Leading A Remote Team, With Love

This article is for you if you are faced with leading a remote team.  Especially if that is new for you.

Who is working at home?

Of course, there are those who cannot work from home under any circumstances.  Medical and emergency services.  And retailers – and those who restock the shelves.  This probably needs a whole separate article.

Then there are those people who already work from home occasionally, or often. Or all the time.  They already have set routines and are wondering what all the fuss is about.

New to Home Working

Finally, there are those for whom this is a novelty.

There may be some who think it is a chance for a release from being managed and will think about how they can use it to the best advantage.

But the vast majority will welcome being trusted.  They will be slightly nervous about the logistics.  And they will be keen to make it work so they can continue to do it sometimes in future.

What are people feeling?

People will be distracted and interrupted by family around them.  Some people will be sharing all sorts of advice – some of it fake – about coronavirus. Others will never mention coronavirus and will be “burying their heads”.

We all have concerns at the moment and we need to balance everything in our lives. We need to get work done to ensure we continue to have a job/business at the end of this crisis.  And we are also caring about ourselves and our families.  In particular, we are worrying about the more vulnerable people in our immediate circle.

Leading a remote team during the current situation

We need to balance the needs of our customers, clients, suppliers and teams, with our own needs, concerns and emotions.

Managers and leaders are critical in helping business to continue and the people within the business to carry on. Managers are key to keeping everyone updated. Their role is to help bring a sense of calm, rationality and peace.  In short – this is the ideal chance to manifest love and leadership.

We need to offer help, support and compassion. Whilst at the same time delivering value, maintaining services and processes.

How to cope with leading a remote team

You might think you are too busy and have too much work to deal with all this.  But managing your team is THE MOST important part of your job.  The people make the business and you cannot afford to lose them or their goodwill.

It helps if you recognise that there are many different reactions.  Others may not feel the same way you do, or as their colleagues do.

The principles of leading a remote team are no different from managing a team in person. The most important thing for a manager is to keep in regular contact with the team (phone, email, messenger, zoom, facetime, skype).  Listen to what they are (or are not) telling you.  Offer practical solutions where possible.

Have you thought about team meetings?  These are more important than ever, to weld a team together and enable them to collaborate.  You can set a regular time and date and hold the meeting by zoom or skype – some method where they can actually see each other is best.  And encourage them to contact each other regularly and keep you all in the loop.

Dealing with the negatives

Where things can’t be changed, be honest, but understanding.  Try to help people to come to terms with things which are impossible to change. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver.

People are going to be struggling with all kinds of anxieties.  It is helpful if you canlag up counselling or other help which is available.  Many companies provide a counselling service, but if not, there are plenty of charities which can help in a wide range of situations.

One major difficulty which many will face is financial.  Even if your workplace is still able to function remotely, many cannot.  This means that your team may have partners who are unable to work through illness.  Or they may have been laid off or moved to shorter hours.  This puts more pressure on your team members who may have become the only wage earner in a household.  So again, it is helpful if you can provide information about financial advice or help  which is available

We need to be aware of potential mental health issues.  People will be feeling isolated, or trapped. They may be facing financial difficulties and/or relationship difficulties.  They may be anxious, frightened, worried about falling sick.  Or they may be anxious about vulnerable relatives or children.  This makes your regular contact even more important.

Celebrating the positives

It is even more important than usual to remember to thank people.  We all need some recognition for what we do  – even if it is just “part of the job”.  This is even more important when you are leading a remote team.  They need to know they are not invisible and that you notice things they are doing.

The world goes on and people have birthdays and other causes to celebrate.  So help them to enjoy their special occasions.  We need to have fun days to enjoy even more than usual.  Celebrate team and individual “wins”.  Give them a reason to keep positive.

Finally, it is helpful to get the team to think about their personal wellbeing.  Encourage fresh air, exercise, healthy eating, even just standing in the garden to look at trees and greenery.  Taking a regular break is really important.  We all tend to get stuck behind our computer, head down and involved and the day flies past without a break.  This is not healthy or productive.

