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VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter April 2017

New terror guidelines announced

Westminster recently announced new guidelines that include how employers should prepare for, recognise and respond to a terrorist attack. They were published two days before the shocking events of the Westminster terror attack, which serves as a stark reminder of why we must all be prepared for the worst. Let’s take a look at what is included.

The new guidelines are comprehensive, covering a range of threats through 14 different sections. These include:

  • Weapons and firearms attacks where details of the “Run, hide and tell” tactics are provided.
  • How to deal with suspicious items, the threat of attack through incoming mail and bomb threats. For suspicious items, the four C’s are recommended – Confirm (it’s suspicious), Clear (the immediate area), Communicate (call 999) and Control (access to the cordoned area).
  • The danger of suicide bombers, vehicle bombs and other vehicle-based attacks. Notably, the National Police Chief Council has approved wider use of roof markings on HGVs to assist airborne police units when tracking stolen lorries.
  • Chemical, biological and radioactive threats.
  • How to protect against insider threats and cyber-attacks.
  • The guide, available on the government website, is intended for use by the public as well as organisations. For employers, considering and acting upon the advice could form an essential part of their duty of care towards employees.

    Often an HR department will be one of the key parts of an organisation responsible for delivering recommendations. If you would like help implementing anti-terrorism measures, particularly if you are in a sensitive industry, for instance a haulier, then get in touch with your local HR Dept. 

    Science of seating plans

    How much thought do you put into where employees sit? If the answer is not much, then you could be missing a trick. Mixing things up can have a dramatic effect on productivity. Flexi-desks, also known as hot desks, are one way to ensure that people do not get too cosy in established spots.

    However, if you want to get more scientific, research from Cornerstone On Demand – a US-based consultancy – will be of interest. They categorised workers into three camps:

    1. High productivity, low quality
    2. Average productivity, average quality
    3. Low productivity, high quality

    They found that if you sit 1’s and 3’s together it helps them bring out the best in each other – improving quality in 1’s and productivity in 3’s. The same benefit was not seen in 2’s, so they are best seated together. They found that adopting this method could lead to a significant 15% boost in organisational performance. Worth investigating!

    What’s causing the absence?

    It’s essential for a well-run organisation to manage absence effectively, and often helpful for employees’ well-being too. However, the cause of absence may not always be down to the employee. When examining absence data, it’s helpful to look for patterns beyond the behaviour of individuals. For example, do people from one team display more absence than average? That could point to a bad line manager, causing absence through poor management technique. Where this, or other factors, might be the underlying cause, the quicker it’s identified the better. We run training courses on managing absence. Get in touch for more information.

    Making HR  a walk in the park

    We all know what a challenge HR can be at times, especially dealing with a disciplinary or managing performance. So here is a top tip to help with the lighter side of HR.

    May is National Walking Month, when charities, employers and other organisations will be encouraging people to get out for anything from a light stroll to making some serious strides.

    With many roles in the modern workplace leading to workers being sedentary for most of the day, getting people to walk more is a sure-fire way to increase productivity and job satisfaction.

    There are numerous health benefits to walking, which can boost the mind as well as body. These include:

    • Releasing endorphins to boost your mood and act as a natural energiser.
    • Helping you lose weight and tone up muscles in your lower body. A half-hour walk can burn between 75-150 calories, which soon adds up if you make it habitual.
    • It reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and other serious conditions. For instance, the risk of stroke can be reduced by 27% with a daily half-hour walk, whilst the chances of getting type 2 diabetes are said to be cut by 60%.
    • It’s even said that dementia can be warded off by walking at least six miles a week.

    That’s a big thumbs up for walking and clearly will benefit employers as well as individuals. So what could you bring in to promote it?

    Some companies implement challenges to get staff walking: taking the stairs instead of the lift or setting competitions to see which teams can walk the furthest (technology can help here, with the rise of Fitbits and other pedometer devices).

    Another idea is to team up with a charity. The British Heart Foundation, for instance, has a fundraising initiative called Just Walk which includes a free fund raising kit.

    Encouraging walking is a great proactive HR policy that contributes to employee well-being, team spirit, and even a bit of positive PR through association with a charity. For help with your first steps contact The HR Dept.

