How Workplace Gratitude Can Inspire Productivity

Workplace gratitude is not a phrase which comes readily to mind.

Most of us are taught as children to be grateful for gifts and to thank people for kindness.  This carries over to adult life and many have a daily habit of gratitude.  Some keep journals of things for which to be grateful. Speaking from personal experience, this can have a profound effect on life and mental wellbeing.

But this does not often spill over into the workplace.  In many organisations it may not feel appropriate or comfortable to show gratitude.  Employers may be missing out, though, if they don’t encourage a culture of workplace gratitude.

Why should employers encourage workplace gratitude?

Gratitude in daily life can raise energy and positivity.  It makes us feel good – and makes the recipient feel good too.  In the same way, gratitude at work can raise productivity; help employee engagement and lead to a positive organisational culture.

In turn, these changes lead to better teamwork, higher productivity, staff retention.  Employers can see an increase in employee resilience.  This can lead to less sickness absence, more innovation, better performance.

Workplace gratitude is definitely a worthwhile investment.

Why don’t we encourage workplace gratitude?

It is, perhaps, understandable that many managers find it difficult to give negative feedback to employees.  But why is it so hard for us to say “thank you” at work?

Some managers cannot see why someone should be thanked just because they do their job.  But what I am suggesting is that we thank people for specific things they do, rather than just general thanks for doing the job.

There may also be concerns that someone will expect more than just a thank you.  If we thank them for doing something well, will they expect a pay rise or a bonus?   That is another reason to build a culture where gratitude is an everyday occurrence.

Another fear is that gratitude is somehow “soft” or “cheesy”.  The emphasis is on being genuine and authentic.  Don’t say “thank you” unless you really feel gratitude.  But when you think about the effort involved – or the time saved, or other benefit – then it is easy to feel gratitude.

How to build a culture of gratitude in the workplace

It starts at the very top.  If the business owner and leaders take the time to notice the small things which ease the day and contribute to success, then it encourages everyone else to do the same thing. You might feel uncomfortable thanking someone for making sure the printer was stocked with paper but if you thank people regularly, it will become second nature.

The more specific you can be with your thanks, the better.  If you thank people in general terms for their work or their contribution, then it ceases to mean much.  They will think it is just so much “management speak”.  They may not see the real gratitude behind your words.

In the same vein of keeping it authentic, it is better to thank people at the appropriate time, rather than waiting to thank them in a team meeting every month.  And remember, some people don’t like to be thanked in public and may prefer an email or a quiet personal word of thanks.

Your thanks will be more authentic if you can show awareness of the small things, as well as major achievements,.  Of course it is good to celebrate big successes – a major sale or bringing a new product to market.  But it is critical to also thank the employee who took on extra work to cover for a sick colleague, or the person who worked so hard to turn around a complaint from a customer.

Encourage your employees to show gratitude

Encourage your employees to give back to charity initiatives, or to show social responsibility by contributing their skills or time to help others. You can lead the way with an organisational social responsibility agenda, or preferred charities which your company supports.

If you are trying to build a shift in your culture, then consulting with your employees is a good way to start.  Talk to them about gratitude and how it can be shown – and received.  They will have their own ideas and they will be able to tell you what works for them, and what doesn’t work.

Train your managers and employees to thank each other when things go right and to avoid blame when things are not so good.  Look on mistakes as learning opportunities.

But don’t force it.  If it is not authentic, then it will feel unnatural and people will be very uncomfortable. We all crave genuine gratitude when we have achieved something or had a success.  But that can very soon go sour if there is a lack of authenticity.

Random Acts of Kindness in the workplace

There is a movement afoot in the world to encourage people to carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward. This encompasses things like paying for a coffee for a stranger, or letting a vehicle merge into traffic from a side street.

As with other forms of gratitude, carrying out a random act of kindness  leads to more  empathy and compassion.  It  can help us to  connect with others and it brings a higher level of energy.

One way to increase workplace gratitude is to encourage random acts of kindness within the workplace.  Some suggestions:

  • Be on time – or let people know if you cannot avoid being late
  • Start and end meetings on time
  • Ask questions and really listen to the answers
  • Say thank you and mean it
  • Make time to chat with someone who needs it
  • Pay for someone behind you in the cafeteria, or buy for a colleague
  • Give someone a compliment
  • Give up a good parking spot
  • Smile
  • Leave change in the vending machine
  • Hold the door open for someone
  • Listen to someone else’s point of view without jumping in or judging them
  • Solve someone’s problem
  • Do something for someone without being asked
  • Make a recommendation about someone
  • Give good feedback on someone to their boss
  • Do a charity drive (for example, collect postage stamps for your favourite charity)
  • Clean up the mess in the kitchen (even if you didn’t make it)
  • Ask someone how they are and really be interested in their answer – show you will listen if they are not OK
  • Let go of a grudge
  • Admit your mistakes
  • Be friendly
  • Respect others

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

7 Steps To Build Trust In The Workplace

What does trust in the workplace look like?