What are the likely reactions to homeworking?

Some people will have only just found this “freedom” and so might spend all their time scrolling though social media and not getting anything done.  But this novelty will soon wear off and the vast majority will knuckle down to work in a few days.

At the other end of the scale, some will be really conscientious – to a ridiculous degree.  They will  want to prove themselves reliable and trustworthy. So they are likely to work solidly without a break – and that is almost a worse problem to manage!

I am already seeing some people who are in a real state of anxiety.  They have been infected by the media and social media and the general scaremongering which is rife at present.  They panic about every news bulletin, social media post, etc and so can’t settle to anything.

Of course, this situation is different from “normal” working at home.  People may have their kids and partners at home. Tthe house is crowded. There is no privacy.  They are keen to get some work done, but it isn’t really practical.

Finally – and of the most concern – there are some people who will withdraw into themselves and go silent.  They are unable to face their fears and anxieties.  They do not have a network around them who can help them to have some perspective. So they internalise it all and withdraw more and more.

As time goes on, things will change

  • Some will get used to it and settle into a routine.
  • Others will find living with their partner so closely doesn’t work, and they will find their own way to manage – move into the shed or a caravan. I predict (sadly) that all this enforced closeness to our loved ones may force a temporary increase in the divorce rate.
  • Some will hate it and can’t wait to get back to normal.
  • There will definitely be a few who continue to need support to stop them becoming more and more isolated.
  • Some (I suspect quite a large majority) will find they love working from home, at least for some of the time, and will demand that it continues when workplaces reopen. I foresee that the world of work may see some permanent changes.

…. And finally…

These are strange and unsettling times for us all (and I really mean “all”).  The whole world is facing this crisis and I find that quite comforting.  Brought together in adversity.  Maybe, maybe not.  But the point is that we are all having to get used to things which are outside our comfort zone and don’t feel familiar.  So reach out to someone if you need some help – there are plenty of others going through the same things you are!

 

If you think this article is useful and you would like to talk about dealing with this  – then contact me 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.

 

Love and Leadership

Do the words “love” and “leadership” belong in the same sentence? And what does that word “love” actually mean, anyway?

The dictionary definition is fairly simple.  Love is “an intense feeling of deep affection”.   Or it can be “a great interest and pleasure in something”.

We have all felt love, haven’t we? Love for a parent or a sibling; love for a partner or a child; even love for a pet.  Of course, these types of love are all different from each other. The love of a mother for her child is different from the love of someone for their life partner.  And that is different from the love between two brothers.  OR IS IT?

I couldn’t say that I love my husband differently from the way I love my sister, or my cats.  Yes, the intensity of the feeling might vary, and the physical expression of that feeling might differ, but the way I treat my loved one is no different.  For me, it means you want the best for that person, you want them to be happy, you want them to succeed.  If you love someone, you will go the extra mile for them. You will put yourself out for them. Or you would change your plans to accommodate them.  Their welfare is important to you and you care about what they are thinking and feeling.   These things are common for every type of love.

What do we mean by “love” in the workplace?

Firstly let’s separate the feeling of love from the actions which we take when we feel love.  Then it is easy to see how this can translate to the workplace. Indeed, it can apply to any other situation in our daily lives.

We go to work for a variety of different reasons. The basic reason is usually to earn money to fund everything else in our lives.  But while we are there, we have dealings with other people.  Most of us want those dealings to be pleasant, friendly and helpful.  Our colleagues can even grow into being personal friends.

For those dealings with others to be pleasant and effective, then we really need to love those people.  We want the best for them, we want them to succeed, we put ourselves out for them, we help them. We do this, probably unconsciously, all the time. Maybe we thank people and we help people. Perhaps we teach people what we know.  We help them to do the best job they can do.  The underlying reason we do these things may be that we want them to do the same for us.  We all have a need for love, and the workplace is no different from anywhere else – we want to be “liked”.

So what about love and leadership?

A leader – whether in the workplace or politics, or in a sports team or a country –  would do well to show these outward expressions of love to the people they lead.  Surely a leader should want the best for the team? They should want team members to be happy and to succeed? If those things are true for individual members of a team, then they will be true for the whole team.

