Handling Difficult Conversations – Part Two

In a previous blog post we wrote about the first couple of steps that you can take, when preparing to handle a difficult conversation with a member of your staff. Here are the next steps for you to follow.

3. Listening

Taking the time to listen will also help you to gather useful information about the issue. You should prepare questions but must let the employee explain or react in his or her own time.

Dos and don’ts

  • Do ask for the individual’s view, as this could help to find an appropriate solution to the issue
  • Do use open questions such as “what is your view on that?”
  • Do listen to and acknowledge the employee’s point of view
  • Do appreciate the value of silence. This allows the individual time to gather his or her thoughts
  • Do ask if you have not understood what has been said
  • Do summarise the main points of what the employee has said. This is useful as it shows that you have listened, helps to consolidate your thoughts and helps you to decide where the conversation should go next
  • Do check that the employee has understood what you have said
  • Don’t jump in while the individual is speaking
  • Don’t answer questions that you have put to the employee to answer
  • Don’t ask multiple questions as this can come across as intimidating and prevent the employee from giving a useful answer.

4. Explore the Issues

During the conversation, you and your employee should explore the issue together. If you explore the issue as a whole, including the reasons why it arose, this will increase the chances that the conversation will be successful. Exploring the issue could also help you to find out more about the individual, the team and the organisation.

The issue can be explored in a number of ways:

You can use probing questions to understand or clarify what the employee has said, for example “tell me more about that.”

You might ask rather than tell. You could ask the employee what he or she sees as the ideal outcome of the conversation and how this might be achieved, as well as how others might respond to this.

You can discuss the pros and cons of the different options with the employee.

5. Agree Action

Having ascertained the ideal outcome of the conversation, you and your employee need to agree how it can be achieved.

You need to agree the way forward together. This encourages joint ownership of the issue, which helps the employee to treat it seriously and take responsibility for resolving it.

Brainstorming will help the employee feel involved and is an easy way of comparing the positives and negatives of different solutions.

If the issue requires action, you should both agree a deadline. Scheduling a date by which the action must be completed helps to focus minds. This could be coupled with the date for the next meeting to review the situation.

If the employee needs to improve, you should both agree how development or progress will be measured.

The employee may need support from you to resolve the issue and you need to take this into account.

Once it has been agreed what the employee is going to do, you should ask them to summarise this, which ensures that they have fully understood what is required and by when.

You should end the meeting by explaining that you want the individual to succeed.

When you have a difficult conversation to handle with an employee, don’t put it off. Spend time preparing for it and you will be able to get the best outcome for both you and you member of staff.

Two-Thirds of Small Businesses Risk Being Fined Through Lack of HR Resources

A recent report shows that time-poor small businesses are struggling with the burden of HR administration, leaving themselves at risk.

Only 25% of small business owners polled feel up to speed on matters to do with employee rights and employer regulations. As little as 37% of SME (small-to-medium sized enterprise) owners have a good understanding on all matters to do with employee rights and employer regulations and keep updated on regulatory changes on an ongoing basis.

New research from Jobandtalent has uncovered a worrying lack of understanding around employment regulations amongst small businesses in the UK. A lack of HR resources and expertise is leading to risky hiring practices in this market, the report finds.

The report follows the release of official data from the pensions regulator, which revealed that the number of employers being fined up to £10,000 a day for not complying with the new regulations on workplace pensions, has shot up by 300% in three months.

The survey of 500 SME owners was carried out by OnePoll and was commissioned by Jobandtalent, an online job marketplace, which matches SMEs with local talent. The research found that owners of SMEs are most at risk due to a lack of dedicated HR expertise or resource.

According to the Jobandtalent survey, a quarter of SME owners admitted that while they understand current regulation, they struggle to keep up with changes. Worryingly, 12% felt they have limited to no understanding of present employment regulations – let alone changes in the future. This represents a clear risk to the business.

When questioned about the hiring process and time to hire new talent, two-thirds (67%) of the 500 SME owners questioned revealed that they do not have anyone dedicated to finding talent and hiring or HR. Of those businesses, the vast majority (77%) answered that the responsibility for hiring fell to the business owner.

