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.

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.

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.

How Do You Handle Short Term Staff Sickness?

Do you have a member of staff who always seems to be off sick, or who doesn’t turn up at work as often as they should do? What’s the best way to handle this?

The first thing you need to do is find out exactly how many days your employee has been off work due to illness and why. What next? Watch this video to find out how to meet to with your employee and what you expect from them next.

If you have any specific questions about handling short term sickness issues with your team, call us 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk for some confidential advice.

10 Reasons Not to Have Staff!

I know this might sound strange coming from an HR Consultant, but do you really need staff? Will they actually help your business to grow, or are they more hassle than they’re worth? This blog takes a tongue in cheek look at why you might actually be better off without them!

Reason One – If you don’t have staff, you know when something has been done, because you’ve done it. You don’t have to keep looking over someone’s shoulder, to see what they’re up to, and annoying and demotivating them in the process.

Reason Two – You don’t have to be worried about being bowled over by someone’s CV, which is possibly full of exaggerations. You don’t have to think about how many white lies they tell you, as they try to sell themselves in an interview. No staff means no need to waste time on recruitment.

Reason Three – Giving a job to a friend or a member of your family is never a good idea. If you don’t have staff, you’ll never have to upset anyone you know by not giving them the job. Just tell them that you don’t need staff and that you’d rather keep them as a great friend, or supportive member of the family. No need to fall out with them!

Reason Four – If you set up and run your own business, staff will never quite see your vision. It will be difficult to get them to see what you want from the businesses. If you don’t have staff, you can just focus on working on your vision yourself, rather than worrying about getting them to understand it.

Reason Five – No annoying processes to follow! Without staff, you don’t need to spend time putting together a Staff Handbook, or processes on everything from holidays, to maternity leave, to what they can say on social media (see Reason number Nine for more on this!)

Reason Six – You don’t have to pay anyone if you don’t have staff – you can keep all the money for yourself! After all, you earned it, so why shouldn’t you keep it all?

Reason Seven – Problems relating to harassment, bullying or stealing can’t rear their ugly heads if you don’t have staff to harass or bully each other (or you) or to steal from your business.

Reason Eight – Want to take a day off just because you feel like it? Want to turn up late for work, or not turn up all? Without staff, you can do it without having to justify your actions to them. And you don’t have to worry about them taking time off sick when really the problem is just a hangover!

Reason Nine – With no staff, you don’t need a social media policy and you don’t have to check what your staff are saying about your business on Twitter. They can’t waste company time on Facebook either, if they don’t work for you.

Reason Ten – There’s no need for an expensive Christmas party! Instead, go out for a meal with some friends, treat your spouse to a night at a nice hotel or go and see your favourite band in concert!

So have I put you off having staff, or taking on any more? If so, please don’t just sack all the staff you have now so you can enjoy the benefits of not having any. You’ll need a proper process for that!

Improving Performance Through a Probation Period

Taking on new members of staff for a growing business can be a costly and time consuming process – especially if you get it wrong. Finding the best person for your business is important, and many people think that they can sit back and rest once their new recruit arrives on their first day. But that’s just the start of it!

This blog looks at how to give your new employee the best start with your business.

You worked hard on crafting the best Job Description for your new team member. The adverts went out and the applications came in. You spent time interviewing potential candidates to join your team. Finally you found them – the perfect person to work with you. They even turned up on their start date. What happens next?

If you think you can just sit back and expect your new recruit to get on with their job and perform as you expect them to – with no input from you – you’ll be disappointed.

The first thing to do – even before a new employee joins you – is to decide on the length of their probation period. This could be between three and six months, depending on the type of work being done. The probation period is your chance to start assessing your new recruit; it’s their time to find their feet and get used to their new role. It is a vital tool in measuring the performance of a new employee.

Next you need to plan when you’re going to review their performance, during the probation period. Planning a review halfway through is a good idea – don’t leave it until the end. This allows you to take action if you’re in any doubt about their ability to do the job for which you have employed them. Their performance will only get better if you do something about it. They might not have understood the job that you need them to do, so this is the time to go over what you expect from them. It’s also a good time for them to air any concerns they might have about their future with you.

You should next plan to review the performance of your new recruit before the end of the probation period. This could be after five months, if the probation is six months in length. This gives you time to properly review their performance and plan any action that needs to be taken – such as training or development. This will put you in the best position to be able to confirm whether or not your new recruit will be staying on.

