As a small business owner it can be difficult to maintain your own morale and, just as importantly, that of your staff. In a climate in which budgets are stretched and purse strings are tight, many small businesses struggle to stay happy – and, as a result, they struggle to remain productive.
Workplace culture is a hugely important element of an overall business strategy.
We want to see happy employees, not only because that is good in and of itself, but also because people are at their best when they are at their happiest. We spend a great deal of time working out how we can make Simply Business the best possible place to work.
Happiness and efficiency are intrinsically linked in the business environment. So how can you ensure that both you and your employees keep both their spirits and their productivity high?
It is all too easy to become so absorbed in the day to day minutiae of running a business that you forget to celebrate your achievements. Perspective is important, both for you and your employees. Take time to ‘zoom out’ and recognise the ways in which you have succeeded, as well as the work you still have to do.
It is impossible to remain both productive and satisfied if you or your employees are working all day every day. Regular breaks are important in order to keep the mind focused and to prevent boredom. Rather than trying to do multiple things at once, try splitting up your time into 20 minute chunks, with short breaks in between. This may help to boost both your productivity and your work satisfaction.
Extended breaks are also vitally important for all of us, and yet many business owners fail to take enough time off. Make sure that you take holiday time off and that, as far as is possible, you use this time to do things other than work. Remember that this will likely require you to plan ahead in order to ensure that you tie up loose ends before you leave and that your business can continue to tick over in your absence.
The headline salary is not the only way in which you can attract and keep the top talent. You should also think about the working environment and, crucially, the benefits that you are offering. There is a range of cost-effective benefits that you might investigate. These include flexible working, the Cycle To Work scheme, and non-medical covers like life insurance.
Google famously encouraged employees to spend 20 per cent of their time working on their own projects. Although the company is now moving away from this ratio, ensuring that your employees have time to pursue their own interests during the working week can still be hugely beneficial. Not only will it help demonstrate to employees that their creative input is valued, it could also help to produce new innovation.
Finally, it is important to remember that a fragmented workforce is far more likely to be unhappy. You should think carefully about ways in which you can develop a sense of community amongst you and your employees. This might include away days, meals out together, visits to non-work related cultural events, and so on. Remember that these need not be hugely expensive; rather, the intention is to create a space in which employees can get to know each other better.
Blog by Jason Stockwood, CEO of Simply Business
Taking on employee is a significant step for all businesses, but new businesses in particular can find it a daunting experience. Mistakes can lead to costly tribunal claims, of course. Part of the problem is that many business owners aren’t sure about their obligations as an employer nor do they have the luxury of their own HR staff.
Nobody wants to think that what you thought was the perfect hire could result in a costly tribunal case, but one in six disputes do – at an average cost of £9,000. Add to this solicitor’s fees and time taken out of running your business and you are looking at nearer £20,000 in costs, which could be crippling for many small businesses.
At very least, employers need to know what basic legal rights employees have in the workplace. Mainly, these cover: pay and hours; discrimination; and disciplinary and dismissal.
Employees have the right to be paid at least the national minimum wage and the same pay as members of the opposite sex doing the same work of equal value for your business. Rest breaks and paid holiday must be in line with the Working Time Regulations. Employees also have rights to statutory sick pay and redundancy pay, while being protected from any unauthorised deductions in pay. Qualifying employees are also entitled maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay, as well as paid leave for antenatal care, unpaid dependants’ leave, unpaid parental leave (after one year) and the right to request flexible working. Employees are also entitled to time off for public duties such as jury service.
Employees must not be discriminated against unlawfully on the grounds of race, sex, marriage, pregnancy, disability, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, age, religion or belief. Protection against less favourable treatment also exists for part-time workers, as well as ‘whistle-blowers’ and trade union members.
All employees have the right not to be unfairly dismissed, after a qualifying period of two years. Employees have the right to access fair grievance, disciplinary and disciplinary procedures, and the right to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance procedure hearings.
All employees also have the right to receive a written statement of terms and conditions of employment (such as an employment contract) within two months of starting. This can avoid one the main causes of employment tribunal claims.
Tribunals and investigations may never happen to you, but by seeking advice from organisations such as the Forum, to ensure you are up to speed with your obligations as an employer, can help you avoid any nasty surprises later.
Blog supplied by Joanne Eccles, business advisor at the Forum of Private Business, which has produced a free-to-download guide called 5 Essential Things Every Employer Should Know, with further hints and tips on your obligations as an employer, health and safety legislation, tax and finance responsibilities and recruiting advice.
Flexible working has come a long way since the turn of the century, thanks to new technology that allows people to work when and where they choose.
This infographic from Expert Market offers an insight into the facts and figures surrounding flexible working, and how employers can use it to increase productivity, whilst gaining a loyal and happy workforce who enjoy a true work/life balance.
Now viewed as a serious option by forward-thinking firms looking to harness the power of the internet and streamline their operations, flexible working offers many benefits to both employers and staff.
Click on infographic to enlarge.
Most owners will tell you that their business is only as strong as its people, so it’s important that your employees are fit and able to work.
So what are some of the costs of a sick workforce to a small business? And what can they do to stay lean, fit and ready to make money?
Sick days are more than a slight inconvenience for managers. Research by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) suggests that they cost the UK economy nearly £29 bn a year in lost revenue. For a small business, even a slight loss in productivity can make a big impact on bottom line, of course.
Businesses have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for their staff. But it's also in their economic interest to do more than the bare minimum. Healthy, happy workers make productive workers. And as the population ages, managing absence will be increasingly seen as ‘mission critical’ rather than a ‘nice to have’.
As a small business that is just starting up, you’re likely to be both time and cash poor, but it’s important to be aware of some of the more common reasons for sick days…and what you can do to prevent them.
According to the Employee Benefits Healthcare research 2013 study, minor ailments such as colds are the biggest cause of absence in the workplace.
Invest in antibacterial hand gel and place a few bottles around the office to stop germs from spreading. And could you look at being more flexible where and when your staff work? Cloud computing makes working from home far easier. Staff can access and share important files and keep on top of emails, as well as check in at regular intervals if they can manage it without infecting the whole office. You don’t have to splash out on an expensive cloud computing package, Google Docs is great for a cash-strapped business.