Is your business at risk, because you don’t have time to keep up with all the changes? Don’t take the risk – if you have a question about HR or Employment Law, contact us now and we talk about what you need to do. Call us on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

Handling Difficult Conversations – Part One

Difficult conversations with employees are part of a line manager’s role.

Any conversation that you would rather not have can result in you expecting it to be a difficult one. However, issues need to be dealt with before they escalate into more serious problems, so in this series of blogs we’ll look at how best to handle them.

Issues that managers find difficult to raise with employees include:

  • delivering bad news, such as confirmation that an employee is being dismissed
  • providing feedback on performance
  • raising an issue of misconduct
  • raising the issue of an employee’s personal hygiene
  • addressing a conflict between colleagues
  • acknowledging that the line manager was wrong and the employee was right.

What happens if you ignore the issue?

Failing to have a conversation to address the issue could have a number of potentially serious consequences:

  • The issue may interfere with your own work
  • If an issue of poor performance or misconduct is left unchecked, the employee may think that the situation is acceptable
  • Failing to address issues of poor performance or misconduct will make it more difficult for you to impose a disciplinary sanction at a later date
  • If left unresolved the issue may cause productivity problems for the individual, the team and the organisation
  • If the issue that needs to be addressed is the employee’s failure to pull his or her weight, failing to address it may cause problems with the employee’s colleagues who may have to pick up the individual’s slack
  • A loss of respect for you as a manager and the organisation as a whole can develop.

Once you have decided to address the issue by having a conversation with the individual, you should conduct it in an appropriate manner so that both parties use the situation to maximum benefit. There are five key areas that you should consider.

1. Preparation

Effective preparation for the meeting will help you get across what you want to say without losing sight of the objective. There are several strands to effective preparation:

  • Investigate the issue before the meeting to be able to provide evidence
  • Decide what the ideal outcome of the conversation would be
  • Think carefully about the differences between your character and that of your employee. You could adapt your style of doing things to assist with understanding and acceptance of the message by your employee.
  • Think about your frame of mind before having the conversation
  • Concentrate on the issue rather than the individual

You should prepare any materials that may be needed for the meeting, including extra copies of documents for the employee. You can also practise what you are going to say, particularly any opening statement or questions.

A difficult conversation should always be conducted in private so that neither the line manager nor the employee is embarrassed and so that you both feel that they can speak freely. You should allow sufficient time to enable proper discussion.

2. Communication

It is important for you to communicate the issue clearly, so that there are no misunderstandings. You must also put the message across in a way that is constructive, even though the information may seem negative.

Set the right tone: begin the conversation in a professional manner as this will encourage a professional attitude throughout the meeting and help to achieve a successful outcome.

State the issues clearly: To avoid misunderstanding, state clearly what the issue is. Praise or positive comments can be useful, but you should not let this cloud the message that you need to impart.

Put the issue in context: Demonstrate why the issue is important.

Give specific examples and evidence: If the message that needs to be imparted is that the employee has been refused a request for flexible working, it helps if you can give specific examples of why the request cannot be accommodated.

Focus on the issue, not the person: Avoid expressing your opinion about the employee. This can be done by sticking to the facts and avoiding generalisations and comments on the individual’s personality.

Avoid an attitude of blame: The issue needs to be addressed in a collaborative way. Managers should not approach a conversation with an attitude of ‘line manager versus the employee, but with an attitude of ‘both versus the problem’.

Avoid belittling the issue: Your own fear of a difficult conversation could lead you to belittle the issue. Avoid phrases such as “this won’t take long”, “it’s really not a big deal” and “I’m sure you’re aware of what I’ll be saying”.

Be positive: Managers should be bold and state that they want a successful outcome to the meeting. This will give a constructive tone and feel to the conversation even if the news seems bad. It also helps if you use positive words, such as “improvement” and “achievement”, rather than negative words, such as “failure” and “weakness”.

Body language: Be aware of your own body language so that it does not alienate the employee. Your attitude will usually be replicated by the employee.

There is a lot more to getting through difficult conversations with employees, including listening, exploring the issue and agreeing the next action, which we’ll cover in the next blog in this series.