It might be better to ask what trust feels like.  Trust is really an emotional response in the workplace, as it is anywhere.  Employees need to know that their managers are on their side and that they will be treated like adults, not children.   This means that you should avoid micro-managing.  If you oversee people with a light touch and trust their judgement, then they will prove trustworthy.

If your employees trust you, they will have confidence in your decisions.  They believe that you will do what you say you will do and so they feel “safe” with you. If your words and actions do not match, then that trust will be lost.

Once trust has been lost, it can be very difficult to recover.  It is much better to build trust from the very beginning of your interaction with every employee. You need to earn the trust of people by delivering on what you say and keeping promises.

Behaviours to build trust in the workplace

  1. Gratitude: Find something to thank people for and give them praise when it is due. We all like to receive unsolicited, unplanned praise and thanks.   It feels good if our actions are noticed and appreciated.   But it has to be genuine.  Give credit when you see good work and you will start to build an appreciative culture in your company.
  2. Compassion: Show your employees that you care about them and what they are doing and feeling. This can be demonstrated by listening to what they say and taking action where appropriate.  Want the best for your employees. Value them as people more than you value them as “resources”.  Be kind and say “yes” whenever possible.  If you have to say “no”, then explain why.  Be approachable and friendly.  We trust people we like.
  3. Communication: Give others a chance to talk, to ask questions, get answers and voice concerns. Get to know them – and smile! Share information as much as possible – especially when it is necessary to the individual. Think about your body language and non-verbal communication and whether that is supporting what you are saying.

What other behaviours build trust?

  1. Avoiding Blame. Show support for your team members, even when they have made a mistake.  Respond constructively to problems and help to find solutions. Keep your perspective and don’t over-react.  Take responsibility for failures – even when they are avoidable.  They are your responsibility because you are the boss and you must protect your employees.   You might find it helpful to give your employees the benefit of the doubt. On the other side of the coin – admit when the company makes mistakes, or when you personally make a mistake. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities for you and your employees.
  2. Competence: Be good at what you do and be passionate about your work.  This doesn’t mean you have to know everything – it is OK for your team to know more than you.  If you do not know something, then admit it and say you will find out the answer.  Then make sure you feedback your findings. Model the behaviour you want to see and make sure your managers do the same. Competence is important and you also need to invest in your employees’ development to improve their competence
  3. Credibility: Be transparent with your team and don’t try to hide things. Try to explain your thought processes. Be honest with them and ask for their feedback. It is critical to keep your word and follow up on promises.  When you (and your managers) acknowledge your mistakes as well as successes, employees see you as credible and will follow your lead. Be comfortable owning mistakes. Consistency is also important, so don’t keep changing the goalposts. Consistently doing what you say you’ll do builds trust over time – it can’t be something you do only occasionally.
  4. Respect : Respect everyone and treat your employees like adults. Try to avoid bias and beware that sometimes bias is unconscious. You should try to remember that everyone else is just as important as you are. Always be respectful of other peoples’ ideas and perspectives and give people the benefit of the doubt.

Things you can do to build trust in the workplace

You need to be aware of how your managers and supervisors behave.  It will help to build trust in the workplace if all of your supervisors are capable of forming positive relationships with people who report to them. The relationship between employees and managers is key to having trust in the workplace.  When that relationship goes sour, then it permeates throughout the team.  Choosing your managers and supervisors is key .

So-called “soft” skills are critical in the workplace.  This includes skills to build relationships with people. This is not just for supervisory posts, but for everyone.  These skills can be learnt and so it is wise to invest in developing people in these skills.

It is important to provide as much information to employees as possible.  If there is a hint of some changes or anything which affects the workplace, then people will gossip and speculate. It is counter-productive for rumours to run through the organisation and so be as honest as possible and make sure you keep communicating. It is difficult to over-communicate.

Managing people issues helps to build trust

Your actions can build trust in the workplace just as much as your words do.  It is important to deal with difficult employment issues firmly, quickly and fairly.  People will be watching what you do.  If you allow someone to “get away with” poor attendance or behaviour, then the trust of other employees will start to evaporate.

