contract, it can be a working arrangement which works successfully for everyone.

For those who have read any of my previous articles, you will know that my first advice is always to consult with your employees .  If you have the kind of fluctuating work which would lend itself to this type of contract, then talk to the individual(s) concerned.  You can agree what might work for them as well as for your business. Beware, though, that this type of contract is not suitable for everyone.

Some people value the flexibility which allows them to balance work with studying or with caring responsibilities or other commitments.  But there are other ways of providing such flexibility.  In addition, there are other considerations with regard to things such as mortgages and other personal financial commitments.  Where possible, you  should accommodate the hours which individuals tell you they need to be able to work.   This will lead to a happier workforce.

For some workers, this might not be the only job they have.  They use it as a way to top up their income without having to commit to a specific number of hours per week.   For others, it may be a way to gain experience in a specific type of job or industry.

Why are zero-hours contracts not suitable in some cases?

If you want to use zero-hours contracts, then you must ensure that you provide a contract which details what the payment will be for any hours that are worked.  You must also  agree and specify what will happen when work is cancelled at short notice.

Someone may have to make specific arrangements in order to be able to do the work on offer (childcare, for example).  It can be costly and difficult if the work is cancelled with little notice.  It is sensible to agree between you what is workable notice and what is not.  Where the notice you can give is shorter than the notice period agreed in the contract, then you may want to agree to pay compensation.   Whatever you do agree with an individual, this must then be spelled out in a written contract.  That will avoid any conflict at a later date and will  help to give the worker some confidence in the arrangement.

For some people, the variability of the work and thus the earnings can cause financial hardship and contribute to stress and anxiety.  Where people have financial commitments, mortgages, loans, etc, they need to have a regular income and zero-hours contracts cannot supply that.  They may also need to show regular hours in order to be able to access such financial arrangements.  You should discuss these things with individuals prior to agreeing a zero-hours contract.  That will help to ensure that they have taken these factors into consideration.  A failure to do this can contribute to mental health issues, such as stress, depression or anxiety.

Things to consider when implementing a zero-hours contract arrangement

There are some things which any good employer will consider before implementing such a contract:

  • Think about the nature of the work you have on offer and how it fluctuates. Will this be a short-term issue, or do you need a longer solution?  Does the type of work lend itself to being carried out on this type of contract? Does the work have to be done by a specific deadline?  Are there other types of flexible working arrangements or employment practices which might suit this type of work?
  • Consult with the individual(s) who will be impacted. Does this type of arrangement work for them?  Have they thought about financial implications?  Do they need to have a guaranteed minimum number of hours?  How much notice do they need for some work to be offered? How much notice should you give if you need to cancel the requirement to work, or change the number of hours?
  • Consider the employment status of the individual. Will they be an employee of your business?  Or will they be self-employed and providing work and invoicing direct or through a third-party?  Can they refuse work offered?   What happens if they want to do some work for other people?  Can they provide a substitute if they are not available?  Will they provide their own equipment and tools?

Other things to think about

  • Make sure the contract  is clear about the agreed terms, particularly the employment status, the payment due and any cancellation agreements. If you agree a minimum number of hours, then you must specify that. You must also include provision about the obligation or otherwise to accept work offered.
  • If you intend that the worker will be an employee of the Company, then you are required to provide an employment contract which includes terms and conditions of employment in line with other employees.
  • It is helpful for you to regularly review the situation with the employee.  This is a chance to decide whether the employment relationship has changed and whether the arrangements still work for both parties. Such review should be on an annual basis, at least.
  • You may need to provide training to line managers to ensure they understand the implications of zero-hours contracts.  They need to know how to manage the work and the individuals who are contracted to do the work.
  • You should ensure that people doing the same job, whatever their employment status, are paid comparable rates of pay.

The changing legal picture

Since 2015, if someone is employed under a zero-hours contract, then it is against the law for their employer to prevent them from working elsewhere.   So an employer cannot include a clause in a zero-hours contract which excludes the person from working somewhere else.

In July 2017, the Taylor review on modern working practices was published and the UK Government has issued its response.  Many of the recommendations have been accepted by the government and some are currently under consultation.

The two major proposed changes with regard to zero-hours contracts are:

  • To give workers, including those on zero-hours contracts, the right to request a more predictable contract;
  • The possibility of paying a higher National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage for hours which are not guaranteed as part of the contract.

Beneficial for business

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) in UK has called for zero-hours contracts to be banned.  One of the reasons cited is that their research shows that most workers on zero-hours contracts feel exploited and want to be able to work more hours on more stable contracts.