    Sickness absence falling

    Sickness absence has fallen considerably since records began. Back then, in 1993, the average worker took 7.2 days of sick leave annually. In 2016, the figure was just 4.3 days. After the 90s, the figure fell steadily with a marked decrease after the 2008 financial crisis. However, workers aged 65 and over bucked the trend in the latest figures, and in 2016 posted a higher absence rate (2.9%) than in 1993 (2.7%).

    So this data presents an opportunity for businesses to support them with targeted occupational health support which will also help control absence levels. These could include devising return to work programmes, making reasonable adjustments and identifying workplace issues that may contribute to absence.

    The statistics suggest this will be a growing issue, so if you need support call The HR Dept.

    Ties out, slippers in?

    Relaxed dress codes are now common in some sectors. Will the latest fad from Sweden catch on? That is, taking your shoes off at the workplace door and donning slippers. The idea being that comfortable staff equals productive staff.

    Your dress code will be influenced by many factors, including the industry you’re in, the day-to-day activities of staff and the image you want to portray.

    Perhaps a financial services firm may want to retain a strict code to demonstrate professionalism, trust and accountability, while a digital agency may go relaxed to show creativity.

    Even if your dress code is smart, bear in mind the seasons. With summer coming, many companies relax dress codes so things don’t get too uncomfortable in hot weather.  

    Whatever you do, get it down in a proper policy and apply the rules consistently.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter March 2017

April Updates

It’s that time when many employment law changes come into force. We’ve blogged about many of these recently to give our clients and readers plenty of warning, but let’s do a handy recap now.

First, we’ll draw your attention to the statutory pay increases that are revised each April. Check out The Indicator below to see the new 2017 rates. But what else is changing?

The Apprenticeship Levy finally comes into force. This is something that has been on the radar for some time, and you can read a full description here.

Briefly, if your annual wage bill is below £3 million, it will not affect you for now. However for larger employers, you will now have to pay a 0.5% toll. This is allocated to a digital account for you and given a 10% uplift by the government. The money is then available as vouchers to spend on apprentice related activity, for instance apprenticeship training.

Another big change this April is the start of the restriction to most salary sacrifice arrangements that was announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement. Again, you can see the details in this blog, but most benefits offered under salary sacrifice will now have to be taxed.

Gender pay gap reporting launches this April, only for organisations with a workforce numbering 250 and above. They’ll have to calculate and publish their gender pay gap.

Finally, the immigration skills charge will come into force. This will see companies that sponsor skilled Tier 2 workers having to pay a £1,000 charge per certificate per year (reduced to £364 for small businesses and charities).

ECJ ruling on religious dress

The European Court of Justice ruled  that workplace bans on the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign” need not constitute direct discrimination.

Though employers should not take the ECJ ruling at face value as its far more complex than that. Courts would only support a ban in limited circumstances, so it’s not as straightforward as it may seem upon first reading.

A concern for many is the potential response from colleagues and customers misunderstanding the ban. It must be based on internal company rules, requiring all employees to “dress neutrally”. And it should encompass all religious symbols, not just focussing on one from a single religion.

Employers, tread carefully when considering this. You must show that you’re not indirectly discrimination against your employees, the policy must be a legitimate response to a genuine necessity for the business. Campaign and religious groups have already voiced concerns.

Here’s informative summary to resolve any confusion. Check it out.

Budget brief

If you exclude the self-employment National Insurance debacle, it was a quiet Budget this spring for employment law. Nevertheless, there are a couple of points to flag up.

There was confirmation that the National Living Wage would rise from £7.20 to £7.50 as of April, which had been expected.

Fresher news was that, in a bid to boost skills, the government will introduce T-Levels which will sit alongside A-Levels, but with a technical slant. Also, Philip Hammond announced a £5 million fund to promote “Returnships” –  a scheme to help people get back into the workplace after a career break.

The HR Dept goes to Parliament!

In December, we made a submission to the government’s consultation on The Future World of Work, calling for an abolition of the “Worker” status. This sits somewhere between employment and self-employment

The rise of the gig economy – in which some five million people are thought to operate – has repeatedly exposed the worker status as confusing. This confusion has led to an erosion in employment rights for people who are essentially in a state of false self-employment.

