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.

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Too Hot To Work – Temperatures In The Workplace

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

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

What are the legal requirements about temperatures in the workplace?

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

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

The six basic factors affecting thermal comfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about jobs which involve extreme temperatures in the workplace?

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

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

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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.

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How To Change Your Corporate Culture So Your Profits Increase

Do you think you need to change your corporate culture?  If nothing is wrong, you may not think you need to change.  But just because nothing seems wrong, it doesn’t mean a change is not necessary.

Some time ago I worked with a company of about 300 employees who were spread across a number of different sites.

The Company had grown from a family owned and run small business and had built up a reputation for quality and innovation.  Sadly, to a certain extent, they were still relying on their good name and the culture had slipped in to one where people were just jogging along.  There was no innovation and productivity was getting lower.   Nothing was particularly wrong, but there was a general air of boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.

Additionally, there were petty squabbles among staff and people were quick to raise a grievance.  The rate of sickness absence increased for minor ailments.

Taking Action

The Board of Directors decided to combine the work done at the various sites.  Consequently they would move everybody to one site.  This was intended to decrease the overheads.  Additionally, productivity might be increased by bringing everyone under one roof.  Such was the thinking.

I was brought in to facilitate the site moves. I soon realised that these moves, in themselves, would not solve the productivity problem.  In fact, initially, things were likely to get worse.  Rebuilding teams from people who had worked in separate physical sites was a challenge.  Particularly as each site had its own, slightly different, culture.

Deciding to change your corporate culture

If you think you might need to change your corporate culture, then where do you start?

For us, the first step was for the Board to recognise that a change was needed. They could see that the different site managers had each had a different approach.  This had led to a stricter, slightly stifled regime at one site, whilst a couple of others had become lax and mistakes were creeping in.   The first need was to establish what the desired culture should look like.  Then we had to build a roadmap of how to achieve that, with milestones along the way.

Collaborating with employees

If you want to change your corporate culture, it is really important to talk to the employees.

We wanted to know what worked and what did not (and why).   The organisation was unionised and we worked with the Trade Unions.  But additionally, at each site, we set up a working group of volunteers to plan the site moves.  We sent out a survey, to be completed anonymously.  This was to gauge what worked and what did not.  We also used the Trade Unions to speak to their members and line managers to speak to their teams.

One critical factor was to communicate the plans and proposals.  We also provided some training on managing change.  Where individuals had specific concerns and issues, we held individual consultation meetings.  Along with practical issues about the move, we also communicated our desire to build a new, collaborative, culture.  We asked employees to work with us to outline our future direction.  Their suggestions contributed largely to our plans.

Accepting casualties

We found that not every employee shared our vision of collaboration and engagement.  Some decided that they did not want to move sites; some decided that they did not like the new “feel” to the Company.  We provided training and support, where applicable, to help people to adjust, but we also accepted that some would never settle and agreed to an amicable parting.

There were also a number of people who were content to continue jogging along at their steady pace.  They were doing a good job, but not an excellent one.  They were not disengaged from the Company, but were not actively engaged either.  We approached this by giving every opportunity for them to voice their opinions, give their ideas, get involved.

For many, we accepted that “a good job” was good enough and that these were the backbone of the company. We trained our line managers in spotting signs of disengagement.  We gave them the tools to engage with their teams.

For the minority of high-achievers, who were full of innovation and enthusiasm, we had given a chance to shine.   We subsequently found that the number of these high-achievers increased.

Walking the walk

The first step in this change had been to engage with the top team.  This continued to be an important step and is an ongoing need.  The team at the very top of a company needs to be the example they want to set.  The adage “be the change you want to see” is critical in business.

Whether or not it is a conscious decision, employees will always take their lead from managers. If your employees see you working long hours, they will do so too.  They will assume that is what you want from them.

If you fail to take a break, or if you send emails late at night, then that is also what your employees will do.  If you go into work even when you are obviously sick, then your employees will drag themselves in as well – and pass their germs to all and sundry.

Getting it right leads to other benefits

When we are shopping, we want to buy from responsible producers and suppliers. We want to feel comfortable with their ethos and approach.  In the same way,  employees want to work for companies which have a culture which they can fit into.  If you have a good reputation as an employer, then you will find that recruitment is easier for you.  You will be able to retain good employees.  You will have a lower rate of sickness absence.  It is likely that you will have fewer performance issues.  This will also have a positive effect on your marketing and will appeal to customers.

So you might want to change your corporate culture, even if you don’t think it is bad.

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Strategies To Create A Positive Organisational Culture

As business owners, we all like to think that we have a  positive organisational culture.  Ideally, we want the  people who work for us to be happy and see the organisation as positive and supportive.

