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.

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 Will the Apprenticeship Levy Affect Employers?

The apprenticeship levy, which the Government hopes will help create three million new apprentices by 2020, is due to come into force in 2017, with a view to creating millions of apprenticeships across the UK. The levy is expected to raise an estimated £3 billion by the end of this Parliament.

If your business has an annual payroll cost of less than £3 million, then you will not be required to pay the levy. If you have more than this, however, there will be a 0.5% tax on your payroll bill, which will be paid through PAYE.

The Government estimates that approximately 22,000 organisations will be required to pay the levy. Many smaller employers will be impacted as well as the large companies, as a workforce of 100 people and an average salary of just over £30,000 will take businesses over the threshold.

Employers that do not pay the levy will still be able to access government support for apprenticeships through the Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS). Employers in England that pay the levy and provide apprenticeship training will receive a ‘top-up’ to a digital account. The training must be provided through an accredited provider and, at this point, it is presumed that HRMC will be responsible for enforcing the payment from the employer and ensuring payment to the training provider.

Some employers have voiced concerns over how funding will be distributed, as each course will need different periods of training time and different evaluation methods. For example, an apprenticeship in engineering may need 12 months, while some apprenticeships in sectors such as retail may need less time.

Potentially, it will be difficult to make a one-size-fits-all scheme translate into meaningful and empowering apprenticeships that benefit both employer and employee.

How Can You Use the Apprenticeship Levy?

Consider the areas in your business where training is most needed, to ensure that the apprenticeship levy works in favour of your organisation. It is possible that many employers will not recoup the levy that they pay, and will therefore simply see it as another employment tax.

What Should Employers Do to Prepare?

One of the key parts of preparation for employers is ensuring that you have the financial capability to pay the levy.

Start to think more broadly than the immediate view of an ‘apprenticeship’ as something for young starters. Consider what training your business has put off because of the possible cost, and ascertain what could be done as an apprenticeship so that you can get the best value.

If you’re not sure how best to prepare for the Apprenticeship Levy, or you’d like some advice taking on an apprentice, contact us by calling 0118 940 3032 or emailing sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

What’s the Safest Way to Withdraw a Job Offer?

I have been asked a lot of questions recently about withdrawing job offers based on poor references, so I thought that I would write about it in more detail here. 

Can you withdraw a job offer once it has been made? What risks do you face as an employer if you change your recruitment plans?

Sometimes you will need to withdraw an offer of a job. The hiring situation may change because of a general recruitment freeze, a restructure within your organisation or a change of management. The funding for the post might have been withdrawn or you may become aware that the selected candidate is not suitable after all.

Job offers can be withdrawn after they are made, but there are risks associated with doing this. Withdrawing an offer because circumstances have changed looks like bad planning and could affect your company’s reputation. The employee may be able to bring a tribunal claim for breach of contract.

When is the contract of employment formed?

An employment contract is formed once an unconditional job offer is made and accepted. If you withdraw an unconditional job offer once it has been accepted, you are effectively terminating the contract and could be liable for damages for the individual’s loss.

Even though the individual has not started working for you, there will be a notice period due – just as with other terminations. Damages could amount to what the individual would have received if you had given proper notice – including any pay and benefits due.

What if your recruitment plans change?

If your recruitment plans change due to business needs and you have to withdraw job offers, you should notify the recruits as soon as possible to try to limit the damage and enable them to mitigate their potential loss. The selected candidate might not have resigned from their current employer yet. If they have, they may still be able to ask for their old job back – the sooner this is done the better.

Pre-recruitment checks and job offers

Most job offers are conditional on the new recruit satisfying certain conditions. The selected candidate may need to provide references or evidence of qualifications, or they may need to demonstrate their right to work in the UK. If the individual does not satisfy one or all of those requirements, you can withdraw the job offer without being liable for damages.

If you don’t make it clear that the job offer is conditional, and then withdraw the offer because the recruit has not satisfied one of your requirements, this will amount to a breach of contract and you may be liable for damages. Offers of employment should make absolutely clear that they are conditional on certain requirements being met. Failure to do so can be costly.

If you’re considering making or withdrawing a job offer and you want to make sure that you’re doing it properly, contact us first for some advice. Call us on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

How Do You Handle Unauthorised Absence from Work?

What do you do when one of your members of staff keeping missing work for no apparent reason, or doesn’t come back when you expected them to after their holiday? This is known as unauthorised absence and needs to be handled quickly and efficiently.

The first thing to do is find out why someone has been missing work. Is it unusual or do they keep missing work? Next you need to get in touch with them and follow a procedure. This short video will tell you more about this.

We can help you put a procedure in place for handling these issues and can provide you with a template letter to send to staff who have been absent without your authorization. Just call us 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk for some confidential advice.

Are Your Employees Doing Their Best for Your Business?

Your people are the key to the success of your business. By investing in them you are investing in your success. But how do you make sure they are working as hard as they can, to bring about that success? 

Here are our top 10 tips to help you get the most from your people: 

  1. Provide a vibrant and stimulating working environment and a culture that values the contribution made by each person
  2. Embrace the diverse range of skills, expertise, experience, attitudes and backgrounds of all your staff
  3. Encourage your staff to reach their full potential. Provide them with opportunities to develop their expertise, both in terms of technical and soft skills
  4. Provide formal and informal performance reviews on a regular basis
  5. Set clear objectives and achievable targets with your staff and allow them to air their concerns within an environment of trust and honesty
  6. Deal with issues as soon as they arise. Don’t wait for them to become a significant problem
  7. Equip your managers with the skills they need to deal with difficult situations confidently and effectively
  8. Reinforce and reward good performance. Provide incentives and rewards that motivate each individual member of staff
  9. Offer a clear career path to incentivise employees to be the best they can be
  10. Conduct regular employee questionnaires to highlight areas for concern and ensure staff feel that you value their opinions.

Managing staff is often the hardest part of any manager’s job. Follow these simple tips and you’ll find it easier to encourage your staff to put their best efforts into working with you. If you need any help with improving the performance of your people, get in touch by calling 0118 940 3032 or emailing sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

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.

How Do You Deal with Poor Staff Performance?

What do you do when you first think that one of your members of staff isn’t doing as well as you would like them to?

Whatever you do, don’t ignore it and just hope that the situation will improve!

For some tips on how to deal with the early stages of poor performance, watch this short video.

If you still have any questions about how to help your staff to perform better, or you have a more difficult situation to deal with, call us 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk for some confidential advice.