The second most common reason for an absence is musculoskeletal ailments, which affect the joints, tendons and muscles in the body. Most work-related musculoskeletal issues are developed over a period of time because the right health and safety measures haven’t been put in place. The result? Long-term absence or a series of sick days.
Remind your people to bend properly when lifting heavy boxes or invest in a trolley if they/you move a lot of stock regularly. Check that everyone is sitting at their desk at the right angle – adjust the height of their chair, change the position of the mouse or buy a stand for laptops if need be. And if you invest in a good employee health insurance scheme, they’ll be able to access physiotherapy or massage therapy to help get them back to work.
The third biggest cause of sick leave is mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and stress. The economic downturn has made many workers feel unsure about the security of their jobs and they may be putting in longer hours than usual to impress. But, eventually, prolonged periods of stress and anxiety can manifest itself in more serious mental health issues, which force people to take long-term leave or phone in sick.
This is a more difficult problem to address, because there are no quick fixes. It’s about looking at your business culture from the start. Could you take some of the pressure off by letting staff work flexibly so they spend less time commuting and have a better work-life balance? If everyone is working regular overtime, might it be time to hire new staff, even if it’s just part-time help?
Perfectly healthy staff phoning in sick when they simply want a day off. Did you know that one in three ‘sick’ days are not caused by an actual illness?
The heatwave this summer saw many office workers phone in sick to enjoy the sun. If this is a problem, remind staff to book holidays in advance and try to be flexible about your summertime working hours – it could really boost morale.
Staff are also less likely to ‘pull a sickie’ if the team is a close one and they genuinely care about not making colleagues pick up the slack. Try to encourage regular staff events, so team members get to know each other as people as well as colleagues.
Have stringent HR processes and include a clause about absence in your contracts. If someone has to phone in sick, make sure they have to explain their absence to you or one of your managers. If it’s a recurring problem, have firm but fair disciplinary procedures in place and try to establish if there’s another factor at play, such as stress.
Productivity slumps. According to figures released by the Office of National Statistics, productivity in the UK has been falling since the economic downturn began in 2008.
Is there a health and safety issue at work here? Studies have shown that people work more efficiently in optimum temperatures, so insulate your premises and turn the heating up in winter, while investing in fans or air conditioning in the summer.
Blog supplied by Jamie Monteath, online representative of Bupa.
The value of experience can be hard to judge. You only know for sure when you find yourself in a situation that demands it, and you perform – or not. The same goes for your staff. Will their lack of experience let them down? Or will their experience enable them to deliver in a tough situation?
When a challenge arises, staff with less experience tend to get bogged down in unimportant items and spread themselves too thinly, they don’t have the prior experience to just know what needs to be done and how.
Other symptoms of lack of experience include people coming into a situation with a belief that “the answer is X”, where X might be process mapping, improved accounting software or product line profitability, etc. It might well be that they are part of the solution, but a fixation with preconceived ideas is dangerous.
In many situations, you can work your way through. Experience is less important as you have time to consider your next move. It’s only in crisis situations, where there can be little margin for error, that experience is worth so much more than even its weight in gold.
Back in my auto industry days, I recall the words of the grizzled manager running the body assembly area, Derek Godsell. Talking about man-management skills, he said: “You need a good selection of tools in your box; you need to know how to use each of them; and you must know which one is for which job.”
I think it applies to many areas, though of course one can’t be expert in all of them. Bringing people into your team who have the relevant experience will strengthen your performance.
The challenge – with start-ups in particular – is often lack of resources. So fewer people (perhaps just you) have to cover many bases. Secondly, even if you want to recruit expertise, it can be hard to tell whether someone really has it. The truth is only revealed when that crunch moment arises and they’re put on the spot.
So what are the key benefits of experience? What I value most in experienced staff is:
For most people it’s inevitable that the older you get the more experience you have, so it really does pay to have older employees around you (preferably mixed in with younger ones).
Supplied by Hilary Briggs, a profitable growth expert with more than 15 years of industrial experience. For the past 10 years, she’s worked with SMEs to improve their profitability.
Teams are the building blocks of many new businesses and keeping your team working effectively will reap many benefits. So how can you help your team to get the most out of working together?
A good working atmosphere makes a huge difference to a team’s productivity. The key to the difference between high-performing and low-performing teams is the ratio of positive to negative comments. Interestingly, this doesn’t need to be balanced; it needs to be weighted in favour of positive comments, at least by a ratio of 3:1.
Forget weaknesses – play to strengths. This will reap greater benefit in terms of performance improvement. This is because when we are using our strengths work feels effortless, we are energised and confident, we are engaged and probably experience moments of flow. Feeling like this we are more able to be generous and patient with others, so the benefits flow onward.
Teams are often made up of people with different skills and areas of expertise that tend to see the world and the priorities for action within it differently. This can lead to a great awareness of difference, which can come to be seen as insurmountable. A productive way to overcome this is through sharing of personal stories about their moments of pride at work. In this way, they are expressing their values and sense of purpose in an engaging, passionate and easy-to-hear form. The listener will undoubtedly find that the story resonates with them, creating an emotional connection at the same time as they begin to see the person in a different light.
Groups can get stuck in repeating dynamic patterns. When this happens, listening declines, because everyone believes they’ve heard it all before, and so does the possibility of anything new happening. To break the patterns we need to ask questions that require people to think before they speak. This brings information into the common domain that hasn’t been heard before.
When teams suffer a crisis of motivation or morale it is often associated with a lack of hope. In ‘hopeless’ situations we need to engender hopefulness. Appreciative, positive questioning can help people imagine future scenarios based on what is possible. As people project themselves into optimistic futures clearly connected to the present, they begin to experience some hopefulness. By using the techniques described above it's possible to get a team moving again or move a working team from good to great.
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According to the However Big Your Ambition Report, which was commissioned by Volkswagen and surveyed 1,000 small-business owners, employing a friend or relative who wasn’t up to the job is one of the most common and most regretted mistakes that small-business owners make.
