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Managing Consistently

One of the overriding principals that we try to instil in our clients when supporting with people management issues is to manage consistently. This not only applies to managing and applying rules fairly and equally to all employees, but also in measuring the consequences of employees’ actions or failure to act regardless of position or perceived level of seniority.

You may have heard the anecdote of the man who sweeps the floors at the NASA Kennedy Space Centre who, when asked what his job was replied “I put rockets into space”. This story demonstrates how everyone who works in an organisation should be aware of their contribution to the overarching goal; but this also works in reverse.

For example, in a company that makes meat pies, the failure of the cleaner to keep the assembly area clean and free from dust and other contaminants could potentially have an equal or more damaging effect as the person who is a bit slap-dash with how the chicken has been stored or cooked. But would you treat them differently because they’re on different pay scales?

Practicing a “them and us” policy, even if it is unintentional or subconscious, is a sure fire way of damaging staff morale and creating resentment. It doesn’t take much to be seen as having favourites that are treated more leniently because they support the same football team or share a common interest. But the potential damage could be much worse than just sour grapes.

Custom and practice means that even if your policies and procedures say one thing, but you actually do something differently and have done so regularly or on a number of occasions, then it’s not unreasonable for your employees to assume that it is normal and acceptable. If nothing happens if employee A misses his or her targets for three months, why would employee B think that anything is going to happen if they miss theirs? And then what about for four or five months?

If you have need to take a situation down a disciplinary route, consistency is key. You won’t be able to hold one member of staff accountable if another is allowed to get away with something of equal gravity, even if their jobs or tasks are wildly different. If a case ever has to go as far as Tribunal custom and practice and consistency in dealing with other employees will come very high up in a Tribunal’s considerations.

So, to re-iterate, manage consistently and consider the overall potential effect for all staff of your decisions and actions

For help with formulating management strategies and advice with management and disciplinary issues, call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail info@hrchampions.co.uk

20 April 2018, 09:21

Disciplinary Process - A Rough Guide

Failure to follow a formal process with employees remains one of the main reasons that we are asked to intervene in disciplinary situations. If a case has the potential to end in dismissal, you need to make sure that all the boxes are ticked by following your disciplinary process to the letter. Even in what appears to be a clear cut case of, for example, gross misconduct, failing to follow a process properly could still result in a claim for wrongful dismissal.

Faced with losing their job, particularly if there is a chance that the reason for their dismissal will affect their ability to get another job elsewhere, an employee is likely to try any option. And now that Tribunal fees have been scrapped, there is nothing to stand in their way of entering a Tribunal claim.

Here’s a rough guide to a disciplinary process. It’s not a panacea as all cases will differ in some way, but you can look at it as a framework for managing your disciplinary process.

  • If you have cause to commence a disciplinary process your fist step must be an investigation to establish exactly what has occurred or failed to occur.

  • Interview the subject employee and take notes of the meeting. You don’t need to give any notice of the meeting and you’re not required to offer representation. You can call the meeting immediately if you wish.

  • Have the employee sign the notes to agree that they are an accurate representation of the discussion in the meeting.

  • Suspension is viewed as quite an extreme act. Only suspend the employee if he or she is a potential risk to the business

  • Interview any witnesses and take statements from them. Gather any other evidence and prepare your case.

  • If you decide that there is a case to answer, invite the employee to a disciplinary meeting in writing.

  • You must give reasonable notice of this meeting; we recommend at least 48 hours. We also recommend that you use recorded delivery or have some way of proving that the invitation was delivered.

  • You’ll need to include any evidence that you intend to use at the disciplinary meeting along with the invitation to give the employee a chance to build a defence.

  • You must offer representation; either a fellow employee or an officially appointed union representative, even if you don’t recognise unions at your place of work. You don’t have to allow a family member or solicitor to represent unless your own policy says otherwise.

  • A senior manager is good to hold the disciplinary meeting. Ensure the meeting is fully minuted. Make sure there is someone in a management level above who isn’t involved for appeal purposes.

  • Put your case forward, hear your employee’s defence. Adjourn the meeting to consider the outcome. Don’t make a decision there and then, it may look like you have pre-judged it.

  • Re-convene the meeting to state the outcome. If the case is upheld, apply the appropriate measures. This will range from a verbal warning to a written warning and up to dismissal.

  • Inform the employee of the outcome in writing. You must offer the right to appeal your decision. Keep the time frame for appeal short. We recommend within one week.

  • Warnings may stay on the employee’s file for up to 12 months and a recurrence will escalate the disciplinary measure taken up to the next level.

  • If the employee appeals the outcome an appeal meeting must be arranged, preferably with a more senior manager but at least with someone different but at the same level as the disciplining manager.

  • Follow a similar process to the disciplinary and decide if outcome should be upheld or overturned.

  • You should always endeavour to follow your own disciplinary policy.