At the same time it is really important to protect the interests and the confidentiality of all employees, even those who are causing some difficulty. You must not talk about absent employees and you must not allow others to talk about them.  Opinions about employees and their actions should only be shared with the individual him or herself.

I have already said that if you trust people they will prove trustworthy.   If you believe that all of your employees are capable and willing to do their work to the best of their ability, then they will put in their best efforts to prove that you are correct.  When you treat them like approachable adults, they are less likely to behave like sulky children.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on building trust in your workplace – 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.

 

Why Your Business Vision Must Include Your Employees

Let me tell you about someone who runs a successful garden centre. The business is doing reasonably well and employs 20 or so people.  But the owner is frustrated.   His business vision was to design gardens for people and then sell them the plants and equipment to maintain the designs.  He knows he can expand his business hugely, doing what he loves best.

His advertising all includes the garden design offering and he talks to customers about it if he gets the chance – but he doesn’t often get involved in the customer-facing end of the business.  He spends his time producing wonderful designs for gardens which are only in his imagination.

His problem is that he hasn’t told his employees of his vision.  They all know they work for a garden centre and they work quite hard at selling the plants and suggesting suitable tools for customers.  But they are unaware of the garden design option.

One day the owner happens to be chatting to a neighbour of his who runs a motor mechanic business.  The friend is praising the staff at the garden centre, but then says that he wants the derelict area at the back of his garage made-over to provide a garden as a benefit for his staff and customers.  Crucially, he comments that he has mentioned it a few times to the staff in the garden centre, but nobody knew of anyone who did garden design.   One had mentioned a garden designer who they had seen advertising on the internet, but they were based a distance away and the motor mechanic had hoped for someone closer.  But he was going to check out this option as he did not have any other ideas.

Sharing Your Business Vision

The obvious point of this story is that if the garden centre owner had shared his vision with his employees, then they could have directed queries about garden design to the owner.  So he might have been able to move closer to his business vision more quickly.

But there are other reasons for sharing your vision with your employees.  And the way you share it is important too.  Many organisations have their business vision written as a statement and displayed for all to see.  But even if employees know what the vision is, that does not mean they automatically buy into it.

My business is too small to bother about this

Even a business with only one employee (the owner) has a vision of why they exist and what is the purpose they are aiming to fulfil.  In fact, smaller businesses often have a much more clear idea of their vision.

If a business employs someone else as well as the owner, even just one employee, then it is important to share your business vision with that employee.   That person is critical to your success and expansion.  They need to understand that they have an important job, and why it is important.

You need to have a clear vision for your organisation.  You need to understand what it is that you are aiming to achieve and you need to be able to communicate that to your staff.  At this point, you may be thinking “but I just want to make and sell widgets”.   You need to think about what your customers want and how they want it.

Do they want fine quality, high-end widgets for which they will be happy to pay a premium?    You can then have a vision along the lines of “XYZ Company makes the best widgets in the county.  We make our widgets sustainably and sell them to people who want to buy premium widgets.”

Or do your customers want large number of cheap widgets, which are quickly available? In that case your vision can be “XYZ makes thousands of low cost widgets and we keep our customers happy by delivering them the next day”.

You could use either of these as your business vision but you would need to show your employees where they fit into that vision.

Why share my business vision?

  • If your employees know what is your business vision, they will work towards it.
  • As a result of your employee understanding how their own job fits into your business vision, they will feel more job satisfaction and a sense of belonging in the company.
  • When your employee understands how they are working towards the business vision, they will feel more loyalty to the company, more pride in your achievements and will contribute more in terms of ideas, solutions, suggestions.
  • Your employee will feel trusted and valued if they know they are part of your vision. This will help them to trust you as well.
  • If an employee feels trusted and valued and can see the importance of their job, they are less likely to leave to work elsewhere. They are less likely to go off sick. Their loyalty to you and your business will increase.
  • All of these benefits will contribute to growth and profit for your business.

How can I share my business vision?

This is about more than putting up a notice proclaiming what the business vision is.  Many companies do this and there is nothing wrong with it.  But you need to do more.  The danger is the belief that a notice stating the vision is enough to embed that vision in people’s minds.

In my garden centre story above, the owner had included his vision in his advertising, but the employees and customers were still unaware of that vision.  When we read something often enough, it ceases to sink in and have any meaning. The vision statement of a large corporate company where I worked was written in large letters in the reception area.  I walked past it several times a day for six years and I cannot tell you what that vision statement said or what the vision was for that organisation.  Certainly nobody ever talked to me about how my job contributed to that vision.