One-in-three respondents admitted to recruiting someone who turned out to be totally unsuitable for the position, the survey’s highest-ranking business blunder, while setting prices that were either too high or too low was the second and not taking advantage of an opportunity was third.
Other errors included offering too many discounts, trusting the wrong person or business partner, investing in the wrong equipment, ignoring good advice, allowing a junior to have more responsibility than they could handle and losing a good member of staff because they were refused a pay rise.
According to the report, on average, bad decisions cost the typical small business £2,340 a year. A third of respondents described themselves as “ambitious risk-takers” and 35% admitted to “letting their heart rule their heads at some point while running their business”, with 61% of those reporting that the decision had proved detrimental.
And the outlook for many remains rather gloomy. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents now feel “less optimistic about 2013 then they did at any point in 2012”; 90% don’t expect to achieve their annual financial targets and just one in five says their business is ‘busy’. Almost two-thirds of respondents say they are reluctant to make long-term investments at this point.
The report was conducted to mark Volkswagen launching its new online SME mentoring service on its Facebook page. Mentors include Allegra McEvedy (co-founder of restaurant chain Leon) and Andrew Denham, founder of The Bicycle Academy.
Auto-enrolment is coming – and you’d better be ready. The first wave is already underway, with the nation’s largest employers now legally required to enrol all eligible employees into a workplace pension scheme, but pretty soon it’s going to be the turn of small businesses. By 2017, all UK employers – from families with nannies to the largest corporations – will be required to operate an occupational pension scheme.
Many smaller employers have never had to think about pension provision before, and the legislation can be complex and confusing if the right financial and legal advice is not sought. It is estimated that about 75% of small employers have no workplace pension scheme at present, and they will have the biggest hurdles in front of them.
The amount of preparatory work for auto-enrolment has been severely underestimated by a number of employers already, so it is best to start planning well in advance. To find out when you will be required to implement auto-enrolment (your ‘staging date’), it’s best to check the Pension Regulator’s website and begin finding out about the changes your business will need to instigate to be prepared for auto-enrolment.
In taking key decisions away from employees regarding their pension savings, there is an increased administrative burden on employers. Payroll systems must be capable of identifying eligible employees and deducting contributions from their salary as required. Employees’ circumstances (and therefore their eligibility) can change frequently and administrative systems must keep up to date to achieve full compliance with legislation.
Not only that, but employers will need to begin budgeting for the extra costs to their business. At your staging date you will only be required to pay 1% of your employees’ salaries into a pension pot, but by October 2018, this will rise to a 3% statutory contribution.
However, it is possible to see this pension expenditure as an investment in recruitment and a driver of organisational performance. Selecting a suitable pension scheme is a crucial decision, especially if you are unable to adapt an existing arrangement. Engaging with employees and aligning pension arrangements with business aims, culture and branding can attract new talent to your business and encourage greater performance from existing employees.
Although many employers do not agree with auto-enrolment legislation, wilful failure to comply is a criminal offence, and may attract fines, imprisonment or both. So, is your business prepared for auto-enrolment?
By Matthew Selby, who writes about pensions and employee benefits for Now Pensions and others.
As a business owner, you will know that to remain competitive within your market your business needs to grow. If you are not increasing your turnover and profits, you risk soon being overtaken by businesses that are.
Whether you prefer to remain a relatively small business or if you have the success of Richard Branson’s Virgin in mind, business growth will inevitably lead to hiring more staff. The importance of hiring top quality staff cannot be overestimated, because it can prove to be the difference between success, survival or failure.
Although many small businesses have never had or can no longer afford to have in-house HR departments, using external HR companies or HR software can provide a solution. However, if you decide to manage your HR matters, recruiting employees will be down to you, of course.
Along with more traditional recruitment strategies, today’s business owners are now turning to social media to hire top quality employees. If you are unsure how to do this, here are some tips.
LinkedIn was established specifically with recruitment in mind. It not only enables job seekers and employees to promote their skills, education and experience online, but also acts as a business network and provides a way for like-minded professionals to contact and connect with one another.
If you or your business does not already have a presence on LinkedIn it is a good idea to set one up. Along with enabling you to network with fellow business owners, potential and existing customers, it will enable you to search for potential employees. Think of it as online dating for the corporate world, where you and job candidates can connect online before making the commitment to meet in person.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Twitter and Facebook are just for teenagers or bored housewives. They are both very useful tools for promoting businesses and recruiting employees. Top quality employees want to work somewhere that offers more than just a great salary, they also want to work in supportive and enjoyable environments, too.
Facebook and Twitter provide a great chance to show your company’s personality to potential job candidates, who will likely be searching through your Facebook page and Tweets to find out more about your business. If your company has taken part in a charity event, held a team-building day or any other social events, promote it on your Facebook page, because it will show potential employees that your company can offer more than just a nine-to-five job.
On a practical level, Facebook and Twitter are ideal places to advertise jobs. If a vacancy becomes available, post it on Facebook with a link to how applicants can apply. Also Tweet about it and encourage staff to Retweet it on Twitter.
Use of Social media isn’t a fad – it continues to grow. Google+ has become the latest social media tool that combines LinkedIn with Facebook and enables users to create separate professional and personal networks in one place.
There are many business benefits to using social media and businesses have realised it is a perfect tool to enhance their recruitment efforts. The fact is, failing to use social media could put your business at a distinct disadvantage when seeking to hire top quality employees.
By editor and blogger Derin Clark writing on behalf of Octopus HR.
It’s hardly the greatest time to be a young British adult, trying to make your way in the cruel new world in which we find ourselves.
Punitive fees and budget-busting living costs mean a university education is set to once again become the preserve of society’s wealthier members. With households under immense pressure, many parents (even those who would be considered fully paid-up members of the middle classes), simply can’t find the money to pay for their sons and daughters to go to university.
Hard luck. Welcome to the real world, you might say. Why not go and get a job like the rest of us? Well, things aren’t that easy. As reported by the Mail Online in late January, according to a study by the Work Foundation, youth unemployment in the UK has increased at a faster rate than any country in the G8 since the start of the recession five years ago.