If you decide that they will not remain with you, and your employment contract is correctly worded, the notice period for a new employee is usually less than for someone who successfully completes a probation period. If they have to leave, you can quickly turn your attention to finding a better person to fill their role.

There is no legal requirement for using a probation period at the start of an employment contract. However, it is a very good way of making sure you get the right person for the job, after all the time and effort you put into the recruitment process. Just make sure that your employment contract explains all this and that you discuss the use of the probation period with anyone to whom you offer the job!

What’s the Difference Between Informal and Formal Appraisals?

This is a question I’m often asked by managers, so I thought I would answer it here.

A performance appraisal can occur in two ways – informally or more formally (or systematically.) Informal appraisals can be carried out whenever the supervisor feels it is necessary. The day-to-day working relationship between a manager and an employee offers an opportunity for the employee’s performance to be assessed. This assessment is communicated through conversation on the job, over coffee, or by on-the-spot examination of a particular piece of work. Informal appraisals are especially appropriate when time is an issue. The longer feedback is delayed, the less likely it is to encourage a change in behaviour. Frequent informal feedback to employees can also prevent surprises when the formal evaluation is communicated. However, you should make sure that they don’t become too informal – don’t be tempted to discuss an appraisal in the pub!

Although informal appraisals are useful, they should not take the place of formal appraisals. These are used when the contact between a manager and an employee is more formal. This could be when they don’t see each other on a daily, or even weekly basis. It requires a system to be in place to report managerial impressions and observations on employee performance.

When Should You Carry out Appraisals?

Appraisals typically are conducted once or twice a year, most often annually, near the anniversary of the employee’s start date. For new employees, common timing is to conduct an appraisal 90 days after employment, again at six months and annually after that. ‘Probationary’ or new employees, or those who are new and in a trial period, should be evaluated frequently—perhaps weekly for the first month and monthly thereafter until the end of the introductory period for new employees. After that, annual reviews may be sufficient.

Some managers prefer to meet with their employees more frequently. Some companies in high-technology fields are promising accelerated appraisals— six months instead of a year—so that employees receive more frequent raises. The result for some companies has been a reduction in turnover among these very turnover-prone employees.

A regular time interval is a feature of formal, systematic appraisals that distinguishes them from informal appraisals. Both employees and managers are aware that performance will be reviewed on a regular basis and they can plan for performance discussions. In addition, informal appraisals should be conducted whenever a manager feels they are desirable.

Should We Talk About Pay As Well?

Many experts say that the timing of performance appraisals and pay discussions should be different. The major reason for this view is that employees often focus more on the pay amount than on what they have done well or need to improve. Sometimes managers may manipulate performance appraisal ratings to justify the desired pay treatment for a given individual.

However you carry out appraisals – whether informally or formally – take some time to think about the pros and cons of the different options. This will help you implement the best process for the development of your business and your employees.

Can Santa Get the Sack?


Can Santa get the sack?

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat … but so is Santa! He’s now too big to fit down the chimney; the elves think they have man flu; and Rudolf says the roads are blocked with snow so he can’t get to work!

You might think that Christmas runs smoothly at the North Pole – after all, they have all year to plan it. However, this year there are a few problems for the Head Reindeer (HR) department to sort out.

Father Christmas is too big to fit down the chimney. All year Santa has been relaxing at the North Pole and as a result, his girth has expanded somewhat. The Head Reindeer is worried that he won’t be able to do his job properly – after all, he is supposed to climb down chimneys in order to deliver presents. Can he get the sack for not being able to carry out the work in his job description? If Santa is morbidly obese and can’t carry out his daily tasks, he could be classed as disabled. This means that sacking him because of his girth may be discrimination – something the Head Reindeer would like to avoid!

The elves think they have ‘man flu’. They’re sneezing and coughing and their noses are running, so they’re really like to stay in bed – especially during December when work gets really busy. Are they allowed to take time off sick, when Father Christmas thinks they just have colds? Staff taking time off for sickness usually increases over the winter months, so the Head Reindeer will need to speak to each of the elves and find out what’s actually wrong with them and make sure they have the right evidence to support the reasons for their absence. Keeping in contact with sick staff is always a good idea. After all, how can Christmas carry on without the elves?

