How To Help Your Employees Have A Happy New Year

Firstly, I would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year.  I hope you have all had a good break and have come back to work refreshed.  I hope you have renewed interest and energy and exciting plans for a new decade.

Of course, we all feel renewed and refreshed after a lovely Christmas break with friends and family, don’t we?

Well, actually, the answer is different for all of us.  We give each other a cheery greeting and wishes for a happy twelve months ahead.  When we say “Happy New Year”, it is much like asking how someone is.  We mean it genuinely and  – if we think at all about it – we hope that they are well and happy.  But we rarely take the time to properly consider whether someone is genuinely looking forward to another year.  In reality, they might be feeling lost.  Or they might even be dreading the future.

Reasons why some people dread a new year

We make assumptions that everyone has enjoyed their Christmas break.  But the truth can be quite different.

When couples and families are forced into spending time together for more than a few hours, they can discover unpleasant truths.  Sadly, many people seek advice on divorce in January.  They have discovered over the Christmas period that they just cannot live together any longer.  Even if divorce is a step too far, some people find that their family relationships have changed. Or they may have discovered family problems which were previously unknown.

A happy and successful Christmas can bring other problems.  January can bring enormous credit card bills, or overdraft payments. Even when people earn a good salary, it does not follow that they are good at managing their financial situation.

Or there are those who have over-indulged themselves at Christmas.  We often eat rich food, in much greater quantities than our bodies can process.  Or we might drink more alcohol than usual, for longer periods, or at different times of the day.  This can lead to a need to give up things we normally enjoy, like chocolate or alcohol.  Or we decide to go on a weight-loss plan.  Then, when these new regimes prove hard to stick with, we beat ourselves up for not resisting.

New Year – new opportunities

Of course, some may have used the break to think about their life direction.  It is often a time when people come back to work with a plan to change roles, or even move to a different employer.  Some will decide that they want to leave the safety of employment and set up in business for themselves.

January is also traditionally a time when people start to plan their holidays for the year.  They will start dreaming about a sun-drenched beach.  Or they might prefer cultural breaks, or learning a new skill.  We are keen to save our spare cash to pay for our holidays.  We might spend our lunchtimes and breaks looking at exotic destinations and comparing travel costs.

Things beyond our control

In the northern hemisphere, the weather in January can make life difficult.  As I write this article, we are slowly recovering from storm Brendan in UK.  There has been torrential rain across the country, coupled with very strong winds and high tides.   We have to contend with flooding, trees down, huge waves breaking over sea-defence barriers.  This is fairly standard for this time of year, although maybe more extreme than previously.  But the big concern is for the future – what will the next decade bring in terms of climate change and altered weather patterns?

And, of course, colder and wetter weather brings illness.   This is the time of year when we all have colds, flu, upset stomachs (from all that over-indulgence, maybe?).  Many people may have had a rotten Christmas break because they felt too ill to enjoy it. Or their partner or children were ill.  Or maybe the whole family went down with something nasty.

Mental health concerns

Christmas is a time when our mental health can take a real knock.  The perceived joy and fun going on at Christmas can be in stark contrast to our own situation.  If we are lonely, then this can become unbearable at Christmas.  And it is not just those who live alone who feel lonely.  Returning to work can be a welcome relief and return to normality.  Or it can just make us realise how bad things have got.

Many of us put our problems to one side and decide to enjoy Christmas.  The holiday break can be a welcome relief from our concerns.  But now that the holiday is over, we have to face up to our problems again.

Why is this the employer’s problem?

All of these things, good and bad alike, can make it really hard for us to get motivated again.  We have had a break from normality and finding our pace again can be difficult.

If we have had a great time, then we don’t want to face the return to our usual situation.   It can be really hard to throw ourselves back into work mode.  If the holiday has been less good, then it can be really difficult to face up to those problems and difficulties which we have been avoiding.

Either way, our productivity can be low and our employer may not get the best from us during January.   And this is probably a time of year when they were expecting great strides and renewed energy from us.

So how can an employer turn this around?