Indeed, out of the countries that make up the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), only Spain and Greece have higher rates of youth unemployment than the UK (currently standing at about 1m). Youth unemployment here in the UK among 15 to 24 year olds increased by a staggering 35 per cent between 2008 and 2011, compared to an average of 15 per cent in the G8 countries (ie Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and USA). The politicians should hang their heads in shame for failing young people so badly, you might say.
According to the Work Foundation report, during the same period youth unemployment decreased in Germany, Russia and Japan, which, said the report’s authors, suggests that youth unemployment problems in the UK couldn’t be attributed entirely to the recession, other factors have clearly played a part.
One of the report’s author, Lizzie Crowley, said: “'The government should focus on those policies that have been shown to work, cherry-picking the best responses from other countries and adapting them to the needs of the UK labour market.”
Many experts see apprenticeships as a useful weapon in the fight against endemic youth unemployment in the UK and elsewhere. The Work Foundation report recommended that the government should do more to encourage larger businesses in particular to sign up to an apprenticeship agreement.
Another report published recently by the Centre for Economics and Business Research claimed that 3.8m people will complete an apprenticeship in the next decade, contributing £3.4bn to the UK economy a year in productivity gains by 2022.
Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, said: "This research confirms the economic importance of apprenticeships and sends a clear message that they deliver for employers, individuals and the economy. I want to see more small and medium-sized businesses reap the benefits of apprenticeships, which is why we have introduced a £1,500 incentive for SMEs who take on a young person.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said apprentices were “vital to Great British business”. He continued: “They are at the heart of our drive to provide employers with people who have the skills needed for their businesses to prosper and compete, often in a global market.”
This week, National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) 2013 is taking place. According to the National Apprenticeship Service, which organises NAW: “Apprenticeships deliver real returns, helping [you] to improve productivity and be more competitive. Training apprentices can also be more cost-effective than hiring skilled staff, leading to lower overall training and recruitment costs.
"Apprenticeships deliver skills designed around your business needs, providing the skilled workers you need for the future. They also help you develop the specialist skills you need to keep pace with the latest technology and working practices in your sector.”
Although many employers choose to pay more, the National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £2.65 per hour, making them an affordable option for many firms. There are even grants available to some employers. Maybe it’s time your business joined the fight against youth unemployment and took on an apprentice. Looks like the politicians need all the help they can get.
Research recently carried out by Avery Rewards suggests that millions of British workers haven’t had a thank you from their boss in over a year. More than half of the 2,000 workers we spoke to feel they don’t receive proper credit for their hard work. And, remarkably, one-in-four have NEVER had a thank you from their boss.
Our research suggests that just under half (47%) felt they were actually paid a fair wage for their efforts, but their superiors fail to manage them properly or show enough appreciation.
Most people put a lot of effort into the work they do each day and take a lot of pride in what they do, but it seems many don’t receive the thanks they’d like. There’s always a difference between what you’re expected to do and going the extra mile. And a simple thank you at the right moment can really have an impact on workplace morale.
In this tough economic climate, workers are being squeezed more than ever before to ensure they perform, so it’s important they feel that their efforts are appreciated.
The lack of a simple ‘thank-you’ means six-in-ten employees do not feel they are appreciated by their boss, with a third having stopped expecting any form of appreciation. Four-in-ten people say a thank you from the boss is usually rare, if it occurs at all, while a quarter of those who receive a show of gratitude aren’t always convinced it’s sincere.
When it comes to signs of appreciation, a bit more honesty, flexibility with working hours and the odd cup of tea are some of the biggest factors workers say can really make the difference. Simply having your birthday remembered, or the occasional team building exercise also build up to feeling appreciated.
Interestingly, more than half of workers in our study also felt their boss favoured certain employees.
Inevitably, when feeling underappreciated, employees’ first reaction was to start caring less about their work and put in a lot less effort. One-third will become disillusioned if they don’t receive the proper thanks, and a further fifth will start updating their CV.
But one-in-four hardy employees will put maximum effort into their work regardless of how happy they are and the credit they receive.
Overall, just a third of people find their job rewarding, and one-in-four people have to treat themselves at least once a week just to cheer themselves up from work.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel a little taken for granted and in those times it’s important to keep a level head and focus on rewarding ourselves when we deserve it and need to unwind outside of work.
1 Compliments about their work
2 A Christmas bonus
3 Greater working hours flexibility
4 More honesty from those they work for
5 Being made a cup of tea once in a while
6 More appreciation of how hard it is balancing work and family commitments
7 More understanding when they have appointments
8 Colleagues remembering birthdays
9 Teambuilding exercises
10 More work socials
Blog written by Gregg Corbett of Avery Awards
Recruiting is fraught with problems, not least the sleepless nights that come when you know you’re responsible for someone else’s mortgage.
What should you do when your workload means you have to take on staff? I’m no expert, but here are a few tips I’ve picked from our own experience over the years.
Temp to perm
Forecasting at the start-up stage is hard. Yes, you’ve won a contract that requires extra staff for five months – but can you guarantee the work after that?
Plus, there’s nothing worse than employing the wrong person and having to spend time and money correcting the decision through training, HR or expensive calls to lawyers.
Temp-to-perm is a great solution and one we adopt in our warehouse. Firstly, it provides a means for both parties to test each other out. Secondly, employees prefer the transparency of this contract above the much-abused probationary period. Thirdly, for those eager for a job, it’s a chance to prove their worth, driven by the end goal of a full-time position.
Start them young, train them up
You can create loyalty by investing in someone with potential, filling them with the encouragement, skills and confidence to act as your right arm. By dedicating time to teach an employee from scratch, before they’re influenced by bad habits from other companies, they have – in turn – benefited from quick promotion, yearly pay increases as a reflection of their capability and knowledge of exactly how you like something done. Be careful, though, that you don't fall foul of age discrimination laws in your enthusiasm to give an inexperienced employee the benefit of the doubt.
Recruitment takes time; time you don’t have if you’re in the fortunate position to recruit. We use agencies now for 80 per cent of our workforce positions. A good agency with a clear brief will know what you want and it will manage the preliminary selection so that you can concentrate on seeing a strong shortlist. The commission agencies take is usually more cost-efficient than your time spent searching.