If you haven’t heard us talking about it directly, you will probably have seen the high-profile news stories. Cases concerning Uber, Deliveroo and Pimlico Plumbers have centred on this topic.

Our submission was welcomed, and in March we were invited to give evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee. Alongside The HR Dept was Hannah Reed, Senior Employment Rights Officer for the TUC and Stephen Devlin, Senior Economist for the New Economics Foundation.

Our view is that in place of the worker status there should be revised definitions of self-employment and employment. The benefit would be to eliminate the grey area that currently exists and to afford people who are in false self-employment the same rights as the employed.

As things stand, worker’s are already entitled to statutory benefits and protections, and the National Minimum Wage. So under our proposal it would not be too onerous to reclassify them as employees. Doing so would reduce the risk for businesses of getting things wrong, whilst helping to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable workers. And a clearer definition of self-employment would help those people who genuinely want that, too.

It should be noted that businesses have faced a number of additional cost pressures recently: the introduction of the National Living Wage and auto-enrolment being the most significant. We recommend that any changes in this area should be sensitive to this, as piling on further costs to business will have far reaching implications.

We are experienced in helping SMEs in every industry and we know that defining workforces correctly is a major problem. If you need help ensuring your personnel are categorised correctly, we’re here to help.

Flexible working

Working from home is a great perk. Although sometimes we can get distracted – perhaps the TV or the cat wanting to be fed.

For viral sensation (20 million YouTube views in a week!) Professor Robert Kelly, the distraction came from his two young children.  And, comically, they did their thing during a live Skype interview on BBC News.

Moments into the interview Professor Kelly’s two young children burst into the room, strutting about like they owned the place! Click here though we’re sure you’ve seen it already.

Hilarious for millions around the world, but it highlights the challenges of flexible working. Working from home isn’t for everyone, ignoring the abundance of distractions both employees and employers lose the benefits gained from personal interaction across the team.

That said, 38% of millennials believe they do their best work outside the office. Flexible working has also become an identifier of a good employer, demonstrating  their compassion for employee needs – particularly for those with families or a difficult commute.

But to be effective, flexible working must be managed properly, a consistent approach in line with your documentation is recommended.

Don’t shoot the messenger

It has been revealed that Parcelforce charge self-employed drivers £250 per day if they are sick and unable to find a replacement driver.

Approximately 25% of Parcelforce’s couriers are self-employed and, as you can imagine, this has not gone down well!

This is only the latest in a long line of “gig economy” stories where the balance of the relationship between the company and person doing the work seems to have tipped too much in favour of the company.

There are two issues here. First is legal compliance. Here the waters are muddied by confusing variances in different worker statuses and the rights that go with them. At what point is someone considered self-employed, a worker or employed? Second is treating people decently, which is one of the hallmarks of a good employer and one that we believe will add value to a business in the long run.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter February 2017

Twits on Twitter

An interesting tribunal case in January brought social media misconduct back into sharp focus.

The case, Creighton Vs Together Housing Association Ltd, centred on tweets sent up to three years previously.

The longstanding employee, a heating engineer, was being investigated for bullying. During the investigation, the employer uncovered historic derogatory tweets posted about the company by the employee. We can’t print them here but, rest assured, they were full of profanity!

After carrying out a disciplinary process, the employer threw out the bullying charges but dismissed the employee due to the tweets. They judged that they constituted gross misconduct.

The case ended up in a tribunal, which ultimately found in favour of the employer. The judge dismissed the employee’s arguments that the tweets were posted two to three years ago, were assumed to be private and that he deserved to be treated sympathetically for 30 years’ service.

The case is highlights several points.

First, that private social media use should be on organisations’ radar. We strongly recommend having a social media policy. It not only educates employees about what is and isn’t acceptable, but also gives employers a clear framework to take disciplinary action.

Second, it highlights the importance of following due process. The judge noted that the organisation had given the employee the chance to explain his tweets, and he had not come up with a satisfactory explanation.

Third, the age of the tweets was not material to the dismissal.

For help writing social media policies, or carrying out a disciplinary for someone whose been a twit on twitter, call The HR Dept.

Statutory wage rises

On 1st April, the National Minimum and Living Wages will rise. The big news this year is that they will now rise together in April (the National Living Wage rise has been brought forward from October). Good news here, as that should streamline administration somewhat. So what will the new rates be?