There are so many things which a good employer can put into place to enable a successful January and beyond.

There is help available to tackle many of these issues.  If an employee is facing personal problems, an employer can provide a counselling service, or legal advice.  At the very least, you can point the employee in the right direction to get appropriate help and support.

You may want to consider flexible working, or different working patterns, or moving people into different roles.  You should be holding discussions, consultation, regular conversations with your employees.  That way you can find out what help they need, what direction they want to move in, what their plans are.

If people are having financial problems, there are many debt counselling schemes.  There are interventions to help people reduce financial outgoings, to save, to plan for their future.

There are wellbeing services you can consider, from massages, to meditation, to practical help, to fitness, weight loss, dietary control.   At the very least, you should be making sure they take regular breaks and go outside to see some greenery.

You might want to consider training and development plans to help people move in their preferred direction.

Steps towards a Happy New Year

I have deliberately talked about the difficulties and problems which can come as a result of the Christmas and New Year break.  Of course, the vast majority of your employees will have had a great break and will be feeling refreshed and ready for the next challenge.

But it would be great if you can think about ways to help your employees really have a Happy New Year.  The best way to do that is to talk to them and find out about their concerns, their plans, their dreams.  Then you are in the best position to help them.  If you help them, then they will help you to ensure that your business is successful and brings you a very Happy New Year!

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 – contact us for a no-obligation chat.

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. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  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.

 

We Wish You A Merry – And Inclusive – Christmas

Christmas is an inclusive time.  We welcome friends and relatives and want to include everyone in our celebrations. But Christmas means different things to different people.  We all go a bit mad at Christmas, I think – in a positive way.  We spend far too much money – and worry about the consequences in the New Year.  Many eat and drink far too much and often regret it.  But there is always January to start that weight-loss plan, or to go without alcohol.

Of course, for Christians, it is a time of great celebration and the Christmas religious services are special.  They are also amongst the best-attended during the year. There are beautiful carols and hymns and Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

But what about all those who don’t want to  – or are unable to – celebrate Christmas with everyone else?  How can employers ensure that they are treated fairly and feel included at this time of year?

Some things which make an inclusive Christmas at work

As employers, we need to be aware of some of the areas which might cause arguments at work.  Alternatively, some of our staff may be unhappy about Christmas celebrations in the office and would prefer a different approach.  Some may be unable, physically or mentally, to enjoy the celebrations.

There is no need to be a kill-joy.  Christmas is a wonderful time when most of us feel generous towards others.  It would be a shame to bring in rules and regulations which change that feeling.  I am certainly not advising you to stop people from celebrating.  But it never hurts to consider how everyone is affected.

In some workplaces, Christmas is a time when people use up annual holiday.  Some businesses shut down over the Christmas period.  Other companies find that Christmas is the busiest time of their year and they cannot allow people to take time off, other than the bare minimum.

But there are some things to consider – some people may want to have additional time off at Christmas to attend events at their children’s schools, or to take part in religious activities.  Whilst some others may want to save their holiday.  Some want to use it at a different time of year.  They may want to have time off at a different season for other religious observance, not Christian festivals.  Or they may prefer to work when everyone else is off and it is quiet on the roads or in the workplace.  With a bit of planning, it should be possible to accommodate all of these needs.

Jingle all the way

Even if you have a general rule not to have music in the workplace, Christmas is a time when people ask for an exception.  Many of us like to listen to Christmas music while we work.  But others are very sick of the same music which is played in shops and everywhere else at this time.  Some may prefer carols and religious music.  Many might prefer no music at all. Some may find it more difficult to hear and communicate with others if there is music.  To be inclusive at Christmas, we need to try and accommodate all these needs.

Of course, it is impossible to please everyone.  So you may need to allow music between certain times only.  Or allow people to use their own headphones and devices so that they can listen but don’t disturb others.  Or you may have an agreement that there should be music all the time, or no music at all.