Ian Cowley is managing director of cartridgesave.co.uk, the UK’s largest dedicated printer cartridge company.
In the early months of a startup situation you don’t normally need to worry about team building because everybody is really involved and committed to pushing the business as hard as they can. Over time however, as the number of employees start to grow, then you need to be more focussed on motivation and team building.
Everybody is different, with differing backgrounds, expectations, work ethics and work rates, so a key thing to watch is allowing these differences to work together, but also to make sure that people don’t rub each other up the wrong way.
If you read my blog you will know that I try hard not to take life too seriously. I am a great believer in trying to keep a light-hearted atmosphere at work, so here are my personal six top tips for keeping your team motivated and looking forward to coming to work every morning:
Number One: Say thank you
I’m a great believer in thanking people for doing their job, so long as they are doing it to the best of their ability. When you have your head down, concentrating on what you are doing, a pat on the back and a “well done” followed by a “thank you” at the end of the day I think make a real difference.
Number Two: Keep it simple
I’m a sucker for cliches; “keep it simple” and “one small step at a time” are favourites. Make tasks achievable and rewarding by ensuring that you don’t give people huge jobs that will take months to complete; break it down into bite-sized chunks.
Number Three: Anticipate trouble
It’s my experience that sometimes people get bogged down and can’t see the wood for the trees, so either get them to talk to someone else about the problem to give them a fresh perspective, or give them something totally different for a day or two. This gives the subconscious time to think about the problem and very often come up with a solution.
Number Four: Provide a decent place to work
I started my business from home, and have striven to keep a homely atmosphere ever since; we have a banter and we share the chores of making the tea and washing up at the end of the day. I’ve fitted our work spaces with daylight lighting so that working areas are brightly illuminated and .cheerful; even on a miserable, dark, wet Monday morning, the office is bright, warm and welcoming for everyone when they arrive.
Number Five: Have a bit of fun
I love cooking, so on an ad-hoc basis we’ll have a cooking or baking competition. So far we have produced soup (the chocolate soup was memorable!), curry, cake (don’t ask about the sugar cake!), sweet pie and chilli. There is another one coming up, but they won’t let me dictate the theme this time. And for the record - I have yet to win one of the competitions, even though my entries are the best! And I do bear a grudge!
Number Six: Celebrate success
When we achieve something extraordinary in a month I’ll invite everybody out for a curry at our favourite Indian restaurant. [Ed: Wish I lived near you.]
Above all, what I aim to achieve is to make my team feel appreciated and valued and so far it has worked well for me in my growing business as I don’t lose staff because they are dissatisfied, but rather because they move on to roles that I can’t offer. And people who started nine years ago are still with me; they are fulfilled and have developed way beyond their own expectations in that time.
Coinciding with graduation ceremonies taking place up and down the country, the news that the UK economy has slipped deeper into a double-dip recession is a far from ideal way to welcome graduates of the class of 2012 into the world of work.
The Job Centre has advised graduates in Scotland to ‘dumb down’ their CVs to increase their chances of getting a job, while the Association of Graduate Recruiters has warned that, overwhelmed with applications, some top employers are automatically discounting graduates who don’t have first-class degrees.
The traditional job market, therefore, might not seem the most inviting place for those recent graduates currently considering their next move. Who can blame them? I’d encourage those dissuaded from going straight into work by the doom and gloom headlines to take a step back and think over the next few months about starting up their own business as an alternative.
With this group in mind, it’s timely that we have just announced the theme for Global Entrepreneurship Week 2012. To ensure the Week gets practical help and support to individuals contemplating starting new ventures, as well as small businesses in their early stages, this year’s focus is on encouraging people to ‘pass it on’.
We’re looking for as many people as possible to get involved in the Week and ‘pass on’ their best advice. This might be through holding or attending an event or joining in a discussion via our social media channels. By working together to make a better environment for enterprise, we can help create businesses that will have a genuine, positive impact on the UK economy – helping generate income and employment for many years to come.
Anyone deliberating that next step, looking for inspiration or wanting to find out more and get involved can visit the newly launched Global Entrepreneurship Week 2012 website.
I was a bit worried when I saw that Hilary Devey was investigating why more women don’t get to the top in business on BBC2. I have to confess that I thought she might have pulled the ladder up behind her.
She started out by saying: “if I can do it, why can’t every woman do it?”
Hats off to her though. Not only is she one of the few women at the top of business — she’s in the very male-oriented world of haulage. But would she be the right person to find out why more women don’t get into the boardroom?
As it turned out, she was excellent and she made some fascinating discoveries — not least in her own company Pall-Ex.
The figures on women at the top speak for themselves. Girls outshine boys at school and outnumber male students at university. But things change in the world of work. The male/female ratio in middle management is 70/30 and it is a staggering 83/17 in senior management.
All credit to Sir Roger Carr, president of the CBI, who called this a “shocking waste of talent”.
The lessons learned by Procter & Gamble
Of course, it’s very easy to put the statistics down to the simple fact that women tend to do the majority of childcare. That’s what Procter & Gamble assumed at a time when its senior management team was dominated by men. But when it investigated the mass exodus of women — by interviewing those that had left — it found that 95% had gone on to another job, not to become stay-at-home mums.
The problem was that the women couldn’t find the work-life balance they needed at P&G and they didn’t see a career path for themselves in a company that was dominated by men at the top.
P&G knew something had to change. Their own research showed that mixed teams performed 5% better than single sex teams — enough to add serious revenue to the bottom line.
By introducing flexible working they manage to retain more of their female talent and promote more women into the top jobs.
Vive la difference
The effectiveness of mixed teams was tested in the programme with a tower-building challenge. Lo and behold, the mixed team made the tallest and strongest tower, compared to the efforts of all-male and all-female teams. But what this experiment also showed was that women and men have very different leadership and communication styles.
These differences are not a problem — indeed, combining the approaches of both men and women ensures a better outcome — but traditionally, some of the more male attributes in business have been celebrated more than the female.
So businesses that want to attract and retain talented staff need to appeal to and cater for both sexes. As one of the contributors said, recruitment adverts calling for candidates with gravitas, for instance, might as well say, “man wanted”.
