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Paper chain of people

The success or failure of a business can often rest in the hands of its most valuable asset – its people. No matter how great the products or services, a business' well being is shaped by its people's day-to-day actions and decisions.

Management challenge

Even seasoned business people can find managing employees a challenge – but so are all relationships. Managing people is complex because people are complex. No two employees are the same, while people and circumstances change from day to day.

What motivates one employee might not motivate another. One employee might be more driven than another or have higher (or lower) standards than their colleagues. And while you'll be able to leave some employees to their own devices and be able to trust them and their choices, others will be much more 'high maintenance'.

Being fair yet firm will work with some people some of the time, while a quiet word of encouragement or support will be much more effective with others. Good employees need to believe their contribution is valued if they are to stick around.

Recruiting staff

Success hinges on finding the right people. These are the ones whose knowledge, skills, experience and personal qualities match your business needs. Ideally, they'll be hardworking, enthusiastic and committed. Small businesses can't afford to carry dead weight.

You might require advice when recruiting your first employee. The first step is recognising what contribution the job must make to your business and what type of person is likely to be able to perform the role.

Your recruitment procedures must be spot on, but this needn't be expensive. Being armed with a few good tips will help. You'll stand a better chance if you offer competitive wages, a stimulating job with prospects and a good working environment.

Ensuring a level playing field for all potential job applicants is a legal requirement, while enabling you to recruit from as wide a talent pool as possible. Interviews must also be free from discrimination.

Knowing you have made a good addition to the team brings immense satisfaction – and many other benefits.

Employment law basics

There are many employment laws and they apply to everything from wages, working hours, time-off, family responsibilities and workplace health and safety to discipline, grievances and firing employees.

Get it wrong and you could end up at employment tribunal, which can be expensive if you lose, because there are no ceilings on awards. More reckless employer negligence could even lead to prison.

To lessen the likelihood of problems, you're advised to get to grips with employment law basics before you take on your first employee. Much of it is simple, common sense stuff. And if you're ever in any doubt – seek professional advice.

Effective employment policies

Having effective employment policies and a written employment contract (a legal requirement) removes uncertainty. No matter what the circumstance, employees must know what's expected of them and their employer. They must also know what behaviour is unacceptable – and what will happen if they overstep the mark. 

You should have employment policies on: maternity/paternity/adoption; leave/absence; working hours and overtime; health and safety; pay/benefits/expenses; harassment/victimisation and bullying; conduct/discipline; use of company property and facilities; and equal opportunities. It's advisable to also have policies on: email, internet and phone use; training; 'moonlighting'; confidentiality; smoking; drugs and alcohol abuse; possibly even dress code.

And if your policies are effective, you could have a happy (as well as a very profitable) ship.

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