Rudolf says the roads are blocked with snow. He says he can’t get to the office because of the weather conditions. He can’t really work from home, although for some staff, it’s worth setting up remote access, so that they can still work, even if they’re not in the office. The Head Reindeer needs to make sure that the Staff Handbook is up to date, to cover issues like bad weather. And he needs to find out how else to get Rudolf to work, if there is snow on the road, or Christmas might have to be cancelled.

With a little bit of forward planning (and perhaps some advice from an expert) the Head Reindeer (HR) manager will be able to make sure that everything goes to plan for a great Christmas. At least he can let all the elves take time off together, once the festive period is over!

Three Stages to Getting Recruitment Right – Part One

Three Stages to Getting Recruitment Right – Part One

In three blog posts I’m going to cover some of the basics of getting recruitment right – especially if you’re taking on your first member of staff.

First we’ll look at how to find the best person, then we’ll look at what to do when they start working for you and in the third blog, I’ll talk about what to do at the end of their probation. This three stage process will help you find and keep hold of the best people for your business – and avoid some costly pitfalls!

Part One – How do you find the right person?

So your business is growing and you’re getting busier and busier. You’re working longer hours, just to keep up with the work and the demands of your clients. You don’t want to turn business away, so you keep working all the hours you can, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Eventually, when your friends and family are really fed up of not seeing you and you’re completely exhausted, you decide it’s time to take on your first member staff.

But you’re too tired to think about it properly and you certainly don’t want to spend your hard earned cash having someone else do the recruitment. So you put the word out among your contacts and network that you need some help in your business. You’re not quite sure what the job would involve, how many hours it will be, or how long you’ll need them. But that doesn’t really matter does it? You just need someone to ease the burden – and quickly!

A number of people respond to your plea for help and you chat to a few of them. One of them seems quite nice and can start straight away, so you meet up to talk a bit more and then offer them the job.

Sounds easy doesn’t it?! Until you find out that your brand new team member doesn’t actually like doing some of the tasks you need them to do. But never mind, there’s plenty of other work to keep them busy. And then they ask about taking some time off for a holiday and one of your clients complains that some of their work hasn’t been done. Before long, you find yourself working longer hours than before you hired someone, just to check up on their work and correct their mistakes. The atmosphere in the office changes and you don’t look forward to going there in the morning.

That wasn’t supposed to happen – it’s your business and you’re supposed to enjoy what you do!

So how do you avoid all these problems? Do some planning! Think really carefully about the sort of person you want working with you and what they will do. Create a solid job description that includes the hours they will work. You can always start someone on part-time hours if you want to try them out. Most importantly, don’t leave recruitment until you’re desperate for help, as this will make you more likely to take on the first person who comes along, who you think will ‘do’. They probably won’t! If you have any doubts about a potential employee, deal with those doubts and take your time to find the best person for your business.

In Part Two of this series we’ll look at what to do when your new recruit (who really is the right person) starts working with you.

What Are The Latest Employment Law Updates?

What Are The Latest Employment Law Updates?

On 1 May 2014 we held our latest Employment Law Update workshop, when we looked at some of the recent changes that you need to know about, as an employer. Here is a summary of some of the changes.

  • Workers from overseas – from 1 January 2014, restrictions on working in EU states were lifted for Bulgarian and Romanian workers. Remember to check the right to work in the UK for all employees.
  • Employing illegal workers – from 6 April 2014, the maximum civil penalty for employing an adult subject to immigration control, who does not have the right to work in the UK, increased to £20,000 from £10,000. New guidance has been issued by the Home Office in the “Full guide for employers on preventing illegal working.”
  • Employment Allowance – from 6 April 2014 a £2000 reduction in the NIC bill for all businesses and charities has been introduced. HMRC has a calculator and information you can use here.
  • Employment tribunal fees – from 6 April 2014 some re-categorisation of claims has been done. As a reminder, Type A claims are £160 for the issue fee plus £230 for the hearing fee; Type B claims are £250 for the issue fee and £950 for the hearing fee. Type B claims include unfair dismissal. The Tribunal can order the employer to pay if the claim is successful.

These are just a few of the recent changes and we’ll cover more in future blogs. More changes will continue to be made throughout the year to Employment Law. To keep up to date, subscribe to our newsletter here, keep reading these blogs, or come to our next workshop, which will be held in the autumn.