They come from the East, bearing gifts

Christmas is a time of giving.  We like to give gifts and cards to each other and this happens at work as well as in our private lives.   Some people give a card to all their colleagues, some don’t give anything.  Alternatively, some like to give to a charity instead of giving cards.  Additionally, many workplaces organise a “secret Santa” pool where a gift is bought anonymously for a name pulled from a hat.

All of these things are fun and an employer who did not allow such things would be open to criticism from the workforce.  But not everyone wants to take part in this giving.  Some may have a religious objection.  Some may not have the money to join in.  Others may just find it pointless.  It is important that nobody is forced into taking part.

zxAnd you definitely need to ensure that people are not criticised or made to feel uncomfortable if they choose not to participate.  We can be very cruel to each other, especially where people may have different cultures or traditions from our own.  As the boss, your job is to ensure that people can enjoy the festivities, but are not excluded because they choose not to do so.

Eat, drink and be merry

There are other potentially difficult areas to get right for an inclusive Christmas.  Food and drink can cause all kinds of problems.  It is natural and fun to bring in some extra chocolate or mince pies or biscuits at this time of year.  Many places also have Christmas parties, either within the workplace or externally.  This is also likely to mean alcohol flows and far too much rich food.  Of course, it is all part of the fun and should not need to be restricted.

But you need to think about those who do not wish to be involved.  It is fine if someone prefers to stay away from a party.  Or if someone declines food or drink.   And it might be a good idea to make sure everyone knows that it is acceptable for someone not to be involved.  It is about personal choice.

What can I do to ensure everyone is included?

Anyone who regularly reads JMA HR articles will already know that my first advice is to consult, consult, and then consult again.

If you want your employees to feel included, then you need to find out how they feel about your planned festivities.  Maybe their choice is not to be included,  and that, of course,  is a personal decision.  It may be that the best way to include everyone is to allow them the freedom to exclude themselves.

Another major issue can be colleague pressure.  When we are having a great time, we want everyone around us to have a great time too.  But sometimes it is hard to understand that other people may not enjoy our way of celebrating.  Your communications with employees must emphasise that it is not acceptable for people to feel forced into joining in.  Nor is it acceptable for people to be criticised or ignored because they choose a different way.

Lonely This Christmas

While I was researching this article, I came across an old news item from The Guardian newspaper.  This looked at how non-Christians celebrate Christmas.  Although this piece was written a few years ago, I imagine that nothing much has changed.

The overwhelming message from this article was positive.  Everyone thinks of Christmas as a time to spend with family and friends.  I think that chimes very well with the Christian message of this time of year.

But it did occur to me that not everyone has family or friends.  Or people may not have family near enough to spend time with them at Christmas.  I think there is one thing which every employer can do to ensure an inclusive Christmas for their workforce.  We need to know and understand our employees.  We need to open work to them, if that is their refuge at this time of year.  Or at least let them know the alternatives.

Many charities are glad of help at this time of year.  Or churches and other religious organisations open their doors to provide food and company for the lonely.  Some restaurants and cafes open to provide coffee, warmth and companionship to homeless (or lonely) people.  Find out what is going on in your location, so you can advise your employees.  Encourage those on their own to volunteer their services. They can then choose not to spend Christmas on their own.  That would be the very best inclusive Christmas gift an employer can give.

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 – contact us for a no-obligation chat.

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. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  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 To Plan A Happy Workplace Christmas

Christmas should be a really happy time of year.  It is a holiday period and we all look forward to a break from work.

Or do we?

For some people, Christmas is a nightmare.  For others it can just be a time of chaos and confusion.  Some think it is no different than any other time of year.  Others wish it would all just be over quickly.  Some want it to be Christmas all the time.

Employers have an added dimension.  We need to try and keep productive, but allow our staff some leeway and time to enjoy themselves.  But what should we allow, or not allow?  What are the pitfalls that face us as Christmas approaches?  How can we make sure our business doesn’t suffer over the holiday period, but our employees have a great time?

How should employers start to plan for Christmas in the workplace?

There are so many things to think about which can make working at Christmas either great or horrible.  It can be your most successful time of year, or your slackest time.  Of course, you may not always be able to plan which of these is the case.