In a position of leadership, I would say it is absolutely critical to “love” those you lead.  On that will rest your success as a leader and the success of the outcome you are seeking.

How does a leader show love? Put every single possible step in place to ensure the welfare (physical and mental) of your team. Make sure your team are at the heart of all your plans and decisions. Be prepared to change course (or at least adjust the course) if it will be a better option for people. Consult with your team regularly to temperature test your plans. Make sure everybody is included.

The benefits of love and leadership

The strange thing about love is that the more you give out, the more you get back.  A leader who loves the people they lead will find that those people are prepared to love them in return.  They will bend over backwards to meet deadlines.  Perhaps, they will sing the praises of the leader. Because they feel safe and secure they will do their best work. They will make sacrifices if necessary. In short, they will love the leader.

The question may not be “what are the benefits if I lead my team with love?”  It is better to ask  “what will be the size and consequence of the failure, if I don’t love my team?”

Oh, and what is the biggest benefit of all?  You will find you love yourself, as well.

But what about the difficult decisions?

You may think you would not gain respect if you are “soft” on your team.  My answer to that is that love is not soft.  It comes from a place of strength.  People will respect you far more for being kind, helpful, approachable and, yes – loving.

There are times in business when difficult decisions have to be made. Sometimes we have to do some difficult things. I am thinking about times like redundancies, disciplinaries, even dismissals.  You might think that love doesn’t have a place in these types of action.

But I would say just the opposite.  There have been any  number of really difficult and unpleasant situations I have had to manage.  I have seen every reaction you could imagine. And I am proud that I have helped people when they are facing some of the darkest times of their working lives.  I have treated them as humans.  Yes – I have loved them.

 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.

Things You Should Know About Appointing A Manager

Appointing a manager is probably the most important business decision you will ever make.  If you get it right, you will find that your recruitment bill goes down and your staff retention figures go up.   Your customers will love you and return for more business. You will prevent a huge number of sleepless nights and headaches due to people problems in your business.

How can you be sure you have chosen the right people to be managers in your business?

A good example, or a terrible warning?

How do you want your employees, customers, suppliers, ex-employees to remember your business?  Do you want them to feel confident that your company provides the best service, with the least possible difficulty?  Do you want them to know that your team is knowledgeable, friendly, helpful?  Would you like people to say your company is a great business to deal with?  Or if employees said it was the happiest place to work?

Or would you rather that people warned others not to work in your company?  They might say you don’t care about your employees.  Or customers might complain about bad service from a grumpy employee?  How would you feel if your reputation was for a great product, but that people wouldn’t use your company again?

What have these things got to do with appointing  a manager?

Your managers are critical to the reputation of your business.  Even if they never have any customer dealings.  Of if they manage a support function, rather than the front line.   A poor manager will never be able to get the best from the team.  And the resulting problems will have a knock-on effect on other parts of the business.

Your managers can make or break your business. The investment in your managers is the most important investment you will ever make.  And you need to ensure you get a good return on that investment.

So how should you choose a successful manager?

The very worst reason to appoint a manager

I have seen it hundreds of times.  And it is often a disaster.

Someone is really good at the job they do.  They might be achieving far better results than anyone else.  In so many companies, that alone is the reason why they are then promoted to manage a team of people doing that job.  If they are good at the job, then surely that makes them the ideal person to lead others doing that job?  Wrong!  As well as being a good widget maker, they might also have the skills to train other widget makers.  Or they might be empathic, good listeners.  They might be good at decision-making, team leading, communicating, inspiring others.  But just because they are a good widget maker does not guarantee that they are good at those other things too.

I once knew a sales manager who was absolutely brilliant at sales.  He was able to be charming to customers and to achieve seemingly impossible sales figures.  But he was a bully and his team were all terrified of him.  Soon, some very good  sales people left the company.  And the people who needed some development and encouragement never got it.   The team performance started to drop alarmingly.  The team effectiveness spiralled downwards and the sales figures for the team became very low.   Eventually, the CEO took action and the manager was moved.  He was replaced by a manager who had people skills and who could get the best from the team. Magically, the figures started to improve and the team overall became more effective.  Their figures were consistently good – and not reliant on just one good performer.

