The working environment post-pandemic, whether we like to acknowledge it or not, has changed – the demands on an office environment, and on the employer have changed. Pre-pandemic, we thought we were doing a good job if we put plants in our offices to help the ambiance. But symbolic gestures are not enough, we have to look at what our employees need.
And we’re not talking salary or benefits, so let’s take that off of the table. What do our employees need from us?
We could go on about the structure of the work place, that they need targets and feedback – for their development and for the operational performance of your business. We also like to go on about the company culture – hard to pin down but we know it has something to do with a supportive work/life balance, about a “listening” environment, about development and if you’ve got a bit lost in the sauce, you often find employers throwing benefits out in hope of finding a cultural balance.
So, let’s pause…
Working a four-day week while still be paid for five days would be a dream come true for many. Being able to have three days off each week means more time for… you, family, friends, hobbies – whatever you may want. Brilliant surely?
But as a small or medium-sized business how can it be affordable?
We are asked this question on a regular basis – how can we afford it – “our salary bill is already high and with the recent increases in national insurance”, “losing a day’s productivity from each member of staff doesn’t make sense”.
It is a difficult question to answer. So, my response is normally to explain how we work.
Previously an office of eight people, we started working from home about five years ago. At first it was challenging, and we didn’t always get it right. We also quickly discovered that some people like the idea of working from home but not the reality and initially some people were working more hours than less, which had always been our main objective. Work smarter not harder. The first 12-months were a steep learning curve as we approached working from home in the same way we used to work from the office. That’s the first step to getting it wrong.
After the slog of those first 12-months, we revisited our initial decision – is that still what was best for our business? The answer was yes, so instead of trying to make “working from home” look like “working from the office” – we re-designed the way we worked.
Yesterday I was talking to the Chief Executive of a food production business that employed circa 80 staff.
The business had a small HR team of three, with a fourth person employed to run the payroll. Total cost gross cost circa £100k.
“Should I outsource my HR needs?”
The inevitable question – normally followed quickly with “What are the benefits?”. My answer, why the hell not! You could still invest in HR and payroll for less than half of the cost you are currently paying and still retain the standards, systems and processes you currently use. In addition, you will be acquiring… I then launched into my list of benefits.
If you think you're just faking it until you make it, you're definitely not alone. Many of us think we're 'not good enough' or 'don't belong'.
If you feel inadequate, that you don’t belong or like you’re about to be ‘found out’ at work, you may be suffering from a widespread psychological phenomenon. These feeling are typical of ‘Impostor Syndrome’.
You’re in good company: Imposter Syndrome is ubiquitous - with Oscar winners, top athletes and bestselling authors all confessing to experiencing it. There’s a perception that Imposter Syndrome affects more women than men, but it’s not a gendered phenomenon: perhaps women are just more comfortable talking about it? Or perhaps they're just better a verbalising it.
In the workplace HR professionals need to be aware of this phenomenon as it can prevent the most talented, experienced or knowledgeable employees from applying for a promotion, contributing to a discussion or even asking for a pay rise. It can also hinder creativity or risk taking, if you doubt yourself, you are not likely to believe that someone else will welcome your ideas or suggestions.
I really like the term ‘discretionary effort’, to me it differentiates employees that are not just engaged in their business but those that are engaged and really invested in the success of their team, department and company. They show their level of engagement by consistently helping their colleagues, sharing, supporting, coaching, mentoring – all done without needing to be asked.
When someone starts working with a company - they are engaged. They want the job (they've normally gone through a long process to get the job); they want to work in that company and look forward to meeting and engaging with their new colleagues. Fast forward a few years (less than that in many cases) and that sparkle of engagement has diminished despite the new suggestion scheme or the free lunch on a Friday. So, what’s happened? What has changed? These are key questions for any business that values employee engagement.
In our experience one of the factors that seems to keep popping up is the internal customer experience. If your experience with colleagues is poor – poor communications, not sharing information appropriately, Chinese whispers etc. or if your experience of your managers and the company is poor - lack lustre induction process, no feedback system in place, favouritism etc. our research indicates that this is a key factor in undermining employee engagement. Time and time again we have been told how a lack of communication between departments, teams, managers and individuals is detrimental to the sense of an individual’s sense of fulfilment, success and achievement.
