Articles

How To Plan A Happy Workplace Christmas

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

Or do we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time out at Christmas

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

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

Celebrations

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

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

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

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

Gifts and Giving

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

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

Getting to Work and Flexible Working

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

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

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

Strained Relationships

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

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

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

Giving employees their best Christmas ever

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

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

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

This could be your best Christmas ever!

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

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

How High Productivity Will Prevent Resignations

What is high productivity and how can we achieve it?

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

But what does high productivity mean?

What does “high productivity” actually mean?

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

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

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

Sometimes “good enough” is good enough

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

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

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

Factors which affect high productivity

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

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

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

Managing people to create high productivity

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

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

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

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

A salutary tale

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

Too little, too late.

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

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

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

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

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

Presenteeism And Productivity – What Is The Connection?

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

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

What is presenteeism and how does it affect productivity?

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

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

Why do people need to be seen to be present?

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

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

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

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

Why is presenteeism so bad for productivity?

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

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

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

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

What can an employer do to prevent presenteeism?

Have you thought about training your managers to recognise presenteeism and to discourage it? For example, technology is widely seen as positive in the workplace, but many people find it difficult to “switch off” outside working hours. I have known many people who deal with emails late into the night, or even take laptops on holiday so they can keep up with work. This negates the benefit of having an overnight break or a holiday.

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

Leading by example

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

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

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

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

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

How Office Design Can Increase Productivity

Office design is important.

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

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

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

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

Office design considerations

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

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

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

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

How the journey to work can affect productivity

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

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

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

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

Does a hot-desking policy work?

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

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

Open Plan Offices

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

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

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

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

Keep the noise down

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

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

What about the air that we breathe?

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

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

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

Small changes to office design can improve productivity

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

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

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

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

The Truth About Employees, Divorce and Productivity

It  is well-documented that divorce can be one of the most stressful situations anyone can experience.  In the UK roughly 42% marriages end in divorce.  So it is highly likely that some of your employees will be going through a divorce at some time.

The thing about employees is that they are people first, with complex emotions and feelings.  We don’t just shrug off our feelings, like coats, and hang them on a hook when we walk into the workplace.

So how we feel at any one time or any particular day will affect our performance, concentration and productivity. Employers may not want to acknowledge this, and deal with it.  But good employers recognise that their workers have things going on which are probably more important than work -at least for the individuals.

Is there anything an employer can do for employees who may be facing divorce?

Legalities and changes in the Law regarding divorce

It has been widely reported that “no fault divorce” is to be introduced in the UK.  The intention is to end the blame game and make divorce easier for those involved.

This is undoubtedly good news and should lessen acrimony in divorce cases.  But divorce is going to remain unpleasant for those who go through it.  There will still be financial disputes and anxiety over children and access.  If your employee is going through a divorce their private life will be disrupted and their work will also be adversely affected.

 What effects am I likely to see on my employees?

The most likely effect on your employee is stress.  This may mean loss of concentration and increased anxiety.  They may use work as a refuge from the storm in their private life.  If they are engaged and involved in their work, it may indeed be a relief from the stress.  But it is more likely that they will only pay partial attention to their work.

The divorcing employee is likely to need to make court appearances, maybe multiple times if there is disagreement about financial aspects or access to children.  It may be that the employee is going through a change in their living accommodation, or the sale of a jointly owned house.  They are very likely to have increased financial worries.

How can an employer help employees who are divorcing?

There are some practical steps an employee can and should take to support their employees through a divorce.

This is an example of a situation which can be greatly helped if you already have a trusting and effective relationship with your employees.  If they trust you or their line manager, they will be more open about their personal circumstances.  You can build on that trust if you provide practical and relevant help to them.

The first issue is with regard to financial management.  Divorcing couples need to exchange financial information and often need documents to confirm details of salary, benefits, bonuses, pension arrangements.  An employer can help by providing that information quickly.

Some more ways an employer can help

Another issue which will affect your divorcing employee may be the need for time off work to attend court hearings in relation to the divorce, especially if it is an acrimonious divorce.  There is no legal requirement that you give paid time off for this, but you may wish to allow them to use up annual leave, or take unpaid leave.  Or a generous employer may wish to give additional paid leave (but you would need to give this some thought to ensure fairness to other, non-divorcing, employees).

However well an employee may be dealing with a divorce, you would be well advised to keep an eye on their mental health.  These will be stressful times for them and we all react differently in such circumstances.  Some of this will depend on how acrimonious the divorce is and whether there are children involved.   It may be helpful  to think about how to provide counselling or employee assistance if you do not already have such a scheme in place.

Benefits for the employer in supporting an employee through divorce

If you have a positive relationship with your employees, they are more likely to be honest with you about an impending divorce.

How can you provide practical and relevant support to them?  If you can do so, the situation is likely to resolved more quickly.  This is a benefit to the employee, of course.  But that also makes it better for you.