The cost of parental leave
OK, now we get to the thorny issue of parental leave. Hilary Devey addressed it head on. Is it detrimental to a business to employ women of child-rearing age? The business owners she spoke to were adamant that their recruitment process was aimed at finding the right person for the job.
However, Kathy Tilbury, managing director of coach company Excelsior, was candid — she calculated that she had spent an additional “£8-10,000” covering her sales and marketing manager’s maternity leave. However, she also admitted that retaining talent in the long term saves on recruitment costs and time spent training new staff.
Eventually we got to the nitty gritty — was Pall-Ex a good place to work for women? Was Hilary (the only woman on the board) a queen bee using her “erotic capital” to rule her roost? (excuse the mixed metaphors). These were the questions that consultant Avivah Wittenberg-Cox was asking as part of a “gender balance audit” at Pall-Ex.
She discovered that women were only represented in the middle echelons of Pall-Ex. There were very few women in the warehouse and only one woman on the board. Avivah suggested that Hilary had succeeded in part because she was a woman — and a woman capable of making some of her male colleagues quake in their shoes at that. This seemed to come as a surprise to Hilary, but was obviously not an unpleasant discovery.
But the audit also revealed that the most profitable department in the business had a gender balance of 50/50. At this point, Hilary Devey really sat up and took notice.
The need for balance
What the programme demonstrated was that having a balanced workforce with men and women equally represented at all levels is good for business. And although it can be challenging managing parental leave and childcare — as much for working parents as for employers — this is a fact of life that we can’t change. But what we can change is how businesses operate. Which is precisely what Hilary Devey promises to do at Pall-Ex.
Next week: Hilary sets out to transform the prospects for women inside her own business.
What do you think? Please share your views and experiences in the comment box.
As we approach the autumn, what better time to get ready for the season’s key HR tasks? Here is my handy HR checklist of things you should be thinking about over the coming months.
Research commissioned by British bank Aldermore suggests that laziness costs the average Brit almost £17,000 over the course of their lifetime, because too many of us have become used to taking the easier option.
Chief examples of laziness, says the report, include driving rather than cycling or walking; going to the local car wash instead of getting a bucket and sponge and doing it ourselves; putting off canceling direct debits; and not bothering to get a refund on unwanted clothes we have purchased. Almost half of the 2,000 people surveyed said they’d rather pay someone to take care of boring tasks, such as cleaning the windows, than do it themselves.
According to Aldermore: “The average Brit could save £52 a year by cancelling pointless direct debit payments. Washing [your] own car would save £68 a year and cleaning [your own] windows £72 a year.” One in three never bothers to turn off appliances at the wall, while one in ten books more expensive train tickets because they can’t be bothered to look for cheaper alternatives. 10 per cent of respondents also admitted they could cancel gym membership they don’t make use of.
Laziness can be a significant problem in the workplace, too, of course (which reminds me of the old gag – “How many work at your place?”, “Oh, about half of them…). Although published in the US a few years ago, this infographic provides much food for thought for employers.
Based on stats gathered by Online MBA, it suggests the average US worker fritters away three hours every eight-hour working day – and that doesn’t include lunch and other scheduled breaks.
Chief workplace distractions include: surfing the web (44%, amounting to as much as 18 wasted hours per employee per week); socialising with other workers (23.4%); daydreaming (3.9%); and applying for other jobs (1.3%).
Older members of staff and those less well educated are significantly less likely to skive, while 77 per cent of those surveyed admitted to looking at their Facebook pages during work hours (39% said they would quit their jobs if Facebook was banned at work), while 60% made personal online purchases at work.
Key reasons why staff said they wasted time at work were lack of work (33.2%), feeling underpaid (23.4%) and being distracted by colleagues (14.7%).
Well worth a read is entrepreneur Andy Yates’ recent piece for ThisIsMoney.co.uk on how time is often wasted in offices and how it can be remedied. “The real question businesses need to ask about time-wasting is – why are employees doing it in the first place?” stresses Andy. “Unchallenging work, poor management and motivation are all common problems. Just think how much more any business could get done with a productive workforce.”
With Britain recently exposed as Europe’s third laziest country, buoyed by the nation’s phenomenal Olympic success, maybe it’s time we all became a little less lazy at work and home.
Visit the Law Donut to find out how to draw up an internet policy for your business.
We normally write an article for the summer break with suggested books for you to consider when you are re-charging your batteries. Due to the weather, we forgot it was summer.
In some ways that is good news as the weather will keep you inside with lots of time to read a good book. Under the blankets with a nice cup of hot tea, in front of a nice open fire. Outside the cold wind is blowing and the rain is clattering on the windows…
What to recommend?
Now that the scene is set, what books would we recommend? It is always interesting to look back at the books we covered with our clients and the books we reviewed for Newstalk radio. Are there any new themes or common threads? What are the key questions? What is the must-read book?
One theme stands out. Last year there were very few books on innovation. For the last six months, it has become a hot topic — both in books and for our clients. As an optimist, I think that is a sign of economic recovery. Companies are planning ahead for the next big thing. The books that we would recommend are The Innovator’s DNA and The Wide Lens. Creativity can be taught and do not ignore your innovation ecosystem (which is wider than you think).
Gamification is HOT. The book to read is Reality is broken. This is a must-read because it touches on so many other books and themes, including innovation (applying collective gaming principles to solving problems). It touches on The Shallows (computers and the internet are creating pancake minds, so your design and user interface needs to be compelling in split seconds), The end of business as usual (social media, rapid customer feedback, engagement and digital Darwinism) and A whole new mind (passion, creativity and the end of the current education system).
The world of work and how it is fundamentally changing is a theme and it cuts across culture, talent, technology and social media. The book to read here is The 2020 Workplace.
Come to think of it, fundamental change is the overriding theme. Every book we have suggested hits that theme, one way or the other. Smart customers, stupid companies, Megachange: The World in 2050, Out of our minds, Flash foresight and Everything we know is wrong are but a few examples.
Out of control
Maybe that is why innovation is such a hot topic. We think that by focusing on innovation we can control what is coming. We can’t. Which brings me to the last theme. In Thinking fast and slow, Daniel Kahneman explains that we are constantly fooling ourselves and are self-delusional most of the time. It is the way we are wired. That includes a lot of companies. They know change is coming, but remain boiling frogs. Soon the water will be boiling.
