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.

The Facts You Should Know About Employee Engagement

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

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

So what is employee engagement and why should you care?

What is employee engagement?

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

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

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

Why does employee engagement matter?

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

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

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

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

How can an employer achieve employee engagement?

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to your employees  

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

Trust and Integrity – a two-way street

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

Summing up the basics of employee engagement

The four key steps to successful employee engagement are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking (and Recruiting) Outside the Box

The problems that I hear most often from employers are to do with recruitment.   Many employers have raised recruitment issues with me.  These range from things like “it’s difficult to recruit decent people”  to “we employ a large number of youngsters, but they don’t stay and it is difficult to recruit more”. I have even heard “it is difficult to recruit people who get on with their colleagues”.  Some employers are frightened of making the “wrong decision” when they are recruiting.  They are worried they will take on “the wrong person”.

Many of these issues and fears are blamed on recruitment.  But the problems actually come after the new employee has started in the job.  They are more about retaining people and engaging with them, rather than the difficulty of recruiting them in the first place.

But let’s stick with recruitment for the moment.  The news (in the UK, at least) is full of skills shortages, low unemployment rates, a fall in the number of migrant workers in the light of Brexit.  Additionally, market salary rates are rising in response to the growing difficulty in recruitment.

So are employers being too picky? 

Employers are reluctant to take on staff who have not worked in the right sector.  Public sector employees can’t get private sector jobs; non-academic staff can’t move into the academic sector; retail sector only want people who have retail experience; etc.  There might be some justification for such a preference. But most skills, experience and aptitudes are not sector specific.  Specifying experience in a given sector as an essential criterion seems to me to be a lazy way of drawing up a shortlist.  And it might be doing the employer a disservice.  They might be ruling out a raft of people who would otherwise be entirely suitable for the role.

Hiring managers always want the very best person they can get.  They look for someone who meets as many as possible of the criteria and even can offer something that the employer had never even realised they needed.  This is an unrealistic and expensive approach to recruitment when “good enough” should be adequate.  It will be easier to find someone who may not be a high-flyer, but who is steady and reliable and can do the job.  They will also be more willing to work for a realistic salary and more loyal in the long run.

Where can I find a pool of potential employees?

Employers like to recruit in their own image and are unwilling to take a punt on someone who does not fit their picture of the ideal employee.  With some notable exceptions, there is a reluctance to give an offender a second chance.  How sad that this is the exception and not the norm.

Or what about the long-term unemployed?  What about women returners, who are looking to get back into the workplace once they have started a family?  Employers seem to be scared that they will need training, or will want to work shorter hours. People with disabilities or health problems are often overlooked.  There are myriad others who fall into a minority of some kind.  So they fall into the “too difficult” category. They might need more time or money invested in them to “make it work”.

All of these groups of people are willing and able to provide good work, if only they get the chance.  In these days of difficulty in recruitment, it may be that they will be given that chance.

So the next time you need to fill a vacancy in your organisation, why not think outside the box and offer the chance to someone who is not an exact fit?

You may be agreeably surprised.

 

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

What is Mediation and How Do I Use it in the Workplace?

Mediation is a formal process to help resolve workplace disputes.  It has to be voluntary – it won’t work if one party or the other has been forced into it.  You must also ensure it is confidential.   Mediation involves an independent third party working with the conflicting parties.  The aim is  to try and find an amicable result which works for everyone.  It can be done internally, using a third party mediator who is not involved in the issue.  You need to ensure the mediator is seen as independent by all parties.  Alternatively, you can use an external mediator, who will definitely be independent.

The Benefits of Mediation

If you have conflict in the workplace it can be extremely disruptive, and not just for the parties involved.  It is crucial for you to manage this conflict before it destroys the smooth running of the organisation.  If you fail to manage it, then it will ultimately have a negative effect on your business.

The conflict could escalate to such an extent that  external organisations become involved (such as ACAS or Employment Tribunals in the UK).   Those organisations actively encourage parties to use mediation as a resolution.

As well as helping to resolve workplace conflicts, successful mediation can improve communication and restore trust.  It enables the parties to feel that their position has been heard and considered.  It enables people to move on from the conflict.

When should we be using mediation in the workplace?

Mediation can be used successfully to resolve issues where two people cannot work together.  I have used it successfully where two people had reached the point where they did not speak to each other, but where they needed to collaborate on a project.  Every time they needed to discuss anything, they just argued, with neither party listening to the other.   They were never going to be friends, but the mediation enabled them to work together in a professional manner.  It achieved a successful outcome for the project.

