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What Makes Difficult Conversations Difficult

Hands up who likes holding difficult conversations. That’ll be no-one then. But that’s OK, and perfectly understandable. Nobody really likes holding difficult conversations because they inherently bring with them the potential for conflict, discomfort or embarrassment. It’s the fear of these consequences that are what really makes having the conversation difficult.

In a work environment, telling somebody that their work isn’t good enough or that they’re going to be made redundant, that they smell, or even asking a client to pay their invoice, can often be a difficult conversation to hold. And again it is because of the fear of the potential consequences. What if it kicks off and they start to get aggressive? What if they get upset and start to cry? What if the situation develops to a stage where I don’t know what to do or say?

Whilst even the thought of holding a difficult conversation might begin to make us feel uncomfortable, what we should be thinking about is the consequences of NOT holding that conversation. Are we really going to jeopardise the right and proper outcome of situation because we’re afraid of becoming embarrassed or frightened that we won’t know what to do or say next.

We have been asked to intervene in dozens, if not hundreds, of workplace situations that have been allowed to escalate simply because an appropriate conversation wasn’t held at the right time. Not only will that conversation become increasingly more difficult to hold the longer it is left, there is also the very real potential that the outcome will become increasingly more expensive to resolve.

There is no silver bullet that will suddenly take away the anxiety that a looming difficult conversation brings, but there are tactics that you can employ that can make the experience more palatable easier to deal with.

Preparation is vital, both in terms of having your case and any evidence organised as well as being ready to handle all the potential outcomes. A prepared structure and timeframe of how you want the conversation to go and some key phrases to help you keep it on track will also help you get to your desired outcome.

With the correct preparation you’ll have the confidence to take on difficult conversations and very quickly they’ll be second nature and you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

We run a stand-alone “Holding Difficult Conversations” one-day workshop but we also include elements of it most of our ILM leadership courses which are currently available with full funding. Call us to discuss what’s available on 01452 331331 or e-mail info@hrchampions.co.uk

08 March 2018, 15:52

Turning up the Heat

With the weather being what it is, you may be asked to turn up the heating at work. Obviously there is a cost implication but there are other issues that employers should consider.

Workplace temperature is covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992. Whilst the approved code of practice suggests that workrooms should never drop below 16° Celsius (or 13° Celsius where rigorous physical effort is involved), the Regulations escape quoting a particular figure by using the term ‘reasonable’ when discussing workplace temperatures.

Therefore it is down to the employer to decide what reasonable comfort is, depending on the particular circumstances. This ultimately falls under an employer’s implied duty of care to his or her employees.

Heating buildings is expensive and there is an environmental impact to consider so employers should consult with their staff to determine what temperature is acceptable.  Not only is 16° likely to be too cold to be considered comfortable for the average office environment, an employer should also think about the productivity of staff who are shivering at their desks.

Whilst everyone will want to work in an environment that has a comfortable temperature, comfortable might mean different things to different people. Encouraging staff to wear an extra layer to work will not only help to keep fuel bills down but will mean that staff can self-regulate how warm they are instead of making global changes to the heating that affect everyone.

Employers should also remember that temperature is only part of the issue. Stuffy and poorly ventilated workspaces can be uncomfortable places to work in; and can become a catalyst for colds and other airborne infections. An entire workforce taken down by flu, even just for a few days, may have a greater financial impact than organising a well managed working environment in the first place.

Ultimately, employers have a duty under Health and Safety guidelines to provide a safe working environment. This is bound to have some influence on the workplace temperature, but this will differ for people working in a cold-store and those working in a bakery; so ‘reasonable’ remains the key word.

For help and support with managing your workplace and your duty of care to employees call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail info@hrchampions.co.uk

02 March 2018, 12:41

Adverse Weather Rules

OK, it’s snowing and we have an adverse weather event. There is major disruption with schools and businesses closing, public transport has been cancelled and some roads are closed. The Met Office and police advise “Do not travel”. What are the rules for businesses regarding payment for employees?

Here’s the low-down.

Where a business is unable to open owing to adverse weather, but employees still make themselves available for work, then they should still be paid as they are fulfilling, or attempting to fulfil, their duties under their contract of employment.

