Tuesday, 29 November 2016

How To Avoid Workplace Christmas Party Nightmares

It’s fair to say that the workplace Christmas party gets its fair share of bad press. From punch-ups and offensively drunk staff, through to extra-marital activities and unwanted advances, we’ve all heard the horror stories. Depending on just how cautious you like to be, you might think that you’d be better off cancelling the whole thing and saving yourself the headache.

But before you rush into anything, remember that your staff have worked hard, and they deserve an opportunity to let their hair down. A festive get-together could prove to be just what you need to show your appreciation of their efforts and boost morale. What’s important here is that you’re suitably prepared. Here’s what you need to consider…

Remind your staff of your standards
At the end of the day, your staff are adults and should know how to conduct themselves at work and in related social situations, but there’s no harm in reminding them. This is about ensuring that everyone understands what’s acceptable, and what will happen if behaviour falls below the required standards. Now could be a good time to remind your employees about what’s expected from them.

Get yourself organised
Planning is extremely important, so be sure to consider absolutely everything. From where you’ll hold the event, through to how people will get home safely at the end of the evening, through to the arrangements for being in work the next day, problems can often be avoided if you’ve considered your approach in advance.

It makes sense to get your staff involved in the planning process, to ensure that their views are taken into account and they have the option to contribute ideas.
Consider differing preferences
A night of drinking isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, so do think about how you can make the event appeal to your diverse workforce. If you’re providing catering, consider any dietary requirements. You’re never going to be able to please everyone, especially if you have a large team, but it makes sense to consider tastes and preferences.

Finally, on this point, attendance at a Christmas party should never be mandatory, so don’t make your staff feel like they’re obliged to make an appearance.

Relax a little!
At the end of the day, your Christmas party should be fun and enjoyable, and you should be able to let your hair down and celebrate alongside your team. If you’ve covered the points that we’ve discussed here, then it’s unlikely that you’ll experience any significant problems. Your staff are probably just looking forward to having a good time, and aren’t secretly plotting to cause riots or bring your business into disrepute!

More top tips for a happy work Christmas party here.  If you’ve got concerns about this year’s Christmas party, and you’d like to take the opportunity to chat with an HR expert, pick up the phone and give us a call at The Human Resource on 07884 475303.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

What’s so wrong with zero hours contracts?

Zero hour contracts must have attracted more adverse publicity than any other way of organising work this century. 

So, what’s the problem?  And should you stay well away from them as a good employer?

A zero hours contract means that the employer does not guarantee a set number of working hours for the employee.  Depending on the needs of the business, the worker could be asked to work full time hours some weeks and zero hours other weeks.  

This means people's income can fluctuate significantly and without a regular amount of pay they won’t be able to take out tenancies, loans, credit cards or a mortgage.  High stress level have been reported because of uncertainty about how much work there will be from one day to the next.

On the other hand, the flexibility of a zero hours contract can work well for people looking for casual part-time employment, such as students, home carers and the semi-retired.  A recent CIPD survey found that workers on zero hours contracts were as happy as permanent full-time employees: 65 % of the sample on zero hours contracts said they were either very satisfied or satisfied with their jobs, compared with 63 % for all employees.

The arrangement can help businesses cope with fluctuating demand, enable new businesses uncertain about workloads to get onto their feet, and also provide cover for unexpected sickness absence. They’re widely used by retailers, restaurants, leisure companies and hotels. The care industry is estimated to employ 160,000 workers on zero hours contracts and the NHS has increasingly adopted them.

The problem is that a few "workhouse not workplace" style large employers have exploited the vulnerability of their people on zero hours contracts, with bad practices such as giving unreasonably short notice whether or not they're required at work, and, if the individual isn’t able to come in when “asked”, firing them without notice or punishing them via the disciplinary procedure. 

Some had even forbidden their zero hours contractors from working for anyone else, so that they were more likely to be available for work at short notice: that is now completely illegal.  Zero hours contracts can’t contain exclusivity clauses prohibiting staff from seeking or accepting work from another employer and people working them can seek additional employment and have other jobs.

Even the most notorious – but by no means only – exploiter of zero hours contracts, Britain’s largest sportswear retailer Sports Direct, has now decided to offer its shop staff the option of a minimum contract of 12 hours’ work per week, in line with other retailers such as Next.