There are many new cost pressures on employing people, with some sectors hit particularly hard. But failure to comply with these statutory wages should not be seen as an option. Aside from the financial squeeze a shortfall puts on staff, HMRC has significant fining powers plus the ability to name and shame offenders. Tread carefully.

Shared Parental Leave update      

Shared Parental Leave (SPL), that allows parents to split 52 weeks of parental leave, is still seriously underused. The latest research, carried out by The CIPD’s Labour Market Outlook, found that only 5% of fathers and 8% of mothers were using the scheme. If there’s good news here, it’s that these modest figures are an improvement on previous surveys! There are almost certainly cultural issues at play, but it doesn’t help that there’s a financial penalty to a couple in opting for SPL instead of maternity leave, plus the rules are fiendishly complicated. The government is expected to review.

Tipping point

Prominent players in the restaurant industry have come under fire recently. The reason? Various perceived underhand, or even illegal, practices when it comes to paying staff. Let’s take a look at some of these cases with our HR hats on.

How tips are allocated is one issue. Prominent chains such as Las Iguanas and Turtle Bay require waiting staff to pay 3% of sales each evening to their managers – regardless of how much they are actually tipped. Employees have equated this to having to pay to work a shift.

There are several issues here that we would be looking at as HR advisers. Considering the law first, there is a chance that taking money from staff could result in their overall pay dropping below the National Living or Minimum Wages. This could lead to fines, naming and shaming and the awarding of back pay. Even if contracts were worded to cover this eventuality, it’s essential to ensure that what happens on the ground reflects the contract.

Then there is the question of employee morale and motivation. If you get your remuneration package wrong or inflict perceived injustices, you may find it difficult to hang on to good staff, or to get decent productivity – not good for the long-term prospects of a business.

The restaurants in question explain that the funds collected go back into incentive schemes for non-waiting staff. This may be fair enough but, as with all policies, it is important to communicate these effectively to employees to ensure they are understood.

It is not just tipping that has landed restaurant owners in a pot of hot water! Celebrity chef Michelle Roux Jr got into trouble for paying staff below the minimum wage at his acclaimed La Gavroche in Mayfair. How did this come about? Because of the long hours that staff worked beyond their normal shifts. It highlights the importance of keeping on top of payroll as well as staff time and attendance.

For help complying with the law and putting effective remuneration packages in place, call The HR Dept.

A coffee a day means productivity’s here to stay

Want a 7% increase in productivity? Get a coffee machine! That’s according to Survey Partner ONE. And there are plenty of other indications that coffee can be the lifeblood of the workplace:

It fights off sluggishness – It’s well-known that caffeine is a stimulant that enables employees to remain focused for extensive periods of time.

It can lower the risk of depression – Of course it is a serious condition, but a Harvard study found that women who drink four or more cups of coffee per day have a 20% lower risk of developing depression.

It improves employee relations – A chat over a coffee is the perfect way for employees to develop good relationships – and that’s according to MIT.

It could even maintain integrity – Fortune reports that employees are less likely to adopt unethical practices if they are awake and alert.

Sniff Sniff…

…Or in Japanese: KunKun! It is also the name of a new gadget that you can plug into a smartphone to create a body odour smelling device.

It was invented in Japan to by-pass awkward conversations with ‘whiffy’ colleagues, by allowing them to monitor themselves using technology. Ultra-polite manners in Japan make such conversations difficult. But let’s be honest – they are not the most fun ‘chats’ to have here either.

So could KunKun spare blushes in the UK? Body odour can certainly be a workplace issue: unpleasant for colleagues, but also a cause of tension and bullying. Of course, managers should be proactive. But if not handled correctly, conversations addressing the issue can cause offence or even irretrievably damage professional relationships.

It’s a big leap to imagine KunKun catching on over here. So, for now, a professional approach to the awkward conversation is what’s required. If in doubt, call The HR Dept for support.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter Scotland 2017
 Modern slavery under the microscope

Operation Magnify was introduced in 2015 to crack down on the employment of illegal immigrants. It puts into sharp focus the need for all businesses to carry out proper background checks at the start of the employment relationship – whether it seems necessary or not.