Conversely, should your business remain open during adverse weather, but your employees are unable or unwilling to get to work, then there is no obligation to pay them.

Those are the hard and fast rules, but, for the sake of employee relations and maintaining morale and goodwill within your organisation, we would always advise discretion and compromise; particularly for smaller businesses.

The type of business and business premises involved will probably dictate how seriously you are affected. For a shop, restaurant, factory or warehouse the effects are likely be significant. For office based staff on the other hand, the availability of the Internet means that there may be some options such as working from home or arranging to work from an alternative site.

For some businesses, adverse weather may make it too dangerous for employees to be working; roof-workers in icy conditions for example. Here, a “lay-off” clause might be an appropriate solution.

Your employees have a right to know what to do should adverse weather strike, so we strongly recommend that all employers have a robust Adverse Weather Policy in place. The policy should clearly lay out how the organisation will act in cases of adverse weather and how it expects its employees to behave. It should lay out the options available to employees and should also include how employees pay might be affected.

Having a properly implemented Adverse Weather Policy in place is a cheap and effective solution that will leave everybody in an organisation clear about what to do, what to expect and what is expected of them.

If you don’t already have an adverse weather policy or yours needs updating, perhaps because of the opportunities that the Internet now provides, we recommend that you take the appropriate action. We can’t do anything about the weather, but as businesses we can be prepared to manage what we do about it when it turns bad.

If you would like further help or advice regarding the issues raised here or anything else related to HR and Employment Law, just call us on 01452 331331 or drop us an e-mail to info@hrchampions.co.uk

01 March 2018, 13:47

There is No Two year Dismissal Fairy

This may disappoint some of you, but there is no magic fairy dust when it comes to dismissing staff as they approach two years’ service. If you’ve completed your processes properly, through recruitment, probation and ongoing management, you should have got rid of underperformers early on, leaving you to manage a team of motivated individuals. It’s not really acceptable to allow employees to drift along and then suddenly decide you need to exit them as the two year deadline for accruing employment rights looms; though you might be surprised at how often this happens.

There simply isn’t any substitute for good old performance management, and whilst this may involve some difficult conversations or tough decisions, it really is the only way you are going to sustain a productive workforce and therefore a profitable business.

It’s technically true that you can just let a member of staff go up until they have been employed for two years, but doing this as a kind of last resort just isn’t good practice and is potentially quite dangerous.

To begin with, the two years includes any notice period, so if you have one or three months’ notice to give, you need to take this into account. Even then, if the dismissal is cynically close to the two years, this may be dimly viewed if the case were to go to Tribunal.

You’ll also need to make sure you haven’t crossed any lines in terms of discrimination as this could easily be turned against you. Someone’s sexuality for example many not become apparent until they have been employed for some time and whilst it shouldn’t make a difference it may be hard to prove that it wasn’t an influencing factor in your reason to dismiss.

You also risk getting a reputation for being a bad employer. Chances are, any good workers you have are already disgruntled by having to carry a poor performer because you have failed to deal with them. Not only might you struggle to retain your good staff, but you may find it hard to recruit anyone of a decent calibre to replace them, sending you into a downward spiral.

Maintaining a high performing team isn’t easy but some of those difficult decisions and conversations are part of the territory and the price we pay for success.

We have training courses designed to help you be better at performance management and at the moment they are funded and accessible for FREE for businesses in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. Call us to discover more on 01451 331331 or e-mail info@hrchampions.co.uk

23 February 2018, 13:48

Bullying and Harassment Back in the News

It’s interesting to hear that this week that at Westminster the cases of sexual harassment and bullying have become so prevalent that a cross-party committee was set up to investigate what to do about it. Amazingly, MPs don't not currently have formal disciplinary procedures. Instead discipline is handled by their parties and there are no independent channels for staff to complain about their behaviour. Note that this is in the establishment that creates the laws the rest of us have to abide by.

One of the committee’s recommendations was that members of Parliament should undergo training to be able to understand what constitutes appropriate behaviour in the workplace. Should we be surprised by this?

