Is Investment In Employee Skills Your Secret Weapon To Increase Productivity?

I was taught at a very young age to put some pennies in my savings account each week. Money given by generous relatives at birthdays and Christmas also went into the same account. And if I did simple chores around the house, then I was sometimes rewarded with some more to add to the savings.  And it grew, slowly but surely.

But it never occurred to me that there were other ways to make my money grow more quickly.  And I don’t think it occurred to my parents either.  They were never very well off and they worked hard for every penny they ever had.  It is only as an adult that I have learnt about investment and compound interest.

Investment is a subject which we would do well to learn about, as employers.  Investment in the skills of our employees can pay rich dividends.

What do savings and investment have to do with employing people?

It is sensible to save into an emergency fund, both in personal terms and in business.  Your business may win a piece of work which requires some unusual skills not found in your workforce, or you may just need extra people, or some equipment.  If you have an emergency fund, this enables you to hire in temporary help, or people with the required skills.  Or it allows you to buy a piece of essential equipment.

Training and developing your employees is more of an investment.  Your future plans may highlight the need for new skills or a different approach and if you were to invest in training your employees, those skills will be available when the need arises.

What is the benefit of investing in my employees?

If we make an investment, we are seeking two types of return.  Investment needs to bring either a regular income, or an increase in the value of the investment.  Preferably,  both.

The same rules apply when we invest in our employees.  If we buy new equipment, or some skills training, or even an additional employee, we need to know that the money has been well spent and the return will be worth the investment.  There has to be an increase in the amount or quality of work done, or increased efficiency.  This, in itself, is evidence of increased productivity.

But more importantly, there is likely to be an exponential effect on productivity in general.   Where employees feel valued, they will be more productive.  If people have evidence that their employer is prepared to invest in them, they will go the extra mile and productivity will naturally increase.

The alternative is a decrease in productivity, brought about when employees feel undervalued, sidelined or taken for granted.  Our natural inclination is to do a good job but that can slide into mediocrity if our efforts are not recognised.

Return on Investment

Many employers are reluctant to invest in skills training for their employees.  In these days of austerity and tight budgets, that is understandable.    Such training can turn out to be a waste of time and money. The person either does not learn the right thing, or they fail to put it into practice properly.  It can feel as though you are spending the money for the employee’s benefit, rather than for your business.  Especially if the employee then leaves to work for someone else, with their new-found skills.

To get the very best return on investment, it is wise to plan beforehand.  We want to be  sure the skills training is appropriate and is likely to achieve the required result.   And what about the employee?  Do they want to do the training?  Do they have the right attitude, aptitude and attention span?  Is there a clear plan for implementing the training as soon as it is done?

This also applies to an investment in equipment or new employees.  Or, indeed, to any type of investment.

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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.

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Why Long Working Hours May Not Be Productive

Managing the working hours of your team is a delicate balancing act!

It seems that most workplaces include at least one workaholic who feels the need to work excessive hours every day.  It is likely that they are not as productive as they might otherwise be, and the quality of their work usually suffers.

On the other hand, you may have concerns about someone who is not doing their contractual hours.  They seem to be “getting away” with doing the minimum of work and it is likely that their colleagues have noticed and are resentful.

So how can you reconcile these two extremes and find a middle way which works for everyone?

Finding a balance

Most people have a specified number of working hours as a clause in their contract of employment (their “contractual hours”).  Some may stick rigidly to those hours and work no longer, nor any less. Some can even be fairly fanatical about working the exact hours they are paid for.

A good manager can work with all of these people and most teams have a mixture.  But when does it become a problem?  And what can you do about it?

Excessive working hours

If you have an issue with people working excessive hours, then it might be a good idea to look in the mirror.

If the boss is seen to have long working hours, then people will follow that lead.  Even if you tell them that you do not expect them to work long hours, they will watch you and follow your example.   The old adage “do as I say, not as I do” just does not work.  We humans have a herd mentality.We want to fit in with others and be accepted.  The obvious way to do that is to mirror the leaders.  It is not a conscious decision, but it is a fact.   So if you want to change a culture of long hours, you may need to model the required behaviour.

