Your employees can your biggest asset. They can also be your biggest challenge. We explain how to recruitment and manage staff successfully.

Infographic: could 2018 be the Year of the Woman?A quarter of women in the UK want to work for themselves within the next 10 years, according to a new national survey from World Options. And flexibility seems to be a major driver for making the change - with 32% of respondents saying that setting their own hours would be the biggest benefit of going it alone.

However, lack of confidence still holds women back, with 43% saying they don't feel confident enough yet to work for themselves. A further 46% said financial responsibilities were the reason they had not yet made the leap.

2018 represents a milestone year for women, as we mark 100 years since the first women won the right to vote. It is a fantastic opportunity to reflect on how we can encourage more women to embrace their careers and do the job they always dreamed of.

Is this the year to let your dreams take flight?

female entrepreneurs infographic

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2018 World Options

Are you as good as you think you are?In 1999, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger wrote a paper describing an interesting cognitive phenomenon, the eponymous 'Dunning-Kruger effect'. It's a bias, whereby people judge themselves to be better than others in all types of areas, such as leadership, skill level or performance.

Sequel studies backed up the hypothesis that "…people, at all performance levels, are equally poor at estimating their relative performance".

This goes equally for men and women - although studies would suggest that men tend to overestimate their own abilities and performance, due to the 'confidence gap', whereas women are held back by a lack of faith in their abilities (among other factors) and work below their competence level.

The opportunity is there for each of us to bridge the gap between our unreliable self-assessment and external measures of our performance. Here's how.

Ask for feedback regularly

Regular input on your performance helps you to get a clear picture of how you're doing. Far from being a sign of weakness, research from the Neuroleadership Institute reveals that those who actively seek feedback are typically high performers.

Deliberately ask for feedback from people where you have more challenging relationships. It's too easy and too comfortable to defer to longstanding colleagues and work friends when seeking input on your performance. Instead, select one or two people where the relationship hasn't been plain sailing.

Create the space to listen, hear, and absorb the information. Resist the temptation to discount what you hear.

Ask for help

Be open about your gaps and ask for help to keep you honest. Revealing your shortcomings can be very productive in working relationships. Saying: "This is an area I'm working on, and I'd value your help" is a straightforward way to access the expertise of others, and to demonstrate how committed you are to your development.

Measure and recognise improvement

Having set yourself development goals, use the feedback you receive to help you track your progress. Celebrate your successes. And when you achieve your goals, ask: 'What next?". After all, none of us is the finished product.

Keep learning

Reflect on what you've done, and ask yourself: "How could I have done this even better?". Search out courses online or in the classroom, seminars, conferences - share your learning with your colleagues and discuss where and how it can benefit your business. Finally, read. We have so much information available to us via websites and books.

Take the opportunity now to be an even better you - closing the gap between what you think about your performance, and the reality.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2018 Ally Yates, author of 'Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business'.

Infographic: Why Generation X should work for themselvesThe start of a new year always sees a big rise in employees looking at their options for going it alone. Whether they're unhappy about stagnating wages, hoping for a better work-life balance, or just looking to do something they're passionate about, more and more people are considering self-employment. After many years working for others, they've built the skills - and the motivation - to make it work.

Running your own business has many advantages, but it can also be extremely challenging. To help people understand whether it's the best option for them, we created a flowchart to help you decipher whether self employment would suit them.

There's also a quiz that determines the best form of self employment, from consultancy to franchising and going it alone.

Still mulling it over? Here are our top five reasons to consider working for yourself:

Infographic: Why Generation X should work for themselves

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2018 Stewart Butler, Sales Director at World Options

Ten ways to help remote teams work effectivelyMany start-ups begin life by pulling together a range of disparate people - often working in a variety of locations rather than from one central office.

Although this set-up has many benefits, it can, if not handled well, put a strain on the team - leading to poor communication, lowered productivity, and falling morale.

So, if you want to ensure you get the most from your virtual interactions, here are ten tips.

1. Agree clear rules for working together

Explore and agree how often you'll connect, and for how long. Also, what happens in the time between arranged meetings? As new members join the team, it is worth re-visiting and re-evaluating the group norms. Are they effective? What more could you do to improve your ways of working?

2. Create a shared direction

A common sense of purpose and agreed outcomes are particularly important for a remote team where it's all too easy for people to go off track. It is helpful to define both what the direction is and what this means for each person involved in terms of tasks and deliverables. Use these as the basis for measuring your progress.

3. Build trust and familiarity

As human beings, we are pack animals with an innate need to belong. To help you and your colleagues feel you are of the same tribe, or at least share some common ground, you can create some social time in your meetings, inviting people to share something of their personal and professional self. Believe it or not, it's the personal details that resonate most.