Well on one hand we probably should as these are our lawmakers and knowing how to behave appropriately should be a ‘given’ for these people. But on the other hand, organisations tend to develop their own cultures, which are generally driven by behaviour from seniors. Employees will want to be seen to fit in and please their bosses and so often adopt their manager’s behaviour. Unfortunately, as appears to be the case at Westminster, if this behaviour is of an intimidating or aggressive manner it can easily lead to an organisational culture of bullying.

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees so if there are any employees who are being bullied or harassed, the employer is culpable if they cannot prove that they have taken steps to remove inappropriate behaviour from the workplace. Implementing relevant policies is a good start but we also recommend equal opportunity training for all staff as added protection for the business.  

An employee who resigns because they have been bullied has a potential constructive dismissal claim and if any discrimination is involved, Tribunal awards are unlimited. This makes the current wave in awareness of sexual harassment and with it the potential for sexual discrimination even more poignant for employers.

The Westminster committee’s recommendation to implement training for employees isn’t suggested to start until after the next general election but if you are interested in reviewing your own organisation’s Bullying and Harassment Policy, please get in touch much sooner.

We have policies, procedures and fact sheets available and we can deliver company-wide training that explains the cause and effects of bullying and harassing behaviour. Email info@hrchampions.co.uk or call us on 01452 331331.

09 February 2018, 13:25

SMART Objectives

SMART objectives is a subject I’ve covered before but one that I think is worthy of revisiting. In fact, I think it should be looked at on a regular basis as it can so easily be let slip. We cover it on most of our Leadership and Management training courses and whilst a lot of delegates say that they have come across the SMART acronym before, not everyone can honestly say that they use it consistently. 

SMART isn’t new or unique but it is a tried and tested formula for getting more achieved to deadlines; either by yourself but more so by the people you manage.

SMART is an acronym that, when applied to setting objectives, makes them quantifiable and therefor tangible. Failing to achieve objectives is demotivating; whether these objectives are set by you for yourself, set by others for you or set by you for others. Completing objectives gives us a sense of achievement and motivates us to continue on to do more.

There’s a few version of what SMART stands for, but here’s the one that we use:

Specific: Vague objectives aren’t objectives at all; just dreams or aspirations. Increase profit, grow your customer base, lose weight, get fit… these are all unspecific. To be SMART we need to add some parameters. Increase profit by 20%. Increase your customer base by 300. Lose five kilos. Run a 50 minute 10K. Now we’re specific and we have a proper target that we can visualise.

Measureable: We need to be able to quantify the outcome of our efforts and so have to be able to apply some kind of measurement. If your annual profit is £10,000 then you know what a 20% increase will look like. If your objective is to increase customer satisfaction by 10% you’re going to need something like a survey or other rating system to measure whether this has been achieved.

Achievable: I’ve already mentioned how failure to achieve is a demotivator. If your objectives are beyond what is truly feasible, you’re simply setting yourself, or your team, up to fail. Stick with what can actually be achieved. You might also want to add Agreed as another A here. If you’re setting objectives for a member of your team, they must agree and buy into it so you can hold them accountable.

Realistic/Relevant: Is the goal deliverable considering the available resources and external conditions? And is it worth doing? Does it contribute sufficiently to the overall objectives of the organisation or to your personal longer term goals? Avoid setting objectives for the sake of it.

Time Bound: Is there a deadline? Without one the objective becomes immeasurable. Increasing sales by 25% is okay but perhaps not if it takes 10 years to achieve. Make sure your time frame fits in with what is achievable and realistic. If you’re holding reviews or appraisals, setting objectives to be achieved by the next review is a good idea. That way you can tick off one objective and set a new one, or re-evaluate the employee’s performance if the objective hasn’t been met.

If you are setting objectives for staff, at performance reviews or appraisals for example, you should be using SMART objectives. If you would like further support with this subject call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail info@hrchampions.co.uk

02 February 2018, 13:45

Why Millennials Matter

If you’re finding that some of your younger staff aren’t as motivated as their older colleagues by a decent wage, an upward career path and financial security, it’s probably because they are Millennials. The term relates to those born during the ascension of the Internet. They have always known a connected world with constant online access, broadband, smart phones and social media.

