Articles

What is Mediation and How Do I Use it in the Workplace?

Mediation is a formal process to help resolve workplace disputes.  It has to be voluntary – it won’t work if one party or the other has been forced into it.  You must also ensure it is confidential.   Mediation involves an independent third party working with the conflicting parties.  The aim is  to try and find an amicable result which works for everyone.  It can be done internally, using a third party mediator who is not involved in the issue.  You need to ensure the mediator is seen as independent by all parties.  Alternatively, you can use an external mediator, who will definitely be independent.

The Benefits of Mediation

If you have conflict in the workplace it can be extremely disruptive, and not just for the parties involved.  It is crucial for you to manage this conflict before it destroys the smooth running of the organisation.  If you fail to manage it, then it will ultimately have a negative effect on your business.

The conflict could escalate to such an extent that  external organisations become involved (such as ACAS or Employment Tribunals in the UK).   Those organisations actively encourage parties to use mediation as a resolution.

As well as helping to resolve workplace conflicts, successful mediation can improve communication and restore trust.  It enables the parties to feel that their position has been heard and considered.  It enables people to move on from the conflict.

When should we be using mediation in the workplace?

Mediation can be used successfully to resolve issues where two people cannot work together.  I have used it successfully where two people had reached the point where they did not speak to each other, but where they needed to collaborate on a project.  Every time they needed to discuss anything, they just argued, with neither party listening to the other.   They were never going to be friends, but the mediation enabled them to work together in a professional manner.  It achieved a successful outcome for the project.

You can use mediation if your employee has raised a formal grievance.  Or it is sometimes useful if there has been a fairly minor act of misconduct.  Mediation can provide a safe environment to raise these issues.  They can be discussed and resolved without the need for formal action.

You could also use mediation as a formal way of following up any formal proceedings.  It can be a particularly helpful way to improve working relationships so that all parties can move forward.

What happens in mediation?

There is no set way for mediation to take place.  The mediator can discuss the alternative approaches with the individuals and agree what they want to do.  Sometimes, the mediator will discuss the issues separately with each party and then feedback to the other party until they can reach some agreement.  Alternatively, all parties can sit round a table and discuss the issues in an open forum.  The mediator can suggest solutions, or the individual parties can suggest solutions.  External mediators can often suggest practical solutions to complex problems.  The aim is for the parties to come up with outcomes which are appropriate and which work for all.

Mediation is a flexible solution and can often be more successful than having to abide by a decision or instruction from a third party.

The discussions are completely confidential and are not binding.  If an agreed outcome is reached, then that becomes binding.

Are there any disadvantages?

Mediation may not be the right solution for more complex problems, or where there has been a serious breach of conduct.

Mediation does not guarantee a successful resolution, which may make it hard to justify the cost.  If you use an internal mediator, then it is likely to take up  a good deal of their time, at least in the short-term.  This also moves their focus from the role they are employed to do.   Even if you use an external mediator, then it may still not be possible for the parties to reach a workable solution.

Mediation only works when both parties agree to take part in it.  Some people are not prepared to try to achieve an agreed outcome.  They are so entrenched in their view, that they want their “day in court” to prove the rights of their case.

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Value My Abilities and Support My Disabilities

I read a story in the news yesterday, about a comedian with disabilities who used a mobility scooter.  She was on her way home from a gig by train.  This woman was treated poorly by a guard, who then made a public announcement about her.  She felt humiliated.   At the end, the article commented that the rail company who employed the guard were horrified at the story but declined to say whether or not they were going to take any action against the guard.  I support that decision.  Any action is between them as the employer and the guard as the employee.

This unpleasant story got me thinking about the way we treat people who have “disabilities”.  More specifically, how do employers treat them?

Am I overlooking my best asset?

The real key is to look at people’s abilities, rather than their disabilities.  What can they do?  And what can they do well?  How will they be an asset to our business?  In these days of skills shortages, it would be madness to cut yourself off from a potential source of the very skills you seek, just because that person may come with some “difficulty” which you need to address.  How many of us don’t come with difficulties attached?