Tips for appointing a successful manager

The most important skills needed by a successful manager are people skills.  These include things like the ability to communicate and to understand what motivates others.  They need to be able to deal with stressful situations for themselves and their team.  They need to manage conflict and change.  They need to be able to inspire and encourage.

But you don’t need someone who is a soft touch and gives in to every demand made on them.  They must be decisive and able to navigate difficult decision making processes.  Then they need to be able to communicate their decision and the reason.

Additionally, your investment should include initial and ongoing management training.  You cannot throw someone into a management role and expect them to just pick it up by themselves.  Many of the necessary skills can be learnt and developed with practice.

And what about the time to manage people?  Managing a team  can take up an enormous amount of time and energy.  Doing it successfully requires planning and giving time to the team members.  So a team manager cannot also hold down a fulltime job doing other things.  The team manager needs to view managing the team as the major part of their job.  Any other work they can also do is a bonus!  This is another reason not to give your best widget maker the promotion to being the widget team manager.

Planning Ahead

As with every other aspect of your business, my most important piece of advice when appointing a manager is for you to plan ahead.  Design your management structure before you need to create or replace managers.  That way, you can give serious thought to the qualities of the person you are seeking to appoint.

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 Employees With Mismatched Skills Are Damaging Your Company’s Productivity

Many companies are employing people with mismatched skills and this is damaging productivity and profitability within their business.

I wrote an article in February this year about the dangers of recruiting employees with the wrong skills for the vacant position. Many employers look for skills that aren’t needed to get the job done.   Almost half of employees in the UK are in jobs with mismatched skills.  They are either over-or-under skilled for the job.  Or they might have the wrong qualification, or are not qualified at all.

A report by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) last year found that over a third (37%) of workers have the skills to cope with more demanding jobs.  Additionally, many people with degrees are in jobs which do not require such a high level of qualification. Conversely, one in ten people reported lacking the skills needed to carry out their job effectively.  The report concluded that as many as half of UK workers could be in the wrong job, based on their skill level.

Why does it matter if your employees have mismatched skills?

Mismatched skills bring negative impacts for our employees.  This has a knock-on negative effect on our business.

For employees, the CIPD survey found that over-skilled workers earn less than those whose skills are well-matched to their jobs.  This can result in a long term inability to increase their salary to a level they feel equals their skills. This can lead to resentment.

On the other hand, if someone has not got the relevant skills for their job, then they can become stressed and may work longer hours than is healthy.

Other issues for employees who have mismatched skills may include:

  • reduced chances of promotion;
  • difficulty in getting a new job;
  • poor job satisfaction;
  • lack of trust in the workplace;
  • lower confidence.

Why does an employer need to worry about this?

For employers, these implications for our workers are a key factor in the productivity levels for our business.

If our employees have mismatched skills, they are less likely to do a good job for us.   Their motivation and job satisfaction will suffer.  As a result, they may become resentful and even disruptive.   Their sickness absence levels are likely to increase.  All of these things are difficult to manage in the workplace and result in cost (in time and money) for the employer.

You may start to wonder why you have been unable to recruit a more satisfactory and happy employee.  Employers often think that it is difficult to recruit the right people.  But it may be more accurate that they are not even looking for the right people.

You may also find that employees are leaving only a short time after they started working for you.  Over-skilled employees will want to leave and find a job which is better matched to their skills.  And under-skilled employees may just be very unhappy because they struggle to do the job.

All of these things affect the overall productivity of your workforce.  And that increases your costs and reduces your profits.

How can I address the problem of mismatched skills?

If you ensure your employees have the right skills for their jobs, either through recruitment or training (or both), then they will be happier in the workplace and you will benefit from higher productivity and increased profitability.

To avoid mismatching skills to jobs in your company, there are some key areas where you might want to take some action.