Too many times we’ve been asked to work with businesses to help them improve staff retention, employee engagement and/or the people culture of the organisation. The back story is always similar – "we used to have a great culture, people loved working here, we’ve done everything we can to make this a great place to work, increased salaries, been flexible with time off, given extra holidays, training etc but people just want more and more - they're so ungrateful, they don't realise how great they've got it here. Our latest employee survey rates us 2 out of 5 for ‘being a great place to work’. Last year we scored a 3 and thought that was bad enough. What should we do now?! We need help!"
Each time we come across this problem our answer is the same. Employment Engagement is not a destination, it’s a journey. If you see this as a ‘project’ something that can be fixed by introducing some new ideas or, as we saw in one company, who introduced a ‘Directors’ Lunch’ once a month and thought that would improve the ‘us and them’ culture, then you may as well throw your money away now.
Engagement starts with communication, authentic two-way communication. Discussion, opinions shared, risks considered and, eventually agreed and shared outcomes. Involving, respecting and trusting others is one of the cornerstones to effective engagement and in a world where hybrid working is becoming the norm with 50% of people attending the workplace/office whilst the other 50% work from home or their car then it has never been more important to really look at the channels of communication you and your colleagues use.
DEFINITION OF A MANAGER: “a person responsible for controlling or administering an organisation or group of staff".
The COVID pandemic has affected us all but in the workplace for managers, supervisors, team leaders the changes have been fundamental.
Instead of focusing on outputs, quality, service delivery etc - the hard stuff - their roles have been extended to include a significant portion of time spent coaching and mentoring. With many organisations having staff working from home - a trend likely to continue as the UK Government are about to launch a white paper to discuss extending flexible working and working from home - the art of coaching will become a key skill for managers.
We’ve certainly seen lots of evidence over the last 18 months of managers that have struggled to motivate their staff, keep the same levels of productivity and teamworking. When they’ve contacted us, they are normally at their wits end, and losing confidence rapidly, dreading the weekly meetings or talking to the person who is not meeting targets. They are typically stressed and taking one of two stances – 'it’s my fault I can’t connect with this person' or 'it’s all their fault'. Rarely has the middle ground been an option. So, how do we move forward? Is it now time to re-assess what skills our managers and supervisors need to be successful?
In February, the BBC ran a business article about Octopus Energy's Founder and CEO Greg Jackson, with the inflammatory title "My billion pound company has no HR department". As you can imagine, as an HR Consultant, this is a rattling title to have thrown out into the wider business market.
The article goes on to say that with "more than 1,200 employees, [Mr Jackson] has no interest in traditional things like human resources (HR) and information technology (IT) departments". I enjoy the use of the word 'traditional' instead of the blatant meaning: 'old fashioned' and I have to say it makes me laugh. I sometimes wonder what people think HR people do? I'm certain that the general consensus still is that HR provides glorified filing.
Clearly, if we take this prime example, the industry is often thought of as 'old fashioned' and I can't tell you how many times, when I've told someone what I do, their energy flatlines and you can see the infamous eye-roll. Why has HR received this damning reaction?
How much PRIDE do your colleagues have in the business you work for?
Now I know this may sound like a simple question but when it comes to finding out how motivated or engaged people are in their work and the business generally, it certainly packs a punch.
If you ask your staff that question via a feedback session or a simple questionnaire, bear in mind one word of caution: if you do decide to ask everyone you work with how much pride they have in the business, be prepared for answers that range from the good, to the bad and the downright ugly. It is one of those questions that tends to illicit the truth and sadly, sometimes the truth is not pretty.
On the positive side it is the perfect question to ask if you want to understand just how engaged your colleagues are and if, per chance, the results are not what you expected, say the measurable ‘pride factor’ ranges from 0-50%, then you must be prepared to take action. Dig deeper and found out the five ‘whys’.
As the UK roles out the COVID vaccine, primarily the Oxford-developed vaccine AstraZeneca, there are already rumblings about individuals refusing to take it.
Public Health authorities have advised pregnant women or those who are planning to become pregnant within three months of the first dose should not take the vaccine. There are also warnings for those with certain allergies to avoid taking the vaccine. But what of the infamous anti-vaxxers or those conspiracy theorists who believe taking the vaccine is a Government ploy to insert tracking devices into our systems?
In the case of an employee refusing to have the vaccine (out-with the medically approved refusals), can the employer do anything about it?
ACAS have taken the view that, no, employers are not able to require their employees to take the vaccine and should listen to employee concerns to understand where their refusal is founded. However, if the reasons for refusing the vaccine are unreasonable then employers can take disciplinary action - that seems a fine line to tread, so what could be considered 'unreasonable'?