And that is the key.  Line managers need to speak to individual employees on a regular basis and outline what is the company’s vision and how that individual contributes to it.  Just telling people once is not enough.  It needs to be reinforced regularly.

Team meetings, company newsletters, appraisals, inductions for new staff, any company communications – these are all opportunities to reinforce the company vision.

Tying it all up

Every business, whatever the size, needs a clear business vision to aim towards.  But just because you know your business vision, it does not mean that it is clear to everyone else.  And even if it is clear, that does not mean that your employees are all working towards it.

You need to communicate the purpose of your business to everyone – customers, suppliers, potential clients (advertising) – and, most importantly, your employees.

Your employees need to understand where their job fits into the achievement of this vision.  They need to believe they are an important cog in the wheel.  And this message needs to be reinforced and repeated at every opportunity.

Get this right and it will build trust and loyalty, which are an invaluable asset and will contribute hugely to your business growth and profit.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  to help you understand your business vision and communicate it to your employees – 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.

How Listening To Your Employees Can Transform Your Business

Listening to your employees is essential if you want to grow your business and be profitable. You need to carry your employees along that journey with you.

They are the face of your business, as well as the engine room,  and their actions on your behalf are key to your business success.  Critically, you must listen to their ideas, hear their concerns and ensure they have the means to voice their ideas and suggestions.

And there is little cost for a huge business advantage.

I am Jill Aburrow and I have been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades.

The purpose of this article is to explain “employee voice” and why you should care about listening to your employees.  I will share some of the mechanisms you can use and some of the barriers you may come up against.

Most of all, I hope to inspire you with some of the benefits if you get it right.

What is “employee voice”?

We all spend a great deal of time at work.  How tragic it is that some people are very unhappy at work and just live for the working day to end, or the weekend to start.

The reasons why people are unhappy at work are many and varied.  But if you can give your employees a chance to be heard, then that will be a big start to improving things.  We all need to feel that our opinion matters.

There is a great deal of discussion in management circles and the HR world about “employee voice”.  But this is not just about giving employees the chance to have their say.  It is also about the channels of communication.  Additionally, it is about the arrangements the employer makes for employees to be consulted.  It is about employees being involved in decision-making.   And it is a way of ensuring that your workers can influence things which affect them at work.

So it is not just about hearing your employees.  It is also important for you to consider what they say and act on it.

Why should employers care?

Your employees are the best placed to tell you what works and what does not work in their individual part of the business. If you can gather that information and make productive use of it, then you will improve decision making and innovation in your business.

From an employee perspective, they will feel more motivated and get more enjoyment from their work.  You will benefit from their creativity and increased commitment.  You are likely to see higher productivity and reduced absences and turnover.

What are the benefits of listening to your employees?

Your employees are also in a good position to warn you about any potential problem areas or difficulties.   This might be for them personally, or in the wider team arena.  You can then adjust the working arrangements accordingly. Or you might need to provide training, or move people around to make the best use of their skills.

If you create opportunities for employees to be heard at work, then you are treating them as valued stakeholders in your business.  They will feel able to influence their working conditions and this will help to build trust between employer and staff.

Where the working relationship is good, your employees will feel able to share suggestions for improvements in the organisation.  For this to happen, they need to trust that you will listen to their suggestions and that they will not be blamed if things go wrong.

Mechanisms for listening to your employees

The obvious way for you to be able to listen to your employees is to arrange regular one-to-one meetings with their line manager.  Of course, you need to ensure your managers (including you!) are equipped to listen properly.  They must have the communication skills to hear, deal with and respond appropriately to anything raised.

Some other potential channels for employee voice to be heard are:

  • Team meetings;
  • Trade unions (where they are recognised within the workplace);
  • Staff forums;
  • Suggestion schemes;
  • Attitude surveys;
  • Workplace social media.

It is unlikely that you would use only one of these mechanisms, but you can use a variety which suits your business.

If you have 50 or more employees in your organisation, then the Information and Consultation of Employee Regulations (ICE Regs) apply.  This means your employees have the right to request that you make arrangements to inform and consult with them about workplace issues. If you need support and advice on this, then please don’t hesitate to contact us.

What can go wrong?

If your employees do not feel they can raise issues, concerns and suggestions at work, then it is very likely that they will become disengaged.  The symptoms of this are likely to be an increased absence rate, higher staff turnover, clock-watching.  Their performance may get worse and they may have difficulty in relationships with managers and colleagues alike.