The other reason we work long hours is because we feel under pressure to get more work done.  In busy workplaces, the temptation is always to do just that little bit more before you finish for the day.  That “little bit more” can then stretch into a great deal more.  And it can quickly become a habit.  It is counter-productive, of course.  After a few hours, we quickly become stale and no longer produce good quality work.  So work which gets done in extra hours is often poor and needs to be done again. Mistakes creep in when we are tired.  And we work more and more slowly and everything takes more effort.

What about those who do the bare minimum?

On the other hand, there are people who seem to coast through work, doing the very minimum and seemingly “getting away” with it.

This one is difficult to deal with, because some people are just very quick and efficient.  They do manage to get through a huge amount of work in a minimal timescale. This can upset others who think those people are not pulling their weight.

The best way to manage workload is to decide what you think is a reasonable result for the amount of time available.  For example, you may think an acceptable average time for, say, writing a report is 7 hours or one day.  One team member may take 10 hours, while another may only take 5.5 hours.  In both cases, the quality of the report is good and meets the requirements.  My assessment would be that both are acceptable.  If the person who took longer has done a good job, then maybe you could adjust their workload to give them time to work to the acceptable standard.  If the person who worked less time still produced a good report, then you are safe to give them a little more work to fill their time.  But it is all a balancing act.  If you thought a day was acceptable and they finished early and had some more time for their own personal things, then good for them.

The point of this is that the end result is what matters, not the exact time taken to achieve that result.  You will probably find that the slower person has other areas where they excel.

Stopping the gossip

If you have a team member who appears to be working for fewer hours and their colleagues are not happy, then you may need to intervene.

It may be as simple as a team meeting, where you explain to everyone that you judge their work on the results they achieve.  If they produce good work in the required timescale, then let them know that you will not be checking their hours.

It might be a good idea to keep a careful eye on the situation, of course.  If someone is taking advantage and really is slacking, then you may want to take some action.  Equally, someone may be taking too long because they are struggling, or need some training.  Again you may want to do something about that.

What about the clockwatchers?

Of course, many people work the required number of hours and no more.  If the quality and amount of their work is acceptable, then this is not a problem.  It could cause a difficulty if they take too long to do the work, or if they are not being productive.  This might indicate that they are stretching the work to fill the hours available.  Or it might show that there is too much to do in the timescale, but they are not prepared to work longer.  Either way, the workload may need some adjustment.

Outcomes and results

The nub of the matter is that many managers confuse hours worked with being productive.  My approach has always been to judge on outcomes.  If we try and judge people on their number of working hours, then we are paying them for their presence, rather than their contribution.

We all have productive days and days which we feel have been wasted.  We work at a differing pace, depending on our emotions, our health, and a myriad other factors.  I am sure we have all had working days when we might as well not have got out of bed.  But equally, everyone has a day when they shine and achieve miracles.

A productive workforce is made up of people who are at all stages and work at a different pace.  A good manager will recognise this and judge on results.

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How To Change Your Corporate Culture So Your Profits Increase

Do you think you need to change your corporate culture?  If nothing is wrong, you may not think you need to change.  But just because nothing seems wrong, it doesn’t mean a change is not necessary.

Some time ago I worked with a company of about 300 employees who were spread across a number of different sites.

The Company had grown from a family owned and run small business and had built up a reputation for quality and innovation.  Sadly, to a certain extent, they were still relying on their good name and the culture had slipped in to one where people were just jogging along.  There was no innovation and productivity was getting lower.   Nothing was particularly wrong, but there was a general air of boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.

Additionally, there were petty squabbles among staff and people were quick to raise a grievance.  The rate of sickness absence increased for minor ailments.

Taking Action

The Board of Directors decided to combine the work done at the various sites.  Consequently they would move everybody to one site.  This was intended to decrease the overheads.  Additionally, productivity might be increased by bringing everyone under one roof.  Such was the thinking.

I was brought in to facilitate the site moves. I soon realised that these moves, in themselves, would not solve the productivity problem.  In fact, initially, things were likely to get worse.  Rebuilding teams from people who had worked in separate physical sites was a challenge.  Particularly as each site had its own, slightly different, culture.

Deciding to change your corporate culture

If you think you might need to change your corporate culture, then where do you start?