Do your employees want to be at work at Christmas?  Or not?  Do you have enough volunteers to cover peak times?  Or do you need to work out a rota?  Can you allow everyone to take time off or holiday over the period?  Maybe you need to stop all annual leave.  What about time off for religious festivals?  What about time off to support family activities (school carol concerts, nativity plays)?

Have you thought about cultural diversity?  Your staff may not all want to celebrate Christmas or to have time off.  It maybe the case that they prefer to keep their annual leave for other occasions, or to have time off for other religious or cultural activities.  Can you accommodate all of these wishes?

Time out at Christmas

One contentious issue is time off work.  Do you want to close the business down for a few days?  And can you afford to do so?  If so, does everyone who works there want to have time off forced on them, or would they rather work over the holiday period?  If you are shutting down, has everyone got to use up annual leave?  Have they got enough annual leave?  Will you give extra time off?

Will you let people leave early on Christmas Eve, or do you expect them to work the full day?  Is your business going to be shut on Christmas Day, or will you be open as usual.  If it is the latter, how will you organise who works on that day?

Celebrations

Things you need to consider under the heading of celebrations are many and varied.

Your employees may want to have an office party, or a meal out.  You need to consider whether this should be in their own time or whether you will give additional time off.  You might want to contribute to the cost.

What about music in the workplace?  Some people like to have Christmas music while they work.  Others hate it.  Some like the popular Christmas music which is played on the radio and in shops all through December.  Others would prefer classical or religious music or carols.     Will you allow music all the time, or only at certain times, or not at all?

Many people like to bake cakes and food at Christmas and bring sweets, chocolates, cake or other food into the workplace.  Are you happy for that, or do you need to lay down some rules?  What about drinks?  You may not normally allow alcohol in work, but would you make an exception at Christmas time?  If so, what rules will you set around it?

Gifts and Giving

People like to give cards and presents to each other at Christmas and that, of course, is a personal decision.  But some workplaces organise a “secret santa” where each person receives a gift.  Of course this can be fun, but again you may need to set some rules about cost or type of gift.  Some people may choose not to take part and that is fine, but you need to make sure they are not made to feel uncomfortable about that decision.  I have been on the receiving end of some fairly questionable gifts through secret santa.  People think it is funny to give an offensive gift when it is done anonymously and it can be very difficult if it is not properly controlled.

This might be a good time of year to make some corporate contributions to a local charity or to encourage employees to volunteer to help others in some way.  Your employees and clients will be very supportive of you if you can give a little extra at this time of year.

Getting to Work and Flexible Working

Whether or not you already have a culture of flexible working, this might be a good time of year to relax the rules.

In the UK, the weather can be bad at this time of year and the days are short.  We have darker mornings and earlier evenings.  Travel can be difficult for people in the dark and in poor weather.  In the final run up to Christmas, there is the additional worry of drunk driving as many people have too much alcohol and don’t realise that one extra glass can make their driving very dangerous.

People have children who are taking part in seasonal activities and parents may well want to be able to take time out to attend a carol concert or school play. School holidays are an additional problem for parents to deal with and they may need some flexibility to manage childcare.   Or people may have other caring responsibilities, hospital visits or older people to consider.  Unfortunately, these arrangements can become more difficult at holiday times.

Strained Relationships

Christmas should be a time to relax and enjoy ourselves. But for many, the stress just piles on us before and during the holiday period.  There is so much to organise, so many calls on our time and our money. We sometimes dread spending time with difficult family relationships or unwelcome guests and we put pressure on ourselves.  All of these things can cause major health and wellbeing issues.

Additionally, the increased likelihood of colds, flu and seasonal illnesses.  Not to mention self-inflicted problems from too much alcohol or too little sleep.

All of these things are generalisations and will not affect many of us.  But they will definitely affect a large proportion of our workforce.

Giving employees their best Christmas ever

Christmas needs careful planning – as with so many other things in the world of work!