Additionally, employees may use other channels to express their feelings about work.  They may complain about work through external social networking channels.  They are likely to complain to friends and family.  This will not be good for your employer reputation and may have a negative impact on things like recruitment and marketing.  You may find your clients become less satisfied.

Barriers to effective “employee voice”

Sadly, it is not uncommon for employers to find that their employees fail to speak up about concerns or suggestions.   Even where people feel their suggestions could make a positive difference to their work or workplace, they are often reluctant to raise things.

This can be caused by a lack of trust between managers and employees.  There can be a perception that people may be blamed, or even punished, for speaking out.   Even if this is not the case, it can cause people to remain silent, which can lead to major organisational failure.  When the emissions scandal  hit Volkswagen in 2015, one of the factors was shown to be that people felt fearful of speaking out.

Employees may stay silent because they are frightened of being viewed negatively or of damaging working relationships.   In order to combat this, you need to make sure that people feel safe to raise issues or suggestions.  They also need to feel safe to raise a complaint.  This can only happen where there is trust between employees and employer. It is not good enough to say that there will be no blame.  You must demonstrate that this is true.

People may also think it is not worth raising suggestions because “nobody listens”.  This is why it is critical to respond to all suggestions.  This does not mean you have to agree to every suggestion.  But you need to give reasons why you are not going to take up the suggestion.

The changing work environment

The way we work is constantly changing and this brings new challenges with listening to your employees.

The rise of remote working, variable working hours, alternative work arrangements all have an impact on when and how you can ensure you hear your employees. Changing technology can also have an impact.  It is important that you consider this when you are agreeing to changes or recruiting for new jobs.

Another challenge is the increased diversity in the workplace.  There is a need to consider how you communicate with everyone.  Some may have mental or physical challenges.  Others may be affected by cultural differences.  All of these things must be considered to ensure that you consider all needs when you identify mechanisms for your employees to give their views over their work conditions.

Getting it right 

Listening to your employees can bring positive outcomes for your business and for the individuals who work there.

Being able to participate in decision making is important for employees – both for their wellbeing and their motivation.  It can be the means of improving their working environment and conditions. It can give them a sense of control over their own work.  And it can help them to use their knowledge and develop their skills.

If you listen to your employees and engage with them, you are  likely to benefit from their improved job satisfaction.  You will see higher productivity and innovation.  Your absenteeism levels will reduce and staff turnover will improve.  You are likely to see reduced workplace conflict.

If you get it right, your employees will be involved in decision-making and managing change as you will have effective communication and consultation in the workplace. Your managers will be skilled in listening to people. They will seek the views of employees and make sure their responses are appropriate and timely.

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.

The Truth About Employees Who Clash With Colleagues

An employer recently told me that he had difficulty in recruiting people who got on with their colleagues.  He thought it was a recruitment problem and the type of people who applied for the fairly basic, menial jobs he had on offer.  The work is boring and so some of the people doing it seem to be unpleasant to others around them.

Then there is either a complaint from someone, or a disciplinary issue.  Or someone leaves work.

But there are things which we can do as employers to improve this type of situation.  And it is worth making the effort.  A happy workforce equals improved loyalty.  That, in turn, brings increased productivity, growth and profit.

What can an employer do about employees who clash with colleagues?

There will always be people who have an “attitude” problem, or who are just plain nasty.  But there is usually a reason for that and most people want to get on with their colleagues.

Firstly, you need to get to know all your employees, especially those employees who clash with colleagues and don’t fit in well.  Have regular conversations with them and build a relationship.  There could be a whole variety of things they are unhappy about – and they may not be keen to talk about some of them.

If you appear to be a remote figure in authority, then you will probably never find out about the problems.  If you are approachable and have a regular chat, then your employees will be able to raise issues with you.

So what can you do, if you have a “difficult” employee who doesn’t make any effort to get on with their colleagues?

Stepping in when people don’t get on with each other

When there is a specific issue which has blown up, then it is helpful to speak to both parties and find out their view and position on the subject.  Don’t be afraid to ask them what they think the solution to the issue might be.  You can then give realistic advice about whether or not their desired outcome is achievable.  If they want something which you cannot provide, then you need to be honest.  But there may be a simple solution which would help everyone to settle down.

You may want to use mediation, which can be really helpful in these situations.  This involves a third party overseeing a discussion between the two parties to try to resolve the issue.  If you think this may be a useful way ahead, then see my article last year about mediation.

Getting it right

There are some key factors which you need to have in place to ensure that employees can work effectively together.