A reduction in the stress of the situation may lead to reduced likelihood of ill-health absence.  The employee will be more focussed at work and more able to concentrate.  This has a positive effect on their productivity.

There are more benefits for the employer

The secondary effect is loyalty.  An employee who has had support from their employer through a difficult personal situation is easier to retain in the workplace.  They will not want to risk moving to a less understanding workplace.

Your reputation as a caring and good employer will also be enhanced.  This will have a positive effect on recruitment and employee satisfaction.

Being kind to our employees and supporting them through difficult times is not only good for them, but it is also good for us as employers.  We all want to be cared for and cared about, and that includes employers.  And it doesn’t hurt the bottom line, either.

 If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on supporting an employee through a difficult time in their personal life, then  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 Employees With Mismatched Skills Are Damaging Your Company’s Productivity

Many companies are employing people with mismatched skills and this is damaging productivity and profitability within their business.

I wrote an article in February this year about the dangers of recruiting employees with the wrong skills for the vacant position. Many employers look for skills that aren’t needed to get the job done.   Almost half of employees in the UK are in jobs with mismatched skills.  They are either over-or-under skilled for the job.  Or they might have the wrong qualification, or are not qualified at all.

A report by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) last year found that over a third (37%) of workers have the skills to cope with more demanding jobs.  Additionally, many people with degrees are in jobs which do not require such a high level of qualification. Conversely, one in ten people reported lacking the skills needed to carry out their job effectively.  The report concluded that as many as half of UK workers could be in the wrong job, based on their skill level.

Why does it matter if your employees have mismatched skills?

Mismatched skills bring negative impacts for our employees.  This has a knock-on negative effect on our business.

For employees, the CIPD survey found that over-skilled workers earn less than those whose skills are well-matched to their jobs.  This can result in a long term inability to increase their salary to a level they feel equals their skills. This can lead to resentment.

On the other hand, if someone has not got the relevant skills for their job, then they can become stressed and may work longer hours than is healthy.

Other issues for employees who have mismatched skills may include:

  • reduced chances of promotion;
  • difficulty in getting a new job;
  • poor job satisfaction;
  • lack of trust in the workplace;
  • lower confidence.

Why does an employer need to worry about this?

For employers, these implications for our workers are a key factor in the productivity levels for our business.

If our employees have mismatched skills, they are less likely to do a good job for us.   Their motivation and job satisfaction will suffer.  As a result, they may become resentful and even disruptive.   Their sickness absence levels are likely to increase.  All of these things are difficult to manage in the workplace and result in cost (in time and money) for the employer.

You may start to wonder why you have been unable to recruit a more satisfactory and happy employee.  Employers often think that it is difficult to recruit the right people.  But it may be more accurate that they are not even looking for the right people.

You may also find that employees are leaving only a short time after they started working for you.  Over-skilled employees will want to leave and find a job which is better matched to their skills.  And under-skilled employees may just be very unhappy because they struggle to do the job.

All of these things affect the overall productivity of your workforce.  And that increases your costs and reduces your profits.

How can I address the problem of mismatched skills?

If you ensure your employees have the right skills for their jobs, either through recruitment or training (or both), then they will be happier in the workplace and you will benefit from higher productivity and increased profitability.

To avoid mismatching skills to jobs in your company, there are some key areas where you might want to take some action.

  • Recruitment . A good place to start is to review your recruitment process.  Have you got a recruitment strategy?  If so, does it need to be adjusted?  How accurate are your job descriptions? Have you reviewed your job descriptions lately?
  • Skills Development And Training. Is it time for you to invest in some training? You could arrange some skills development for the current job holders, where they are under-skilled.  Clearly this will address specific problem areas.  But it can also send a powerful message about valuing your employees .
  • Conducting a skills audit. This can give a clear picture of the skills you already have in your workplace. You may be unaware of some of them.  It is certainly likely that you will find a number of areas where some adjustments can be made in terms of job design or training plans.   It could even lead to some restructuring if you can move people around to address some of the key skills gaps.
  • Job design. Once you understand the skills you have in your workplace, you can prioritise better use of those skills.  Then you can adapt how well  and where those skills are used.  You can then ensure you have the right jobs with the right people in them.  And you can recruit and train others, as necessary.
  • Management training. Your managers are key in this whole process and it will pay you to ensure they have the skills to support employee development. You may want to review your management practices as well and ensure your managers are confident in those practices.

What benefit will it bring?

If you can address these key areas, your employees may start to use their skills fully and appropriately in the workplace.  This will bring them increased levels of job satisfaction.  They are likely to earn more throughout their career and have more confidence and less stress.

This can lead to increased loyalty, trust and motivation.  Your retention rates will go up and the money you need to spend on recruitment will reduce.  All of this leads to higher productivity, more rapid growth and – ultimately – better profitability for your business.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support with a skills audit, recruitment strategy or anything else we have covered, then please contact us for a free half-hour discovery call.

Jill Aburrow runs a strategic HR consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to Professional Services 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, supporting Information Technology companies. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

 

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.