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Is Being “Always On” Good For Productivity?

What impact does technology and the “always on” culture have on productivity?

Technology allows us to work when and where we want to.  But is the “always on” culture good or bad news for productivity in UK business?

A recent article in HR News discusses a recent survey by Aviva. The findings are that 72% of UK workers are checking their emails outside of work hours. On average we spend up to two and a half hours per week working outside our usual hours.  This equates to an extra 16 days at work per year.

Employers may feel this is good for productivity.  Additionally, in these days of flexible working, we like to be able to work at times to suit our lifestyles.  Technology allows us to do this, so where is the problem?

Is it bad to be able to work outside normal hours?

Many people like the freedom to catch up with some work in the evenings or at weekends.  If we work flexibly, it gives us the chance to take time out of work during normal hours.  Then we can make up the time missed when it suits us to do so.

But the downside is that we never really leave work behind for the day.  It is too easy to keep in touch remotely, which means managers can (and do) send emails outside working hours.  That is fine and they probably don’t expect an answer there and then.  But many of us see an email from the boss and think we need to be working because our manager is working.  It doesn’t matter how much a manager says “do as I say, not as I do”, it is human nature to want to please.  Particularly, we want to please the boss. So if we see them working we automatically feel guilty if we aren’t working too.

There is emerging evidence that this is having a detrimental effect on mental and physical well-being. We want to please the boss, but we also want to spend quality time with family and friends.  And we need to have a break from work.  Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in 2019 found that 87% of organisations reported the inability to switch off after hours as the biggest negative effect on employee well-being.

What can employers do?

Have you thought of banning email at weekends or after certain hours? American healthcare company, Vynamic, have banned people from sending emails between 10pm and 6am and any time at the weekend.

You may think that this policy is a backward step for flexible working.  But the ban is only on hitting “send”.  Managers and employees are free to work whenever they please and to draft emails, but they are not able to send the emails.  If the matter is urgent, they can text or telephone the other party.  Vynamic have found that this ban is really effective.  Because there is no danger of getting emails, employees don’t feel the need to check for any and so they are free to enjoy their downtime.  And the sender of an email has to stop and think if the matter is so urgent that they need to send a text or pick up the phone.  Mostly it is not that urgent.

The CEO of Vynamic says it is the best benefit they have ever introduced – and at no cost.  Employee well-being has improved hugely.  What is more, the retention rate has increased as well as people want to continue to work for a company where they are valued and truly get a break at the end of the working day or week.

Do you want your employees to be well and happy?

Of course you do.  We all want that for our employees. It makes great business sense.  Well and happy employees are loyal and want to continue to work for you.  They are your advocates and tell your clients and the world that they work for a great company.

 

Then there is the financial aspect.  The cost of implementing this rule is fairly negligible, yet it has a huge impact.  The other financial benefits include reduced absence and a lesser need for recruitment.  How would you like to be the CEO of a company where everyone wants to work for you?

 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 Employee Financial Well-being Ignites Productivity

In August last year, I wrote an article about how you can support the financial well-being of your employees.  Now I want to concentrate on why this matters to employers.

This really fits as part of my current focus on productivity in the workforce.  A survey by Metlife UK  earlier this year  looked at employee financial well-being. 64% of senior managers said that addressing financial well-being will help boost productivity and engagement.

But businesses say they do not understand enough about the link between financial well-being, mental health and productivity.  They want more clarity on how to tackle this issue.

What is financial well-being and why does it affect people who are working?

In simple terms, employee financial well-being can be slotted into various categories.  Firstly we need to have an adequate salary to support ourselves and our families.  We need to be able to save for the future, in terms of things like mortgages or pension provision.  It is good to have a cushion to deal with emergencies.  And we want to be able to pay off existing debt.  These are key aspects of our financial well-being.   Understanding our finances and feeling in control is important.  And we want to feel that we are paid fairly for what we do and in comparison to others. It is linked to a belief about whether we are valued properly.

This is not just about pay (or low pay). It is not about financial mismanagement. And it is definitely not limited to a need for debt counselling.  Just because people are in employment, it does not mean they don’t have money worries.  And the worry is not confined to those on low pay.  Financial well-being can be a concern for all income groups, even those with a higher income or in a senior role. In fact, it can have a greater impact when we earn more.  The more we earn, the higher our financial commitments.

How does employee financial well-being impact the workplace?