Regardless of the debate surrounding their use, zero hours contracts are here to stay as a flexible alternative to full and part time employment, one that can be useful to both employer and employee in some circumstances.

If you opt to go ahead and hire staff on zero hours contracts, you must ensure that you provide the necessary legal rights. All zero hours workers are entitled to at least the National Minimum Wage and paid annual leave, rest breaks and protection from discrimination.  Calculating holiday entitlement has to be done in arrears for each individual based on the number of hours worked, taking additional admin time.  Guidelines on employment rights for zero hours workers from ACAS here.

To help staff plan ahead, it’s best practice to give as much notice as possible regarding possible working hours, ensuring the zero hours contractor understands that they can either accept or refuse the work.

If your business needs more certainty and less to-ing and fro-ing to organise enough workers, consider the alternatives such as:
  • Offer overtime to current permanent staff
  • If regular hours need to be worked, recruit a part time employee
  • Offer annualised hours and fixed term contracts to cope with seasonal demand
  • Bring in temp agency workers as a quicker and easier way to fill gaps.
Zero hours contracts are rarely appropriate to run the core business.  Most businesses are providing a regular service or product and have a broadly predictable timetable or output, and so permanent or fixed hour contracts are likely to be a better fit.  And there's always the traditional British compromise of flexible hours contracts with a certain number of fixed hours plus the option to work additional time if required. 
If you currently operate zero hours contracts, or have considered them and would like assistance and guidance on how to use them properly, please get in touch with us at The Human Resource.


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Flexing to keep your best employees & attract more applicants

If you want to attract and retain top quality staff - and who doesn’t? -  maybe it’s time to consider some different approaches.  For instance, is the best way to get things done really via a routine of nine-to-five every day in a single place of work?  And is there more you could do to get the very best out of your people by helping them create a happy and healthy work-life balance?

The option to work flexibly is consistently shown in research as one of the most prized benefits.  It's also the one that’s most likely to retain and motivate existing staff.  Gradually, the focus is beginning to shift away from traditional working patterns, in response to UK population trends like the rising number of working mothers in the UK, the increase in pension age, the rapidly ageing population – and the emergence of the so-called ‘sandwich generation’ where individuals are called upon to care for both their children and elderly relatives.  Modern service-based jobs are significantly different to the manufacturing jobs of the past, technology has improved and become widely available and people work differently. 

So the idea is starting to take root that there’s a connection between supporting employees’ work/life balance and retaining and attracting them, with recent research showing:
·         53% of employees would rather have flexible working over a 5% salary increase.   

·         81% look for flexible working options before joining a company, way beyond any other typical benefit such as an enhanced pension scheme (35%), private healthcare insurance (28%) or commission (28%).  Prioritising flexible working when looking for a new role is particularly true amongst parents of young children and with adult dependants. 

·         63% wanted flexible start and finish times. 

·         SME employers told a recent study that their major areas of focus in 2017 to reduce the likelihood of having to recruit new people to replace those who’ve left will be employees’ work/life balance (35 per cent) and offering more flexible working practices (21 per cent). 
Interestingly, the most significant benefit for businesses embracing flexible working is greater productivity. In a recent study 92% of employers believed that those who work flexibly are just as, if not more, productive than those who work regular hours. 
The other benefits cited were attracting and retaining top talent, a better work-life balance and happier employees. A report by Vodafone showed profits increased thanks to the practice, while Inc. reported that stress increased without flexible working, which in turn reduces profitability.  
Flexible working has a wide number of permutations: flexi-hours, term-time working, annual hour working, job-sharing, 9-day fortnight, 4.5-day weeks, on-call working, zero-hours contracts. 

For any of them to work, the business will need to trust its employees to take accountability of their own workload and time management to get things done, whether this is at 9am in the office or 9pm at home.

For expert advice on creating flexible working arrangements that work for both your business and your employees, and staying within the law if you have a flexible working request, contact The Human Resource today on 07884 475303.






Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Help! All My Staff Want Time Off Over Christmas!

So we’re quickly approaching the festive season, and everything’s going well in your business. You’ve got robust plans in place so you’re in the best possible position for maximising your profits, and you’re feeling pretty organised and in control. All of a sudden though, you’ve got a big issue on your hands. Your staff all want time off. Understandably, they want to enjoy the festivities, maybe travel long distances to visit relatives. You hadn’t planned for this though, and you’re now in a bit of a pickle.  
What should you do, and how should you approach this challenge without landing yourself in a nightmare situation?