  • Set up a buddy system, so that one of your employees “buddies up” with a new employee. The new employee has someone to ask about things and this will help them to feel less strange.
  • People at work do not have to like each other – they may have nothing in common other than the work. But you need to make it clear that they are expected to behave professionally towards colleagues, clients and anyone else they may meet in the course of their work.
  • We all need to feel we have been treated fairly and with transparency. This builds trust in any relationship and will help an employee to feel valued. So make sure you are treating people equally.
  • There will always be times when people disagree about something. They need to know that their point of view has been considered.  You need to ensure they have an explanation and understanding of why their preferred action has not been taken.
  • If there has been a disagreement and upset at work, then the individuals involved need time to recover. You should not try to micro-manage them or even just keep checking that everything is fine, then they will feel that they are being watched.
  • If the work is boring, then try to introduce some variety into the working day – change teams around. Make sure there are regular breaks. Make sure you thank people for doing work well – and mean it!  Don’t just pay lip service.
  • If possible, try and provide an area where people can get away from colleagues for a few minutes. We all need to cool down and let off steam sometimes and it is good to be able to do that away from prying eyes.

Back to basics

In a recent article, I touched on the four basic reasons why people might not be interested at work.

If an employer concentrates on these four things, they will also help employees to get on with their work colleagues.

Our contribution. We need to be able to understand what our employer’s ultimate aim is and how our work contributes to that.

Appreciation.  The more menial a task might be, then the more important it is that you notice and thank the person doing that task and doing it well.

Our voice. If we have a great idea, we need to be able to explain it to someone who can put it into practice.  If it is not practical, then we need to know why.

Trust. If a job is simple and boring, it doesn’t mean that the person doing that job is stupid.  So trust them to do the job and do it well.  You don’t need to keep checking up on them, or instructing them on how to do it better or differently.

If you get these four basics right, then people will feel more fulfilled and happier at work.  They won’t feel inclined to argue with colleagues or cause a problem in the workplace.

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 –  then please join our mailing list or  contact us for further guidance.

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.

 

The Facts You Should Know About Employee Engagement

There are many things which are talked about in the Human Resources (HR) world which employers don’t understand or pay much attention to.  They just think it is so much jargon. If they don’t understand it, the danger is that they ignore it.  This can cause them problems in their business.

Employee Engagement probably comes under that heading.  So the purpose of this article is to explain employee engagement.  It is important to you as an employer – for business success and growth.  It should be easy to achieve, at least on a basic level.  And it is something which needn’t cost you much money.

So what is employee engagement and why should you care?

What is employee engagement?

Essentially, it is the ingredient that makes an employee want to come to work every day. It is what makes employees give commitment and loyalty to their work and workplace.

For employees, it is the feeling of being trusted and valued by your employer.  And it is about understanding your job and how that fits into the overall direction of the organisation. Another element is being free to give your opinion, or raise concerns.  You want to feel that you have been heard and your view is valued.  This doesn’t necessarily mean your suggestions will be acted on or agreed with, but your view is valued and you are encouraged to voice it.

There are many, many factors which contribute to employee engagement and they all inter-connect, but the things outlined above are the basics the employer needs to ensure are in place to help employees feel  engaged.

Why does employee engagement matter?

If your employees like coming to work and are happy when they are at work, then they will be productive.  They will be loyal and will do what they can to support your business.  This equals growth and is likely to bring you increased profits and a more successful business.

Your people are key to business success and you need to put them at the centre of your plans for the business.  Of course, there are other things that are critical to your success.  Some of these are finances; customers; regulation; your ability to innovate.  But these things (and many others) are all impacted by the people in the business and your relationship with those people.

If you do not engage with your employees, then you risk high absence and high turnover of staff.  You will find that your staff lack motivation and cannot interact well with your customers.  They will not be creative or innovative.  They are the key to the success of your business, or its decline.

You can measure employee engagement and you can take steps to increase it.

How can an employer achieve employee engagement?

Employee engagement is a gradual change to the culture of the organisation. It can take some time to achieve changes, but there are things which you can do immediately.

The key is for this to be a genuine change in direction on your part.  It is no good just to pay lip-service to the idea of employee engagement.  In essence, you need to cultivate a real desire and intention to engage with your employees.  You need to listen to them, understand their needs, make changes as a result.

Managers in any organisation are critical to the success of employee engagement.  You need your managers to buy into the change. They may even need some development and skills training.

You need to have a clear vision for your organisation.  For a start, you need to understand what it is that you are aiming to achieve and you need to be able to communicate that to your staff. Ideally, you can then help your staff to understand how their specific job contributes to the success of that vision.  They need to be able to see that their job is important and valued by the organisation.