The CIPD, in association with Close Brothers, carried out a study on employee financial well-being.  This shows that a quarter of employees say that financial concerns impact their performance at work.  The issues include loss of sleep. And time spent at work thinking about or dealing with financial problems.  It affects our productivity, our ability to do the job.  There can be an impact on ourconcentration and decision-making.   Additionally, nearly a third of people in the UK only have savings to cover up to three months if we lost our jobs.

There is a great deal of coverage in the press and social media about mental health and well-being in the workplace.  But many employers fail to grasp that employee financial well-being contributes hugely to employee mental health.  The CIPD has found that only a third of employers actively promote employee financial well-being.   This is largely because employers do not know where to start or how to work out what is needed .

Practical steps for employers

Larger employers  are more likely to provide benefits packages.  These may comprise a number of different benefits for employees.  Smaller businesses will offer a pension.  But they may not be in a position to offer a wider range of benefits.

Employers are well-advised to inform and educate employees about the options and what they mean.  This is the case however simple or limited the benefit package may be. Have you thought about consulting with employees to find out what is effective (or not)?  Are you confident they are making the right choices? This is even more important if you offer a variety of benefits.  Especially if people can choose which benefits to take.

There are many low cost or cost-free advice services which employers can provide.  Additionally, there may well be some local companies who would be glad to come into your workplace to advise and help your employees.  This may be at no cost to you, as the employer.

As employers, we have a duty of care towards our employees.  So we need to be aware of people who are working longer hours, not taking all their holidays.  Or those who are having unexplained sickness or are behaving uncharacteristically.  These could all be signs of problems.  And those problems could have financial difficulty as the root cause.  We have no right (or desire) to pry into people’s personal finances, of course.  But advice on where to seek help may be all that is needed.

What are the benefits for the employer?

How can you  help your employees to understand their finances and to become more able to control them?  If you can do this, you will benefit from a happier and more engaged workforce.  The immediate benefit is higher productivity. If people are getting a good night’s sleep and are able to concentrate at work, then they will be more effective, quicker and more accurate at work.

As an employer, you will benefit from the fact that people will have more trust in you. They know that you pay fairly, that you care about their welfare, that you support them through any difficulties.  This translates into better customer service, improved employer reputation, increased loyalty.  All of this improves business growth.  Why would any employer not want to see those benefits?

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.

Why Being Organised Can Help You Increase Productivity

My Dad used to tell a story about his early days in the workplace.  This was well before we all had a computer on our desk (or even in the workplace at all).  His solution to managing his workload was to have an in-tray, an out-tray and a “kk” tray.  “kk” was his code for “can’t cope”.  If he had anything on his desk which he didn’t know how to deal with, he would put it in the “kk” tray.  Throughout the day, people would come to his desk, looking for reports and documents.  They were invariably in his “kk” tray and would be taken away by someone else.  That was his solution to organising his workload.

Now I don’t suggest this is a good way to plan your work, but at least it was an attempt to get organised.

How can being organised help productivity?

We often think that productivity is measured by the speed we get work done.  In the UK, productivity levels are falling,  yet we still work long hours. So the speed at which we work is only part of the issue.

What would happen if we were more organised (at home, as well as work)?  You may feel that you don’t have time to be organised, or that you work better with some chaos around you.  Many people deliberately keep piles of paper on their desk, and they always claim to know exactly which pile they can find a particular document. But they might be missing a trick.  Just the process of organising the stuff on our desks can help to organise it in our minds. It can also help reduce our stress. Looking at piles of papers can cause our subconscious minds to get overwhelmed at the tasks we see before us.

Time spent getting your employees organised is time well spent

A study in 2017 found that UK employees spend over a quarter of their day searching for information.  This might be because the previous expert has left, with the knowledge locked in their head.  Or it may be because companies have not invested in retrieval systems or technology to store information.

Imagine if you could reduce that figure.  Reducing it by a half would mean your employees were each productive for an hour more each day.

There is a school of thought which says that every hour spent planning and getting organised saves three or four hours of time that would otherwise be wasted. The return on investment is huge for being organised yourself and for putting systems in place to organise your employees.