Of course we’re on hand to support with any disciplinarians and for some clients we manage the complete process so if you would like support you just need to call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail us at info@hrchampions.co.uk

13 April 2018, 12:03

Dealing with Difficult Employees - Part 2: Triggers

In our last article, we looked at certain behaviours to look out for to help to identify difficult employees so that appropriate action can be taken. However, we hope that it’s safe to assume that  nobody sets out to be a difficult employee, and so of equal importance to identifying difficult employees is identifying the ‘triggers’ that lead to difficult or unacceptable behaviour.

A trigger for unacceptable behaviour may be what most people would consider an innocuous change in circumstances or working environment, but for the affected employee it’s enough to radically change their conduct. Triggers might include:

  • A New Boss – Many of us dislike change and a new boss may bring new ideas that will affect the status quo or ‘the way we’ve always done things around here’, which can be enough to provoke animosity.

  • New Responsibilities – Businesses often have to modify working practices or introduce new ones in order to expand or remain competitive. With new practices comes new responsibilities that the workforce will need to take on and some employees may not be ready to do so, particularly if there is no increase in pay.
  • New Technology – Again, a change in working practices or the need to accept and embrace new technology which may require re-training, can often cause resentment.

  • Failure by a Manager to Deal with Underperformers – Staff will generally know who isn’t pulling their weight in a business and if the underperformers aren’t dealt with appropriately it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the productivity of others begins to wane. Why should they make the effort if others are getting away with it?

  • Poorly Handled Disciplinary Issue – Because an employee has to be disciplined, it doesn’t mean that a grudge should arise. Indeed, properly managed it should clear the air and allow everyone to get on with their jobs. A badly managed disciplinary however can easily leave a bitter taste.

Many events may be triggers because they undermine the employee’s confidence or put them into a situation they are uncomfortable with or have no experience of. In an effort to save face and avoid admitting defeat, the employee takes on the new behaviour to disguise their shortcomings.

Once a clearer understanding of the employee’s behaviour has been obtained, and their problem behaviour trigger has been identified, a systematic approach of providing counselling or training can be applied, with disciplinary action being subsequently taken if performance does not improve. Counselling an employee who has started coming in to work late since he was assigned a new boss may remedy a situation without the need for disciplinary action, or sales refresher training may be all that is needed for the bolshie salesman who has just had his targets re-appraised.

Although there are no hard and fast rules in managing difficult employees, preventative measures are likely to be the most effective. Clearly defined job descriptions and a comprehensive induction programme will leave employees in no doubt of what their duties are and what is expected of them by the company.

Similarly, well-conducted, regular appraisals will help anticipate and identify problems, which can be dealt with before they develop into a crisis. Effective communication practices are a must.

For more help and support with managing your team to help prevent difficult and inappropriate behaviour, call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail info@hrchampions.co.uk and don’t forget to ask us about our funded training that covers the issues raised here.

03 April 2018, 15:27

Dealing with Difficult Employees - Part 1: Behavioural Types

Whilst dealing with difficult employees promptly and effectively is crucial to prohibit the potential damage they can cause to their colleagues and to the organisation, actually identifying difficult behaviour is not always as straightforward as it seems. Clearly, persistent lateness, low productivity and insubordination are examples of unacceptable behaviour that are easily identified and can be dealt with through normal disciplinary channels. However other problem behaviour can be much more complicated to define.

You may know that a particular employee is difficult, but putting your finger exactly on the reason why, or describing the specific behaviour can be extremely hard to do. Consequently, dealing with the employee effectively becomes too challenging, and is often the reason why nothing is done and the situation is left to fester until the problem grows out of control.

Different industries and working environments will have their own share of these indiscernibly difficult employees. Although they will come in many different guises, with some very unique characteristics, what makes them difficult or problem employees will probably fall under one or more of just a few broader categories: -

  • Time bandits – These people impact on their manager’s time because they seek constant re-assurance, always needing to be driven to produce results, need showing or telling how to do a specific task every time it is required, or they just don’t seem capable of getting on with a job on their own

  • Shirkers – Afraid to take responsibility, shirkers may not be confident of their own judgement and can dramatically affect productivity as they wait for somebody else to make a decision for them. More specifically, worriers, buck passers and hand holders fall into this category

  • Annoyers – Always whingeing and whining, looks for the negatives, has got a bad attitude or is impossible to hold a civil conversation with. Annoyers tend to drag down the team morale as their actions are felt mostly by their colleagues and people they work closely with. They can also have a negative effect on customers when in a customer facing role

  • Dodgers - Some dodgers will have set routines to avoid work, such as making the tea at certain times. Others will not initiate any work for themselves but only do the tasks given directly to them, or will take their time over simple tasks, leaving challenging jobs for others to do.

Certain industries will nurture their own specific categories of problem employees that should be identified. Whilst categorising behaviours in this way helps to determine the appropriate action to take, blatantly labelling employees should of course be avoided.

Equally important is identifying triggers that may be the reason behind the employee’s behaviour which we will look at in part two of this blog.

In the meantime, contact us for help and assistance with any of the issues raised here or for information about our training courses to help you deal with difficult employees. Call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail info@hrchampions.co.uk

23 March 2018, 12:18

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