Before we get into anything else, let’s consider where you stand in the eyes of the law. Thankfully, this is pretty clear-cut. As an employer, you have the right to determine when your staff take their leave. You can decide that you won’t accept leave requests during busier periods, including Christmas, or if it means too many people would be off at once.  So you aren’t obliged to give your workers the time off that they want.

Still though, this doesn’t mean that you should announce that everyone’s presence is required, and accept no more comments or questions on the matter. This approach will no doubt cause a great deal of unrest, and do you no favours.

The best course of action here is to ensure that you’re being fair and consistent. If everyone is being treated the same, then it’s more likely that they’ll accept that you can’t necessarily accommodate all requests.

You may decide to let your staff decide between taking holiday over Christmas or New Year, but not both. If you can’t grant leave for everyone, then you could let those who missed out that they'll have priority when it comes to booking in their dates for 2017. Be firm, but reasonable, and never forget that your staff are simply human beings who probably want to enjoy some time putting their feet up with their families.

And on a final note, provided work can be done as usual you may want to consider offering your staff the option to work from home. If you can still meet your operational requirements, then this could prove to be a good compromise.

By now, you probably recognise that conflict over holiday requests during the Christmas period could have largely been avoided if you’d only anticipated these issues in advance. It’s much easier to manage holiday requests if you’re specific with people well in advance about requests you can accept and those you can’t – and why! Maybe this is a wake-up call to get your ducks in a row for the year ahead.

If you want to speak with an expert about how to manage your HR planning and communicate your policies, get in touch with us at The Human Resource today on enquiries@thehr.co.uk. We’ll have an initial no-obligation chat about your circumstances, and we’ll establish if we’re a good fit to work together. 
Download our free E-book on managing holiday requests here.


Friday, 28 October 2016

Engagement in small companies

In the past couple of weeks, I have seen two fantastic examples of great customer service and business growth.  The first is a local business who fixed a small plumbing job for me.  I am going back to them with a much bigger piece of work and I have told at least five other people how good they are.  The second is Unipart where an employee working in the staff restaurant identified a gap in their offering, now implemented it's added over £10,000 revenue in just a few months.

 So, what do they have in common?  In both cases, it's people at the coal face who have made a significant difference to the bottom line in those businesses, and it's the way they are treated that has empowered and motivated them to go well beyond their job description.

In contrast, I was visiting a small business last week which has just been taken over by a new owner.  I didn’t meet the owner – he’s not often around, but the person I went to meet couldn’t have been more unhappy; ideas he initiated have been stopped, he no longer feels valued, and he is thinking about leaving. 

 In smaller businesses, we have the great advantage that it's perfectly possible to have direct contact with every individual.  At each contact we can work towards creating an engaging and empowering culture. 
But many small business owners struggle with the feeling that by giving their people autonomy and personal responsibility, truly empowering them, they may lose control.  On the other hand, empowering your people will ensure that they resolve many more problems themselves, come up with ideas that will expand your product or service offering, and work with your customers in a way that will help grow your business.  It will also lead to you being able to step back from the detail and take a more strategic role. 
So, what can you do about it?

Test your own mindset.  Employee engagement is both a mindset and a way of behaving.  Engaging behaviour will come more easily to managers who truly value their people, want them to enjoy their work, grow in their role, do a great job and believe that they are doing work that is valued and is valuable.  Once your mindset is on the right track, it's critical that you then act in a way that delivers on this for every one of your people as your normal way of working. 

Co-create your organisation’s purpose.  Inspire both the hearts and minds of your people by working with them to find a way to describe your organisation’s impact on the lives of its customers, clients or whoever else you are trying to serve.  Create this purpose in a way that every employee can see how their work helps to achieve this purpose.

 Be clear on what motivates each person.   If you know your people well enough to be aware of what motivates each of them, you'll create energy and commitment.  Possible questions to ask your people to bring out these motivators and link them to work are: what makes it a great day at work, how important is your work to you, what do you really enjoy, what gives you a sense of achievement, what bugs you about your work, what ideas do you have about how you can improve your role?  Ask people at the end of each week what has been their biggest achievement or the thing they are most proud of that week.