My 7 point checklist for being organised

If you want to improve productivity in your business, then my 7 point checklist for being organised is this:

  • Action things immediately. Don’t ignore papers or emails – action them now or put in a diary entry. Then file the document or put the email in a folder  – or destroy them if you don’t need them.   This will help to keep desks clear.
  • Only action email at specific times during the day, don’t check them constantly. Just because you have an email, it doesn’t need an immediate response. If something is really urgent, then you will get a phone call or a visit.
  • Get rid of the to do list(s)– just put an action in your diary. You don’t have to remember everything and you have already planned when it will be achieved.   It is one less document to keep hanging around.
  • Make full use of technology and organisational structures.  Things like setting timers in meetings; single point information retrieval; automation of tasks.
  • Take regular breaks and work sensible hours and make your staff do the same. Productivity falls steeply after about six hours, so you need a break in the day to refresh your mind and give productivity a boost.
  • “Eat frogs” – (ie. do the unpleasant thing you are dreading first, then it doesn’t hang over you). And you get an energy boost when it is finished which will fuel you through the day.
  • Plan your day the night before. Then you are less likely to be sidetracked by “urgent” things cropping up during the day.   It also gives a sense of fulfilment at the end of the day, which is a great way to end your day.

How can a strategic HR overhaul help you with productivity?

If you involve an HR strategist in your business plans and initiatives, they can help you to understand the impact of those decisions.  We can help you to produce a bespoke strategy which works for your business.  That strategic plan provides the basis of policies and guidelines around the particular business area which is under review.  In short, we can help you get organised.

A strategic HR plan means you are not rushing to do things at last minute when they become urgent.  This ensures you have the right skills and experience within your team to manage any challenges which come your way.

A  strategic HR plan could include relevant training requirements for managers and staff.  It would also build in some accountability steps to help you keep on track, and provide any relevant overviews and refresher training plans.

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.

 

Is Investment In Employee Skills Your Secret Weapon To Increase Productivity?

I was taught at a very young age to put some pennies in my savings account each week. Money given by generous relatives at birthdays and Christmas also went into the same account. And if I did simple chores around the house, then I was sometimes rewarded with some more to add to the savings.  And it grew, slowly but surely.

But it never occurred to me that there were other ways to make my money grow more quickly.  And I don’t think it occurred to my parents either.  They were never very well off and they worked hard for every penny they ever had.  It is only as an adult that I have learnt about investment and compound interest.

Investment is a subject which we would do well to learn about, as employers.  Investment in the skills of our employees can pay rich dividends.

What do savings and investment have to do with employing people?

It is sensible to save into an emergency fund, both in personal terms and in business.  Your business may win a piece of work which requires some unusual skills not found in your workforce, or you may just need extra people, or some equipment.  If you have an emergency fund, this enables you to hire in temporary help, or people with the required skills.  Or it allows you to buy a piece of essential equipment.

Training and developing your employees is more of an investment.  Your future plans may highlight the need for new skills or a different approach and if you were to invest in training your employees, those skills will be available when the need arises.

What is the benefit of investing in my employees?

If we make an investment, we are seeking two types of return.  Investment needs to bring either a regular income, or an increase in the value of the investment.  Preferably,  both.

The same rules apply when we invest in our employees.  If we buy new equipment, or some skills training, or even an additional employee, we need to know that the money has been well spent and the return will be worth the investment.  There has to be an increase in the amount or quality of work done, or increased efficiency.  This, in itself, is evidence of increased productivity.

But more importantly, there is likely to be an exponential effect on productivity in general.   Where employees feel valued, they will be more productive.  If people have evidence that their employer is prepared to invest in them, they will go the extra mile and productivity will naturally increase.

The alternative is a decrease in productivity, brought about when employees feel undervalued, sidelined or taken for granted.  Our natural inclination is to do a good job but that can slide into mediocrity if our efforts are not recognised.

Return on Investment

Many employers are reluctant to invest in skills training for their employees.  In these days of austerity and tight budgets, that is understandable.    Such training can turn out to be a waste of time and money. The person either does not learn the right thing, or they fail to put it into practice properly.  It can feel as though you are spending the money for the employee’s benefit, rather than for your business.  Especially if the employee then leaves to work for someone else, with their new-found skills.

To get the very best return on investment, it is wise to plan beforehand.  We want to be  sure the skills training is appropriate and is likely to achieve the required result.   And what about the employee?  Do they want to do the training?  Do they have the right attitude, aptitude and attention span?  Is there a clear plan for implementing the training as soon as it is done?

This also applies to an investment in equipment or new employees.  Or, indeed, to any type of investment.

 

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 A Social Media Policy Avoids These Productivity Pitfalls

Social media can be good for your business.  You can use it as a marketing tool.  Or you can advertise your vacant roles.  Maybe you use it to keep an eye on your competitors.  Or it can just provide some light relief from a heavy workload.