You need to be aware of this because it will change the way you attract, recruit and retain staff and you may need to modify your expectations of how they approach work.

A number of studies over recent years have highlighted the difference in attitude towards work displayed by this new breed of employee as well as their own expectations. With instant access to information being the norm, the millennial workforce expects a job to offer varied and interesting duties, rapid career progression and constant, positive feedback.

Whilst we might expect the outlook of younger people to be influenced by their (lack of) responsibilities, millennials do seem to take a different stance towards their motivation for work than we may be used to. In more than one survey that we looked at, a good salary comes after work-life balance and opportunity for progression. Moreover, millennials don’t necessarily expect to stay in the same job or with the same employer for an extended period as we might expect those of the “baby boomer” generation to have done. Millennials expect to have many jobs of relatively short terms.

The prolificacy of the Internet and social media has also seemed to have manufactured a need for an expectation of immediacy. Access to information and knowledge of just about everything is at our fingertips in seconds and this seems to have influenced how quickly millennials expect to see praise, reward and recognition. In addition, the rise of the Gig Economy is nurturing a workforce that can pick and choose their hours of work in the knowledge that this directly impacts their earnings.

The employers who are going to benefit the most from the millennial phenomenon are those who form a strategy for employing them. With information so readily available, experience may not be such a big measure of a candidate’s suitability for a role as their ability to source, access and apply the knowledge to do it. After all there are videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to do just about everything from computer coding to plumbing.

Keeping something back in an employee’s role may also become part of an employer’s toolkit when managing staff retention. Extra duties or responsibilities that can be awarded as recognition for a job well done might serve to appease the recognition that millennials appear to crave. An pre-planned pay rise may also need to form part of this tactic. Tying employees in by adding a repayment clause for money invested in training can be an effective, if somewhat blunt tool.

On the flip-side, the short employment terms of modern employees means that employers will want to maximise productivity from them. Don’t hang on to underperformers or those who are too needy. If necessary shorten your probationary periods to send a clear message that new employees need to hit the ground running.

We’ll discuss this topic more in future posts, but in the meantime if you require support with your recruitment strategy, call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail info@hrchampions.co.uk

26 January 2018, 13:18

Tribunal Fee Refunds Reach £1.8m in two Months

Since Employment Tribunal fees were ruled unlawful last year, the Ministry of Justice has made over 2000 refunds totalling more than £1.8million. The total value of fees to be refunded is expected to be in excess of £33million.

The reason why the number of refund claims is relatively small at the moment is believed to be because some legal firms are collating their paperwork and managing the administration of their claims. The floodgates are set to open.

In addition to the refund of fees, potential claimants who didn’t make a claim because they were put off or restricted by the fees, will now be allowed to lodge claims that would have arisen during the four year period that fees were in existence. As claims can only be awarded for financial loss however, the number of retrospective claims that are made will probably be quite low as those affected will already have found other jobs, meaning their loss is quite low; or they may simply deem their case not worth pursuing.

Whether or not Tribunal claims reach the levels they were at prior to the introduction of fees remains to be seen. The resources that support the system however were reduced in the anticipation of fewer claims, so even a modest increase is likely to see a backlog whilst the Tribunal system gets back up to speed.

The Government is inviting claims from anyone who paid Tribunal fees between 29 July 2013 and 26 July 2017. Full details about how to claim as well as an online process can be found on the gov.uk website.

26 January 2018, 13:16

Dismissing Within Two Years

So you’ve got an employee with less than two years’ service and things aren’t working out and you want to dismiss them. Just a straight forward case of calling them into a meeting and letting them go right? Well, not always.

We’re used to referring to employees with less than two years’ service as having accrued no employment rights, but situations aren’t always that straight forward and you may need to consider best practice as well as what is and what isn’t permissible by law.

Has the employee passed their probation period? Probation isn’t a necessity in law but if you use it, and we recommend that you do, you should consider why you’re getting rid of someone if they have proved their capability. Has there been a lack of training that has led to underperformance, or are they now under-challenged and bored? Take a look at your own potential failings before simply putting the blame on the employee or you’ll just be facing the same issues with his or her replacement.

