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 to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

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 to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

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 to know more,  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 to know more,  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 to know more,  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 to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Will Flexible Working Rebound On My Business?

What is flexible working?

Flexible working just means that the employer is able to accommodate a range of working arrangements.  Some people may prefer the traditional 9 to 5.30  in the workplace every day, with an hour’s break at lunchtime.  Others may prefer to arrive or leave earlier or later than those hours.  Some may prefer to work elsewhere occasionally, or regularly.  Flexible working means different things to different people.  But the more flexible you can be, the more productivity you will get from your employees.

In employment terms, flexible working might encompass a whole range of things.  These can include flexi-time, flexible working hours; working from home, either regularly or occasionally.  Or it might mean working from another location.  Flexibility for employees might include fitting round family and caring responsibilities.  For example people might want to finish early and make up hours at other times.  Or they might need to work round the school run.  It can mean they don’t need to watch the clock.  They can stop feeling guilty for arriving later or leaving earlier than colleagues.

Why is flexibility important for my business?

Allowing individuals to have flexible work arrangements which suit their needs gives them the chance to do their work when they feel most able to. This means they will be more productive.  There are other benefits for the employer, as well.  You may be able to cover a longer working day with a variety of people.  Some may prefer an early start and some want to finish late.  So you have a better chance of someone being available when your customers need your services.

Your reputation as a good employer will spread and you may find it is easier to recruit and to retain the staff you have got.  The people who work for you are likely to feel more trusted and valued and so will put in more effort for you.

You may even find that absence is reduced if people feel more able to work from home if they have a cold or upset stomach.

Recruitment as a flexible employer

Previous articles have talked about employing older workers or carers and both these groups of people will benefit from flexibility in the workplace.  Research shows that older people would be very appreciative of flexible working hours.  Working with these needs would widely increase your pool of available employees.

Beware, though, of advertising that you are an employer who offers flexibility, and then not allowing people to work flexibly.  This can be seriously detrimental to your reputation and employer brand.  If the operations of your business are such that you cannot allow flexibility, then it is far better to admit that openly.  Explain the situation to potential employees, giving the reason why.  You may lose a few candidates as a result, but the benefit is that employees will know what to expect.  So they will only accept a role if they feel suited to your environment.

How do I make flexibility work?

The most important factor in a successful employer/employee relationship is trust.  If you build a culture of trust within your business, then you will be able to introduce flexible working and know that your employees will not take advantage of you.

As managers, we often find it hard to trust our employees to get on with the work when we are not watching them.  My experience is that most people can be trusted.  If you give them that trust, they will bend over backwards to avoid taking advantage.

You need to get across the message that you trust your employees to do their job and behave like adults.  They also need to understand that the work is their responsibility and that you will judge them by the results they achieve, rather than the hours they do.  Interestingly, having the conversation and allowing them to work flexibly will increase their commitment.  They know what is good and don’t want to risk losing it.  In fact, most people work longer, and harder, when trusted to be flexible.

What if I can’t allow flexible working?

Where people request flexible working in some form or other, then try to accommodate such requests wherever possible.  This means that on the occasions when you really cannot allow some flexible working, people will understand that there is a good reason why.  If you do have to turn down such a request, then make sure the individual understands the reason why it cannot be allowed.

If you are going to give people trust and autonomy, without checking up on them, then you also need to establish regular contact.  Make sure you build in team events and training opportunities.  Arrange regular meetings (in person or otherwise).  This will prevent people feeling abandoned, unloved , forgotten or not needed.   It will also prevent them from heading off down a different work path than the one you need.

On the odd occasion you may find that someone has betrayed your trust and has not produced the required work, or has clearly been taking advantage.  In those cases,  make sure you deal promptly and strongly with the issue.  This prevents any resentment or repetition from colleagues.

Final Word

I am a great advocate of trust in the workplace.  If you want employees to flourish in your workplace, then equip them with the skills and tools they need.  Then give them the freedom (and support) to fly.  If you allow flexible working, they will return your trust in spades.  You will then find that you have a motivated, productive and happy workforce.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Can Older Workers Fill the Skills Gap?

I read a report in the HR press this week that recruiters are facing ever-increasing difficulties.  This is partly due to skills shortages and partly due to a drop in the number of migrants applying for work in UK.

Yet I have also recently been reading other articles which are about  older people in the workplace who are facing discrimination and being overlooked in favour of younger people.

Is it just me, or is there an obvious resolution to both issues?   We could give the older workers a chance to shine, instead of making the assumption that they “aren’t suitable”, “wouldn’t like it”, “are unable to change”.