  • Recruitment . A good place to start is to review your recruitment process.  Have you got a recruitment strategy?  If so, does it need to be adjusted?  How accurate are your job descriptions? Have you reviewed your job descriptions lately?
  • Skills Development And Training. Is it time for you to invest in some training? You could arrange some skills development for the current job holders, where they are under-skilled.  Clearly this will address specific problem areas.  But it can also send a powerful message about valuing your employees .
  • Conducting a skills audit. This can give a clear picture of the skills you already have in your workplace. You may be unaware of some of them.  It is certainly likely that you will find a number of areas where some adjustments can be made in terms of job design or training plans.   It could even lead to some restructuring if you can move people around to address some of the key skills gaps.
  • Job design. Once you understand the skills you have in your workplace, you can prioritise better use of those skills.  Then you can adapt how well  and where those skills are used.  You can then ensure you have the right jobs with the right people in them.  And you can recruit and train others, as necessary.
  • Management training. Your managers are key in this whole process and it will pay you to ensure they have the skills to support employee development. You may want to review your management practices as well and ensure your managers are confident in those practices.

What benefit will it bring?

If you can address these key areas, your employees may start to use their skills fully and appropriately in the workplace.  This will bring them increased levels of job satisfaction.  They are likely to earn more throughout their career and have more confidence and less stress.

This can lead to increased loyalty, trust and motivation.  Your retention rates will go up and the money you need to spend on recruitment will reduce.  All of this leads to higher productivity, more rapid growth and – ultimately – better profitability for your business.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support with a skills audit, recruitment strategy or anything else we have covered, then please contact us for a free half-hour discovery call.

Jill Aburrow runs a strategic HR consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to Professional Services 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, supporting Information Technology companies. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

 

How A Social Media Policy Avoids These Productivity Pitfalls

Social media can be good for your business.  You can use it as a marketing tool.  Or you can advertise your vacant roles.  Maybe you use it to keep an eye on your competitors.  Or it can just provide some light relief from a heavy workload.

We all use social media these days – and that includes your employees.  And that is where it can all go wrong, of course.  So do you have any control over how your employees use social media?  And should you care?

Monitoring the use of social media

Some employers may want to try the “blanket ban” approach to social media in the workplace, but this is often counter-productive and almost impossible to enforce.  Many people have access to computers at work and nearly all will carry a personal mobile phone.  Some companies even provide a mobile phone for work purposes.  Social media is available on all of these devices.

If you were to try this approach, you would find it very unpopular with your employees. A better option might be to allow “reasonable” use at work.  If your employees have a sensible workload and are engaged and interested in their work, they will not abuse this trust.  They might choose to have a quick look at Instagram whilst they grab a coffee.  But they are not likely to spend hours scrolling through Facebook posts.  If your staff are being managed properly, then you should find there is little problem with over-use at work.

Productivity Pitfalls

There is potential for more of a problem if people are posting comments, rather than just reading posts. This could become a more serious cost to productivity. If people are getting involved in long “conversations” in social media, then they are not thinking about their work.  They might only take a few minutes to post something but their train of thought is broken.  It takes a while for that concentration to return.  This can easily happen repeatedly if they are answering a string of comments on a social media post.

There may be a further problem if the content is inappropriate.   This covers a variety of risks.  It might be something which potentially damages your business reputation.  Or it could be something for which the employer is blamed (vicarious liability). It could breach confidentiality.  It could alienate your clients.

This, of course, leads to potential disciplinary action.  That is inevitably another drain on productivity for the employee who posted the comment and others.  It will affect all the people involved as witnesses or doing an investigation.  Or those involved in the hearing.   The productivity of the whole team will also take a knock.  They may need to take on extra work whilst the disciplinary action is ongoing.  Additionally, they may well be talking amongst themselves about it.  And, depending on the severity of any sanction, they may have to adjust to a different person in the team, or a realignment of the work.