As always, if you want to give your employees the best Christmas present, then consult with them about what works and what doesn’t work.  You will never please everybody all the time.  But if you know what the majority of people want, then you have half a chance of giving them a happy Christmas at work.

And who will benefit most from that?  The employer, of course.

This could be your best Christmas ever!

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 – contact us for a no-obligation chat.

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. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  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 High Productivity Will Prevent Resignations

What is high productivity and how can we achieve it?

I have been writing articles about improving productivity for the last two or three months.  There are often press items about how the UK is suffering from low productivity.  Employers are continually being encouraged to do things to improve productivity.

But what does high productivity mean?

What does “high productivity” actually mean?

Essentially, to be highly productive, we need to make the best use of our time and resources.

This does not necessarily mean doing things more quickly.  If we rush things and make mistakes, we might need to do them again.  So that is not very productive.

Productivity is not about perfection.  We might want to be the best at what we do.  We might want to manufacture the very best products in our field.  Or maybe we want to beat the competition and make our items better than others that are on offer.  But being the best may not be productive.  It can take a long time to produce something which is better than the competition. Others might be churning out something which is not quite as good, but at a faster rate, or lower cost.  So who is then the more productive?

Sometimes “good enough” is good enough

If our products are of a standard which is acceptable and which sells well, then we may not need to produce the very best.  Of course, we may want to have a reputation as “the best”.  In that case, we need to strive to create perfection.  But the majority of businesses can do very well by producing a quality that is good enough, but not perfect.

If we do want to produce premium goods and be known for being “the best”, then our measure of productivity will be different to that of our competitors.

High productivity is not an absolute and is not strictly measurable.  It is also something which changes on a daily basis.  It depends on a variety of things, only some of which are under our control.

Factors which affect high productivity

Things which affect high productivity are many and varied.  If we employ people, then those employees have a large impact on the rate of productivity.  If they work quickly and accurately, then the business is more likely to be highly productive. When they are not able to work as speedily as we would like, then they may be less productive.

The availability, cost and quality of raw materials to produce our end goods has a huge impact on the productivity of our business.  This may – or may not – be within our control. But how we manage the supply chain is critical. We may need to regularly review our suppliers.

The weather, state of the transport system, global economy, clearly all have an impact.  These things affect us all and so our competitors also have to manage these peaks and troughs.  But they are often outside our sphere of management.

Managing people to create high productivity

The one factor which is in our control is the way we manage the people who work for us.  On a daily basis, there may be external factors in their lives which affect their individual productivity.  We may have a limited ability to change that.

But how we manage people in general, and individuals in particular, is a critical factor in the level of our business productivity.

As human beings, we all want to be valued.  We all want to be loved and appreciated.  This is true in the workplace as much – or more – than in our private lives.  We have a need to be accepted and to believe that we are useful.  We shine more brightly when we know our purpose and feel appreciated.

The one, major, thing which every employer can do to improve productivity within the workplace is to value, thank and cherish our employees.  Do they know their purpose and how their particular role fits into the overall business vision?  Do they understand that you appreciate their efforts and value their input?Can they be sure they have the right skills to do the job well?  Do they believe they are being paid fairly for their work?  If the answer to all of those questions is “yes”, then you are well on your way to high productivity in your workplace.

A salutary tale

I had coffee with a friend this week.  She has recently left her workplace after 9 years in her job.  When she told her boss she was leaving, he said he was really disappointed.  He said she was highly skilled and that he really appreciated her work.

Too little, too late.

Her feeling was this.  Had he told her how she was valued earlier in their working relationship, she would probably never have got to the point of moving on.  Had she felt appreciated and fairly paid, then she would never have looked for another job.

I have known employers who offer a pay rise to prevent someone from leaving the company.  Sometimes that offer is accepted.  But it is never a good solution. People will not feel the warmth from a pay increase for long.  They will remember that they had to resign to get the appreciation.  So they will keep looking for a better employer.

If you want to improve productivity, then look after your employees – and do it now.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support to work out a plan for higher productivity, then  contact us for a no-obligation discussion about how we can help.