Does the employee have any protected characteristics? Of course this shouldn’t be an issue if you have managed them properly and you have a genuine underperformer who needs to go. But don’t let it become an issue or something that can be used against you, especially if the protected characteristic, for example the employee’s sexuality or a disability, has only come to light some time after their employment has started. The burden of proof will be on you to show that the person in question was dealt with exactly as any other employee would have been dealt with.

How close is the employee to his or her full two years? If their notice period takes them over or dangerously close to their full two years, their dismissal may be seen as unfair by a Tribunal if the dismissal was appealed or challenged. If there are genuine capability or behavioural issues, why haven’t they been dealt with before instead of leaving matters to the last minute?

We fully support businesses in the decisions they need to make to ensure that the organisation thrives. We’re also very conscious however that the wrong decision can expose a company to unnecessary risk, so it’s worth taking a step back and reflecting on some of those decisions that can have a nasty habit of tripping you up, before you make them.
If you’re faced with a decision like this one, a phone call to our help line on 01452 331331 could be cheap way of putting your mind at ease and making sure you’re not exposing your company to any risk.

19 January 2018, 14:34

Avoiding Tribunal Claims

Here’s an unpleasant truth. You can’t stop (ex) employees lodging Tribunal claims. We’ve got some guidelines below on how to minimise them occurring, but there’s never a guarantee that you won’t be on the wrong end of a claim.

When Employment Tribunal Fees were introduced in 2013, they seemed, to us at least, to be a great idea. They meant that disgruntled employees had to be really quite confident in their chance of winning their case if they were going to risk what was a meaningful up-front expense of up to £1,200. Abolition of Tribunal fees last July, four years after their introduction, has put us back in the situation where employees will have nothing to lose if they decide to enter a claim; potentially reversing the 75% drop that we saw in Tribunal claims after fees were implemented.

Probably the main issue that this ‘nothing to lose’ position presents for employers is that the costs involved in defending  a Tribunal claim, including the time and aggravation to do so, makes it much less troublesome to simply come to some agreement and offer a cash settlement. Just responding to an ET1 can cost around £1,500 in solicitor fees. Of course claimants, and their advisors, know this.

Paying off an ex-employee is a slippery slope however. Once you set the precedent, it’s easy to get a reputation and become a target for further claims. We need to minimise the probability of a claim arising so make your cases watertight.

Processes & Procedures: If an employee is dismissed, there are recognised procedures that you must follow to make the process fair such as a proper investigation followed by a disciplinary meeting followed by an appeal. Even if your reasons for dismissal are absolutely clear cut, failure to follow the correct procedure immediately presents the employee with a case for unfair dismissal.

Records and Notes: Make sure that all meetings are recorded in writing and that all parties agree that notes are an accurate reflection of discussions held. Obtain signatures as evidence. It’s normal to have a note-taker but if you want to make a recording of a meeting you’ll need agreement from all parties. Your notes are your evidence which you must have in place to support your case.

Robust HR Practices: Constructive dismissal arises where an employee resigns due to treatment at work making his or her continued employment untenable. An un-consulted change of terms and conditions could amount to this. There can sometimes be a temptation to circumvent proper HR practices because they seem tedious and unnecessary; don’t be tempted. Following the proper procedure now will save you unnecessary aggravation in the future.

Rigour: Letting staff ‘get away’ with poor performance, bad time keeping, a bad attitude etc., will just make things harder in the long run as ensconced behaviour becomes acceptable and your attitude towards it is seen as custom and practice. Don’t leave any issues undealt with in the hope that they will improve. They won’t, and when you find yourself forced to take action it will be difficult to make anything stick. I can hear the cries of “victimisation!” now.

Consistency at all Times: Tribunal claims can arise if job applicants feel they have been dealt with unfairly; so you could get a claim from someone who isn’t even an employee. Ensure you apply all of the above throughout your organisation and working practices.

We offer a comprehensive Personnel Risk Assessment which looks at your current working practices and identifies any risks. For further information about this service, call us on 10452 331331 or e-mail info@hrchampions.co.uk

12 January 2018, 13:32