Since 2017, the fast food chain McDonald’s has offered its  UK workers the option to move from zero-hours contracts.  Workers can move to fixed contracts with a minimum number of guaranteed hours per week.   McDonald’s has offered this change because some of their staff complained that they had difficulty in some financial arrangements  because they lacked guaranteed employment.

McDonald’s ran a trial across some of their sites, but 80 per cent of workers in the trial chose to remain on their current contracts.  This is in contrast to the TUC findings above. McDonald’s now offer employees the choice.

The benefit to McDonald’s has been an increase in employee satisfaction.  They believe this is because they consulted with staff about their hours.

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.

The Facts You Should Know About IR35 Tax Rules and Your Contract Workers

If you have had difficulty in recruiting skilled staff to undertake specific projects, then you may  have turned to the contract world.  In some industries the way to ease recruitment has been to use contract workers.  This is particularly the case in the IT world.  Technology changes fast and it is difficult and costly to keep trained employees.

I have worked in Human Resources in both the public sector and private sector for some years. So I know the difficulties employers face when it comes to recruiting technologically adept staff.

IR35 Tax Rules are coming to your contractor workers soon

The UK government is currently consulting on the intention to introduce IR35 tax rules to the private sector from April 2020.   These rules have applied in the public sector from 2017.  But many private sector employers are unaware of the rules or the implications for their business.

In a nutshell, the proposal is that private sector employers who use contract workers will become responsible for deciding whether to deduct tax and national insurance from those contractors, via payroll.  They would be classified as falling within IR35 tax rules. This would effectively give the contractors employment status.  They would be able to claim benefits enjoyed by other employees, such as holiday entitlement, sick pay, redundancy pay, etc.  They would be taxed as an employee and it would be your responsibility as an employer to deduct that tax.

What have we learnt from the public sector?

This legislation has been in effect in the public sector since 2017.  It was brought in to combat tax avoidance by contract workers.  If they  were providing their services via an intermediary (often a limited company) then they would be subject to different tax rules.  They might otherwise be taxed as an employee.   There have been some high-profile and costly cases to determine whether or not an individual is considered an employee and  what the costs of that decision are for the employer.

Contractors have been widely used in recent years as a way to circumnavigate recruitment difficulties.  This has been particularly prevalent in the IT industry, where there is an ever-changing skills requirement for projects.  There is a need for existing employees  to learn new skills regularly, in technology which may only turn out to be short-lived.  This has been prohibitive for business in terms of cost and capacity.   In such a fast-changing environment,  it has proved beneficial and cost-effective to use contractors.

What do I need to do about IR35 for my staff?

But from April 2020 in the UK, the onus is likely to fall on private sector employers to make tax decisions regarding these contract workers.   If your business relies on contractors, then you should start to consult with them now about these proposed changes.

There are various ways to determine employment status.  You will need to consider what applies to your contractors and what does not.

Some of the considerations are:

  • Do  you require your contractors to be in a set workplace at a set time.  Do you expect a set number of hours of work per week? Or can they work the hours they choose, in the place they choose to do it.  Do they have to complete a time sheet, or just raise an invoice for the work they have done?
  • Do you provide equipment (eg. computers) and do you expect the contractors to use that  equipment? Or do you allow – or even expect –  them to provide their own equipment?
  • Do you expect contractors to undertake training provided by your company for its employees?
  • Are your contract workers free to take time off whenever they want to?
  • Do you insist that they take a specific amount of time as holiday?
  • If they are not available for work (for example if they are sick), do you expect –  or allow  – your contractors to provide a substitute to do the work?
  • Do you expect contractors to work exclusively for you, or are they free to provide services for other companies as well?
  • Do you provide transport or uniforms or accommodation for contractors?
  • Can they make use of subsidised canteens or gym facilities, etc (ie. employee benefits)?

Some of your answers to these questions may be rather vague, or dependant on such things as security considerations.  The answers  will not absolutely guarantee whether or not someone is considered to be an employee.  But they are all things which can help to determine the true nature of the relationship.

 Why do I need to think about IR35?

The government consultation goes on until the end of May 2019.  Expectations on employers will be more clear once the consultation is finished.  However,  it is very likely that you will be asked to decide on whether your workers are truly self-employed or should be taxed as employees.

It is worth beginning these discussions now.  You will then be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to deduct tax from payroll and offer employee benefits from April 2020.

Start discussions with your contractors so that they know that you are aware of the implications. You can be sure they are nervous about it themselves.   A frank discussion will help you both to prepare for any tax changes and decide how best to deal with any impact on either the individuals or the business.    It won’t do your reputation as a caring employer any harm either.

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.