If our employees work well together and collaborate with each other, we will see increased profitability and growth.

In previous articles, I have talked about sharing your vision so that everyone is working towards the same goal and can understand their own part in that journey.  Where people are trusted and appreciated, they have the impetus and the freedom to be innovative and creative.

Avoiding blame

Where communications are clear and leadership is strong and collaborative, then the climate is right for people to develop and grow.

So how can a blame culture creep into our organisation?   However much we work on sharing our vision and values and communicating our goals, organisational culture is defined by the people who work for us and their interactions with each other.

It is critical, therefore, that we learn to recognise the signs of a less than positive organisational culture and that we act to change the direction before there is a downward spiral.

Benefits of a positive organisational culture

Harvard Business School professors John Kotter and James Heskett did some research in the 1990s over a 10 year period.  Their findings showed that positive organisational cultures were linked to financial growth (a four fold increase).

A positive culture aids recruitment and retention of employees .  It can have an impact on customer service and it gives public credibility to your business.

Reviewing the situation

You may think your company culture is positive, but it is always helpful to review the situation.  Even if your employees are happy and motivated, you may find underlying trends which are less than positive.  If there is no conflict at all in your business, that could be a warning sign.  This can indicate complacency or a lack of confidence in suggesting a change to the status quo.  If you have a lack of diversity in your workplace,  you might find this will lead to stagnation.

On the other end of the scale, what happens when people cannot work well together?  This can lead to bad decision-making, loss of confidence, financial loss – even public embarrassment (remember the recent Ted Baker scandal?).

Warning signs

Many business problems are down to people issues.  You may be concerned about financial slowdown,  governance and legislative difficulties or other business-related difficulties.  But when you drill down into these, they are often rooted in difficulties with employees.

If you struggle to get new products to market, the fault may not be the organisational processes.  There might be a human aversion to risk which is at the bottom of the problem.  If you are finding it difficult to comply with governance or legislative imperatives, have a second look at your employees.  There is likely to be a problem with decision-making, ownership or understanding.

You may be proud of the fact that you collaborate with your employees, and allow them to collaborate with each other.  But have you given any thought to your consultation processes?  The real problem might be that people are spending hours of their time in large, unwieldy and unproductive meetings.

Alternatively, you may be very clear that you do not have a culture of blame in your organisation.  But have you listened to what people are saying to each other?  There might be implied criticism, even where it is not explicit. This can have a really detrimental impact on the confidence and abilities of the person on the receiving end – especially where there is a difference in position within the company.

Putting it Right

It is a fact that most of the problems in business are “people problems”.   We all have our own ways of doing things, our own unpredictability.  We are complex and we are all different.  This can make it difficult to resolve problems, but where you are able to create a positive organisational culture, you will reap the rewards.

The key to successfully changing your organisational culture is based on the same principles I have been writing about recently.  If you can engage with your employees, you will be well on the way to a positive culture.

As a reminder, those principles are:

Have a strong vision which you share with your employees and they can understand their part in helping to achieve the vision;

Give your employees a voice, so they can be confident in giving opinions and making suggestions in a blame-free culture, where they know they will be heard.

Show appreciation  of your employees and recognise their skills and achievements, so they are encouraged to give their utmost.

Build an environment of trust and integrity as a two-way street so that your employees feel confident in your leadership.

Achieving a positive organisational culture

The dictionary definition of culture is as follows: the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.  In business – your business – culture is based on your values and behaviours.  When those align with your business strategy, then your employees will be engaged and your customers will be happy to buy.

A positive organisational culture allows each person to take responsibility for their own work, their own achievements and successes, their own mistakes.  It allows others to recognise that we all do things differently and the only “right way” to do something is the way that works for the individual and the organisation.  Where people make mistakes (as we all do), there is no blame.

So it is in your hands to create a positive culture within your business and to ensure that it stays that way.   If you can achieve that, then you will find it easier to deal with those business problems and difficulties and you will achieve productivity and growth.

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Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration – Implementing A Positive Employment Culture

In recent articles we have looked at how to implement a positive employment culture in business.  This will help to increase employee loyalty, business growth and profitability.

But who is responsible for introducing employee engagement into an organisation?  And how can trust and engagement be maintained?

Can a strategic HR partner – such as JMA HR – implement employee engagement for you?  The answer to this is that –  whilst we can support, advice and facilitate –  we cannot make it happen.  The change in the organisation’s culture has to come from within –  from the top –  and everyone in the company has a part to play.

Living the dream

It is a bit of a cliché that you need to model the change you want to happen.  You would probably like to have a workforce which is actively engaged in improving your business.  You want them to work towards achieving your business vision and to be an advocate for your organisation.  Your attitudes, behaviours and approach  will all filter down throughout the organisation.  If you are invariably polite, helpful, and friendly to people, then you are a positive role model for your employees.  If you lock yourself in your office and discourage others from interrupting you, then you cannot blame your staff if they do not make an effort to engage with your customers.