We all use social media these days – and that includes your employees.  And that is where it can all go wrong, of course.  So do you have any control over how your employees use social media?  And should you care?

Monitoring the use of social media

Some employers may want to try the “blanket ban” approach to social media in the workplace, but this is often counter-productive and almost impossible to enforce.  Many people have access to computers at work and nearly all will carry a personal mobile phone.  Some companies even provide a mobile phone for work purposes.  Social media is available on all of these devices.

If you were to try this approach, you would find it very unpopular with your employees. A better option might be to allow “reasonable” use at work.  If your employees have a sensible workload and are engaged and interested in their work, they will not abuse this trust.  They might choose to have a quick look at Instagram whilst they grab a coffee.  But they are not likely to spend hours scrolling through Facebook posts.  If your staff are being managed properly, then you should find there is little problem with over-use at work.

Productivity Pitfalls

There is potential for more of a problem if people are posting comments, rather than just reading posts. This could become a more serious cost to productivity. If people are getting involved in long “conversations” in social media, then they are not thinking about their work.  They might only take a few minutes to post something but their train of thought is broken.  It takes a while for that concentration to return.  This can easily happen repeatedly if they are answering a string of comments on a social media post.

There may be a further problem if the content is inappropriate.   This covers a variety of risks.  It might be something which potentially damages your business reputation.  Or it could be something for which the employer is blamed (vicarious liability). It could breach confidentiality.  It could alienate your clients.

This, of course, leads to potential disciplinary action.  That is inevitably another drain on productivity for the employee who posted the comment and others.  It will affect all the people involved as witnesses or doing an investigation.  Or those involved in the hearing.   The productivity of the whole team will also take a knock.  They may need to take on extra work whilst the disciplinary action is ongoing.  Additionally, they may well be talking amongst themselves about it.  And, depending on the severity of any sanction, they may have to adjust to a different person in the team, or a realignment of the work.

Other concerns

Other things which employers may want to guard against include:

  • There is evidently a risk of introducing malware into your systems.
  • Reputational cost. This depends on the content of the employee’s comments.
  • Negative comments about colleagues – or even threats. I have been involved in the dismissal of an employee where they had made a physical threat to a colleague on social media.
  • Loss of trust between employee and employer. This could even lead to a situation where the relationship is untenable.

This is not a complete list of the things which can be a problem in social media posts, from an employment perspective.  You may be concerned about other issues as well.   If that is the case, then I would urge you to take professional HR or legal advice.

How can employers avoid this productivity drain?

My approach would be to allow reasonable use of social media at work – or at least not to try and stop it.

I would urge any employer to safeguard themselves by producing a Social Media policy.  If there are clear rules and they have been properly communicated, this can go a long way to achieving acceptable use.  In particular, it is important to lay down what is NOT acceptable.

If people are allowed the freedom to make sensible choices, they will generally behave as adults.  We all like to know our boundaries and work within them.  If the guidelines are not restrictive, we do not generally breach them.

You may have exceptions to this in your workforce.  With a clear policy in place, you have the means to deal fairly with any issues.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on producing a Social Media policy  – 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.

 

Why Long Working Hours May Not Be Productive

Managing the working hours of your team is a delicate balancing act!

It seems that most workplaces include at least one workaholic who feels the need to work excessive hours every day.  It is likely that they are not as productive as they might otherwise be, and the quality of their work usually suffers.

On the other hand, you may have concerns about someone who is not doing their contractual hours.  They seem to be “getting away” with doing the minimum of work and it is likely that their colleagues have noticed and are resentful.

So how can you reconcile these two extremes and find a middle way which works for everyone?

Finding a balance

Most people have a specified number of working hours as a clause in their contract of employment (their “contractual hours”).  Some may stick rigidly to those hours and work no longer, nor any less. Some can even be fairly fanatical about working the exact hours they are paid for.

A good manager can work with all of these people and most teams have a mixture.  But when does it become a problem?  And what can you do about it?

Excessive working hours

If you have an issue with people working excessive hours, then it might be a good idea to look in the mirror.

If the boss is seen to have long working hours, then people will follow that lead.  Even if you tell them that you do not expect them to work long hours, they will watch you and follow your example.   The old adage “do as I say, not as I do” just does not work.  We humans have a herd mentality.We want to fit in with others and be accepted.  The obvious way to do that is to mirror the leaders.  It is not a conscious decision, but it is a fact.   So if you want to change a culture of long hours, you may need to model the required behaviour.

