Climate Strike Strategies – 20 September 2019

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

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

What is a climate strike?

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

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

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

What action can an employer take?

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

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

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

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

Unintended Consequences

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

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

Alternatives to Climate Strike

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

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

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

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

Starting a dialogue about climate change

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

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

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

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

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit.  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

4 Secrets to Stop Your Employees Leaving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what should the employer be doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Personal Financial Wellbeing – How Can You Support It?

Do you know about the personal financial wellbeing of your employees?

Earlier this year, I wrote a guest blog post for Nikki Ramskill, the Female Money Doctor.  Nikki is a medical doctor and she sees first-hand the effect that financial worry has on people’s health.  In my article I said that “A caring employer who wants to benefit from a healthy, happy and productive workforce should be thinking about how to provide financial advice.”

I am returning to this subject as it is dear to my heart and there has recently been a study by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) into employee financial wellbeing guidance in organisations.

This study looks into what employers can do to support the personal financial wellbeing of their employees and why they might want to.

Horror Stories

There have been recent headlines  about people who are holding down jobs but are homeless.  And there have been other stories about people who are in full time work, but below the poverty line.

Of course, these are the extremes, but many people are in debt and are unable to save.  They are struggling to pay mortgages or rent and to feed and clothe their families.  Other studies over the years have come up with statistics such as: 40 per cent of adults say they are not in control of their finances; only 28 per cent of people have a savings buffer equal to three months’ income and a third of employees state financial worries are their biggest concern.

All of this will inevitably have a negative impact on the health of your employees.  It will give them higher stress and anxiety levels and affect their ability to sleep, their concentration levels and their absence due to sickness.  If they are suffering, then your business is also suffering.  They will not be performing well.  Their decision making will be affected.  They will have a reduced ability to concentrate.

You may be paying well and providing other benefits on top, but are you aware of the financial health of your employees?  If not, then you may be missing out on a good way to improve productivity, employee engagement and your employer reputation.  There are many low cost or even cost-free ways to help your employees to enhance their personal financial wellbeing.  And if you help them, then you are helping yourself too.

How can I help?

You could start by setting up an employee financial wellbeing strategy.  This does not have to be difficult.  It would be a good start to look at all the help you already provide and put it all into an easily accessible package.  You probably provide help already, but not in a clear format.

You can also signpost employees to help which is available for them – usually at no cost.  There are all kinds of support mechanisms, debt counselling, financial guidance, pension advice, savings schemes, etc which is available if employees know where to look.

Sometimes all that is needed is some financial education.  People are frightened of managing their finances because they feel they don’t have the skills or knowledge.

But I don’t want to invade their privacy

In these days of enhanced data protection, identity theft, invasion of privacy, employers are nervous of enquiring into the personal finances of their employees. But you don’t need to know specific details, unless the employee wants to share it with you.  Additionally, you might assume that your employees have adequate knowledge to make decisions about their finances – especially if you already provide advice on things like pensions and flexible benefits. But the IES study found that that many employees would positively welcome some engagement from their employer to help them to resolve any difficulties they may be facing.

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

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.

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

Facing the Mental Health Demons in the Workplace

Approximately 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health problem each year.  Yet we are still reluctant to talk about it.  We find it easier to discuss a physical problem than to tell our employer about a mental health issue such as depression, stress or anxiety.  It was reported in the press last year that one in three Fit Notes  issued in the UK are related to mental health.  Even more significantly,  of those signed off for these reasons, one in five remain off sick for at least three months.

On that basis, this is a major concern in the workplace and employers need to manage this as part of the overall wellbeing of their workforce.

Cause for concern

The problems which poor mental health can cause in the workplace are wide and can be costly.  Clearly, the first concern is someone’s absence – but this is far from the only worrying factor.  There will be those who are afraid to take time off for some reason.  Either they don’t want to tell anyone of their health problems or they need the money. Maybe they feel under pressure to perform or they don’t want to “let their colleagues down”.  So they may come to work when they are not fit to be there, which brings its own problems.

Poor mental health impacts on their performance, their attitude, their interactions with colleagues and clients.  It also affects the quality of their work and their productivity.  This can lead to further actions such as disciplinary or performance discussions, lay-offs – all of which are likely to worsen the situation.   Then there is the impact on others around them.  Colleagues may feel they overloaded due to someone’s absence or poor performance.  Customers may be getting poor service and support.

Poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, so it would be sensible for employers to consider prevention.

What can we do?