The key questions
So what questions should small business owners be asking themselves?
While the elements wreck havoc outside, the books we highly recommend are Smart customers, stupid companies and Reality is broken. I was going to close with “enjoy the summer”, but that is just rubbing salt in the wounds.
School holidays are traditionally when retailers enjoy increased footfall. Of course, this is also exactly the time when some staff want time off to spend with their kids.
When it comes to managing staff holidays, many small businesses always struggle – not just retailers. However, all small firms can prepare to have well-trained resources available when regular staff want a break.
The answer is students. During term time most students can only manage weekend work – which is good for the retailers, as you can take them on for your busiest periods, ensure regular staff get some weekends off every month and get the weekend staff trained up. Students always need extra cash – and they’re usually available full time during the school holiday periods. Therefore, if you play your cards right, you can have competent, loyal, well-trained staff available when you need them.
Approach your local university, college or school 6th form and ask if you can advertise weekend/holiday positions on the notice boards or intranet. Make sure your interview and selection process is entirely professional and always ensure you provide high quality training.
Train your student workforce during part-time weekend hours in term-time so that when it comes to school holidays you’ll be confident enough to let your regular full timers take time off, leaving your student workforce to rise to the challenge of providing holiday cover.
Having the right mix of staff available to cover peaks and troughs, seasonal variations and key staff holiday cover is a great benefit. You’ll know your customer experience won’t be compromised and you’ll be able to capitalise on increased seasonal footfall.
As we’re now into the second half of the year, now is a good time to start planning and get your business ready for what lies ahead. Here is my handy HR checklist of things you should be thinking about over the coming months.
With winter almost upon us, now is a good time to plan for the final few months of the year. Here is my handy HR checklist of things you should be thinking about over the coming months.
Last month, all talk of business and employment law was dominated by the controversial Beecroft report. With the deficit crisis that has hit Britain over recent years, the report called for businesses to be able to manage their own affairs more effectively – mainly by chopping and changing employees easily. This has been talked about online and offline, leading people to seek more information from online resources and experts. Let us see if we can shine some more light on it...
Ultimately, the idea is that by being able to get rid of underperforming staff easily, small and medium enterprises will grow better. Unemployment is a huge issue and it is important that companies and enterprises can take on more staff without the worry of how to control the workforce. This is particularly true within SMEs, but how will they be affected by the latest ideas?
It is a thought across the board that red tape hampers SMEs far more than it should. This is counter-intuitive too because for the economy to rise again, the impetus is on the smaller businesses to grow. So, with this in mind, the thought of being able to get rid of employees who drain business resources can be met with happiness to start with.
In Britain as a whole, we have seen an increase of toleration, and this isn’t what we need to aid productivity. And when you consider this point, SMEs will be more willing to take someone on if they know that they aren’t lumbered with them indefinitely. The three-month probation period has been the only way of screening until this point but after that a contract is signed. Though employees may see this as increasing the pressure, it relieves a lot of the employer.
As things stand, anyone who is made redundant is given notice and has the opportunity to put in a claim to an Employment Tribunal with the hope of recovering damages. In recent years there has been a change that means an employee has to be employed for more than two years to make a claim, and the Beecroft report hopes to take this a step further.
The proposal is for employers to be able to pay a fixed sum to do away with these claims – a radical move, but one many SMEs support. So, with businesses potentially able to deal with the outgoing of employees quickly, the dynamics of the workplace are likely to shift greatly. But, at the same time there is a worry that employees would take a step back before challenging the direction a business is taking with the fear of immediate dismissal.
Overall, it is hard to see why SMEs would not want these ideas in place. It moves on further to suggest that a business with fewer than 10 employees would be able to get out of many other employment laws. Controversial isn’t a strong enough word for these proposals but, in the main, the beneficiaries would be the SMEs and, eventually, the economy as a whole.
Written by Tara West
Most job descriptions are awful. They make the recruiting business sound boring. They make the work sound tedious. And they all sound pretty much the same, citing the need for a “self-starter” who’s a “team player” and whatnot.
This could be a real problem for employers when they try to hire “Generation Y Millennials”. While some managers and recruiters are fed up with the stereotypically whiny Millennials, Generation Y is predicted to comprise nearly 75% of the world’s workforce by 2025, according to the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation. And while some of Gen Y have “failed to launch” amidst the Great Recession, the best of them are in high demand.
Businesses should embrace the unique characteristics of Gen Y workers for the future success of their businesses. Not only are Millennials technically savvy in terms of IT, social media and marketing, but they’re also hard working, team players and focused on acceptance and relationship building within the organisation.
And we can’t forget to mention that according to a 2009 Monster.com survey, 37% of employers reported that "work-life balance and flexibility" are the most motivating factors for Generation Y.
Businesses can start by using job descriptions to court the most-talented Millennials:
1 Tell them why they should want to work for you. This is your opportunity to make job-seekers fall head over heels in love with you and the vacancy. Millennials don’t just want to crank out work and check-off items on a to-do list. They want to love the business they work for, and you can use your job description to get them excited.
2 Tell them why the position matters. Understanding how my job contributes to the organisation is one of the biggest motivators for me and my Gen Y colleagues. Make sure the job descriptions describes where the position falls within your business, how the candidate could make an impact and where it fits in the grand scheme of things.
3 Talk about what the job could do for them. Aside from a salary and benefits, how would they benefit from the position? What skills might they gain; what professional connections can they make; and why would this position make them more desirable candidates when they start looking for their next jobs?
4 Tell them about your creative benefits. Does your business offer any extra, exciting benefits, such as flexible work hours or gym membership? Mention those creative perks (no matter how small) in your job description.
5 Tell them about your vision for the position. While Millennials may not envision working in the same job for decades, it’s important that we work for a business where we could envision ourselves growing and contributing for several years. We want the job description to reflect that same sort of vision for the candidate who ultimately fills the position.
6 Tell your story, quickly. Your business has a story. Tell a brief version of it within your job description to quickly convey your mission and how it came to be.