Fix the things your people say need to be changed or improved.  Use a simple feedback process to ask people what the three things are that they most value about working here, and what the three things are that they would most like to see changed or improved.  My biggest tip here is that you need to ensure that your people really believe they can be open and honest in giving their answers.  When you have the data, you need to act!  Just think how one small suggestion has made such a difference to Unipart.

Just doing these things will inherently increase employee engagement and help to grow your business.

This is a guest blog by Sally Cross of Engage for Growth.  Sally is currently setting up her own business focusing on unleashing the potential of individuals, teams and organisations to improve business performance.  For help in improving the performance, contribution or engagement of your people, contact sally.cross@engageforgrowth.net.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Creating a successful job share

As working patterns become more flexible, job sharing is an arrangement that we’re hearing about more and more.  Britain even has its first ever political job share: Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley were elected recently as co-leaders of the Green Party. They described it as a pioneering job-share arrangement that would help them both balance family and work commitments. 

So if your business has a role with responsibilities that need covering throughout the working day and a well-qualified employee who wants part-time hours, sharing the job between two part-time employees can be an ideal win-win arrangement. 
What’s in it for your business?

Two people sharing one role gives you the benefit of two people’s experience for the price of one - two brains instead of one, two sets of ideas and creativity, and a wider set of skills and approach.  Both job sharers will tend to push each other to focus on the most important priorities as their time at work is limited, giving you two peoples’ judgment call on what really needs to get done.

If the job sharers can be flexible, they can cover each other’s holiday and sickness absence so that there’s better continuity.
And job sharing could mean you keep valued employees who might otherwise leave because of issues with work-life balance.  For example, recent research on women working in senior roles has shown that the option to job share is a critical factor for them in deciding whether to stay in or leave an organisation. 

What makes a successful job share?

Two people doing one job can create complications.  Here are our tips, based on first-hand experience, on how to head off the potential difficulties and manage a successful job share:

1       Manage expectations and perceptions

The priority is that everyone in the team and anyone outside the business who comes into contact with the job sharers has a seamless experience.  Everyone who interacts with the job sharers should experience a unity of understanding and purpose.  No one with a query should be told: "I don't know the answer, my job share partner does that not me."

If the job sharers don’t share an email account and phone number, they must be able to pick up and respond to each other’s emails and calls.  They need easy access to each other’s work information so they can respond to queries in the same way, by sharing PC or paper files.

Any time you or the job sharers talk about the arrangement to co-workers and clients, focus on how it benefits the business especially the ‘two heads are better than one’ and continuity of cover advantages. People want to know how this set-up will be good for them, not for the job sharers.

 2     Set up the communication framework

People certainly don’t want to go through their issue twice and will expect the job sharers to act as one brain!  Most likely, as conscientious employees who care about doing their job well, the job sharers will be only too aware of the importance of excellent communication with each other. 
Reinforce this whenever there is the opportunity: nothing must slip through the net because of communication failure! And if it does, what will they do differently to avoid it happening again?

A regular handover time between the two may help, so that they can fill each other in on what has been happening.  If this isn’t possible, encourage the job sharers to phone each other regularly to talk through the issues and agree priorities, and email to relay important information and pass on work. 

3     Empower job sharers to collaborate, don’t micro-manage

Trust the job holders to organise their work in the best way, to take accountability for their own workload and to manage their time to get things done.  Leave them to plan, set goals and share successes.  Encourage and empower them to work out their problems together, to have the difficult conversations about prioritizing work, communicating, office politics etc, and to work out the best ways to collaborate.

But monitor progress and performance, and be prepared to step in and take the lead when it starts to look like things aren't working.   

4       Divide up the job in a way that works

There are a number of ways to slice any given job in two.  The simplest way is for both to do the same tasks and simply divide up the working days.  An alternative is to split most of the job content but for each job sharer to lead on specific tasks or projects depending on their specialist skills and knowledge. 

For example, this could mean carving out two buckets of work, one being requests from clients requiring a short-term response and the other, longer term projects. Immediate requests are resolved by whoever is working at the time. For the longer term projects, the job sharers decide together who will lead.

At the outset, sit down with the job sharers and jointly plan in principle how they will divide up the job. But don’t set the details in stone — it’s better to let them experiment and make adjustments as necessary.

5       Keep it legal
As part-timers, job sharers have the legal right not to suffer a detriment in comparison with full-time employees.  This means they must have the same employment benefits as full-timers, with holidays pro-rated.  They must also have the same access to training opportunities as full-timers.