Specific industries are being directly targeted, including construction, care homes, food and hospitality, and agriculture. Among the stated intentions of the operation are to protect legitimate employers, and provide more job opportunities and better prospects for UK citizens and legal migrants.

Just last month, 100 people were found to be working illegally in UK nail bars and were arrested.

This crackdown is also intended to tackle the ‘barbaric crime’ of modern slavery and victims of human trafficking. Many traffickers lure their victims to the UK via the Internet, promising a good job and a better quality of life. But instead these victims arrive illegally and become exploited and forced to work.

As part of the activity last month, warning notices were delivered to 68 businesses stating that they will be fined £20,000 per illegal worker if they have not performed the appropriate background checks.

In a high profile case last summer, burger chain Byron Burger was caught up in a furore for employing illegal immigrants – a result of not performing the necessary background checks. The resulting press was in no way good for the brand.

It is of paramount importance to check the right to work of each prospective employee before you take them on.  Employing illegal immigrants or failing to carry-out the vetting process and keeping a solid paper-trail could ultimately result in £20k fine per employee and even up to five years in prison.

Six Nations sweepstake

The Six Nations is back! The fortunes of the teams are bound to be a popular topic of conversation in many offices. Fortunately, this is one sporting event that is largely confined to weekends, so most employees won’t face distraction during working hours. That said, some businesses do employ weekend staff. If you are one of them you may want to plan ahead and think about shift patterns, or set out rules of how people can or can’t follow the games whilst on duty.

While they can cause productivity issues, popular sporting events can be a great way to bring teams together, too. Staff may get together informally to watch a game at the pub. Or you could set up a sweepstake to inject a bit of topical fun into your workplace– make sure it’s lawful though.

Tinder – the new workplace matchmaker

Despite only establishing itself in 2012, Tinder has become one of the fastest growing digital apps of all time. On average it records one billion ‘swipes’ per day, and has paved the way for other instant-match dating apps like Bumble and Happn.

Having permanently changed the landscape of online dating, Tinder has also transformed the daunting prospect of finding ‘the one’ into a fun game to play whilst waiting for the bus or for your tea to brew in the office kitchen.

For the uninitiated, the app works by taking note of your location, and then allowing you to upload photos of yourself and a short bio. Then Tinder does the rest, finding suitable matches in your area.

The distinguishing feature of this app is that you judge your potential suitors on a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ basis once you have viewed their images. You swipe left or right depending on whether or not you think they’re a suitable match.

Although this platform makes the formal dating process far less pressured, potential issues can arise when two people match with each other at work.

If this does happen, what’s the next step? If they don’t talk to each other, this could become a source of awkwardness in the workplace. Yet if they do talk, this could lead to a relationship in the office.

Although workplace relationships are not necessarily a bad thing, they can cause many a problem while they last and after a break-up – both for the couple, and their colleagues. Some companies go as far as having policies that cover such relationships.

And what if it never gets as far as a match? One swipes left and the other right, but unwanted attention is still given! In a healthy workplace culture, you will make it clear to staff that they can raise any issues with you if a co-worker has become inappropriate.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, love will likely be in the air with or without the help of Tinder. If bad romances cause trouble in your workplace, call The HR Dept.

Temperatures plunging!

 With the temperatures plunging the TV channels show pictures of overcrowded stations, they do not show the empty offices that this disruption causes.

It is at this time that everyone wishes the ‘severe weather’ policy had actually been written instead of staying on the to-do list. Don’t put it off. We of course can help you to put one together that’s right for your business. Below though you’ll find some winter weather resources for you ready to go.

Here’s our Winter Weather Checklist, tick it off as you go so you know you really are prepared for anything.

Exit in style

Barack Obama’s departure from The White House got us thinking about business exit strategies.

We all know we can’t run our companies forever. For many, the dream will be to step back and leave a profitable business that someone else can manage. So how do you ensure you leave your company in safe hands? We’d advise you have a succession strategy in place, one that’s gradual but with a solid transistion date at the end to prevent uncertainty. Here some tips to help you along.

Train up your managers – give people the skills they need to run your company.

Don’t disappear – The best way to maintain morale is to steadily reduce your hours, rather than leaving suddenly.