Other concerns

Other things which employers may want to guard against include:

  • There is evidently a risk of introducing malware into your systems.
  • Reputational cost. This depends on the content of the employee’s comments.
  • Negative comments about colleagues – or even threats. I have been involved in the dismissal of an employee where they had made a physical threat to a colleague on social media.
  • Loss of trust between employee and employer. This could even lead to a situation where the relationship is untenable.

This is not a complete list of the things which can be a problem in social media posts, from an employment perspective.  You may be concerned about other issues as well.   If that is the case, then I would urge you to take professional HR or legal advice.

How can employers avoid this productivity drain?

My approach would be to allow reasonable use of social media at work – or at least not to try and stop it.

I would urge any employer to safeguard themselves by producing a Social Media policy.  If there are clear rules and they have been properly communicated, this can go a long way to achieving acceptable use.  In particular, it is important to lay down what is NOT acceptable.

If people are allowed the freedom to make sensible choices, they will generally behave as adults.  We all like to know our boundaries and work within them.  If the guidelines are not restrictive, we do not generally breach them.

You may have exceptions to this in your workforce.  With a clear policy in place, you have the means to deal fairly with any issues.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on producing a Social Media policy  – 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.

 

A Highly Engaged Workforce – The Secret To Increased Profits?

A highly engaged workforce is, of course,  a “nice-to-have” in business. But in these days of anxiety about Brexit and recruitment difficulties, you might feel that you have more important things to worry about.

You need to concentrate on the bottom line, making the money come in, paying your employees and keeping your customers happy.  Sure, it would be great to have a highly engaged workforce.  This has been an important topic in the business world  for years.   But some research carried out by Dale Carnegie shows that many organisations are not happy with the progress they have made in this arena. As many as 85% of leaders say that employee engagement is a priority.  But only a third of organisations actually take meaningful action.

Signs of success

The evidence is there that companies who have  highly engaged workforces are outperforming their competitors by a large margin in terms of earnings per share.

It costs approximately £30,000 to replace the average employee.  Surely, it is better to keep your employees happy so you don’t need to replace them so often.

But how and where do you start to raise levels of employee engagement?

“It ain’t what you do…”

I have talked in previous articles about the key factors of employee engagement.  It is easy to say that an organisation needs to increase trust and integrity.  It is easy to understand that employees need the chance to have their opinion heard, or to be thanked for an achievement.

But how can these principles be embedded within an organisation?

“….It’s the way that you do it”

How can you ensure that you have highly engaged workforce? The most important step for you to take  is to make it a strategic business priority.  Make sure that everyone knows the importance of employee engagement and the benefits of it.   This includes you, your managers – and everyone working in the organisation.  Start at the top and make sure that all of your managers are highly engaged.  Dale Carnegie’s research showed that only a third of senior leaders felt engaged with their organisation.   If your managers are not engaged, how can they inspire the people who work with them?

Once you make employee engagement  a strategic priority, you can put steps in place to enable your managers to achieve this goal.  Managers need some specific skills to help them build an environment of engagement.  See my article about management skills for more information.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on making employee engagement into a strategic priority – please  contact us for further guidance.

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

 

How Workplace Gratitude Can Inspire Productivity

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

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

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

Why should employers encourage workplace gratitude?

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

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

Workplace gratitude is definitely a worthwhile investment.

Why don’t we encourage workplace gratitude?

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

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

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

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

How to build a culture of gratitude in the workplace

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

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

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

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

Encourage your employees to show gratitude

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

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

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

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

Random Acts of Kindness in the workplace

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

How Listening To Your Employees Can Transform Your Business

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

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

And there is little cost for a huge business advantage.

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

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

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

What is “employee voice”?

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

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

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

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

Why should employers care?

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

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

What are the benefits of listening to your employees?

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

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

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

Mechanisms for listening to your employees

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

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

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

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

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

What can go wrong?

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

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

Barriers to effective “employee voice”

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

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

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

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

The changing work environment

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

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

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

Getting it right 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing People – And Why You Need To Get It Right

You understand that your employees are key to your business success and you know what are the key ingredients to ensure that morale is high and people are loyal.  You pay well and your staff benefits are as good, or better, than those offered by your competitors.