The other reason we work long hours is because we feel under pressure to get more work done.  In busy workplaces, the temptation is always to do just that little bit more before you finish for the day.  That “little bit more” can then stretch into a great deal more.  And it can quickly become a habit.  It is counter-productive, of course.  After a few hours, we quickly become stale and no longer produce good quality work.  So work which gets done in extra hours is often poor and needs to be done again. Mistakes creep in when we are tired.  And we work more and more slowly and everything takes more effort.

What about those who do the bare minimum?

On the other hand, there are people who seem to coast through work, doing the very minimum and seemingly “getting away” with it.

This one is difficult to deal with, because some people are just very quick and efficient.  They do manage to get through a huge amount of work in a minimal timescale. This can upset others who think those people are not pulling their weight.

The best way to manage workload is to decide what you think is a reasonable result for the amount of time available.  For example, you may think an acceptable average time for, say, writing a report is 7 hours or one day.  One team member may take 10 hours, while another may only take 5.5 hours.  In both cases, the quality of the report is good and meets the requirements.  My assessment would be that both are acceptable.  If the person who took longer has done a good job, then maybe you could adjust their workload to give them time to work to the acceptable standard.  If the person who worked less time still produced a good report, then you are safe to give them a little more work to fill their time.  But it is all a balancing act.  If you thought a day was acceptable and they finished early and had some more time for their own personal things, then good for them.

The point of this is that the end result is what matters, not the exact time taken to achieve that result.  You will probably find that the slower person has other areas where they excel.

Stopping the gossip

If you have a team member who appears to be working for fewer hours and their colleagues are not happy, then you may need to intervene.

It may be as simple as a team meeting, where you explain to everyone that you judge their work on the results they achieve.  If they produce good work in the required timescale, then let them know that you will not be checking their hours.

It might be a good idea to keep a careful eye on the situation, of course.  If someone is taking advantage and really is slacking, then you may want to take some action.  Equally, someone may be taking too long because they are struggling, or need some training.  Again you may want to do something about that.

What about the clockwatchers?

Of course, many people work the required number of hours and no more.  If the quality and amount of their work is acceptable, then this is not a problem.  It could cause a difficulty if they take too long to do the work, or if they are not being productive.  This might indicate that they are stretching the work to fill the hours available.  Or it might show that there is too much to do in the timescale, but they are not prepared to work longer.  Either way, the workload may need some adjustment.

Outcomes and results

The nub of the matter is that many managers confuse hours worked with being productive.  My approach has always been to judge on outcomes.  If we try and judge people on their number of working hours, then we are paying them for their presence, rather than their contribution.

We all have productive days and days which we feel have been wasted.  We work at a differing pace, depending on our emotions, our health, and a myriad other factors.  I am sure we have all had working days when we might as well not have got out of bed.  But equally, everyone has a day when they shine and achieve miracles.

A productive workforce is made up of people who are at all stages and work at a different pace.  A good manager will recognise this and judge on results.

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.

WARNING: What you must know about your contractors before April 2020

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the UK Government’s consultation on the introduction of IR35 tax rules.  This is in relation to contractors in the private sector. If you use contractors in your workplace and you are a medium or large sized company, then you need to prepare for these changes.

Many employers remain unaware of these changes. If you do know about the changes, have you discussed them with your contractors? Have you agreed on their taxable status?

The Government announced in July that the consultation had finished and changes would be effective from April 2020.  Tax and National Insurance payments for contractors will become your responsibility.

It is best to avoid the blanket payment approach

These rules were brought in for the public sector back in 2017. Most public sector employers decided to tax their contractors as employees.  But they did not give those contractors the other benefits of employment. As a result of this approach, many contractors stopped working in the public sector. Public sector employers now find it much harder to attract contractors. Where they do still use contractors, they often have to pay a huge amount more than before.

What are the tests which prove whether or not a contract worker is genuinely self-employed?

Unfortunately for employers (and contractors), the only real test is in employment tribunal. There have been several high profile cases about employment status and there are likely to be more.

There is no hard-and-fast rule which shows that one person is genuinely self-employed. But there are some indicators which the Courts will consider in these cases. So it would be wise for employers to consult with their contractors about these issues.  This will help to determine how their tax should be calculated. Not all of these indicators apply to every contractor.  But they can give a guide to the true status of employment.