Become a consultant – Be available to pass on your experience.

Incentivise the next generation – make them motivated to grow your business.

It’s also important to communicate with staff to let them know what’s likely to change and what will stay the same. And, if you can pull it off like Obama, don’t forget to mic drop!

Clocking on to dishonest employees

Trust between yourself and your workforce is essential. It’s difficult to run a profitable and productive organisation if you can’t rely on the people who help you operate it. Having robust policies and systems helps big time – discouraging bad behaviour in the first place but also in catching and dealing with any misdemeanours that do happen.

Clocking-in systems are one area that employees can exploit. This was highlighted when one fast-growing company discovered an employee was also clocking in for a mate, thereby exaggerating the hours they were working.

While this is a clear case of dishonesty, it was facilitated by the company’s clocking-in system. Sadly, if you invest in a poor system, it could end up costing you much more in the long run if it is ineffectual.

Clocking-in is an age old problem, but we have a cutting-edge solution which allows employees to clock in via smartphone or even fingerprints. To find out more, give us a call.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter January 2017

Modern slavery under the microscope

Operation Magnify was introduced in 2015 to crack down on the employment of illegal immigrants. It puts into sharp focus the need for all businesses to carry out proper background checks at the start of the employment relationship – whether it seems necessary or not.

Specific industries are being directly targeted, including construction, care homes, food and hospitality, and agriculture. Among the stated intentions of the operation are to protect legitimate employers, and provide more job opportunities and better prospects for UK citizens and legal migrants.

Just last month, 100 people were found to be working illegally in UK nail bars and were arrested.

This crackdown is also intended to tackle the ‘barbaric crime’ of modern slavery and victims of human trafficking. Many traffickers lure their victims to the UK via the Internet, promising a good job and a better quality of life. But instead these victims arrive illegally and become exploited and forced to work.

As part of the activity last month, warning notices were delivered to 68 businesses stating that they will be fined £20,000 per illegal worker if they have not performed the appropriate background checks.

In a high profile case last summer, burger chain Byron Burger was caught up in a furore for employing illegal immigrants – a result of not performing the necessary background checks. The resulting press was in no way good for the brand.

It is of paramount importance to check the right to work of each prospective employee before you take them on.  Employing illegal immigrants or failing to carry-out the vetting process and keeping a solid paper-trail could ultimately result in £20k fine per employee and even up to five years in prison.

Six Nations sweepstake

The Six Nations is back! The fortunes of the teams are bound to be a popular topic of conversation in many offices. Fortunately, this is one sporting event that is largely confined to weekends, so most employees won’t face distraction during working hours. That said, some businesses do employ weekend staff. If you are one of them you may want to plan ahead and think about shift patterns, or set out rules of how people can or can’t follow the games whilst on duty.

While they can cause productivity issues, popular sporting events can be a great way to bring teams together, too. Staff may get together informally to watch a game at the pub. Or you could set up a sweepstake to inject a bit of topical fun into your workplace– make sure it’s lawful though.

Tinder – the new workplace matchmaker

Despite only establishing itself in 2012, Tinder has become one of the fastest growing digital apps of all time. On average it records one billion ‘swipes’ per day, and has paved the way for other instant-match dating apps like Bumble and Happn.

Having permanently changed the landscape of online dating, Tinder has also transformed the daunting prospect of finding ‘the one’ into a fun game to play whilst waiting for the bus or for your tea to brew in the office kitchen.

For the uninitiated, the app works by taking note of your location, and then allowing you to upload photos of yourself and a short bio. Then Tinder does the rest, finding suitable matches in your area.

The distinguishing feature of this app is that you judge your potential suitors on a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ basis once you have viewed their images. You swipe left or right depending on whether or not you think they’re a suitable match.

Although this platform makes the formal dating process far less pressured, potential issues can arise when two people match with each other at work.

If this does happen, what’s the next step? If they don’t talk to each other, this could become a source of awkwardness in the workplace. Yet if they do talk, this could lead to a relationship in the office.

Although workplace relationships are not necessarily a bad thing, they can cause many a problem while they last and after a break-up – both for the couple, and their colleagues. Some companies go as far as having policies that cover such relationships.