4. Share the airtime

Research by Jarvenpaa and Leidner found that high-trust teams had "predictable communication patterns" where the team members' contribution levels were evenly spread. In managing the distribution of airtime, each team member has a responsibility to keep track of who's in (or out of) the conversation and to keep things balanced. Monitor the level of your own contributions compared with others'. Are you taking too much of the airtime?

5. Share the lead

The most successful teams share leadership across team members, depending on where the relevant knowledge lies. Each activity stream should have a 'single point of accountability' (SPOA), an individual who is responsible for that strand of work. Allowing each SPOA to lead his/her stream nurtures that accountability and provides a development opportunity.

6. Allocate roles

Meetings benefit from team members agreeing roles such as Chair, Timekeeper, Minute-taker, Scribe and a Knowledge Manager who acts as the team curator, ensuring all the good work is recorded. This can also be a useful reminder for everyone as to what needs to be done, by who and by when.

7. Exploit diversity

High-performing teams understand the diverse perspectives of their members and work hard to leverage the value from this. And where diversity doesn't exist (or is less pronounced), they will create it.

8. Facilitate round-the-clock working

Many virtual teams relay work around the globe, from one time zone to another. Master your baton-passing by providing a clear explanation of progress to date, suggesting or asking what needs to happen next, inviting and giving reactions, and recognising what has been achieved.

9. Value people's contributions

Note what people have achieved, the effort they've made and the way in which they are contributing to the discussion. Showing your appreciation helps to accelerate trust in remote teams, which is critical to successful working.

10 Offer ongoing guidance between meetings

The larger your team, the more susceptible you are to fragmented, unclear communication. Between virtual meetings, work with each team member to question, refine and develop their work. Wherever possible you can lead with questions, helping them to draw on their resources, extend their networks and learn from what has been achieved (or not).

Using your time well between meetings helps team members continue to generate and evaluate ideas, respond to each other and plan for the next session so that everyone is prepared, no one feels under pressure and everyone can make a contribution.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2018 Ally Yates, author of 'Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business'.

Four fast ways to spark group chemistryGreat group chemistry is mysterious and elusive. It seems to descend by magic: certain groups have it; others don't. But is that true? Or can it be built?

Here's something I observed while researching The Culture Code: strong cultures are obsessive about small courtesies. I'm talking really small stuff: opening doors for people, taking extra time to ask about family, getting everybody water before meetings - the kind of stuff that can be easily overlooked.

This is usually seen as a moral quality - they're just being nice to each other. But it's not just moral; it's neural. Because they have aligned their interactions with an evolutionary wrinkle of our wiring: when it comes to belonging, our brains are either all in, or all out.

Here's an example of how that hair trigger works: You might think there's not a huge difference between making a request face-to-face, or emailing it. But you would be wrong. A recent study shows that you are 34 times more likely to receive a positive response if you make your request face to face instead of email.

That's worth repeating: the exact same request is 34 times more likely to get a yes! That is not merely an improvement - it's a whole different world. This is because our brains react to the two situations differently. In face-to-face situations, we are able to send more signals. More safety. More cohesion. More belonging. And more yeses. Here are some ways to do that.

Type less, talk more

Taking the extra time to have a face-to-face interaction is always worth it, especially when dealing with anything important. For example, groups I visited tended to deliver negative news in person. It's harder to do - and that's why it builds relationships.

Focus on the first five seconds

The first few seconds of any interaction are when our brains are deciding whether they're in or out. Making the most of them through body language and expression isn't just being polite; it's essential.

Pick up trash

This sounds trivial, but it's true. Cleaning up a shared space sends a powerful cue of belonging.


When you work in a team, it's easy to skip thank-yous (after all, you're supposed to help each other). But in the successful groups I visited, I saw the opposite. They overthanked each other all the time. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich takes time at the end of each year to individually thank his players for allowing him to coach them. Popovich doesn't have to do that - after all, the players are paid millions. But he does it, because he understands how chemistry works.

Group chemistry isn't random magic. It's a process, an ongoing exchange of signals that send a clear message: we share a future. We are connected.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2018 Daniel Coyle, bestselling author of The Culture Code and The Talent Code, amongst others

Employee mental ill healthEvery year, Blue Monday - dubbed the most depressing day of the year - causes us to stop and think about mental health. But depression, stress, anxiety and other mental health concerns affect people throughout the year.

It can be difficult to identify if an employee may be affected, as many sufferers hide their symptoms due to the stigma surrounding mental health - particularly in the workplace.