Some of the factors

  • Can the individual work at times and from a location to suit themselves? Or do you require them to be at a specific location, at specific times.  Do you require a set number of hours? If so, then that would indicate that you are their employer, not their client.
  •  Does the individual use their own equipment and tools? Or do you expect them to use tools and equipment which belong to your company? Again, this would indicate they are employed by you. If you are happy for them to use their own tools, this is another indication that they are not your employee.
  •  If you provide skills training, this might indicate they are considered an employee. Especially if you require them to undertake such training. A true contractor (supplier) should already be trained and skilled in what you need.  So it should not be necessary to provide any skills training for them.
  • Is there an expectation that you will continue to provide work once the specific job has been completed? Alternatively, are they expected to do work for you, other than what is specified in the contract? Or do you expect them to continue to be available for work for you once the project is done? Any of these things would suggest “mutual obligation” between you. This indicates that they are an employee.
  • What happens if they are unavailable (off sick or on holiday)? Do you allow them to provide a substitute to do the work while they are off?
  • Are your contractors free to do work for other companies at the same time as they work for you?
  • Do you provide transport, uniforms or other “employee benefits” for your contractors?  For example,  can they use a company subsidised gym or restaurant?

This is not an absolute or exact science

The answers to these questions can help you and your contractors decide on the fair way to deduct tax and National Insurance. Should it become clear that they are an employee, then you may need to offer employment terms and conditions and benefits. If you do not do so, then it is unlikely that the individual will be prepared to continue to work for you.

Your discussions  – and their answers – might indicate that they are a true contractor or “supplier of services”.   This will not guarantee that HMRC does not investigate further, of course. But your records of these discussions and their answers will help to show that you have investigated their employee status and have valid reasons for your decision.

Discussions sooner rather than later

If you want to avoid last minute decisions about the status of your contractors, then you need to start these consultations now. Otherwise you might face significant disruption and loss of talent at the last minute. Many public sector organisations are still facing skills shortages. Some are finding it hard to attract and retain contract workers.

The Government has developed a tool to help businesses to decide on the tax status of their employees. There has been some criticism of this Check Employment Status For Tax tool, but it may help employers and their contractors to make an informed decision.

 

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.

Too Hot To Work – Temperatures In The Workplace

When temperatures rise, people often think it is “too hot to work”.

Temperatures in UK have been very high in the last few days.  The hottest August Bank Holiday ever was recorded.   So what is the law about temperatures at work?  And what can employers do to keep it comfortable?

What are the legal requirements about temperatures in the workplace?

The simple answer is that, in the UK, there is no law which specifies maximum (or minimum) working temperatures.  There is no law which says when it is too hot (or cold) to work.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that “in offices or similar environments, the temperature in workplaces must be reasonable”.  The requirement on employers is that they must keep the temperature at a “comfortable level”, known as thermal comfort.  They must also provide clean and fresh air.  There are six basic factors which affect thermal comfort.

The six basic factors affecting thermal comfort

Each individual person has different levels of comfort and can be affected in different ways from others.  The most commonly used and obvious factor is air temperature.  This is easily measured, but it can be affected by the other factors.

Another environmental factor is thermal radiation.  This is the heat which radiates from a warm object.  This may be present if there are hot pipes, machinery or other heat sources in a workplace.  This has more influence than air temperature on how we lose or gain heat.   Direct sun is also a source of thermal radiation.

The speed of air moving across a person (air velocity) may help them to cool down. For example, if there is a fan or moving air through an open window.  Humidity is another factor. If there is water vapour in warm air, this can result in humidity and people feeling “sticky”.

There are also a couple of personal factors which affect thermal comfort.  A person may feel more or less at a comfortable temperature, depending on their clothing.  Too much clothing or safety clothing – Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can be a primary cause of heat stress.

The final factor is the individual’s work rate.  The more physical work we do, the more heat we produce.  Individual physical factors such as size, weight, age, fitness level can all have an impact.  We are all different and react differently to changes in temperature.

What can employers do to keep temperatures in the workplace at a comfortable level?