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. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  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, Divorce and Productivity

It  is well-documented that divorce can be one of the most stressful situations anyone can experience.  In the UK roughly 42% marriages end in divorce.  So it is highly likely that some of your employees will be going through a divorce at some time.

The thing about employees is that they are people first, with complex emotions and feelings.  We don’t just shrug off our feelings, like coats, and hang them on a hook when we walk into the workplace.

So how we feel at any one time or any particular day will affect our performance, concentration and productivity. Employers may not want to acknowledge this, and deal with it.  But good employers recognise that their workers have things going on which are probably more important than work -at least for the individuals.

Is there anything an employer can do for employees who may be facing divorce?

Legalities and changes in the Law regarding divorce

It has been widely reported that “no fault divorce” is to be introduced in the UK.  The intention is to end the blame game and make divorce easier for those involved.

This is undoubtedly good news and should lessen acrimony in divorce cases.  But divorce is going to remain unpleasant for those who go through it.  There will still be financial disputes and anxiety over children and access.  If your employee is going through a divorce their private life will be disrupted and their work will also be adversely affected.

 What effects am I likely to see on my employees?

The most likely effect on your employee is stress.  This may mean loss of concentration and increased anxiety.  They may use work as a refuge from the storm in their private life.  If they are engaged and involved in their work, it may indeed be a relief from the stress.  But it is more likely that they will only pay partial attention to their work.

The divorcing employee is likely to need to make court appearances, maybe multiple times if there is disagreement about financial aspects or access to children.  It may be that the employee is going through a change in their living accommodation, or the sale of a jointly owned house.  They are very likely to have increased financial worries.

How can an employer help employees who are divorcing?

There are some practical steps an employee can and should take to support their employees through a divorce.

This is an example of a situation which can be greatly helped if you already have a trusting and effective relationship with your employees.  If they trust you or their line manager, they will be more open about their personal circumstances.  You can build on that trust if you provide practical and relevant help to them.

The first issue is with regard to financial management.  Divorcing couples need to exchange financial information and often need documents to confirm details of salary, benefits, bonuses, pension arrangements.  An employer can help by providing that information quickly.

Some more ways an employer can help

Another issue which will affect your divorcing employee may be the need for time off work to attend court hearings in relation to the divorce, especially if it is an acrimonious divorce.  There is no legal requirement that you give paid time off for this, but you may wish to allow them to use up annual leave, or take unpaid leave.  Or a generous employer may wish to give additional paid leave (but you would need to give this some thought to ensure fairness to other, non-divorcing, employees).

However well an employee may be dealing with a divorce, you would be well advised to keep an eye on their mental health.  These will be stressful times for them and we all react differently in such circumstances.  Some of this will depend on how acrimonious the divorce is and whether there are children involved.   It may be helpful  to think about how to provide counselling or employee assistance if you do not already have such a scheme in place.

Benefits for the employer in supporting an employee through divorce

If you have a positive relationship with your employees, they are more likely to be honest with you about an impending divorce.

How can you provide practical and relevant support to them?  If you can do so, the situation is likely to resolved more quickly.  This is a benefit to the employee, of course.  But that also makes it better for you.

A reduction in the stress of the situation may lead to reduced likelihood of ill-health absence.  The employee will be more focussed at work and more able to concentrate.  This has a positive effect on their productivity.

There are more benefits for the employer

The secondary effect is loyalty.  An employee who has had support from their employer through a difficult personal situation is easier to retain in the workplace.  They will not want to risk moving to a less understanding workplace.

Your reputation as a caring and good employer will also be enhanced.  This will have a positive effect on recruitment and employee satisfaction.

Being kind to our employees and supporting them through difficult times is not only good for them, but it is also good for us as employers.  We all want to be cared for and cared about, and that includes employers.  And it doesn’t hurt the bottom line, either.

 If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on supporting an employee through a difficult time in their personal life, then  contact us for a no-obligation chat.