But you are still having problems recruiting the right people.  Your sickness levels are higher than average, with people constantly taking days off sick.  What is more, you are finding it difficult to keep good people once you have managed to recruit them.

Is there anything you can do to improve things?

Managing people, on a day to day basis, is a challenging task which needs a comprehensive set of skills.  If your managers  do not have the right skills then you are leaving a big part of your business success to chance. This includes you,  if you are managing people yourself.

Choosing Your Managers

When we need to set up a management structure, then our first consideration is who should be promoted into a management position.  Often the choice falls to the person who is the best performer in the team.  This can be a short-sighted way of selecting a manager.  Just because someone is good at the job, does not mean they will be good at managing people who do the job.  Some people do not have the ability to manage people. Others may not have any desire to do so.  There may, of course, be some who want to have the “power” of being a manager, but who have none of the necessary skills..

Skills for Managing People

In order to manage a successful team, managers need to have a variety of skills, and those are not necessarily practical task-related skills.  So the best person for a job may not be the best person to manage others doing that job.

In particular, you need to ensure your managers have a range of more human, so-called “soft” skills.  This includes things like leadership, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, change management.

Some Key Skills for Managers

You might expect a list of the key skills needed to include some of those in the list below.  But others may be more of a surprise. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but covers some of the skills which your people managers need to have.

  • Communication Skills. Every manager needs to be able to communicate with their team members.  This is more complex in these days of remote working and more diversity in the workplace.  Giving and receiving the right messages are both absolutely key to managing a team.
  • Emotional Intelligence. This skill is quoted a great deal as a necessity. A quick look on Social Media shows that Emotional Intelligence is a subject for much discussion. So what is it?  It is difficult to define, but includes things like: keeping an open mind; being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes; compassion and caring; the ability to engender trust;  integrity; honesty; following up on promises; thanking people; engaging with people.
  • Change Management. Any workplace is likely to go through change from time to time.  Sometimes such changes are brought on by external events – eg. legislation.  Or they may come from a changing market or different leadership.  Whatever the reason, people can find it extremely difficult to be productive during periods of change and it is essential that managers have skills to be able to support their teams through it.
  • Stress Management. The mental health of employees is something which is acknowledged more and more in the workplace and managers need to be able to judge stress levels and likely consequences.    They also need to know how to manage employees who have mental (or, indeed, physical) health challenges or issues.
  • Conflict Management. A successful manager needs to be able to resolve conflict between team members. There are likely to be occasions when two people have a difference in opinion and the manager needs to be able to resolve that with a fair and transparent approach.

Managing Time

You may wonder why time management is not included in the list above.  And, of course, it is a critical skill for any busy manager.  But there is also a key role for the Managing Director in this one. You may recruit a new manager, or promote someone into a management role.  But often they are then expected to do their “day job” as well as managing a team of people.  Managing people is a role in itself.

A manager may be able to oversee one or two people as well as doing other work, but they cannot do a good job of managing a whole team of people, as well as having to meet other work deadlines.

This is another reason why it is not a good idea to promote someone to manager because they are good at the work done by the team.  You do not want to lose the skills of a high performing team member.  A good manager will spend a large proportion of their time managing people and so cannot do another full-time job as well.  If you do promote someone, then you need to ensure at least some of their work is taken from them.  This is so  they can concentrate of their management responsibilities.  You also need to invest in some training for them in those required skills.

In conclusion

If you want high performing teams who are productive, loyal and happy at work –  then you need to make sure they are managed properly.  And this does not mean micro-management.

To achieve such growth and productivity for your business, then you need to choose and train your managers carefully.  This will ensure  that they can work with your employees to achieve the best possible results for your business.

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

The Facts You Should Know About Employee Engagement

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

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

So what is employee engagement and why should you care?

What is employee engagement?

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

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

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

Why does employee engagement matter?

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

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

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

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

How can an employer achieve employee engagement?

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to your employees  

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

Trust and Integrity – a two-way street

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

Summing up the basics of employee engagement

The four key steps to successful employee engagement are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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