And what if it never gets as far as a match? One swipes left and the other right, but unwanted attention is still given! In a healthy workplace culture, you will make it clear to staff that they can raise any issues with you if a co-worker has become inappropriate.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, love will likely be in the air with or without the help of Tinder. If bad romances cause trouble in your workplace, call The HR Dept.

The search for Apprentices…continues

A new government scheme comes into force in April for businesses in England.

To encourage apprenticeships, employers with an annual pay bill of £3 million or more will pay the equivalent of 0.5% of payroll to the new initiative (and the government will add 10p on every pound). So, small businesses won’t have to worry about it, but some SMEs might.

Once employers have paid this levy, they’ll be eligible to access funding and government-approved apprenticeship training providers through a digital account. At first, only employers paying the levy will benefit, but the plan is to allow access to all employers by 2020.

Exit in style

Barack Obama’s departure from The White House got us thinking about business exit strategies.

We all know we can’t run our companies forever. For many, the dream will be to step back and leave a profitable business that someone else can manage. So how do you ensure you leave your company in safe hands? We’d advise you have a succession strategy in place, one that’s gradual but with a solid transistion date at the end to prevent uncertainty. Here some tips to help you along.

  • Train up your managers – give people the skills they need to run your company.
  • Don’t disappear – The best way to maintain morale is to steadily reduce your hours, rather than leaving suddenly.
  • Become a consultant – Be available to pass on your experience.
  • Incentivise the next generation – make them motivated to grow your business.

It’s also important to communicate with staff to let them know what’s likely to change and what will stay the same. And, if you can pull it off like Obama, don’t forget to mic drop!

Clocking on to dishonest employees

Trust between yourself and your workforce is essential. It’s difficult to run a profitable and productive organisation if you can’t rely on the people who help you operate it. Having robust policies and systems helps big time – discouraging bad behaviour in the first place but also in catching and dealing with any misdemeanours that do happen.

Clocking-in systems are one area that employees can exploit. This was highlighted when one fast-growing company discovered an employee was also clocking in for a mate, thereby exaggerating the hours they were working.

While this is a clear case of dishonesty, it was facilitated by the company’s clocking-in system. Sadly, if you invest in a poor system, it could end up costing you much more in the long run if it is ineffectual.

Clocking-in is an age old problem, but we have a cutting-edge solution which allows employees to clock in via smartphone or even fingerprints. To find out more, give us a call.

Temperatures plunging!

With the temperatures plunging the TV channels show pictures of overcrowded stations, they do not show the empty offices that this disruption causes.

It is at this time that everyone wishes the ‘severe weather’ policy had actually been written instead of staying on the to-do list. Don’t put it off. We of course can help you to put one together that’s right for your business. Below though you’ll find some winter weather resources for you ready to go.

Here’s our Winter Weather Checklist, tick it off as you go so you know you really are prepared for anything.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter December 2016

Are you a good manager?

We hope it goes without saying that you’re not a Mr. Burns character with a complete disdain for employees (and humans in general). Or like David Brent and his cringing yearning to be popular rather than take management responsibility. Or Sacha Baron Cohen’s Dictator: General Aladeen, whose HR process boiled down to ‘disappearing’ anyone who displeased him.

There are of course notorious examples of bad management styles in the real world too.

There’s many a story about J. Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the FBI. One that tickled us concerned his penchant for scribbling unintelligible notes on the sides of memos. One such memo had very thin margins – his scribbled rebuke: “Watch the borders!” was misunderstood by baffled staff, who were too afraid to ask for clarification.

At, no doubt, vast expense they set up extra border patrol checks with Canada and Mexico. It was later revealed that he was demanding bigger margins so he could scribble his darned notes! There’s probably more than one lesson in there.

Good management technique is a fine balance, and best practice changes over time. At one level, big set-piece events like a conference with a free bar and keynote speech have a place, but in doing things on that scale there’s a danger of being too generic to truly engage employees.

Simple things like taking a new joiner for lunch and asking how they have found the induction process. New joiners often spot things that can be improved but we take for granted because we have always done it like that. Getting staff involved by letting them know how the business is doing and the plans for the future. If decisions can involve their feedback and ideas so much the better particularly when solving the age old problems of parking and keeping the kitchen tidy!