If you need some help now with handling difficult conversations, contact us now and we can provide you with some free, impartial advice, to help you get started. Call us on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

Source: Xperthr

Are You Ready for the Next Employment Law Changes in April 2017?

Reserve your place on our next workshop here.

What are the next changes that will be made to Employment Law and how will they affect your business and your staff?

On 30 March 2017 we will hold the next of our regular Employment Law Update workshops. We do this twice a year, when the changes are approaching, so the next one will be in October 2017.  If you’re a business owner or manager it’s important you understand how they affect you and your employees.

This workshop is your chance to ask your questions in a confidential, friendly session, which is always attended by people who, like you, are looking for ways to keep up to date. Share your issues and hear how other people deal with the issues you have to deal with in your business.

The workshop will be held at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire, at 9.30am for a 10am start, finishing at 1pm. The cost is just £20 +VAT and includes plenty of tea and coffee! Online booking is available now.

Someone who attended a previous workshop said:

“I thought the workshop would be full of other HR people who knew more than me – but it wasn’t like that at all. I learnt a great deal from the Employment Law update and it was really useful talking to other people to hear how they dealt with similar issues to me.”

Book your place online now and we look forward to seeing you on 30 March.

How Do You Handle Winter Staff Sickness?

After a few months of cold winter weather and numerous ‘bugs’ going around the office, you might be wondering how best to handle winter staff sickness issues and how to keep your business running at full capacity. This blog will give you some tips on how to do this, until the better spring weather arrives.

How are you and your staff coping with the winter weather and the cold and flu bugs that always do the rounds at this time of year? Many people will need a bit of time off at some point during the year, to recover from an illness, so what are the benefits of managing absence in a proactive way?

Both long and short term absences can cost a huge amount – both financially and in terms of manpower. It’s never an easy conversation to have with your employees and it can be difficult to keep up with what action you can take, to keep within the law. The bottom line is this – do nothing and the problem won’t go away, but it could get worse. Finding out early on what’s going on with an employee who is absent can make a significant difference to your relationship with them and to their absence levels in the future. Talking to them allows you to get to the root of the problem and to provide them with the support that they need. By focusing on the absence it may also deter casual absenteeism – too many days off here and there.

Dealing with Short Term Absence

You should have a procedure in place that requires your employees to talk to a named person, rather than leaving a message, when reporting their absence. There should also be guidance on how soon after the start of the working day an employee should contact that named person, if they are too ill to come into work. A standard form should then be completed recording the date, time, reason given and predicted time of absence, to make sure the relevant facts are gathered consistently for each absence. If an employee does not turn up for work and does not report in sick, you should contact them by phone as soon as you can, to find out where they are.

Discussing the problem is essential; especially if one of your employees keeps taking days off for sickness. Maybe there is a work issue which you can help them deal with and solve. Providing the support they need will result in an improved working relationship, better morale and less time off sick.

You should always speak to the member of staff when they return to work, irrespective of how long they’ve been away. It shows you’re taking the situation seriously and acts as a deterrent for people who shouldn’t really be taking time off. Asking how someone is feeling after they’ve been off for even one day also shows that you care about them. Keep the conversation informal but take it seriously. Ensure confidentiality, have a clear structure, record what is said and above all, remain positive and supportive. You can ask them if they visited their GP, how they are feeling now and if there anything you can do to support them. Just remember not to ask any intrusive medical questions!

Communicating with your employees improves productivity and decreases absence, so follow these simple guidelines when dealing with short term sick leave.

There is plenty more advice on the Acas website, with guidance as to what to do when any of your employees take time off for being ill this winter. You can find the information here.

Are You Up To Date with What You Can Ask an Employee?

Book you place on our next Employment Law Update workshop.

There are certain questions that you cannot ask an employee who has been off sick. What’s more, what you can ask and the rules on how to handle the situation change from time to time, as changes are made to Employment Law. You can search the internet and HR publications for news on all the latest changes, which will be happening on 1 April 2017, but do you really have the time?

