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Managing Conflict

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In the morning, as you walk through the workplace, stop and listen to the conversations going on. It is so easy to switch off and just think about your day, the meetings ahead, and accept what is going on as par for the course. But that attitude, if it masks bad behaviour, can land you in serious trouble.

Failing to monitor workplace communication can lead to an escalation of conflict. It can go further than the childish name calling that politicians have been enduring recently.

Yes… Westminster’s at it too!

In a recent political rough and tumble (you might need a dictionary for this one), Boris Johnson dubbed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn a “mutton-headed old mugwump” – a term used by Native Americans to describe a war leader.

Labour’s response was, if possible, more surreal. The deputy leader, Tom Watson, responded by calling Boris a “caggie-handed, cheese-headed fopdoodle with a talent for slummocking about.”

Come on people, stick to the politics!

Banter at work never harmed anyone, right?

Other insults more commonly found in the English language can strike a nerve too. In these instances, the excuse of ‘oh, it’s just a bit of banter’ is not a defence. If it won’t hold up to a tribunal judge, it shouldn’t be used as an excuse in your place of work.

The discrimination cases are endless against employers that fail to act on complaints about discriminatory language such as ‘gay’, ‘old’, or racist or sexist terminology. And this can really hurt SMEs.

The gossiping, the whispers, the bitching and bullying. It impacts on your company culture and saps the energy out of your workforce. Yes, punches might not have been thrown, but potentially worse damage is being done as resentment bubbles under the surface.

The solution to managing workplace conflict

There are several things you should be doing if you aren’t already. Have a clear policy that sets out what is, and what is not, acceptable – and then monitor it. Managers must lead by example and have a zero-tolerance attitude towards this behaviour.

Have a clear grievance process so that anyone feeling bullied or intimidated has a way forward.

But don’t jump the gun and presume guilt – investigate and gather evidence before taking necessary action.

Train yourself and your management team to spot problems. With these skills, your management team will have the confidence to nip any conflict in the bud safely, posing minimal risk to the welfare of your team and your business. Check out our events page, as we’re often running conflict management training in multiple locations.

The HR Dept are here to help

Managing workplace interaction isn’t easy and we have never seen two cases that’re the same. But although your circumstances may be unique, you can always ask your local HR Dept expert for support.

Working time and pay. Are you doing it right?

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Working time and pay – get it wrong and you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position.

Some small businesses are, unknown to themselves, breaking the rules. This is often due to bad record keeping or a lack of awareness of the legislation and case law.

Larger companies aren’t immune and sometimes fall foul of the rules too – think Sports Direct failing to pay staff for the time they spent going through security every day. We’ve got a lot of content on our website about working time, and it’s worth a look if you’re concerned about whether you’re doing things properly.

It’s important that you know that employers can face criminal sanctions for getting it wrong, as working time is covered by the Health and Safety at Work Acts.

The other big risk is falling short of paying the national minimum wage because you are wrongly calculating the hours that someone is working for you.

If you are confused by working time and pay, you are not alone. It’s a subject of much debate and many Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and Labour Court Cases.

Sleep-in at work arrangements and pay

The most recent grey area case asked whether workers were entitled to the national minimal wage when on-call or sleeping at work. It’s relevant for long-haul HGV drivers, nurses and care staff, and security personnel to name a few – and it could be relevant to you and your business.

Sleep-in at work arrangements generally fall within one of the following categories:

  • Where a worker is permitted to sleep at work but is obliged to be present on the work premises at all times. For example, a care worker.
  • Where a worker is provided with sleep facilities by their employer. For example, a pub manager.
  • Where a worker is available for work but not actually working (“on call”). For example, an out-of-hours doctor.

To establish whether workers have been paid the National Minimum or Living Wage, employers will need to calculate their average hourly rate. This is done by dividing the worker’s total remuneration by the total number of hours they worked during a pay reference period. However, calculating the number of hours worked and the worker’s total remuneration can be complicated, especially where workers are permitted to sleep on the job.  The Term, “Working Time” covers things like “on call”, “on call on site” etc.  Each have different implications for employers.

“Sleeping on the job” court case

Recently, the issue of sleeping on the job was considered in court. One case posed the question, “whether employees who sleep-in, in order to carry out duties if required engage in “time-work” for the full duration of the night shift, or whether they are only entitled to the national minimum wage when they are awake and carrying out relevant duties”.

The result? The EAT concluded that no single factor should be used to determine the outcome of this case. Rather other factors and circumstances should be considered.

So, what does this mean for small businesses? Put simply, it depends! Each case will be different depending on things like why the employee is required to be there, their degree of responsibility, immediacy of which they’d need to make themselves available in an emergency, etc.

One thing is for sure though – this is a complicated area of employment law that you do not want to get wrong. If you’re not an expert, we’d urge you to seek advice. Your business may depend on it.