Work-life balance at Christmas

Sainsbury’s 2016 Christmas advert features James Corden crooning as a cartoon man struggles to juggle work and family at Christmas. It has struck a nerve as it trumped the heavy-weight John Lewis marketing machine by racking up the most UK YouTube views.

Work related stress costs 10.4 million lost days annually, not to mention the toll of individual suffering of stressed workers. The advert’s solution isn’t practical (creating toy versions of oneself to handle the ‘work’ bit, in case you haven’t seen it). So how can a proactive employer help staff (and themselves) with Yuletide work-life balance? Some businesses send staff home early on Christmas Eve, and whatever else you do it’s a good idea to have a fair system to manage holiday requests. More generally, an employee assistance programme (EAP) is an excellent employee benefit to offer.

Are your employees going of the rails? 

For members of your staff unlucky enough to commute on the nation’s railways, they may well have had a pretty rotten year. Overcrowding, delays, cancelled services…not to mention the seemingly never-ending Southern Rail workers’ strikes for commuters on the routes affected by those.

So it will surely come as a slap in the face for them to learn that from 2 January 2017 train fares will be rising (by up to 1.9% for regulated commuter fares).

Could you, or should you do anything to help? Whether you should or not is of course up to you. There certainly are things you could potentially do that will create goodwill from your workforce. They may even ward off potential resignations from employees exasperated with their commute.

One popular perk is to offer an interest-free loan for the cost of a season ticket. Helping your employees pay for this big-ticket item up front will help them save a fortune over the cost of daily, weekly or even monthly tickets.

It typically works by providing a cheque made payable to the transport company for the cost of the season ticket, and then deducting the repayments from net salary over 10 or 12 instalments. In most cases, it is bound to be a big help. Remember staff must sign to show they agree to the deductions from their pay.

An alternative benefit, useful in this instance if the commute is not over dozens of miles, is to run a cycle to work scheme. This initiative enables employers to loan bicycles to employees as a tax-free benefit, thereby reducing the price and incentivising the employee to use it for transport.

Your employees dodge the frustrating rail delays and better still will be fitter, healthier and happier. Cycle to work schemes also look great as part of a corporate social responsibility programme, which shows the company is promoting ‘green’ choices to protect the environment. So a great outcome all around!

One final thing to consider is flexible working options. Could an employee with a wretched commute be offered alternative hours to take the sting out of it?

Plenty to think about. For guidance, call The HR Dept.

2017 Resolutions

After all the mince pies and Christmas cheer it is a good time to reflect on your business’s progress during 2016 and decide where you want to take it in 2017.   If you have been working too hard making a few New Year Resolutions to change will be good.  Plan to build the skills of the team, setting realistic goals not pipe dreams and then monitor their performance along the way.  Make time for you and you’ll not only feel better but have more energy to put into your business and make it the success you deserve!

2016 has been a whirlwind! So what can we expect from 2017?

With the rise of Trump and the shockwave that was Brexit, no one can say that 2016 has been uneventful. Nevertheless, 2017 is fast approaching, so it’s best to start preparing. Here’s a heads up on a few things to look out for:

Gender pay gap – As of 5th April 2017, companies with 250+ employees will have to calculate and publish the gender pay gap within their organisation. Even if this doesn’t affect you, you should pay males and females equally for equal work – or risk a tribunal!

The Immigration Act 2016 – This will come into effect in April 2017, designed to discourage businesses from employing migrant workers.

National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rises – Good news here as these will now rise together, potentially saving you some admin time.

For more detail on the upcoming changes, make sure you have a read of our blog post.

Bah Humbug HR 

At the HR Dept we do get increasingly frustrated by all those miserable so called politically correct practitioners and Councils who proclaim that you cannot say Merry Christmas, have a Christmas tree or a Secret Santa for fear of offending someone. Apart from the fact that the last time I checked a tree is not a religious icon and Santa is just a fat old man with lots of toys, hum maybe he is worrying!

Of course at parties you do need to provide food and drink appropriate for all staff taking into account their religious views and Secret Santa presents must not be offensive so no jokes that could end up with a discrimination claim. Parties are working time so a reminder that good behaviour is expected won’t go amiss but at the end of the night wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Then during the year wish people a Happy Hanukkah, Blessed `Eid  and a happy Diwali!