Twice a year we run interactive workshops that bring you details of all the changes to the law that you need to know about. We do the research so that you don’t have to! Our next workshop will be from 10am – 1pm on 30 March 2017 at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire. Before the event we will do the digging to find out about all the important legal changes that might affect your business and your employees. Then we deliver them to you in simple sections throughout the workshop, helping you to understand what you need to do about particular changes.

The workshop costs just £20 +VAT, to include plenty of tea and coffee to keep you going through the morning. You can ask any questions you have in total confidentiality and talk to the other participants about how they will be handling the next round of changes.

Click here to reserve your place now.

The Difficult Issue of Dealing with Personal Hygiene Issues at Work

Dealing effectively with an employee who has a personal hygiene problem is one of the most difficult and sensitive situations that you’re likely to face, as a manager. The problem may be one of body odour, dirty or stale-smelling clothing, dirty hair or bad breath.

It is advisable not to ignore a problem of this nature as, the longer the matter is allowed to continue unresolved, the more difficult it will be to raise the issue with the employee. Unless the issue is raised with the employee, it is likely that the problem will continue and other employees may become hostile towards the problem employee and disillusioned by management’s lack of willingness to tackle the problem.

Whether a problem of this nature is brought to your attention informally by one or more of your employee’s colleagues, as a result of a formal complaint, as a result of comments overheard by chance, or by evidence that colleagues are avoiding the person, the issue needs to be tackled promptly and firmly.

Open communication

The only effective method of dealing with a problem of lack of personal hygiene is through honest, open, two-way communication with the employee in question. Plain language should be used to explain the problem. Dropping hints, for example making comments about bad smells, putting a bar of soap in the employee’s desk drawer or leaving a stick of deodorant in a prominent place, is unlikely to work, and may create further problems such as ill-feeling or upset.

It will be important for you to bear in mind that a problem of body odour or bad breath may be rooted in the employee’s health and may not always be due to a lack of personal hygiene. You therefore need to have an open mind and be careful not to be seen to accuse the employee of poor personal standards.

Discussion guidelines

To handle the matter, you should arrange to talk to your employee privately, bearing in mind that an interview of this nature is likely to be difficult and possibly embarrassing for the employee. You will therefore need to be sensitive, understanding and patient during the interview. Clearly, discussions with the employee should be held privately and kept confidential, and it will be important for the employee to be reassured that this is the case.

You should specify the problem factually and in plain language. For example, you might say: “I have noticed sometimes that you have quite a strong body odour and I feel that this is something that needs to be addressed” or “I have noticed on occasions that the clothing you wear to work has a stale smell and I feel that this is something that needs to be addressed.”

Depending on the response you get, you might ask your employee if he or she is aware of any reason for the problem, for example an underlying medical cause. If this is the case, you should not ask intrusive questions into the employee’s state of health, but move on to discuss what can be done to resolve the matter.

Make sure that you reassure the employee that the aim of the discussion is to help and encourage him or her to recognise and solve a problem. Do not tell the employee that other people have commented on the problem (even if they have), as this is likely to cause unnecessary embarrassment.

Action agreement

Having pointed out the problem and allowed the employee adequate time and opportunity to respond, you need to ask your employee what solution he or she thinks would be feasible. Depending on what explanation they give (if any), the solution may be one of the following:

  • See his or her own doctor to explain that the problem has been highlighted at work and ask for (further) medical intervention
  • Agree to be seen by a company-nominated doctor at the employer’s expense to discuss the matter and seek a solution
  • Undertake to bathe more frequently and/or to wash his or her hair more frequently and/or to launder his or her clothes more frequently
  • Undertake to brush his or her teeth and/or use a mouthwash more frequently.

If the problem is one of lack of personal hygiene, you should inform the employee clearly and firmly that an improvement is required so as to avoid further difficulties. This should, however, be put across to the employee in a supportive way, and not in a manner that implies criticism or threat. However, do not be afraid to stress the importance of improvement. You may be able to justify a requirement for improvement along the lines of “providing an acceptable working environment for all, given the close proximity in which colleagues have to work” or “creating a positive image on the part of the organisation when dealing with the public”. Do what you can to secure the employee’s agreed commitment to change and set a date for a review, perhaps in a month’s time.