Protecting employee wellbeing should be at the heart of an organisation's HR policies - so it's imperative that employers and managers know how to recognise potential issues.

Warning signs

The most obvious sign that an employee has a health problem is regular absences from work - but it's rare for people to call in sick and openly cite depression or anxiety as the reason for it. Regular short-term absences that aren't accompanied by a doctor's note could indicate an underlying mental health condition.

Low employee engagement can also be a sign. Mental health issues can have a huge impact on a person's motivation to do their work, even though they may have made it into the office. Just like a physical illness, being mentally unwell can lower productivity.

This often serves to exacerbate the problem for sufferers, as low productivity may be interpreted by others as a lack of ability or effort, creating an even more pressured working environment. Employees may begin to isolate themselves or perhaps become short-tempered. Any change in behaviour is a flag for concern.

Serious issue

A history of leaving jobs at short notice or for unclear reasons may also indicate a potential health problem. Individuals suffering with mental illness may resign because they need to stop working while they recover, or they may feel the job itself is affecting their mental wellbeing.

In extreme cases, grievances may be brought against a business. By their definition, complaints signal problems with workplace wellbeing and highlight distress to an individual caused by the behaviour of another member or members of the workforce. While this is a worst-case scenario, by not investing in employee wellbeing from the outset, businesses could be putting themselves at risk of such a move.

It is important therefore for employers to take steps to look after their employees and offer support as and when required.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2018, Kelly Tucker, managing director of HR consultancy HR Star.

Can your start-up afford to ignore HR?If you think your start-up doesn't need to consider human resources yet, then you're not alone. But that doesn't mean you're right.

Just because you only employ a handful of people, doesn't mean your start-up should ignore HR completely. In fact, the most successful start-ups all share the same quality: a passion for looking after the people they employ.

The human element

According to business site Entrepreneur, "every part of your business boils down to people… by understanding the human element, you'll be more profitable, lead more effectively, create brand loyalty, close more deals and do better work".

Many start-ups think they can ignore human resources because it has a bit of a reputation for being a stuffy department of paper pushers. Your start-up doesn't have disciplinary hearings to deal with, employment tribunals to attend, and it's unlikely to be waterlogged with stacks of appraisals and holiday request forms. But your start-up does still want to attract talented people - and this is where human resources comes in.

If it helps you come to terms with the idea, you could try following Google's example of renaming the HR department "People Operations". As a start-up, the most important thing is that you have a strategy for looking after your people - providing good pay, good treatment, good benefits, and a great culture.

Leave it to the professionals

As you grow, you will begin to need people to oversee the more technical elements of HR. You may need to hire an HR professional who specialises in employment law, for example. You'll need somebody to take care of HR policies and procedures, too - and you may need to invest in HR software to help you make light work of the growing mountains of admin.

But whatever you do, don't ignore HR just because you're a start-up. Your people matter to your success, no matter how big your business is.

Copyright © 2018. Article was made possible by site supporter John Crowley, HR software specialists PeopleHR.

How to manage shifts better and make staff happierHaving a team of reliable workers is key for any business but sometimes it's easy to forget that your employees have private lives too. Many hourly employees don't have paid leave, so whether it's a doctor's appointment, a parents' evening or a birthday celebration, it all has to slot around designated shifts at work. And when it comes to dealing with unexpected events, it can be a real struggle to get time off work.

This is where a bit of give and take can work wonders. Flexible scheduling has become a hot topic recently and it's easy to see why. When your employees have more control over their schedules, their work/life balance improves and that impacts positively on job satisfaction.

As a manager or business owner, you will obviously want to maintain staff motivation, productivity and loyalty; one way to achieve this is to provide an easy-to-use process for workers to be able to swap shifts with each other.

Here are four other ways to improve the process of scheduling shifts for your team:

1. Issue work schedules in plenty of time

It's not rocket science. Give your employee lots of advance notice and they'll find it easier to plan their private lives around work. Surprisingly, many companies don't offer their staff what should be considered a basic level of courtesy.

If you allocate shifts only a few days in advance, the chances are that some of your staff will already have made plans that they then have to change or they'll have to ask for time off at short notice, neither of which is likely to be easy or popular. However, if you can publish your work schedules at least two weeks ahead of time, it provides ample opportunity to deal with any conflicting schedules, swapping shifts where necessary.

2. Minimise chopping and changing

Regular shift patterns provide your employees with the most control in their work life, which makes for a more contented team. Continually changing working hours from one week to the next, on the other hand, can be a constant juggling act that is hard to manage. Wherever possible, try to offer consistency to your staff in terms of the shifts they work.