It will really help you if you take steps to ensure that you and your managers are effective at managing people.  You need to know how to listen to people and have the skills to motivate and empower them.

Listen to your employees  

Another key to having motivated employees is for them to feel that their views are valued.  They know the job and what works – or doesn’t work.  Undoubtedly, they will have views about the best way to achieve results.   You need to ensure you have a method for hearing what they say.  They will probably have some good ideas, which could make positive changes in your business.  If they come up with a suggestion which isn’t practical, then it is fine to turn the idea down.  But you must explain why it won’t work, or why it needs to be delayed.  The employees want to feel that you have really considered their views

Trust and Integrity – a two-way street

The final key step to an engaged workforce is potentially the most important one.  It involves  building an environment where there is trust between you and your staff.  You need to live up to your promises.  You need to make sure your managers are living up to them too.  It is all very well to have policies and rules, but you need to ensure they are followed – by everyone.  Managers and employees alike.

Summing up the basics of employee engagement

The four key steps to successful employee engagement are:

Vision – have a vision of where your organisation is heading.  Make sure you are able to communicate that vision to your staff, so they can see the importance of their own role in achieving that vision.

Management Skills – make sure you and your managers are skilled in listening, empowering and managing staff.

Listen to your employees – make sure you have a mechanism in place for your employees to voice their ideas, concerns and suggestions.  And ensure that you consider those ideas and give them proper feedback.

Ensure trust is a two-way street – trust your employees and make sure they can trust you.  Live up to promises made.  Apply rules and procedures to everyone, including managers.

These steps are just the starting point, if you really want to engage with your employees.  Over the next few weeks, this blog will cover each step in more detail and talk about some of the many other things you can do to engage with and motivate your staff.

If you can connect with your employees and make them understand their contribution to the success of your business, then you will have a loyal, engaged workforce who will help you to grow your business and increase your profits.

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.

The Truth About Zero-Hours Contracts

In recent years there has been a great deal of discussion in the UK press about zero-hours contracts and how they are used to exploit workers.  It is rare to find a positive word and there have been calls for such contracts to be banned.

Yet the majority of people do not even know what a zero-hours contract is.  And many of those who actually work on such a basis are quite happy to continue.  So what is the truth and should you consider offering zero-hours contracts to your employees?

In my many years of working in Human Resources, I have seen examples of zero-hours contracts which work extremely well for all parties. I have also seen evidence of exploitation.  The devil, as they say, is in the detail.  As with all things that involve people, the key is common sense, flexibility and  good intentions.  Where those factors are brought into play, this type of employment contract can work really well.

By the end of this article you will understand what is involved in  zero-hours contracts.  You will know the advantages and disadvantages of using them and what the changing legal picture around them looks like.

What is a zero hours contract?

There is no legal definition of  a zero-hours contract.  It is just a contract between a business and a worker which outlines how the work is done. So for employees it is an employment contract, but unlike other contracts of employment it does not specify a number of hours to be worked.

Typically, such a contract is offered where work fluctuates and an employer cannot anticipate how many hours per week might be needed. So in some weeks there is a need for, say, 37 hours (a full-time week) and other weeks might only require a few hours – or even none at all.

The benefit (and sometimes disadvantage) of such an arrangement is that there is no guarantee of any paid work at all in any given week.  For the employer, the benefit is that they only have to pay for work when it is needed.  For the worker, the advantage is that they can fit work around other commitments.  This type of contract is popular with students who can work and still find time for their studies.  Some parents of young children or people with caring responsibilities like these contracts.  It means they can manage work to fit around family or other commitments.

The agreement between the two parties is that the business may ask an individual to work for them, but there is no minimum number of set contracted hours.  The contract states what the individual will be paid if they do any work.  It also covers what will happen when they turn down any work that is offered.  There is a statement about what will happen if there is a change or cancellation of the work.

What are the advantages of a zero-hours contract?

If care is taken with introducing a zero-hours contract, it can be a working arrangement which works successfully for everyone.

For those who have read any of my previous articles, you will know that my first advice is always to consult with your employees .  If you have the kind of fluctuating work which would lend itself to this type of contract, then talk to the individual(s) concerned.  You can agree what might work for them as well as for your business. Beware, though, that this type of contract is not suitable for everyone.

Some people value the flexibility which allows them to balance work with studying or with caring responsibilities or other commitments.  But there are other ways of providing such flexibility.  In addition, there are other considerations with regard to things such as mortgages and other personal financial commitments.  Where possible, you  should accommodate the hours which individuals tell you they need to be able to work.   This will lead to a happier workforce.