I think employers are sometimes afraid to employ people who have a disability, as they may have to make some adjustments in the workplace.  Well, any decent employer would be considering adjustments for any of their employees, not just those with a disability.  Many people have caring responsibilities, or childcare needs, or transportation difficulties.  Some people may need to work specific hours, or in a specific location.

So adjusting to a wheelchair, or giving a different screen, or giving a different chair – or any other “reasonable adjustment” is probably a minor issue.  This is especially the case when it is measured against the benefits that individual could bring.  I remember years ago that a local supermarket employed a woman who had learning difficulties.  She was the happiest, most helpful person and always greeted everyone with a huge smile and a cheery greeting.  She was really popular with staff and customers alike.  What a huge asset she was for that employer.

How can I find you?

Another reason why employers may not make the best use of this pool of potential employees, is simply a logistical one. If disabled people don’t apply for vacancies, how can I find them to employ them?  This is really a chicken and egg situation.  People who may have a physical or mental challenge may be afraid to apply for mainstream jobs, especially if they have faced rejection or harsh treatment before. There are several agencies which specialise in finding work for people with disabilities and they would always be glad to hear from an employer who may be able to offer work.  I am not suggesting that you employ solely from this pool, but including this route in your search for employees may reap benefits for both you and the individual.

How do I support you?

It is only natural that you have concerns about giving the right support to people.  But how do you know what  is needed?  Ask them!  The individuals themselves know what they need to be able to function effectively in the world.  They have been living with this issue for a long time, so they are in the best position to guide you.

There is also a huge amount of help available to make it easy to employ someone with a disability. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of professional help and guidance on any adjustments you may need to make.  You need to think about the normal every day situation, but also what happens in an emergency – if you need to evacuate the building, for example.

Going back to the original story, there is one more thing to think about.  Do your other employees know how to behave and how to treat their new colleague? Again, you could start by asking the individual what messages they want to give to their colleagues.

In another news story yesterday, an autistic girl had written an article on social media about the difficulties she faces on a daily basis.  She had done this because she wanted people to understand how she felt and thought about things.  Mostly people just want others to understand the difficulties they face, and make necessary allowances for that.  Isn’t that what we all want?

Am I already making adjustments?

You probably already employ people who have a “disability”  and need adjustments, but they may not have told you, or their colleagues, about it.  Many people have mental health difficulties, either temporary or longer-term, which they do not want to share with the world.

In addition, any women may have hormonal issues (menstrual or menopausal, or any stop in between) – not a disability, but it will probably affect their work from time to time.  Again, it is not something we like to talk about necessarily.

I have suffered from migraine for my whole life.  It is just part of my life and I would not consider it a disability, nor would I dream of telling an employer about it at interview.  But it means that I need to take the odd day off sick – usually at an inconvenient time.  Or sometimes I am at work but not functioning to the best of my ability.

The point I am making is that we are all different and we all have challenges in our lives.  We also all like to be appreciated and valued.  This is especially important at work, where we spend so much time.  So as employers, we should be supporting our employees to produce their best, to develop to their highest ability, to reach for the stars.  This may mean making some adjustments, for any individual, not just those perceived by the world to have a “disability”.

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Let Them Eat Cake! (Unless You Care About Their Wellbeing)

Are you concerned about the health and wellbeing of your employees?  Of course you are!  You are a caring employer and you like your employees to be well and happy at work.  Not to mention that there is a considerable cost to you each time someone is off sick.  If the sickness becomes prolonged – or even stops someone from continuing to work at all, then that is very sad and very difficult to deal with.   And sometimes it is preventable.

Celebration time is here

When birthdays roll around, or other events occur in the lives of your employees, you like to celebrate with them.  The standard celebration is for them or their colleagues to provide cake or chocolates.  Some customer-facing businesses get gifts from grateful clients.  What is easier – or more welcome – than cake or chocolates?  Suppliers, too, like to give their clients gifts from time to time.  Many is the time in the HR department when I have been on the receiving end of chocolates or cakes from an employment agency. Or a grateful employee buys cake as a thank you for the support HR had provided.  Some managers like to provide cake at team meetings.

As the employer or manager, you may even choose to foot the bill for this largesse.  The staff love it and enjoy taking a five minute break to have some cake and a chatter.  They are celebrating and you encourage this to help engender team spirit and good relationships in the workplace.