In previous articles we have looked at positive ways of interacting with your employees.  If you show trust in people, recognise their efforts, listen to their ideas and concerns and share your vision with them, you are a model for the behaviours and attitudes you want them to demonstrate.

Implementing a positive employment culture

The individuals who have people management responsibilities (including you if you manage others) are key to the successful introduction of a positive employment culture.  Like the senior team, they are role models for the workforce.  But their role is more critical.  They will hear employee views, concerns, ideas – and ensure implementation, or answers.  They are the people in the ideal position to recognise – and highlight – small successes.  You need to provide training and development for line managers, so that they know and understand their role in achieving a high level of engagement.

Other stakeholders

There may be others within your business who have an impact on the levels of employee engagement.

If you recognise Trade Unions and have Union representatives within the organisation, then you need to partner with them. Again, they may need some training or development.  At the very least, you need to consult and collaborate with them on the best ways to achieve success.   Even if you do not recognise Trade Unions, you may have employees who are members of a Union.  Those employees will want advice and support from their Union and if you are aware of such a link, then you may want to inform the relevant Union of your intentions and the (positive) impact you are intending.  In my experience, relationships with Trade Unions work much better where the Union is considered as a partner with the business.  Everyone is (or should be) aiming for the same goal – fulfilled, engaged and happy employees.

The most important player

The lynch pin to all of this effort is, of course, the employee him/herself.  You can implement as many positive practices as possible but if the employee does not engage with you, then you cannot force that to happen.

In my experience (and reinforced by recent research), there are relatively few actively disengaged employees.  These are the ones who are seeking other employment and who are taking every opportunity to give negative views of your business.

It is far more likely that your workforce is largely made up of people who come to work every day, do an “OK” job and are not really terribly interested.  They may take another job elsewhere if the opportunity arises, but they are not actively seeking a change and may stay with you, jogging along, for years.   Think how much your business could grow and thrive if you could catch and maintain the interest of even some of these people.

Where do we start?

The key to a positive employment culture is to actually start engaging with your employees.  It sounds obvious and simple but it is, surprisingly often, the missing ingredient.   You can start by telling your employees what you are trying to achieve and why – and emphasise the benefits for them.  If you collaborate with them on ways and means to achieve their engagement, then it will start to happen.

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Five things an employer can do to improve work-life balance for their employees…

… and five reasons why they should.

There are several things you can be doing to help your employees achieve a healthy balance in their lives:

  1. The first thing you should do is to talk to your employees about how to achieve balance in their workplace and home lives. If you collaborate on a solution then it is more likely to work for everyone.
  2. Try to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Everyone has a different idea of what they consider to be a balance. What is great for one person could be a nightmare for someone else.
  3. Don’t expect your employees to work long hours for no extra reward. If you need people to work longer hours, then employ more people – or at least pay overtime.
  4. Lead by example. If you are in the office for long hours, then your staff will think that is what you expect of them as well.
  5. Don’t just pay lip service – actually be that flexible employer who expects your employees to have a balanced life.

What is the benefit of offering a healthy work-life balance?

  1. You can start to reap the rewards of increased productivity.
  2. You are likely to find your employees have reduced sickness absence.
  3. Your staff turnover may reduce and you will find it easier to recruit when people do leave.
  4. You will have an enhanced reputation as a good employer. Your clients will like that too.
  5. You are likely to find it is easier to cover a longer working day. Some people like to work early and others to work late. So you can be there more for your clients.

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Good People Managers – Top Tips from JMA HR

Setting a good example

When you are a people manager, others will take their lead from you and follow your example – so make sure you set a good one!   They will copy all your bad habits and characteristics as well as the good ones.  If you stay working until all hours, that is what they will think you expect of them as well.  If you come into work, even when you are feeling lousy, then they will think that is what they need to do as well.

So be enthusiastic about your goals and vision and bring your team along with you.

Show you care

One of the best people managers I have ever known made the effort to visit each member of her team (sometimes virtually, by email or text) and check in with them each day.  That simple gesture – sometimes nothing more than “Good Morning, how are you today?”- endeared her to her team and gave them a chance to raise with her anything which might be bothering them.  It showed she cared about them.

Don’t give out blame or shame

Even when there are disasters – and there always are some – there is always something positive to latch onto.  That is much more healthy than pointing a finger.  Find out what happened and why – that way you can prevent a recurrence. Even if you feel blame is justified, it is rarely helpful to point it out.  How you react can make your team love you or can damage your working relationships for ever – it is your choice.