If an existing employee requests a job share arrangement, this falls within the statutory right of all employees with 26 weeks' service to request flexible working.  The request needs to be considered in a structured way and responded to within specific timeframes. 

Are you ready to think outside the box and consider alternatives to the standard 9 to 5 arrangements? We can help you at The Human Resource with alternatives that will benefit your business and other ways of retaining your best employees, as well as keeping things legal.  Contact us today on enquiries@thehr.co.uk for a no-obligation consultation. 



Saturday, 1 October 2016

Employing students? Top tips for the new term

In university towns and cities around the country, students are settling in for the start of the academic year. As Freshers week comes to an end, many students are starting to look for part-time work to fund living costs for the year ahead. Over three-quarters of UK students work during their time at university, a large labour force.  So if your business is on the lookout for bright part-time temporary workers, this is the best time to find them.
What do you need to watch out for? Here are our top tips when you’re employing students:

1. Go easy but set firm boundaries

Using students for straightforward jobs while they study gives them a taster of your sort of business, one that might sow a seed of interest that develops over time into a lifelong passion. There are many stories of Chief Executives and senior directors who joined their company as a student working part-time and progressed to greater things. 

To start with though, newby students will most likely be facing new challenges and learning experiences just by starting work: a full working day, staying off social media for long periods of time, being punctual and turning up reliably even with a hangover.  If they also need to be on their feet all day, work out change and be courteous to a wide variety of adults, they will probably be shattered initially, so cut them some slack.  

Of course some won't pick up the norms in the workplace very well and you will need to spell out the boundaries more explicitly.

2.   Decide on contractual terms beforehand

Terms of employment are quite straightforward if your business requires the student to work the same hours each week.  Employers must be sure that they do not treat any part-time staff less favourably than those working full-time and they must not be disadvantaged in relation to employment benefits, such as paid bank holiday entitlement.

If yours is the sort of business where demand fluctuates very significantly and is hard to predict, a zero hours contract may work better.  Despite the negative press coverage, the flexibility that can come with a zero hours contract may be very welcome to students. 
You will need to decide whether or not the zero hours contract will have a mutual obligation for you to offer hours to the worker and for the worker to accept the hours offered.  The employer can require zero hours workers to accept the hours they are offered.  However this may be unattractive to students if they have assignment deadlines or mandatory laboratory time as part of their course.

Exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts, which prohibit people from working for another employer, are unlawful.
3. Check for restrictions on working hours when employing foreign students

If you are employing students from outside the European Economic Area, you must check for limitations on their right to work in the UK.  For example, there may be a restriction on the number of hours that they can work while studying.
As well as the usual document checks to establish that they have the right to work in the UK, under Immigration rules you will need evidence from the institution where they’re studying, showing the term dates covering the period of employment.

4. Ensure your payroll system flags up the right time to increase pay

If you are paying any employees at or near the national minimum wage rate, ensure that your system will pick up on birthdays and alert you, so that you can increase pay at the right time:
  • 25 and over, £7.20 an hour;
  • 21 to 24 inclusive, £6.95 an hour;
  • 18 to 20 inclusive, £5.55; and
  • 16 and 17 year olds, £4 an hour.
5. Don’t restrict recruitment to students only

You might be recruiting for a role that you think would be perfect for a student.

However, focusing your recruitment only on students might put you at risk of an age discrimination claim from an older applicant who would have been just as suitable for the job.
So don’t use phrases like “student wanted” in your job adverts.

6. Assess student workers for pension auto-enrolment

If your company has passed its staging date and is now auto-enrolling workers into a workplace pension scheme, keep an eye on your obligations to part-time workers.
Someone working a few hours a week during term time would probably not  earn enough to be auto-enrolled, but if they then work full-time for a period, for example over the summer holidays, depending on their age (22 upwards) and earnings there may be a legal obligation to auto-enrol them.

Even if you don’t have to auto-enrol your student employee, they may have the right to opt in to your pension scheme.  If you do receive such a request, you can congratulate yourself on hiring the most financially responsible student in the country.  And yes, you will need to enrol the student into the scheme.

For practical advice on setting clear boundaries in the workplace, terms for zero hours contracts, equal employment right for part-timers, assessing for pension auto enrolment and all the other issues around employing people, contact us at The Human Resource on enquiries@thehr.co.uk.