That said, schedules do need to change to accommodate the needs of the business – there are peak and non-peak times, weekends and seasonal variations in how the business should be resourced. Offer compromise solutions, perhaps giving scheduling priority to the most senior workers, those with the longest hours or those who are performing best.

3. Make the best use of technology

Whether you're a small business or a large company, staff scheduling software should be your best friend. Advanced scheduling tools incorporate staff management and reporting functionality, including employee scheduling, shift worker apps and time clock apps.

With access across digital platforms and mobile devices, everyone can have real-time access to shift information. Rather than having to deal with complex admin and manual changes to the shift schedule, this is the easiest and safest way to communicate with your staff, and your workers with each other.

4. Don't forget the personal touch

When you're running a busy operation, automating your shift swapping processes can be hugely helpful in saving management time and money. However, there should always be room for human interaction too. Sometimes, a quiet word or a sympathetic shoulder to cry on is all that's needed to solve a problem.

A flexible attitude from managers and a degree of compassion for your team will go a long way towards ensuring your workforce is prepared to go the extra mile for the business when it counts.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2017 Mike James, content writer.

Four ways to disagree … constructivelyDisagreements can destroy working relationships; and yet, if handled constructively, they can actually help individuals and teams work more effectively together.

Here are four ways to disagree constructively:

  1. Provide context. Share your reasons for disagreeing before declaring your position to give people missing information and a context for your position. This can be used as a basis for exploration and deeper understanding. For example, a colleague suggests that Michael McIntyre is one of the UK's top three most talented comedians. Rather than label your disagreement you might say: "You can rate talent in a number of ways, for example: innovation, imagination or storytelling. I don't think McIntyre matches up on all those counts, compared with Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais or Al Murray." This allows others to understand the basis for your position and a more fruitful discussion can follow.
  2. Test understanding. This seeks to test an assumption or check out whether a previous contribution has been understood. For example, Manager One says: "Nick has been a consistently high performer across all aspects of his work." Rather than directly disagree, Manager Two might say: "High across all three categories - core work, projects and safety?" His questioning invites all those present to reflect and consider the answer. It drives up the level of clarity, ensuring everyone is on the same page.
  3. Show your feelings. This is an expression of how you feel about what's happening in any given interaction. For example, "I'm feeling uncomfortable that we're focusing on revenue and not safety as well - as opposed to, "I disagree with your idea".
  4. Build on the discussion by extending or developing a proposal made by another person. The practice of "building" is uncommon because it requires us to listen to what's being said. It also demands that we let go of our own sense of rightness. If you disagree with an idea, for example, you can use building to shape the suggestion in a slightly different direction.

Of the four alternatives to disagreeing, building is the most skilful and the one likely to have the most positive impact within the workplace.

By using these techniques you can help ensure that any disagreements are constructive - and not destructive.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2017 Ally Yates is the author of Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business.

Help your employees to be more activeLack of time, low self‐esteem and uninspiring bosses are stopping Brits from exercising at work. We surveyed 1,000 employees and 500 decision-makers and found that:

  • 61% of UK employees say their employer doesn't encourage them to lead an active lifestyle;
  • 26% say they don't have enough time at lunch to exercise;
  • 22% cite low self-esteem as a barrier, and;
  • 25% say they are too unfit and embarrassed to exercise because they are unfit.

And yet 78% of managers agree that exercise positively impacts employee productivity (78%) and improves their ability to handle stress (82%).

Getting active

National Fitness Day is all about encouraging everyone to be active. Nearly half (45%) of employees admit they do not do the NHS recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise, five times a week.

For many people, time is the biggest issue. Of those employees who exercise after work, 46% say they'd prefer to do so before work and 62% of employees with good intentions often have to cancel their lunchtime exercise plans due to workload.

For those who are physically active before work, 75% feel it spurs them on to be more effective in the morning while 69% feel more productive.

There are other barriers. Low self‐esteem and body issues prevent 22% of employees from exercising with colleagues, while one in 10 are deterred by the prospect of wearing gym clothes. In fact, more than one in four employers (26%) say wearing gym clothes at work is unprofessional.

National Fitness Day

That's why AXA PPP Healthcare and ukactive have joined forces to urge bosses from businesses of all sizes to help their employees get National Fitness Day off to a flying start by pushing back the working day by one hour to enable them to do something active.

Whether it's organising exercise classes at lunchtime, providing subsidised gym access or just encouraging a more active commute, employers should do their best to promote and support employees to be active during the working day.

Get more information on National Fitness Day and My Flying Start from AXA PPP Healthcare.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2017 Chris Horlick is director for AXA PPP healthcare.