For some workers, this might not be the only job they have.  They use it as a way to top up their income without having to commit to a specific number of hours per week.   For others, it may be a way to gain experience in a specific type of job or industry.

Why are zero-hours contracts not suitable in some cases?

If you want to use zero-hours contracts, then you must ensure that you provide a contract which details what the payment will be for any hours that are worked.  You must also  agree and specify what will happen when work is cancelled at short notice.

Someone may have to make specific arrangements in order to be able to do the work on offer (childcare, for example).  It can be costly and difficult if the work is cancelled with little notice.  It is sensible to agree between you what is workable notice and what is not.  Where the notice you can give is shorter than the notice period agreed in the contract, then you may want to agree to pay compensation.   Whatever you do agree with an individual, this must then be spelled out in a written contract.  That will avoid any conflict at a later date and will  help to give the worker some confidence in the arrangement.

For some people, the variability of the work and thus the earnings can cause financial hardship and contribute to stress and anxiety.  Where people have financial commitments, mortgages, loans, etc, they need to have a regular income and zero-hours contracts cannot supply that.  They may also need to show regular hours in order to be able to access such financial arrangements.  You should discuss these things with individuals prior to agreeing a zero-hours contract.  That will help to ensure that they have taken these factors into consideration.  A failure to do this can contribute to mental health issues, such as stress, depression or anxiety.

Things to consider when implementing a zero-hours contract arrangement

There are some things which any good employer will consider before implementing such a contract:

  • Think about the nature of the work you have on offer and how it fluctuates. Will this be a short-term issue, or do you need a longer solution?  Does the type of work lend itself to being carried out on this type of contract? Does the work have to be done by a specific deadline?  Are there other types of flexible working arrangements or employment practices which might suit this type of work?
  • Consult with the individual(s) who will be impacted. Does this type of arrangement work for them?  Have they thought about financial implications?  Do they need to have a guaranteed minimum number of hours?  How much notice do they need for some work to be offered? How much notice should you give if you need to cancel the requirement to work, or change the number of hours?
  • Consider the employment status of the individual. Will they be an employee of your business?  Or will they be self-employed and providing work and invoicing direct or through a third-party?  Can they refuse work offered?   What happens if they want to do some work for other people?  Can they provide a substitute if they are not available?  Will they provide their own equipment and tools?

Other things to think about

  • Make sure the contract  is clear about the agreed terms, particularly the employment status, the payment due and any cancellation agreements. If you agree a minimum number of hours, then you must specify that. You must also include provision about the obligation or otherwise to accept work offered.
  • If you intend that the worker will be an employee of the Company, then you are required to provide an employment contract which includes terms and conditions of employment in line with other employees.
  • It is helpful for you to regularly review the situation with the employee.  This is a chance to decide whether the employment relationship has changed and whether the arrangements still work for both parties. Such review should be on an annual basis, at least.
  • You may need to provide training to line managers to ensure they understand the implications of zero-hours contracts.  They need to know how to manage the work and the individuals who are contracted to do the work.
  • You should ensure that people doing the same job, whatever their employment status, are paid comparable rates of pay.

The changing legal picture

Since 2015, if someone is employed under a zero-hours contract, then it is against the law for their employer to prevent them from working elsewhere.   So an employer cannot include a clause in a zero-hours contract which excludes the person from working somewhere else.

In July 2017, the Taylor review on modern working practices was published and the UK Government has issued its response.  Many of the recommendations have been accepted by the government and some are currently under consultation.

The two major proposed changes with regard to zero-hours contracts are:

  • To give workers, including those on zero-hours contracts, the right to request a more predictable contract;
  • The possibility of paying a higher National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage for hours which are not guaranteed as part of the contract.

Beneficial for business

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) in UK has called for zero-hours contracts to be banned.  One of the reasons cited is that their research shows that most workers on zero-hours contracts feel exploited and want to be able to work more hours on more stable contracts.

Since 2017, the fast food chain McDonald’s has offered its  UK workers the option to move from zero-hours contracts.  Workers can move to fixed contracts with a minimum number of guaranteed hours per week.   McDonald’s has offered this change because some of their staff complained that they had difficulty in some financial arrangements  because they lacked guaranteed employment.

McDonald’s ran a trial across some of their sites, but 80 per cent of workers in the trial chose to remain on their current contracts.  This is in contrast to the TUC findings above. McDonald’s now offer employees the choice.

The benefit to McDonald’s has been an increase in employee satisfaction.  They believe this is because they consulted with staff about their hours.

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.