Remember…….. if you snooze you loose!  Contact the HR Dept for advice and assistance on all HR issues.

Five infuriating office distractions and what you can do about them

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A loudly boiling kettle, a peculiar laugh, boiler on the blink… These can all cause annoyance and distraction amongst your workforce and limit productivity.

Business owners are always on the lookout for ways to increase efficiency within the workforce. Let’s take a look at five of the top distractions that may inhibit productivity, and investigate what you can do about them.

1. Phones

Although these are unavoidable, you can control the volume. Loud phone conversations can be distracting to other employees. If your office has the space, or a spare room, why not consider creating a ‘phone booth’? This would provide a place for people to go and take phone calls without distracting others. Another idea is to allow your employees to wear headphones when they feel distracted. These can help them remain focused by blocking out any unwanted noise.

2. Meetings

If you find yourself in more meetings than necessary, you leave little time for real action. Question whether the meeting is needed and invite only those for whom it would be relevant. Agendas are also a life-saver – if it’s not on the agenda, don’t discuss it.

3. Constant emails

Closing your emails for an hour can encourage you to switch off and focus on the task at hand. Many people feel as though they must respond to emails as soon as they enter their inbox, so keep to a response time that you can stick to consistently. Turn off email push notifications too. Having these pop up every few minutes in your line of sight is sure to be a big distraction.

4. Tea rounds

This is dependent on many factors: where the kitchen is, how many people are in the office, the complexity of drinks orders etc. Shouting tea orders across the office can be distracting for all, so a top tip of ours is to make a list of everyone’s tea and coffee orders and stick it up in the kitchen.

5. Office gossip

It is great that staff can socialise and form friendships. This will of course lead to chatting which again will normally be fine – to an extent. Keep an eye on it though as too much talking amongst friends will obviously see productivity take a hit between them. It will probably be distracting to others too. Chatting can also turn into gossip which can quickly degenerate into a poisonous atmosphere. In any training programme, make it clear that bullying and misconduct at work are unacceptable. You don’t want a culture of gossiping and rumours. Instead, focus on creating a culture of being friendly but professional.

There are bound to be many that we have missed. Let us know your biggest office annoyance in the comments below!

The HR Dept can help you create a harmonious and happy workforce. Just give us a call!

Are employees entitled to sick pay for elective and cosmetic surgery?

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First of all, before we start, it’d be useful to define what elective and cosmetic surgery actually are.

The two are often confused. Cosmetic surgery (commonly known as boob jobs, nose jobs, Botox etc.) is intended to improve a person’s appearance rather than their health. Elective surgery applies to any surgery that is scheduled in advance, doesn’t involve a medical emergency and does not have to be performed within 24 hours.

Naturally, your first concern will be for your employee. Potential absence and performance concerns shouldn’t be too far behind – especially for a smaller business that is less able to pass the workload on to others.

Losing key employees for long periods can keep small business owners up at night with endless questions buzzing through their heads. However, the big questions are, ‘What do you pay them? Do you ride it out? How do you approach it with the rest of your team?’

Statutory sick pay and elective and cosmetic surgery

All employees are entitled to Social Welfare support when they are unfit to work – as long as they follow the proper procedures and provide the appropriate certification you are required to support your employees by completing social welfare forms accurately and in a timely manner. The first 5 days of any period of absence is not covered.

Contractual sick pay and elective and cosmetic surgery

Contractual Sick Pay is in your control. Here, you go on your contracts or policy documentation – so make sure it truly reflects the needs of your business.

You are not required to pay any contractual sick pay, but if you do, you should be very clear on what is paid under what circumstances.  Be aware, if you implement sick pay in any given situation, employees talk and other employees will expect the same treatment.  Beware of setting precedent as is twill only cause bad feelings if you do not treat everyone the same.

How to keep your team in the know

You will, of course, need to keep your team in the know. Strict confidentiality must be adhered to here. You can’t disclose information about any medical procedure without the employee’s consent. If you do have their consent, inform their team if you think it’s appropriate. If it’s explained to the team, they will understand why they’re having to pick-up extra work.

There are some situations that have to be discussed and planned in advance e.g. an individual going through a sex change process – this can take up to three years to complete. A lot of planning and thought must go into this and you will need professional guidance to avoid pitfalls and discrimination claims.

So, to summarise, making necessary changes to your policies will ensure you are protected. Be consistent in your approach and, if you’re ever unsure, always seek professional advice.

Five tips for stressed out business owners

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Did you know that almost half (47%) of SME owners work overtime every week? Sometimes without pay!

With small and medium size organisations making up 99.9% of private sector businesses, it is no wonder the backbone of our economy is under so much stress! Considering this, look at our top tips for reducing stress in the workplace:

1. Identify the stress –  Try to be self-aware. Subtle changes in yourself, such as slight shifts in behaviour or lack of sleep, could be a sign of underlying stress.