Jennifer King is an HR Analyst for SoftwareAdvice.com, a company that compares and reviews HR and recruiting software. She blogs about trends, technology and best practices in human resources.
I woke up last week to screaming headlines about David Cameron ‘chillaxing’ at the NATO summit in Chicago when he should be working. What is he doing enjoying the Chelsea-Bayern penalty shoot out, harrumphs the Daily Mail, when he should be saving the free world?
This comes hard on the heels of ‘revelations’ that “DVD Dave” watches films in bed with his wife – shock horror - and also has an impressive score on the addictive iPad app Fruit Ninja.
What alarms me about these headlines is not the track record of our current Prime Minister but the unhealthy assumptions about work they rest upon. These are four classic ‘work confusions’ I see every day when I am helping clients work in smarter, more creative and interesting ways.
When I was growing up everyone had something to say about the virtue of working hard. I learned to sweat is noble, to strain is virtuous.
I can’t recall anyone encouraging me to work well. Years later in the corporate world I see people still valuing exertion over elegance every time. Actually, while high performance may require you to put in the effort, sustained high performance is all about conserving energy and interleaving intensity with rest. Only robots can work at peak output 24/7. Criticise a Prime Minister for relaxing if you like. I see it as evidence he is, well, human. It has become fashionable to praise leaders for being ‘driven’. I think this explains why a good deal of top CEO posts are currently held by quasi-Arspergic types only inches from burn out. Do we really want leaders who only work? If we did, Gordon Brown would still be at No 10.
There was a time when you could assess someone’s output by how many acres we had ploughed, trees felled or tons of coal dug up. In these post-industrial times it is less easy to give hard proof of how productive you have been during the day. Instead people have perfected the art of looking busy. And David Cameron has broken this cardinal rule. If he had stayed in the meeting room, brows knotted, sleeves rolled up burning the midnight oil, perhaps the papers would have had less say. In fact they’d probably be on his back for being all work and no play like his manically conscientious predecessor Gordon Brown.
The criticism of Cameron has an important message for business, where the accepted wisdom is that serious problems need to be tackled with appropriate brow-knitting seriousness. Business people feel they need to look all serious to be taken seriously. My observation is that the more serious you become in your thinking, the more real and massive the problems appear. By contrast, in the arts world, where I’ve spent a lot of my own life, the attitude is reversed. The bigger the problem, the more playful you need to become. As the great director and writer Ken Campbell would famously say: “This is all far too important to take seriously”.
Having spent the last couple of years studying meeting cultures at leading international businesses and small businesses alike for my new book Will There Be Donuts? I am struck by how often we confuse ‘a meeting’ with the act of Meeting; mistaking the noun for the verb. We’ve come to think that a meeting is something that happens in an airless room around a big formal table. It isn’t. We’re forgetting that the act of meeting covers a huge range of human interactions and can happen virtually anywhere. The real work of a meeting often happens in the down-time between formal sessions. Indeed, the whole purpose of a facility like the rustically informal Camp David is to encourage leaders to unwind and really connect as people. When people do really meet, rather than what I call ‘nearly’ meet, old enmities can break down and new solutions can be found. That is presumably why Obama invited the G8 for a ‘VIP Sleepover’ last week. In the book you’ll find examples of where this kind of ‘real connection’ has helped avert war, resolve conflict, invent new ideas and create fresh wealth.
So, whatever you may think of David Cameron, let’s not be hypocritical. Let he (or she) that has never vegged out cast the first stone. If DVD Dave watches films in bed, so be it. Better – and less spooky - than reading Hansard into the small hours while Sam stares at the ceiling. And “chillaxing” isn’t getting in the way of work, it’s an essential part of the process.
Now take this meeting test to discover the shocking amount of money your company is losing in wasted meetings.
David Pearl, founder of the business inspiration agency Pearl Group, acts a creative adviser to business leaders internationally. His new book Will There Be Donuts? Start a Business Revolution One Meeting at a Time is published by HarperCollins.
With some businesses offering employees flexi-time and with Sunday trading hours being extended during the Olympics, it’s easy for employees to overlook something as simple as getting around during the Games.
With this in mind Sally Gunnell, 400m hurdles Olympic gold medalist, and Chris Boardman, Olympic cycling gold medal winner and world record holder, challenged each other to find the easiest and quickest route across London to the Olympic Park to encourage employees to think about alternative modes of transport during the Games.
This race has been inspired by new research from London 2012 and Transport for London (TfL), which suggests 86% of central London businesses are planning one or more initiatives to encourage employees to consider alternative forms of transport. Of this, 60% of businesses will encourage their staff to walk or cycle.
And it’s not just London that will be affected, of course. With Olympic and Paralympic events happening across Britain, public transport elsewhere will be affected too.
As part of the London 2012 and TfL challenge, Sally ran and Chris cycled from Liverpool Street Station to Stour Space, opposite the Olympic Park on the River Lea. The aim was to demonstrate to businesses and their employees the alternatives to getting public transport and using the road network.
Sally Gunnell and Chris Boardman have produced some top tips to help businesses encourage their employees to cycle and walk/run during the Games.
1 Make the most of the commute – encourage staff to walk down to the next bus stop or get off a stop early.
2 Plan your business travel – if employees have a meeting that is a walkable distance, encourage them to walk instead of getting public transport or a taxi.
3 Issue a pedometer to each employee – they can be a great way to get people thinking about how much walking they really do. Consider introducing a league table or online tracking system, so colleagues can compare their results against others.
4 Start an employee running club – group running is good fun and can really help to motivate people to keep up their exercise routine.
5 Motivate staff – a workforce that regularly walks, cycles or runs will be more fit and healthy.
6 Plan journeys in advance – businesses should encourage employees that cycle to plan their journey to and from work in advance.
7 Build a cycling or running community at work – it’s a great way of encouraging workplace relationships and increasing motivation.
8 Hop on a Barclays Cycle Hire bike – If employees don’t have a bike, they’re a great way to get around in the heart of London.
Watch our video to see who won the race and how employers and employees can plan their journeys effectively during the Olympics.
For more information on travel during the Olympics, see www.getaheadofthegames.com