Sugar – the hidden menace

I love sweet things myself, but the awareness has slowly been dawning on me that too much of it is damaging to my health and wellbeing.  All this cake and chocolate is sabotaging the health of your staff.  Diabetes is a fast-growing problem in our world and our addiction to sugar in our food and drinks is a major contribution to this problem.  Not to mention obesity and related diseases, heart problems, tooth decay – the list goes on.   How many people in your workplace are trying to lose weight?  How many of them “cannot resist” the cake and chocolate which is inevitably on display and available in the working environment?

Stopping the rot

In my own experience, people make their own attempts to counter this influx of sugar, by providing “healthy” snacks as well as cake.  They bring in fruit, nuts, muesli bars  as well as – or even instead of – the cake. The intention is good, but the fruit goes rotten before the cake is all eaten.  The healthy stuff is usually the last to be eaten.  Alternative “healthy” snack bars may also still contain large amounts of sugar (or sweeteners, or corn syrup, or glucose – or other things which are really just sugar in disguise).

Am I suggesting that you ban all sugary foods and drinks, or that you only provide fruit?  No – that would be extraordinarily unpopular, given that this is an addiction to sugar that we all have.  It is good to indulge ourselves occasionally – and make it a real “treat” and a blanket ban would just alienate people.

No, this is a chance to really show your employees that you care, by collaborating with them about a sensible solution to this problem.

Starting the Conversation

Lou Walker, who is a workplace health and wellbeing consultant, specialising in obesity and office cake culture, has  written an in-depth report on this subject.  She has come up with eight ideas to make it easier for employers to start a conversation about office cake.  In brief, they are:

  • Create a health and wellbeing event where it can be on the agenda
  • Use, or consider having, workplace wellbeing champions to introduce the topic with colleagues
  • Start a competition for the most creative, healthy cake alternative
  • Identify individuals and teams who might be amenable to/interested in a conversation
  • Feel confident that this is appropriate. Employee health and wellbeing is your legitimate concern
  • Share Lou’s TEDx talk on the subject and ask for reactions
  • Consider a short, anonymous questionnaire on the subject (confidential, of course)
  • It may take months to implement a conversation – don’t be afraid to start small.

If you are interested in learning more about these suggestions and the subject of office cake in general, then do visit Lou Walker’s website and read her report.

Be part of the conversation.

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Finding The Perfect Recruitment Fit

Many employers tell me that successful recruitment is their biggest challenge.

The reasons they give are many and varied:  the skills they need are in short supply; it costs a fortune to advertise in the right places; there are plenty of candidates but none of them “fit”; people are too young, old, not skilled, over-qualified… the list goes on.

But the problem may lie closer to home.

Many employers forget two very important things.  Firstly, recruitment is a two-way street and the candidate for the job also has a choice.  Secondly, the recruitment process should not stop when the new employee has signed the contract.

Showing your best side

If you were trying to sell your house for the best price possible, then you would spend some time and effort in preparing for the sale.  You might tidy up the garden .  You could increase the “kerb appeal” by a lick of paint on the front door. It makes sense to clean the house and make the beds. You might even go as far as putting fresh flowers on the table, baking some bread or brewing fresh coffee so that there is an enticing smell when people come to view.

But don’t forget that the candidate is also checking your business out to see if they want to work there.  If they are skilled and/or enthusiastic, you are unlikely to be the only person who is interviewing them.  So it makes sense to show your business to its best advantage.  Make sure the candidate is welcomed when they arrive and that they get a friendly reception from everyone they come into contact with.  Give them a chance to see the environment they will be working in and to meet their potential colleagues.  Ensure you explain the role accurately and clearly.   Make sure you spell out the benefits of working for  you.

Preparing for recruitment

You are probably extremely busy and recruiting people takes up a good deal of valuable time.  That is why it is important to get it right, so you don’t have to repeat the process too many times.  A little care could prevent the need.   Take time to prepare properly for the interview.  Make sure you have read the person’s CV and know a little about them.  Remember to use their name – if you need to check how to pronounce it, then ask them at the beginning of the conversation – and listen to their answer, so you get it right from then on!  Make sure you have prepared some questions to ask all the people you are interviewing, so that you can compare their answers to help you choose the best fit.