For us, the first step was for the Board to recognise that a change was needed. They could see that the different site managers had each had a different approach.  This had led to a stricter, slightly stifled regime at one site, whilst a couple of others had become lax and mistakes were creeping in.   The first need was to establish what the desired culture should look like.  Then we had to build a roadmap of how to achieve that, with milestones along the way.

Collaborating with employees

If you want to change your corporate culture, it is really important to talk to the employees.

We wanted to know what worked and what did not (and why).   The organisation was unionised and we worked with the Trade Unions.  But additionally, at each site, we set up a working group of volunteers to plan the site moves.  We sent out a survey, to be completed anonymously.  This was to gauge what worked and what did not.  We also used the Trade Unions to speak to their members and line managers to speak to their teams.

One critical factor was to communicate the plans and proposals.  We also provided some training on managing change.  Where individuals had specific concerns and issues, we held individual consultation meetings.  Along with practical issues about the move, we also communicated our desire to build a new, collaborative, culture.  We asked employees to work with us to outline our future direction.  Their suggestions contributed largely to our plans.

Accepting casualties

We found that not every employee shared our vision of collaboration and engagement.  Some decided that they did not want to move sites; some decided that they did not like the new “feel” to the Company.  We provided training and support, where applicable, to help people to adjust, but we also accepted that some would never settle and agreed to an amicable parting.

There were also a number of people who were content to continue jogging along at their steady pace.  They were doing a good job, but not an excellent one.  They were not disengaged from the Company, but were not actively engaged either.  We approached this by giving every opportunity for them to voice their opinions, give their ideas, get involved.

For many, we accepted that “a good job” was good enough and that these were the backbone of the company. We trained our line managers in spotting signs of disengagement.  We gave them the tools to engage with their teams.

For the minority of high-achievers, who were full of innovation and enthusiasm, we had given a chance to shine.   We subsequently found that the number of these high-achievers increased.

Walking the walk

The first step in this change had been to engage with the top team.  This continued to be an important step and is an ongoing need.  The team at the very top of a company needs to be the example they want to set.  The adage “be the change you want to see” is critical in business.

Whether or not it is a conscious decision, employees will always take their lead from managers. If your employees see you working long hours, they will do so too.  They will assume that is what you want from them.

If you fail to take a break, or if you send emails late at night, then that is also what your employees will do.  If you go into work even when you are obviously sick, then your employees will drag themselves in as well – and pass their germs to all and sundry.

Getting it right leads to other benefits

When we are shopping, we want to buy from responsible producers and suppliers. We want to feel comfortable with their ethos and approach.  In the same way,  employees want to work for companies which have a culture which they can fit into.  If you have a good reputation as an employer, then you will find that recruitment is easier for you.  You will be able to retain good employees.  You will have a lower rate of sickness absence.  It is likely that you will have fewer performance issues.  This will also have a positive effect on your marketing and will appeal to customers.

So you might want to change your corporate culture, even if you don’t think it is bad.

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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.

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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

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Increase Productivity Using These Simple Tips

Worker productivity in the UK is continuing to decline.  This has been going on for the last decade or so since the financial crisis.  There are many reasons for this and plenty of theories about how to reverse the trend.  But why does it matter?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines Productivity  as “the rate at which a company or country makes goods, usually judged in connection with the number of people and the amount of materials necessary to produce the goods”.

It matters, according to the BBC, because it is the main driver of long-term economic growth and higher living standards.

You may think that this is for the Government or the large companies to worry about. It is not an area where smaller companies can have much impact.  This article will give you some tips about how you can make a difference in your own company and why that is so important.

What can any one employer do to increase productivity?

  • Recognition. This does not need to be a large and involved recognition and benefits scheme.  When business talks about recognition, it often means salary levels and all of the benefits which can be given to employees to retain their loyalty.  Of course, we all hope that our efforts will not go unnoticed and we like to be recognised.  Each Person, a company specialising in employee recognition,  conducted an employee survey recently.  Almost half (48%) of employees surveyed said that a simple “thank you” would make them feel valued.
  • Respect. This one is a two-way street. If you show respect to your employees, then they are more likely to respect you.  Nobody says that people have to like each other to be able to work together.  But mutual respect is important and a professional approach is always the best one.
  • Integrity. If your recognition is not genuine, then it will have the wrong effect.  If it is too casual or generic it will demoralise workers.   People can see through falsity and non-genuine approaches.  So if you find it difficult to empathise with someone, then you may need to consider some personal development in the softer skills for yourself.