The average working age is rising

The population is ageing.  People are living longer and fewer babies are being born.  So the average age of the working population is set to rise. Pension ages are rising. I know there is a great deal of debate about the rights, wrongs and fairness of this.  It is inevitable, though, for it to remain sustainable for the State to continue to pay pensions to retired people.  So people need to work longer and many want to do so anyway.

Nearly a third of the workforce in the UK are now aged 50 and over.  Additionally,  forecasts predict that one million more over-50s will enter the worforce by 2025.

So why don’t employers make use of these people who are skilled, experienced, loyal and have huge amounts to offer?

Age discrimination is rife in the workplace

My own father finished work at age 58 and could not find another job.  Yet he lived until he was 92.  He  remained active, lucid and enthusiastic right up until his death.  I am not saying he could have worked  until he was 92. But an employer could have had really good service from someone who had a very fine mind  – for at least another 15 years.  He was also able to pick up new technology and learn new ways of doing things and didn’t really slow down until he was in his late eighties. An employer’s loss was society’s gain, as he volunteered and gave great service to the local community for many years.

Of course, there are some older people who may have health issues and need adjustments or to work fewer hours.  But that is true of everyone, young or old.  We need to start viewing (and interviewing) people as individuals.  They may have issues to overcome which others do not have.  But they may also have the skills and experience you need.  If you think they “might” be suitable if they weren’t “too old”, then you should talk to them about your concerns.  Give them a try and you might get a very pleasant surprise.

What can an Employer do to improve the workplace for older workers?

Any employer can gain huge benefits from creating an age positive culture and joined-up approach to managing age-related issues in the workplace.

There are some specific management areas where your attention could be spent initially.  Areas such as recruitment; flexible working; learning and development.  But a complete overview of your policies, procedures and practices is always a useful exercise.

Recruiting  and retaining older workers

Recruitment , in particular, is an area where there is often bias towards younger candidates.  This may not be explicit – or even intentional. Careful wording of advertisements and training of recruiting managers will go some way towards helping you to remove age bias in your hiring processes.

Increased flexibility in working hours and other practices can benefit every employee, of course.  But older workers may be more likely to prefer part-time hours, in particular.  They are also more likely to be nervous of asking for flexibility as their fear of losing their job may well be greater than for others in the workplace.

Increasing skills and engagement

Many older workers may feel they are “stuck” in a role which has no interest or challenge for them.  But do you give them learning and development opportunities? If they have missed out on the opportunity to learn a new skill, but are keen and enthusiastic, then it would be sensible for an employer to help them to gain that skill.  The benefits are clear for both the employee (improved job satisfaction and engagement) and for the employer (skilled and enthusiastic worker, who is loyal and can also add life experience into the mix).

This is the tip of the iceberg and there are huge steps any employer can make to recruit and retain older workers, who will form the basis of your future workforce.   There are also enormous benefits for both the employer and their employees.

Watch this space as we will return to this issue in future articles.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

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.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

 

How Can I Help? (to improve Mental Health in the Workplace)

Mental Health in the WorkPlace has hit the news again this week, with The Duke of Cambridge talking on this subject to employers and employees from a range of British businesses.

I wrote a blog post on this subject back in May, but it bears repeating as there are things we can all be doing to help people cope.  Employers, in particular, can make small changes which will have a huge impact.  And why wouldn’t you, when it can also have a huge and beneficial impact on productivity and costs in your Organisation?

What can an employer do to improve mental health in the workplace?

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

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

Supporting those with Mental Health issues

  • Think about appointing some Mental Health “First Aiders” or mentors.  They can act as a first port of call when somebody is in urgent need of support. As well as urgent issues, they can provide support and mentoring to those who have issues but feel they cannot approach you or their manager.  You would need to train these people, but it would be an investment well worth making.
  • If you manage people, or have line managers who support teams, then train the managers to recognise mental health problems and in how to manage such conversations.
  • The Mental Health Foundation provides a series of guides about dealing with mental health problems. You  can download these at no cost. Or you could order some paper copies to keep in the workplace for anyone who needs them.
  • If someone does disclose that they have a mental health problem, it could be made worse by other things.  Things such as money worries, fear of losing job, fear of taking time off, fear of talking about it. Investigate gently with the individual  – there might be something you can do to help with those concerns.
  • Offer access to a counselling service or at least a helpline.
  • If possible, provide a telephone in a private area, where an employee can ring a helpline or contact a charity for some help in an urgent situation.
  • Many Mental Health charities can provide support to you and your employees. Investigate the options which work for you and your company and provide details to your employees.  Provide a list of those charities to any employee who discloses they have a mental health issue.  There is a huge amount of help available for those who need it.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.