You can use mediation if your employee has raised a formal grievance.  Or it is sometimes useful if there has been a fairly minor act of misconduct.  Mediation can provide a safe environment to raise these issues.  They can be discussed and resolved without the need for formal action.

You could also use mediation as a formal way of following up any formal proceedings.  It can be a particularly helpful way to improve working relationships so that all parties can move forward.

What happens in mediation?

There is no set way for mediation to take place.  The mediator can discuss the alternative approaches with the individuals and agree what they want to do.  Sometimes, the mediator will discuss the issues separately with each party and then feedback to the other party until they can reach some agreement.  Alternatively, all parties can sit round a table and discuss the issues in an open forum.  The mediator can suggest solutions, or the individual parties can suggest solutions.  External mediators can often suggest practical solutions to complex problems.  The aim is for the parties to come up with outcomes which are appropriate and which work for all.

Mediation is a flexible solution and can often be more successful than having to abide by a decision or instruction from a third party.

The discussions are completely confidential and are not binding.  If an agreed outcome is reached, then that becomes binding.

Are there any disadvantages?

Mediation may not be the right solution for more complex problems, or where there has been a serious breach of conduct.

Mediation does not guarantee a successful resolution, which may make it hard to justify the cost.  If you use an internal mediator, then it is likely to take up  a good deal of their time, at least in the short-term.  This also moves their focus from the role they are employed to do.   Even if you use an external mediator, then it may still not be possible for the parties to reach a workable solution.

Mediation only works when both parties agree to take part in it.  Some people are not prepared to try to achieve an agreed outcome.  They are so entrenched in their view, that they want their “day in court” to prove the rights of their case.

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

Let Them Eat Cake! (Unless You Care About Their Wellbeing)

Are you concerned about the health and wellbeing of your employees?  Of course you are!  You are a caring employer and you like your employees to be well and happy at work.  Not to mention that there is a considerable cost to you each time someone is off sick.  If the sickness becomes prolonged – or even stops someone from continuing to work at all, then that is very sad and very difficult to deal with.   And sometimes it is preventable.

Celebration time is here

When birthdays roll around, or other events occur in the lives of your employees, you like to celebrate with them.  The standard celebration is for them or their colleagues to provide cake or chocolates.  Some customer-facing businesses get gifts from grateful clients.  What is easier – or more welcome – than cake or chocolates?  Suppliers, too, like to give their clients gifts from time to time.  Many is the time in the HR department when I have been on the receiving end of chocolates or cakes from an employment agency. Or a grateful employee buys cake as a thank you for the support HR had provided.  Some managers like to provide cake at team meetings.

As the employer or manager, you may even choose to foot the bill for this largesse.  The staff love it and enjoy taking a five minute break to have some cake and a chatter.  They are celebrating and you encourage this to help engender team spirit and good relationships in the workplace.

Sugar – the hidden menace

I love sweet things myself, but the awareness has slowly been dawning on me that too much of it is damaging to my health and wellbeing.  All this cake and chocolate is sabotaging the health of your staff.  Diabetes is a fast-growing problem in our world and our addiction to sugar in our food and drinks is a major contribution to this problem.  Not to mention obesity and related diseases, heart problems, tooth decay – the list goes on.   How many people in your workplace are trying to lose weight?  How many of them “cannot resist” the cake and chocolate which is inevitably on display and available in the working environment?

Stopping the rot

In my own experience, people make their own attempts to counter this influx of sugar, by providing “healthy” snacks as well as cake.  They bring in fruit, nuts, muesli bars  as well as – or even instead of – the cake. The intention is good, but the fruit goes rotten before the cake is all eaten.  The healthy stuff is usually the last to be eaten.  Alternative “healthy” snack bars may also still contain large amounts of sugar (or sweeteners, or corn syrup, or glucose – or other things which are really just sugar in disguise).

Am I suggesting that you ban all sugary foods and drinks, or that you only provide fruit?  No – that would be extraordinarily unpopular, given that this is an addiction to sugar that we all have.  It is good to indulge ourselves occasionally – and make it a real “treat” and a blanket ban would just alienate people.

No, this is a chance to really show your employees that you care, by collaborating with them about a sensible solution to this problem.

Starting the Conversation

Lou Walker, who is a workplace health and wellbeing consultant, specialising in obesity and office cake culture, has  written an in-depth report on this subject.  She has come up with eight ideas to make it easier for employers to start a conversation about office cake.  In brief, they are:

  • Create a health and wellbeing event where it can be on the agenda
  • Use, or consider having, workplace wellbeing champions to introduce the topic with colleagues
  • Start a competition for the most creative, healthy cake alternative
  • Identify individuals and teams who might be amenable to/interested in a conversation
  • Feel confident that this is appropriate. Employee health and wellbeing is your legitimate concern
  • Share Lou’s TEDx talk on the subject and ask for reactions
  • Consider a short, anonymous questionnaire on the subject (confidential, of course)
  • It may take months to implement a conversation – don’t be afraid to start small.