Beware the trap of over-selling, though.  The candidates need to get a good impression, but it needs to be the right one.  Don’t promise work which exists but you know is going to someone else.  Make sure they get a true picture of what you need them to do for you.  And don’t show them the beautiful new desk in the airy space by the window, if you are going to put them in the tatty old workspace near the gents’ toilet.

Decision time

You need to decide quickly about whether a candidate is right or not.  If you are not sure, then it is probably a “no” and you need to tell them so.  Time is of the essence and it is critical to get the offer of a job out quickly.  Otherwise, your ideal candidate will have got fed up waiting for your decision and accepted another job elsewhere.  Even if you have made a verbal offer and they have accepted it, you still need to get the paperwork out quickly.  It is not unusual for someone to accept a verbal offer and then to start another job in the time it took you to get the written details out to them.

I have often known employers who think that someone they have interviewed “might be OK” but they want to interview a few others before they decide.  They are frightened they will miss out on a “better” candidate.  In my experience, perfection is impossible to find and if someone is “good enough”, then snap them up.  Otherwise, you risk losing out on employing them because you are looking for someone perfect, who probably does not exist.

After the party

How many times have you moved into a lovely new house, only to discover there are rotten floorboards, rats in the loft and a jungle hidden at the bottom of the garden?  OK, perhaps that is an extreme, but you get the point.  In the same way, a new employee will be wondering if they made the right choice.  What if the job is not the one which was advertised and which they wanted to do, but turns out to be something different which they don’t want to do?  If the reality is very difficult from the promise at interview, then they will very quickly move on.  Then you will have to go through the whole process again.

Recruitment is their choice too.

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Keeping to the Bare Minimum Wage

I spoke to an employer last week who was quick to tell me that they don’t pay more than the minimum wage.  If someone goes off sick then they only pay Statutory Sick Pay.  He was quick to justify this… “Like any small employer, every penny counts and we cannot afford to pay out anything more than the absolute minimum we can get away with”.  I came away from the conversation feeling very sorry for his employees – and with concerns about the sustainability and growth of his business.

The question is not whether an employer can afford to pay more than the absolute minimum, but whether they can afford not to.

 Keeping Low

Of course, there are obvious benefits of keeping the wage bill as low as possible.  It is the largest outgoing for most employers.  Rightly, they will do everything they can to control it and prevent it from spiralling uncontrollably.

You want to feel you have not wasted that money and have preserved it to spend on other things which will grow your business.

It is also true that pay is not a “motivator”.  You can pay a high salary without seeing reward in terms of performance by the employee on the receiving end.  But money (or perceived lack of it) is a de-motivator.  If an employee feels they are not getting a fair deal, they will have no incentive to go the extra mile for your business.

“Give and Ye Shall Receive”

It is a fact in life that you get back what you give out – if you project love and generosity, then that is what will come back to you.  If you “give” to your employees (in terms of money, and in terms of valuing their contribution in other ways) then they will repay you with loyalty, with support to you and your customers, with performance beyond your expectations.

If you stick to paying out the very minimum, then there is no incentive for your employees to work hard or to put in more than basic performance.  There is a saying I have heard many times in the work place:  “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”.

The danger  – if they are a high performer – is that they will “mark time” with you until a better opportunity comes along.  Even worse, if you have a poor performer, is the danger that they may stay with you as they cannot get another role. In that case, they will never be really happy at work and they will only ever perform at the level  at which you value them (ie. the minimum). They will become more and more disillusioned and their performance (already low) is likely to spiral downwards over time as they tick away the days until they can take their pension.

Spreading the Germs

If you only pay the minimum amount possible when someone is off sick, then they will hurry to come into work as soon as they can.  This sounds like a good thing and is the reason why some employers only pay Statutory Sick Pay.  But what if the person has something contagious (even a stinking cold) and comes into work because they need the money?  They pass their germs on to others they work with and, before you know it, the whole team is sick.

And what is the quality of the work someone produces when they are feeling below par?  There is a strong likelihood that their work will be slow and may be full of mistakes.  In the long run, this could cost more than paying them whilst they are off sick and not contributing at all.