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. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  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 Employee Financial Well-being Ignites Productivity

In August last year, I wrote an article about how you can support the financial well-being of your employees.  Now I want to concentrate on why this matters to employers.

This really fits as part of my current focus on productivity in the workforce.  A survey by Metlife UK  earlier this year  looked at employee financial well-being. 64% of senior managers said that addressing financial well-being will help boost productivity and engagement.

But businesses say they do not understand enough about the link between financial well-being, mental health and productivity.  They want more clarity on how to tackle this issue.

What is financial well-being and why does it affect people who are working?

In simple terms, employee financial well-being can be slotted into various categories.  Firstly we need to have an adequate salary to support ourselves and our families.  We need to be able to save for the future, in terms of things like mortgages or pension provision.  It is good to have a cushion to deal with emergencies.  And we want to be able to pay off existing debt.  These are key aspects of our financial well-being.   Understanding our finances and feeling in control is important.  And we want to feel that we are paid fairly for what we do and in comparison to others. It is linked to a belief about whether we are valued properly.

This is not just about pay (or low pay). It is not about financial mismanagement. And it is definitely not limited to a need for debt counselling.  Just because people are in employment, it does not mean they don’t have money worries.  And the worry is not confined to those on low pay.  Financial well-being can be a concern for all income groups, even those with a higher income or in a senior role. In fact, it can have a greater impact when we earn more.  The more we earn, the higher our financial commitments.

How does employee financial well-being impact the workplace?

The CIPD, in association with Close Brothers, carried out a study on employee financial well-being.  This shows that a quarter of employees say that financial concerns impact their performance at work.  The issues include loss of sleep. And time spent at work thinking about or dealing with financial problems.  It affects our productivity, our ability to do the job.  There can be an impact on ourconcentration and decision-making.   Additionally, nearly a third of people in the UK only have savings to cover up to three months if we lost our jobs.

There is a great deal of coverage in the press and social media about mental health and well-being in the workplace.  But many employers fail to grasp that employee financial well-being contributes hugely to employee mental health.  The CIPD has found that only a third of employers actively promote employee financial well-being.   This is largely because employers do not know where to start or how to work out what is needed .

Practical steps for employers

Larger employers  are more likely to provide benefits packages.  These may comprise a number of different benefits for employees.  Smaller businesses will offer a pension.  But they may not be in a position to offer a wider range of benefits.

Employers are well-advised to inform and educate employees about the options and what they mean.  This is the case however simple or limited the benefit package may be. Have you thought about consulting with employees to find out what is effective (or not)?  Are you confident they are making the right choices? This is even more important if you offer a variety of benefits.  Especially if people can choose which benefits to take.

There are many low cost or cost-free advice services which employers can provide.  Additionally, there may well be some local companies who would be glad to come into your workplace to advise and help your employees.  This may be at no cost to you, as the employer.

As employers, we have a duty of care towards our employees.  So we need to be aware of people who are working longer hours, not taking all their holidays.  Or those who are having unexplained sickness or are behaving uncharacteristically.  These could all be signs of problems.  And those problems could have financial difficulty as the root cause.  We have no right (or desire) to pry into people’s personal finances, of course.  But advice on where to seek help may be all that is needed.

What are the benefits for the employer?

How can you  help your employees to understand their finances and to become more able to control them?  If you can do this, you will benefit from a happier and more engaged workforce.  The immediate benefit is higher productivity. If people are getting a good night’s sleep and are able to concentrate at work, then they will be more effective, quicker and more accurate at work.

As an employer, you will benefit from the fact that people will have more trust in you. They know that you pay fairly, that you care about their welfare, that you support them through any difficulties.  This translates into better customer service, improved employer reputation, increased loyalty.  All of this improves business growth.  Why would any employer not want to see those benefits?

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 – contact us for a no-obligation chat.

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. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  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.

Climate Strike Strategies – 20 September 2019

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

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

What is a climate strike?

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

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

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

What action can an employer take?

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

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

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

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

Unintended Consequences

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

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

Alternatives to Climate Strike

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

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

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

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

Starting a dialogue about climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.