If you are interested in learning more about these suggestions and the subject of office cake in general, then do visit Lou Walker’s website and read her report.

Be part of the conversation.

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

Finding The Perfect Recruitment Fit

Many employers tell me that successful recruitment is their biggest challenge.

The reasons they give are many and varied:  the skills they need are in short supply; it costs a fortune to advertise in the right places; there are plenty of candidates but none of them “fit”; people are too young, old, not skilled, over-qualified… the list goes on.

But the problem may lie closer to home.

Many employers forget two very important things.  Firstly, recruitment is a two-way street and the candidate for the job also has a choice.  Secondly, the recruitment process should not stop when the new employee has signed the contract.

Showing your best side

If you were trying to sell your house for the best price possible, then you would spend some time and effort in preparing for the sale.  You might tidy up the garden .  You could increase the “kerb appeal” by a lick of paint on the front door. It makes sense to clean the house and make the beds. You might even go as far as putting fresh flowers on the table, baking some bread or brewing fresh coffee so that there is an enticing smell when people come to view.

But don’t forget that the candidate is also checking your business out to see if they want to work there.  If they are skilled and/or enthusiastic, you are unlikely to be the only person who is interviewing them.  So it makes sense to show your business to its best advantage.  Make sure the candidate is welcomed when they arrive and that they get a friendly reception from everyone they come into contact with.  Give them a chance to see the environment they will be working in and to meet their potential colleagues.  Ensure you explain the role accurately and clearly.   Make sure you spell out the benefits of working for  you.

Preparing for recruitment

You are probably extremely busy and recruiting people takes up a good deal of valuable time.  That is why it is important to get it right, so you don’t have to repeat the process too many times.  A little care could prevent the need.   Take time to prepare properly for the interview.  Make sure you have read the person’s CV and know a little about them.  Remember to use their name – if you need to check how to pronounce it, then ask them at the beginning of the conversation – and listen to their answer, so you get it right from then on!  Make sure you have prepared some questions to ask all the people you are interviewing, so that you can compare their answers to help you choose the best fit.

Beware the trap of over-selling, though.  The candidates need to get a good impression, but it needs to be the right one.  Don’t promise work which exists but you know is going to someone else.  Make sure they get a true picture of what you need them to do for you.  And don’t show them the beautiful new desk in the airy space by the window, if you are going to put them in the tatty old workspace near the gents’ toilet.

Decision time

You need to decide quickly about whether a candidate is right or not.  If you are not sure, then it is probably a “no” and you need to tell them so.  Time is of the essence and it is critical to get the offer of a job out quickly.  Otherwise, your ideal candidate will have got fed up waiting for your decision and accepted another job elsewhere.  Even if you have made a verbal offer and they have accepted it, you still need to get the paperwork out quickly.  It is not unusual for someone to accept a verbal offer and then to start another job in the time it took you to get the written details out to them.

I have often known employers who think that someone they have interviewed “might be OK” but they want to interview a few others before they decide.  They are frightened they will miss out on a “better” candidate.  In my experience, perfection is impossible to find and if someone is “good enough”, then snap them up.  Otherwise, you risk losing out on employing them because you are looking for someone perfect, who probably does not exist.

After the party

How many times have you moved into a lovely new house, only to discover there are rotten floorboards, rats in the loft and a jungle hidden at the bottom of the garden?  OK, perhaps that is an extreme, but you get the point.  In the same way, a new employee will be wondering if they made the right choice.  What if the job is not the one which was advertised and which they wanted to do, but turns out to be something different which they don’t want to do?  If the reality is very difficult from the promise at interview, then they will very quickly move on.  Then you will have to go through the whole process again.

Recruitment is their choice too.

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The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth

The Art of Giving a Reference

When we change jobs, we are all keen to be given a good reference to give to our new employer.

On the other hand, many employers these days only give a basic reference which confirms that the person worked for them for a specific period and what the job title was.  This is only of limited use to a new employer as it gives no indication of how well or badly the employee performed in the role or how they got on with colleagues and/or customers.

As a result, there is a general belief that “references are not worth the paper they are written on”.  This is a real shame when a little care could really help the recruitment process along.

Why do we only give out basic information?