Any organisation can – and should – create a Mental Health plan and then follow it and communicate it to all employees.  Here are some suggestions to help you to create good mental health within the workplace and to combat mental health issues at work:

Promoting Good Mental Health

  • Create an open atmosphere where people feel they can talk about such issues. You can do this by making employees aware of what help is available and where they can access it. Facilitate open discussions amongst employees.
  • Ensure you offer enough breaks from work and make sure people take them. When we get engrossed in a piece of work, it is easy to skip lunch, or work late, but this can be counter-productive and lead to other problems.  Make sure people take regular breaks from work and have a change of scene.  Try and encourage a good work-life balance – and LEAD BY EXAMPLE.  If people see you working all hours and not taking breaks, they will follow your lead as they will think that is what you expect of them as well.
  • Try and give people interesting, varied work which they can excel at. This will increase their sense of worth and happiness at work.
  • Praising people when they do well, exciting them about challenges and opportunities, recognising them when they do well. All of these will help to prevent mental health problems from occurring in the first place. 

Combatting Mental Health Issues

  • If you manage people, or have line managers who support teams, then train the managers to recognise mental health problems and in how to manage such conversations.
  • It might also be worth training one or two employees as mental health mentors, so that people feel they can go to these people if they have any issues but can’t approach you or their manager.
  • The Mental Health Foundation provides a series of guides about dealing with mental health problems. You  can download these at no cost, or you could order some paper copies to keep in the workplace for anyone who needs them.
  • If someone does disclose that they have a mental health problem, it could be made worse by other things – money worries, fear of losing job, fear of taking time off, fear of talking about it. Investigate gently with the individual  – there might be something you can do to help with those concerns.
  • Offer access to a counselling service or at least a helpline.
  • Many Mental Health charities can provide support to you and your employees. Investigate the options which work for you and your company and provide details to your employees.  Provide a list of those charities to any employee who discloses they have a mental health issue.  There is a huge amount of help available for those who need it.

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

 

 

Counting The Pennies

This is a guest-blog written for The Female Money Doctor, Dr Nikki Ramskill.  To read more, please go to http://thefemalemoneydoctor.com/blog

Are you giving your employees financial advice and support?

Your financial responsibility towards the people working for you shouldn’t stop with their pay cheque.

When people are struggling financially, they always hope for more income.  They try to find an extra job.  They volunteer for  some overtime, or hope to get a pay rise.  This is all so that they can pay their bills and feed their families.  Many people have more than one job or work overtime, so they can bring in a bit more money.  As an employer, you are already helping them by paying for their services.  But is there more you can and should be doing?

 

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

Quick Wins To Manage “The Odd Day Off Sick”

Imagine you have a group of employees who are grumbling amongst themselves about their colleague who is off sick – again!  Or at least, they think she is sick as she didn’t turn up to work this morning .  All they can see is that nobody appears to be doing anything about her repeated absences and she “gets away with it” and they have to carry the extra work while she is off.  They are spending more time at the water cooler, moaning about their colleague than they are spending on their own jobs.

Sometimes absence may be genuine sickness, sometimes you may have doubts.  So how can you tell whether or not it is genuine and what can you do about it?

The quick answer is that you cannot tell the difference, particularly if there is a mental health issue, which is not always obvious to anybody other than the sufferer.   The best advice is to treat all sickness as genuine and assume that there is a real health issue (even if you are convinced that the person is “trying it on”).

So what should you do?

  • Firstly, somebody’s absence is their own business and your business. It is not something to be shared by you with their colleagues. So you should not tell their colleagues why an individual is absent or what action you are taking.  However, you might find it useful to tell the team that their colleague will not be in work today and that you know about it and are speaking to the individual about it. That gives the message that a) the absence has been noticed and b) it is being dealt with.
  • Always have an informal interview with the absent employee when they return to work. This can give you more information (whether there is a problem at home; whether they are unhappy at work for some reason, whether there is a physical problem – like an allergy to something  in their workplace).  Or you might find out that they were not sick at all, but the absence was for another reason.  In any case, you can guide the employee on what they should do (remind them about calling in sick by a certain time, or remind them about their options if they need emergency time off).  You may find out that the employee has a recurring health problem and you can then decide what, if any, adjustments you may need to make to their working patterns, hours or the actual work they do.  This informal interview gives a strong message to the individual that their absence has been noticed.  If it is genuine sickness, they may be glad of your interest in their welfare.  If it is not genuine sickness, then the fact it has been noticed may prevent them in future from taking time off again without good cause.
  • Keep an attendance record for every employee. Record any absence with the reason for that absence.  This will help you to analyse any patterns (it is always a Monday, or it is always when a specific piece of work is due or it is always when a particular person is working with the absent individual).  In itself, this can highlight areas you need to manage (staff who don’t get on with each other, or a misfit of skills and experience or lack of training).
  • Have a clear and published policy on absence, so that everyone in the workplace can understand the rules and guidance and what are the consequences if they fail to adhere.

If you have found  this article useful  and would like more advice on dealing with this or any other people-related issue in your business, please consider joining our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.