Who should we include in any recognition?

  • Include everyone. When you set up a formal recognition and reward scheme, or even if you are just giving out informal thanks to employees, then make sure that these schemes and informal approaches cover every employee. I have worked in companies which give out certificates of thanks, together with some kind of small monetary gift.  This is great when you are on the receiving end.  But what if you never are?  If someone is never or rarely recognised, when others get singled out regularly, then it will lead to resentment.  It may result in  a feeling of unfairness and will ultimately end in employees becoming demotivated.  This can lead to other problems with sickness, retention, poor employer reputation – even legal action.
  • Encourage peer to peer recognition. It can be really powerful to receive recognition from a colleague, rather than from the top down. I know of a global company which encourages its employees to give unattributed small gifts to each other on Valentine’s Day (and at other times of year as well).  So an employee comes to their desk to find a mug with some chocolates in it and a thank you note.  They don’t know who it is from, but their task then is to reciprocate by giving some kind of thank you to another colleague in secret.  Now this kind of approach is unlikely to work in every company and I am not suggesting that you should implement this.  But we all like to be appreciated by our co-workers and so it would be a good idea to encourage people to thank each other for noteworthy efforts.  This could be an email, a phone call, or a sticky note attached to a computer or telephone.

Things to avoid if you want to increase productivity

A “one-size-fits-all” approach to reward and recognition is a recipe for disaster in modern diverse and varied workplaces.   Individual members of staff will prefer to be rewarded differently.  Reward schemes are as varied as the people in the workplace.  Alcohol is never a good reward – many do not even allow alcohol into the workplace and so to give it as a reward seems rather perverse.  With such diversity in our workplaces, we need to move away from rewards which people from some cultures or religions may find offensive.  Even if not offensive, they are potentially just a waste of money.

Many current reward schemes include points or vouchers to allow discounts in high street or online retailers.  Even this may not be an acceptable reward for some.  Such schemes may only have participation from the most popular retailers and not everyone uses those retailers.  Some workers may prefer time off as a reward, or additional flexibility.

The timing of rewards is another potential area for pitfalls.  It is better if the recognition can be given at a time appropriate to the work undertaken, rather than on a regular occasion.  Otherwise it becomes more of a ritual and less of a genuine appreciation. If there is too long a gap between the work and the reward, then people might feel that the recognition is only paying lip service.

Other potential barriers to increasing productivity

Many workplaces allow and encourage remote working, home working, variable or irregular working hours.  Any reward scheme must be designed to include reward for anybody who is working to non-standard working patterns.

Another potential issue is the public nature of any recognition.  You may feel it is something to be covered in team meetings or in a public area.  This would appear to bring the greatest benefit as it should encourage people to make greater efforts so they can also achieve recognition.  However, you must be aware that not everyone will feel comfortable at the public scrutiny.  Any potential benefits to retention or productivity might be lost if someone feels embarrassed or singled-out in front of colleagues.  It is important to show some empathy when dealing with any kind of people issues – good or bad.

One final point to remember is that any recognition scheme – formal or informal – must be operated fairly.  There must be no room for anyone to feel they have been treated unfairly.  If there is any such feeling, then any good from the recognition scheme risks being wiped out.

In brief

The productivity levels in the UK are continuing to fall or at least to stagnate. We are falling behind competitors in other countries.  This will have a detrimental effect on our ability to compete.  This, in turn, will lead to lower salary increases and less growth.  On an individual company level, if you have low productivity you risk a high staff turnover.  This leads to costly and difficult recruitment.  The staff you retain are likely to be sick more often and to perform at a lower level.  This will have a direct effect on profits and growth and may affect client relationships.

One simple way you can begin to turn this around and increase productivity is to set up a formal or informal recognition scheme.  That way your employees are rewarded for their efforts and feel valued, included and part of your company’s success.

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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.

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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.

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Will Flexible Working Rebound On My Business?

What is flexible working?

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

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

Why is flexibility important for my business?

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

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

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

Recruitment as a flexible employer

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

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

How do I make flexibility work?

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

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

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

What if I can’t allow flexible working?

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

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

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

Final Word

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

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