Be Transparent

Share as much as you can about the vision, goals and direction of the company.  And do it regularly.  Celebrate when things go well and thank people.  Share the bad news, as well.  Your team deserves to know how things stand, and if they feel trusted they will put in the effort to help you recover.

Listen and learn

Communication is a two way street and you need to be able to listen to your team and hear their concerns, frustrations and share their achievements.  People need to feel they can raise anything with you, without fear.  If they can’t talk to you, they will gossip with others and the truth will get garbled.  Communicating in person with them will help them feel valued.  Ask them what they want – they might surprise you.

Invest some time in helping your employees to grow

Invest some time and effort in helping your employees to grow.  You will reap the benefits and they will thank you for it.

Help them to get promoted.   They will stay longer and the Company will benefit.

Set them free and they will fly high

There is no need to micromanage everything and everyone.  When you empower others, give them space and allow them autonomy, then they will surprise you with their achievements. If you are not flexible, they will not trust you and they will become demotivated.

If you let them know they are valued and you trust them, they will soon be reaching for the stars.

Be good at what you do, but even more be a good people manager

People are often promoted to management positions because they have good technical skills.  Which is great.  Your team will be able to use your skills as a point of reference.

But even more important are the “soft” skills which enable you to be a good people manager.  These are the skills which you may not already have when you become a manager.  The good news is that they can be learnt.

The key message for now is that you need to learn them, fast.

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Work-Life Balance – What Is It And How Do We Find It?

We all strive for greater work-life balance.  Employers even use  “good work-life balance” as an incentive in their recruitment advertising.    But what does it mean?  And how do we achieve it?

What is a balanced approach?

The difficulty is that the phrase “work-life balance” means different things to different people.  To many, it means that they want the flexibility to take their children to school before starting work.  Or they want to leave early to collect them.  Many are willing to “make up the hours” in the evening, once the kids have gone to bed.

For others, it means only working for four days in the week.  Some take this to the extent of working “compressed hours”, where five days’ worth of work are squashed into four days.  Sadly this often means that 10 hour days or more are worked for each of those four days.  This can mean a longer weekend – but how much balance is there  during the four long working days?

Others again want the flexibility to work from any location they choose. This takes out travel time and, ostensibly, leaves more time for home and leisure activities, to balance against work time.  In reality, though, most homeworkers are hard at work for much longer hours than their work-based colleagues.  So the balance may be lost.

Balancing the cost

If balance can be achieved by reducing working hours – then who should pay for it?  When people are less stressed, healthier, happier and more refreshed, they are likely to have a raised level of productivity.  This makes a good case for employers to continue to pay their employees for a full week, even when they have reduced their hours.  If we are still getting the same work for less hours, then why wouldn’t we be prepared to pay the same for it?

Of course, the difficulty is that many employers need to provide their service for full working hours, or even 24/7.  In those cases, they would need to employ extra people to cover the hours. So any benefit the employer may get from improved productivity and better quality work will be negated by the cost of additional staff.

So would people be prepared to take a reduction in their take-home pay, if this meant that they worked fewer hours and had more time with their families?  It is not that easy.  Many people live on a knife-edge where their salary is only just enough to pay for all of their expenses.  More leisure time is likely to equate to larger expenses and so a pay cut is often not really practicable.

A reduction in working hours does not necessarily bring balance

A large proportion of the workforce is already working part-time.  Others are balancing caring duties with work.  Many work in the gig economy and so are employed on an ad-hoc basis.  Others work for themselves, or as contractors.

Technology doesn’t help.  It is too easy to be “always available” to answer that one email, or take that one call from the other side of the world.  Even when we are on holiday, many of us find it impossible to leave work behind and so take our laptops and smart phones with us.

If reduced hours don’t work, how can an employer help?

There are several things you can be doing to help your employees achieve a healthy work-life balance:

  1. The first action you can take is to talk to your employees about how to achieve work-life balance. If you collaborate on a solution then it is more likely to work for everyone.
  2. You should try to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Everyone has a different idea of what they consider to be a balance. What is great for one person could be a nightmare for someone else.
  3. Don’t expect your employees to work long hours for no extra reward. It is fairly normal for people to work unpaid overtime – especially if they have reached supervisory positions.  Many employers don’t expect this, but most of them accept it and do not take steps to discourage it.  If you need people to work longer hours, then employ more people – or at least pay overtime.
  4. Lead by example. If you are in the office for long hours, then your staff will think that is what you expect of them as well.
  5. Don’t just pay lip service – actually be that flexible employer who expects your employees to have a balanced life.
  6. You can start to reap the rewards of increased productivity, reduced sickness, reduced turnover and happier staff.

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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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