Spreading the Love

Again, we come back to the value you put on your employees.  There is a reason why the wage bill is generally the highest bill you face each month.  If you get it right, it is because the people are the highest performing asset you have and will make your business grow and prosper.

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Nicely, Nicely, Thank You

There is a character in the show “Guys and Dolls” called Nicely Nicely Johnson. He always answered “nicely, nicely, thank you” when asked how he was.  He was always one of my favourite characters.  I loved his name when I was a kid, and I still do now.

“Nice” is a much underrated word.  I have often heard it used as an insult and I have been told countless times in life that I am too nice.  How can anyone be too nice?  I have always taken it as a compliment, even though it is usually meant as a put-down.

So what makes a “good” employer? 

Well, an employer that people want to work for is “nice” to their employees.  Is that such a crime?  Surely, being nice to people makes it a more pleasant world for everyone.

You may have to do many things as an employer which neither you, nor your staff, like doing.  If there is a downturn in business for some reason, then it may be necessary to lay people off or make them redundant.  If someone misbehaves or breaks the rules, then you will have to discipline them.  If someone cannot do the job for some reason, then you need to deal with it.  If someone is off sick a great deal, you may need to take action. In the worst extremes, that could mean someone loses their job.  None of these things is pleasant or “nice” to do.

So how can I be “nice” when I have to do these things?

 “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it – and that’s what gets results”, as the song says.

When I was a little girl, I embroidered a present for my aunt.  Based on a Native American prayer, it included the line “never criticise a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins”.  It is very easy for managers to get caught up in the everyday pressures of running a business or a team.  It can be difficult to see beyond the goal or the deadline or the budget.   But try imagining what the other person may be feeling or going through.  How would that make you feel?

Next time you have to deal with a difficult situation with an employee –  or with anyone else for that matter – try to “walk in their moccasins” for a few minutes.  Treat them how you would like to be treated in their situation.  It will change the way you handle the issue and make it more pleasant for everyone.

Oh – and the good thing about being “nice” is that it makes you feel better too.  You may find it takes some of the stress out of a difficult day.

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The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth

The Art of Giving a Reference

When we change jobs, we are all keen to be given a good reference to give to our new employer.

On the other hand, many employers these days only give a basic reference which confirms that the person worked for them for a specific period and what the job title was.  This is only of limited use to a new employer as it gives no indication of how well or badly the employee performed in the role or how they got on with colleagues and/or customers.

As a result, there is a general belief that “references are not worth the paper they are written on”.  This is a real shame when a little care could really help the recruitment process along.

Why do we only give out basic information?

Employers are frightened of horror stories of legislation.  “We might get sued if we say something nasty” and so they feel obliged to say as little as possible and to keep it very bland.  Additionally, many do not trust their managers to give references as they might inadvertently say something which may cause a problem for the Company.

Yet references should be a really powerful tool in the recruitment process. They should tell an employer whether the person is qualified to do the job and what experience they have; they should tell about any performance issues, or triumphs; they should tell of any misconduct or grievance; they should give an idea of the attendance record and any patterns of absence;  they should tell about the relationships and whether the person is a good fit for the new role and the team they will be working with.

How  can you write a “safe” reference, which also helps the new employer?