There are a number of things which employers can consider to make the workplace more comfortable when the temperature rises.   You may already be doing some things and others are simple to implement.  Some things to consider are:

  • provide desk fans
  • allow flexible hours/early starts so people can choose to avoid working at the hottest times of the day
  • where possible, encourage people to open windows
  • if you have air conditioning, make sure it is maintained and working
  • allow relaxed dress codes
  • keep blinds closed to avoid direct sun
  • move workstations away from any hot machinery/pipes, etc
  • insulate hot pipes and machinery, where possible
  • ensure that risk assessments include considerations about temperatures in the workplace
  • provide fresh drinking water (preferably cooled)
  • allow regular breaks for people to cool down
  • allow flexible, remote or home working
  • provide clear guidance on all of the above to employees

As always, I would advise you to consult with and collaborate with your employees.  They may have some more ideas about how to be more comfortable at work during periods of extreme temperatures.

One final thing for employers to think about, is when to  carry out risk assessments.  In particular, if you receive several complaints from employees about the temperature in the workplace and their discomfort, then you must carry out a risk assessment and take appropriate action.   For further advice, see the Health and Safety Executive website.

What about jobs which involve extreme temperatures in the workplace?

There are some types of work which create extreme temperatures in the workplace, regardless of the season.  Some manufacturing processes, for example, can have serious effects on health if the temperature is not managed properly.

In such an environment, it is critical to undertake risk assessments. If your Business involves people working in very high or low temperatures, then you should seek further advice from the Health and Safety Executive or a professional health and safety expert.

 

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.

Invisible Disability In the Workplace

According to the charity, Scope, there are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK.  Nearly 1 in 5 working adults are disabled (19%).

You may look around your workplace and struggle to see many disabled people.  There might be someone with a wheelchair or maybe someone who uses a stick.  But on the whole there are few visibly disabled people.  And therein lies a huge problem.

What is invisible disability?

Because we cannot see any evidence of a disability, we don’t always realise it is there.  If someone walks and talks and appears to function well, we do not see the pain they might be in.  Or the exhaustion they are feeling.  We don’t know the mental anguish they live with, or the anxiety and fear they might have.

Many people have a condition, illness or impairment which causes difficulty on a daily basis.  If that condition lasts at least 12 months, then this is the legal definition of “disability”. Those people might need an adjustment to help them deal with life more easily.  This could be something in their daily life, such as the use of a parking space to lessen the distance they have to walk.  Alternatively,  they might need a seat on public transport.  In the workplace, they might need an adjustment to enable them to work more effectively.  This could be a change in their duties, or a specific chair.  It might mean altered hours, or regular breaks.  It could be a fan, or heater, or footrest.

The point is that, as employers and as colleagues, we don’t know what we don’t know.  If we cannot see the disability, then it is an invisible disability (also known as a hidden disability).

How can we help?

The best way to help someone who is living with an invisible disability – or any disability –  is to ask them what helps them.   They know their condition and what constraints that puts on their life.  Through experience, they know what helps and what makes things worse.  They know when they need a break, or some different work, or a different seat.

But many people feel unable to talk about their disability.  There may be many reasons for this.  Sometimes they have faced stigma from work, from the general public, even from friends and family.  More often, they face a lack of knowledge and understanding.  We don’t want to appear stupid, so we don’t ask how to help people.  So we make assumptions about what helps – and those assumptions can be wrong.

Employing someone with an invisible disability

Employers have a huge role to play in changing the attitudes towards disability.  There is also a legal obligation on employers to make “reasonable adjustments”  in the workplace to support those with disabilities.  So what is a “reasonable adjustment”?  It is any adjustment at all which might make it easier for someone to do their job.  The best way to decide what is needed is to talk to the disabled person and find out from them.

If a person feels safe in the workplace and trusts their employer, then they are far more likely to explain their difficulties and be open about a disability.  This can open a discussion about any adjustments and support needed.  This has to be an ongoing process.  Things change, both in the workplace and in the individual’s life and medical care.  So the conversation has to be ongoing. The individual has to feel confident in bringing the subject up and airing their difficulties.  Then you can find a mutual and appropriate solution.

It may be (indeed, it is likely) that you already employ someone, or some people, with an invisible disability.  If you don’t already know about it, then that could be a sign that they don’t feel safe.  They may well be struggling on their own.  If this is the case, their performance will be suffering, or they may have attendance or lateness issues.  They may be having a high number of sickness absences.  They may be in conflict with colleagues.