Employers are frightened of horror stories of legislation.  “We might get sued if we say something nasty” and so they feel obliged to say as little as possible and to keep it very bland.  Additionally, many do not trust their managers to give references as they might inadvertently say something which may cause a problem for the Company.

Yet references should be a really powerful tool in the recruitment process. They should tell an employer whether the person is qualified to do the job and what experience they have; they should tell about any performance issues, or triumphs; they should tell of any misconduct or grievance; they should give an idea of the attendance record and any patterns of absence;  they should tell about the relationships and whether the person is a good fit for the new role and the team they will be working with.

How  can you write a “safe” reference, which also helps the new employer?

  1. References must be truthful and factual.  The manager or colleagues may have an opinion – good or bad – about the individual, but this should not be included, unless it is based on fact which can be backed up with evidence. So an opinion that “he was always late, never arrived in work at the right time” would need to be backed up with a record of occasions of lateness, plus evidence of a conversation (or even formal action) with the individual pointing out their lateness and exploring the reasons for it and giving targets for improvement.   Equally, if your opinion is that “she is the best sales person we have ever employed” then you should really be able to back that up with evidence of meeting high sales targets, or great customer feedback.  You don’t have to share any evidence with the new employer, but it must exist so you could produce it if anybody questioned the truth of your reference
  2. Contrary to popular belief, references can include “bad” things – but again, they must be backed up by evidence. So if the person  has a day off sick every other Monday, then it is fine to say so, as long as the attendance records exist which back this up.  It would also be helpful if you could show that you have taken this up with the individual and made them aware it is not acceptable and have agreed a way forward to improve things.
  3. There should be no surprises. You cannot say that the person was not very good at dealing with customers, unless you have had a conversation (or even a formal meeting) with the individual and told them about this problem and a record has been kept, with a copy given to the employee.  If dealing with customers is a critical part of their job, you would again need to show an agreed improvement plan.
  4. The employee may well get to see the reference. It is not unusual for a potential or new employer to show the reference they have received to the individual or even to ask their opinion of what has been said.  Indeed, I suggest this is a good idea for an employer to do.
  5. If you follow all these rules the individual will not be able to show it is not fair.  You might find it helpful to share a copy of the reference with them so they can see what has been said.  They may ask you to change it, but you don’t have to do that.  At least they will have seen you have been honest and they can take the opportunity to consider how to address any negatives with the new employer.
  6. These rules apply to verbal references as well as written ones. Employers sometimes feel they can get round the “difficult” issues by making  a quick ‘phone call to the previous employer, rather than getting a written reference.  This is risky as the person on the receiving end of the reference may well write notes or write the conversation down and it becomes as much of a liability as a written reference would have been.  In any event, is is unfair on the individual to say something which they are not able to be party to or to answer.
  7. Some employers get round the problem by allowing managers to give “personal character references” but not official work sanctioned references. This is also risky as the receiving manager is likely to think it is an “official” reference and to treat it as such, so the risks are still there.  It is better for the employer to produce the reference centrally, with input from the individual’s line manager – or to spend a small amount of time in training managers to write proper references (or show them this video!).

In a nutshell

Please produce and send meaningful references, following the above guidelines.  It will be helpful for the employee, helpful for the new employer – and you may be grateful for the same courtesy when you are next recruiting. It could help save an expensive mistake.

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Human Resources, Personnel and Pineapples

Should it be Human Resources or Personnel?  Two people have raised the point with me this week that it was “better” when it was Personnel.  After all, people are people –  not resources like staplers or widgets, which employers can discard when there is a problem, without considering feelings or anxieties.

Why Human Resources?

Historically, the Welfare department looked after the people.  Then Welfare was re-branded as Personnel, to get away from the “nanny” image.  But we have moved on a bit since then.  People are a resource and there is no getting away from that.  Of course, they are different from staplers and need different treatment, but they are a resource which contributes to the effectiveness and success of a business.  So calling them “Human Resources” does what it says on the tin – they are human and they are resources  – and the role of the HR department these days is very different.  Whilst there is still an element of pay and rations, the HR director acts as a strategic partner to the business.  HR is there to help the organisation to use their workforce in the best way to achieve their business aims.

So what is the problem?

The real message behind this concern about the name, is that people feel unloved in the workplace.  They feel as though their employer does not consider their feelings or consult them.  They feel used (like a stapler) and then ignored. As I have stated before, people want to feel they are part of the organisation.  They want to feel that they matter,  and they want to be treated fairly and professionally.

If you get this right, then it doesn’t matter what you call the workforce – personnel, human resources, pineapples (!).  They will be happy and loyal and will be a great asset and ambassador for your business.

We will provide some help for you to achieve this in the near future.  Watch this space!

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