Dealing with a personal hygiene problem in the workplace is certainly no easy matter, but the employee may, in the longer term, benefit from the sort of frank feedback that will be necessary in such a situation.

If you have a problem such as this at work and you’re still not sure how to handle it, call us for a confidential chat and we’ll help you through it. Call me now on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

Source: XpertHR

How Do You Deal with Harassment at Work?

Harassment can be physical, verbal or non-verbal and a wide range of different types of behaviour at work may potentially be perceived as harassment. This blog gives some examples of behaviour that could be perceived as harassment.

Sex-related harassment:

  • Telling jokes about women
  • Making derogatory sexist remarks
  • The display of sexually explicit material on computer screens or in calendars
  • Leering at a woman in a manner that is overtly sexual
  • Physically touching someone in a sexual manner where such conduct is not welcome
  • Remarks, banter or jokes of a sexual nature
  • Making sexual suggestions or persisting with sexual advances after it has been made clear that such approaches are unwelcome.

Racial harassment:

  • Calling someone a nickname linked to his or her skin colour or nationality
  • Remarks, banter or jokes about people from different racial backgrounds.

Disability harassment:

  • Using insulting terminology when referring to a disabled colleague
  • Excessive staring, for example at someone with a facial disfigurement
  • Mimicking a disabled colleague’s mannerisms or speech.

Religious harassment:

  • Remarks, banter or jokes about particular religious beliefs or religious practices
  • Derogatory remarks made about a particular item of clothing or jewellery worn by someone as a symbol of his or her religion.

Sexual orientation harassment:

  • Deliberate isolation of someone on grounds of his or her sexuality or perceived sexuality
  • Deliberately behaving in an effeminate manner in the presence of someone who is gay
  • Calling someone a nickname based on his or her sexuality or perceived sexuality.

Age harassment:

  • Banter and jokes that make fun of older people or demean their abilities
  • Calling someone a name linked to his or her age
  • Ignoring someone, or treating his or her views as worthless, just because he or she is younger or older than other employees.

Guarding against offensive jokes, banter and remarks

General banter linked to sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or age is the most common form of harassment in employment. You should make sure that you properly brief all your staff as to the types of conduct and speech that might cause offence to others and make it clear that such behaviour will be unacceptable.

If you’re concerned about harassment within your company – and you need someone to speak to about it, call me now on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

What Does Bullying at Work Look Like?

Bullying at work is behaviour that is:

  • threatening, aggressive or intimidating
  • abusive, insulting or offensive
  • cruel or vindictive or
  • humiliating, degrading or demeaning.

Bullying will inevitably erode the victim’s confidence and self-esteem. It normally relates to negative behaviours that are repeated and persistent, and deliberately targeted at a particular individual. Bullying is often an abuse of power, position or knowledge, and may be perpetrated by the victim’s manager, his or her peers or even by subordinates. The following table gives some examples of behaviour that could be perceived as bullying, depending on the circumstances.

Whatever form bullying at work might not take, it should not be tolerated at any level and must be dealt with immediately. If you are concerned about any of your employees being bullied, or you are being bullied yourself and need to speak to someone about it in confidence, call me straight away on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

Managing the Malingerer

Managing sickness absence is always difficult and dealing with someone who you suspect is not genuinely ill has always been trickier. You might have seen it happen and had your suspicions, but how to you prove that the sickness was not genuine? It’s not easy, so here are some suggestions to help you.

Step 1: Identify and assess potential evidence

The first step is to identify and record available evidence to support your suspicions.

If you have evidence that one of your employees is being dishonest by claiming to be off sick when he or she is not, you may be able to discipline them or even dismiss them for misconduct.

Mere suspicions and rumours will not be enough to show misconduct. However, social media has the potential to provide a good source of possible evidence. If you are presented with evidence from social media, perhaps from another employee, you can use it in the same way as you would any other anecdotal evidence or an employee tip-off.

The credibility of the evidence retrieved from social media will need to be tested in the usual way. Has the information been taken out of context and are the dates of posting accurate?