  1. References must be truthful and factual.  The manager or colleagues may have an opinion – good or bad – about the individual, but this should not be included, unless it is based on fact which can be backed up with evidence. So an opinion that “he was always late, never arrived in work at the right time” would need to be backed up with a record of occasions of lateness, plus evidence of a conversation (or even formal action) with the individual pointing out their lateness and exploring the reasons for it and giving targets for improvement.   Equally, if your opinion is that “she is the best sales person we have ever employed” then you should really be able to back that up with evidence of meeting high sales targets, or great customer feedback.  You don’t have to share any evidence with the new employer, but it must exist so you could produce it if anybody questioned the truth of your reference
  2. Contrary to popular belief, references can include “bad” things – but again, they must be backed up by evidence. So if the person  has a day off sick every other Monday, then it is fine to say so, as long as the attendance records exist which back this up.  It would also be helpful if you could show that you have taken this up with the individual and made them aware it is not acceptable and have agreed a way forward to improve things.
  3. There should be no surprises. You cannot say that the person was not very good at dealing with customers, unless you have had a conversation (or even a formal meeting) with the individual and told them about this problem and a record has been kept, with a copy given to the employee.  If dealing with customers is a critical part of their job, you would again need to show an agreed improvement plan.
  4. The employee may well get to see the reference. It is not unusual for a potential or new employer to show the reference they have received to the individual or even to ask their opinion of what has been said.  Indeed, I suggest this is a good idea for an employer to do.
  5. If you follow all these rules the individual will not be able to show it is not fair.  You might find it helpful to share a copy of the reference with them so they can see what has been said.  They may ask you to change it, but you don’t have to do that.  At least they will have seen you have been honest and they can take the opportunity to consider how to address any negatives with the new employer.
  6. These rules apply to verbal references as well as written ones. Employers sometimes feel they can get round the “difficult” issues by making  a quick ‘phone call to the previous employer, rather than getting a written reference.  This is risky as the person on the receiving end of the reference may well write notes or write the conversation down and it becomes as much of a liability as a written reference would have been.  In any event, is is unfair on the individual to say something which they are not able to be party to or to answer.
  7. Some employers get round the problem by allowing managers to give “personal character references” but not official work sanctioned references. This is also risky as the receiving manager is likely to think it is an “official” reference and to treat it as such, so the risks are still there.  It is better for the employer to produce the reference centrally, with input from the individual’s line manager – or to spend a small amount of time in training managers to write proper references (or show them this video!).

In a nutshell

Please produce and send meaningful references, following the above guidelines.  It will be helpful for the employee, helpful for the new employer – and you may be grateful for the same courtesy when you are next recruiting. It could help save an expensive mistake.

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Increasing Productivity – Not My Problem

It is well reported in the press that the UK has productivity problems.  Productivity levels have not increased since before the financial crisis in 2008.

Small  and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up 90% or more of the private sector and most are aware that there is a productivity problem in UK.  They always believe the problem lies  with “other employers” and none can see that it may start in their own business.  There are many and varied reasons why productivity is low in UK, but some of it is because owners/managers of small businesses don’t recognise that they need support from HR.

They all talk about business challenges, not people challenges.  A quick search on Google for the most common business challenges reveals: recruiting and retention; technological changes; Governance and legislation; Trust; financial management.  All of these challenges can be helped by good HR support.  Other challenges include Brexit; the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR); gender reporting.

What help can HR provide?

If you have read earlier articles we have published, you will already know some of the areas where HR intervention can help your business to grow and increase productivity – particularly in retaining staff and so reducing staff turnover and recruitment costs.

I have been talking to a variety of different employers in the last few weeks, as part of my search for feedback on the support that JMA HR could provide to them.

The response I hear quite often is that the business (whatever it is) “is too small to need HR support” or “never has any HR problems”.  This is nearly always followed up by a story about a tribunal case they have had to defend, or some particular people-related issues which they have dealt with themselves “without needing to pay for HR”.  They have quite often paid for legal advice and representation though.  Of course, this has not factored in their time or lack of experience in these issues.  It may seem cheaper to “do it yourself” but is it going to be quick, effective, a good use of your time, or to prevent further issues?

Where HR help is needed

Several employers had taken legal advice but not been prepared to pay for HR support.  This is interesting as the legal advice is generally about “cure” and HR support is generally about “prevention”.  There is, of course, an overlap, but my question to employers is whether it is better to spend at your own pace, and at a level you can control, on HR support?  Alternatively you risk getting it wrong.   You may well then have to  spend  on legal advice and support when it becomes urgent and at a level over which you have no control.

If you keep reading our articles, you will get support (at no cost) on a variety of issues which you may face from time to time.

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Ditching the Garbage – Taking Decisive Action

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

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

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

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

Taking Decisive Action

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

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

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

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

What can smaller employers learn from this?

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

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

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

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

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

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Managing Presenteeism – How to Make People Stop Working

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

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

What is presenteeism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does this affect the Company?

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

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

What can an employer do to prevent presenteeism?

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

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

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

Lead by example

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

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

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

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