Open the discussion about invisible disability

Some simple things you can do to make your workplace safe for people with an invisible disability include:

  • Give a clear message that it is safe to discuss disability (or other difficulties) at work. Cover it in induction, in regular performance discussions, and at every opportunity.
  • Review all your policies and processes and ensure they take account of people with disabilities and their needs.
  • Train your managers and other staff on the right approach to take and language to use.
  • Encourage your managers to have regular discussions with individuals in their teams to give an opportunity to raise any issues.
  • Put in place any adjustments which are needed to make work more comfortable for people.
  • Make sure your people feel valued (those with invisible disability, those with visible disability, those without).
  • Set up an anonymous suggestion box. Then people can make suggestions about things which might help them, without having to tell you about their disability.

Taking it further

If you are interested in more information about disability in the workplace, or want some support, then you might want to speak to an advisor who specialises in this area.

Roland Chesters is a Disability Development Consultant who, himself, has an invisible disability and is an inspirational speaker and advisor. For more information about the services he offers, see his website, Luminate.uk.com or contact him.

 

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.

Climate Strike Strategies – 20 September 2019

Young people in the UK and globally have been taking action for climate change and now they are calling for adults to join them by walking out of work on 20 September in a global “climate strike”.

Employers would be well advised to prepare for this.  You have a little over a month now to consider what you will do if your employees take part in this action.

What is a climate strike?

This proposed action is called a climate strike as the intention is for people to take a day out of work in protest against climate change.

In employment terms, a strike is lawful where a workplace has a recognised union and the strike is a result of a dispute between the employees and the employer. There are strict (and fairly complex) rules about balloting for strike action.  If these terms are not met, the strike is unlawful.

The climate “strike” is not as a result of a dispute between employer and employees and many people who are intending to take part may not be part of a trade union which is recognised in their workplace.

What action can an employer take?

As with all things, my first advice is to talk to your employees.  Find out if anyone is intending to take part in the action.

If a significant part of your workforce is planning some action, then you need to consider what work will not get done that day and how you can cater for that.  Can you change deadlines, appointments, deliveries, etc?  You can discuss these plans with your employees and get their help and ideas to manage the workload for that day.

In terms of payment for the day off work, there are various options and it may depend on your own concerns (or otherwise) about climate change.     You could insist that anyone who takes part in the climate strike has a day of unpaid leave.  Or you could ask employees who intend to strike to use up a day of their annual leave allocation.  More likely is a combination of these.  This would mean they take a day of their annual leave, but they can choose to have a day of unpaid leave instead and use their annual leave another time.

You could be really generous and just give people an extra day of annual leave.  For those not taking part in the “strike”, you need to be fair and allow them an additional day of leave to take at another time.  You might even want to close the Business for a day and take part in the “strike” yourself!

Unintended Consequences

The hard line is that people cannot just choose to walk out of work and expect to be protected from unfair dismissal.  If they strike, there are well-established rules about how that is conducted.  Where a workplace has a recognised trade union, the employees may be more likely to comply with the rules, but where there is no such recognition, then there are real risks for employees who want to take action.

Where an employer is prepared to allow employees to use annual leave (or even unpaid leave), there are other consequences.  The work still needs to be done and if the whole workforce decides to take advantage of the extra day off, then employers might be left in a very difficult position.

Alternatives to Climate Strike

As an employer, you might want to get ideas from your employees about alternatives to climate strike.  The point of this action is to pressurise governments and businesses (and all of us) to take action to slow climate change.

Your employees may have ideas about how you, as a Business, can make a difference.  There might be actions that you can take which have a greater effect for a longer time.  There are some very simple things which can make a difference.  Some you might already do, others you may not have thought about.  Things like recycling waste; replacing bottled water coolers with coolers plumbed into the main water supply; reducing thermostats by one degree.  Make sure you use local suppliers.

You may want to make a real difference in greater terms and this would involve looking at your company environmental policy – or setting one up.  You could instigate a review of all of your organisational policies and procedures to identify any impacts on the environment.  There may be smaller changes you can make immediately, or some bigger issues which need planning and financing.

You might even think about organising a special event on the day of the strike, to support the action.  Your employees would then feel they are making a difference, but without the need to join the strike.

Starting a dialogue about climate change

Every employer and employee will have a view about climate change.  If you start a dialogue between all parties, that is the best way to make a difference.

The last thing you need in your workplace is an unofficial walk out by your employees.  This could leave them in an untenable position, without legal protection.  The best way to prevent that is to start by talking to them.

This one day of climate strike could be the start of a new approach from employers (whether or not their employees join the strike).  That snowball could start an avalanche which really could make a 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 – 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.