There is debate over whether social media posts are in the public domain or private, in which case, your employee could argue that this breaches their right to privacy. However, interference with the right to privacy can be objectively justified and might be permissible if you have reasonable grounds to believe that your employee is fraudulently claiming sick pay.

In general, as an employer, you should be able to rely on such evidence, but each case would need to be assessed on its own merits and ‘fishing’ exercises are never advisable.

Step 2: Review the evidence

If your evidence of malingering looks robust and credible then you should be able to start a disciplinary process for misconduct.

A lack of evidence of dishonesty does not mean that you cannot challenge an employee you suspect is not really as ill as they claim. People will often continue to take unwarranted time off where they believe their absences are passing unnoticed.

You can address this by ensuring that return-to-work interviews are carried out following each occasion of absence and encourage your line managers to probe further (or push for medical evidence) if faced with evasive or inadequate answers.

Step 3: Give evidence of misconduct

If you believe you have evidence of dishonest behaviour, it is important not to jump to conclusions. Remember that employees do not have to be bed-bound, or even at home, in order to be unfit for work.

An employee posting pictures of himself on holiday or doing sport or other leisure activities may still be genuinely unwell. Many health conditions do not improve as a result of lying in bed. It is still important to carry out an investigation, as you would for any other allegation of misconduct.

How do you spot malingerers?

Some of the signs include patterns of absence, such as the same day each week; triggers for absence, such as being invited to a disciplinary meeting; reluctance to provide medical evidence or attend appointments; posts on social media; tip-offs from colleagues and reports of activities that seem inconsistent with ill-health, such as undertaking other work or going on holiday.

Step 4: Remember to follow your procedures

Before disciplining or dismissing the malingering employee for misconduct, you must follow your own procedures and the Acas ‘Code on discipline and grievance’, as you would do in any other disciplinary scenario.

You will need to put the evidence to the individual, hear their explanation and consider if that explanation requires further investigation and medical evidence may be needed.

You must also consider the individual circumstances of the case and any mitigating points, such as length of service and previous disciplinary history, as well as how similar cases have been dealt with in the past.

Make sure you follow this process any time you are unsure of how ill an employee really is. If in doubt about how to handle such a situation, contact us by calling 0118 940 3032 or clicking here to email us and we’ll help you through it.

The 12 Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, a Contract in a pear tree. Make sure that you have up to date contracts for all your employees.

 

 

 

 

 

On the second day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, two boxing gloves. Don’t go picking a fight with your employees just because they don’t do what you want them to do. Learn to manage them properly!

 

 

 

 

On the third day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, three French Hens. If you have employees from Europe, keep an eye on our blog for news of how Brexit could affect your employees and your business.

 

 

 

 

On the fourth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, four dreaded words. “You have been fired!” Before you rush to sack anyone, check to make sure you have a good reason and make sure you do it properly.

 

 

 

 

 

On the fifth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, five golden things. Here are the five stages of HR that your business will go through.

 

 

 

 

 

On the sixth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, six staff-a-laying. Keep your employees delivering all those golden eggs, to the best of their ability, by looking for ways to develop them and their performance.

 

 

 

 

On the seventh day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, seven swans-a-swimming. If, like a swan, you’re all grace and elegance above water, while below you’re frantically paddling to keep afloat of all things HR, just get in touch to see how we can help.

 

 

 

 

On the eighth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, eight maids-a-milking. Except that these days, you have to let the men do the milking too, if they want to! You’re not allowed to discriminate. Acas can help you create a fair workplace.

 

 

 

 

On the ninth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, nine ladies dancing. And the men can dance too!

 

 

 

 

 

On the tenth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, ten lords (and ladies) leaping at the Christmas party. Make sure you lay down a few rules for proper behaviour, so that things don’t get out of hand.

 

 

 

 

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, eleven pipers piping. Make a big noise when your staff do a great job. Look for the best way to reward them.

 

 

 

 

 

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, twelve drummers drumming. I keep drumming good HR practices into my clients’ businesses, to help them grow successful companies that are great places to work.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas …

And have a stress free New Year with lots of happy, productive employees!

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