2. Get an employee assistance programme – This is not only a great benefit for your employees, it is also a great benefit for you! It gives you access to an independent and confidential adviser to help you with any problems – in both your work and personal life.

3. Be organised – When you have a million and one things on your to-do list, create processes to stick to. This will help you to manage your workload and make sure that you don’t end up reinventing the wheel.

4. Stay active – Although you may think you don’t have the time to get some exercise, there is always a way! Find a workout that you can fit into your day and use it to manage your stress.

5. Finally, be productive – If you are still working at one am with a large amount of unread emails, there is no point working through the night. Consider some business or life coaching for managing your time efficiently – there are some great techniques out there.

If in doubt, give us a call at The HR Dept and we will be able to help with some well-being policies for you and your team.

Autism in work

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Clever employers are always on the lookout for the next top talent that’ll help push their business to the next level. Incredible people with incredible minds have revolutionised the way we use computers, changed the world of art, and developed the world renowned theory of relativity, E=MC2.

It has been rumoured that Bill Gates, Michelangelo, and Einstein are or were somewhere on the autistic spectrum. While certainty on this does not exist in the public domain, they have demonstrated some of the key traits commonly associated with Asperger’s: a type of autism that can affect how a person communicates. Small talk, just as one example, can be tricky.

Skills found in many autistic job candidates

Another thing they all have in common is their success. Whether or not autism was a contributing factor to this success, some of the traits found in many autistic job candidates can be seen in them:

  • High ability to concentrate
  • Reliability and consistency
  • Accuracy and attention to detail
  • Technical abilities
  • Incredible memory and recall skill

Traits like these are potentially so valuable to prospective employers. And they help some employees thrive in a role that maybe others wouldn’t. It really does beg the question, why do some autistic candidates struggle to find employment?

According to the National Autistic Society only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time work. Let’s be clear the spectrum is wide and not all autistic candidates will exhibit these sought-after traits, or be suitable for every role. But are employers missing out on skills because of some prejudice?

Adjustments you can make to the recruitment process

We think the traditional recruitment process is responsible for restricting SMEs’ “neuro-diversity”, creating a barrier between them and the talent they need. Let’s take the interview. They’re daunting for all of us at the best of times, even to those conducting the interview. For someone with autism, the interview can present a significant challenge. This film will show you why:

There are small adjustments you can make to the interview process that would make the world of difference, making it easier for candidates with autism to showcase their talents. Ask closed questions, prompt helpfully, and try to avoid hypothetical questions.

Ultimately, there’s serious talent out there, and we think SMEs should be tapping into it. The HR Dept is, of course, there to help you do that.

New ECJ ruling

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The European Court of Justice ruled yesterday that workplace bans on the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign” need not constitute direct discrimination.

At this time of heightened religious awareness it is important that employers do not take the ECJ ruling at face value or just read the headlines, it is far more complex than that.

The ruling was clear that the court will only support a ban in limited circumstances. The ruling, which is more nuanced than a straightforward ban, could sow confusion about which religious symbols can be worn at work and could breed discrimination from colleagues and customers if not handled properly.

The ban must be based on internal company rules requiring all employees to “dress neutrally” and the ban must encompass ALL signs of a religion like wearing a cross and not just a headscarf. This ruling applied to a customer facing role where the neutrality of the company was demonstrated.

Such a policy cannot be based on the wishes of a customer. Customers cannot simply demand workers remove headscarves if the company has no policy barring religious symbols – this may be an issue that employees and managers may face and need training, support and guidance on.

The courts ruled that if it is an employer’s desire to project an image of neutrality towards its customers then banning religious insignia is legitimate. However, the policy of neutrality was applied equally to all employees and it cannot be in response to the wishes of a customer.

Therefore employers must make sure that this policy bans other religious insignia such as crucifixes, skullcaps and turbans.

But employers should be extremely careful when considering applying bans on religious dress. You will still have a duty to show that you have not enabled indirect discrimination against your employees. There must be clear legitimacy of the policy and necessity for the business, applied appropriately.

Campaign and religious groups have voiced concerns that this ruling could allow employers to discriminate against employees and potential employees on the grounds of religious belief.

Whatsapp mishap!

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Defamation, bullying, and offensive language designed to discredit an organisation and its people…


It’s all happening on the internet.

Social media tribunal cases are ten a penny. Time and time again, employees fail to foresee the consequences of what they’re posting online. Once it’s up there and available to the public, it no longer belongs to the person who posted it. Deleting a post is no excuse. The damage is often already done, and somebody somewhere will have a record of the original.

How social media policies can help

This is where a good social media policy will come into its own. With clearly laid out rules, your staff will know where to draw the line. What’s more, you’ll be in a much better position to enforce the rules if you need to.

For most social media the rules are easy to apply, as posts exist in the public domain. But what about private messages, like the ones on WhatsApp or Snapchat? Can employees be held to account for the messages they send via private channels of communication?

It’s an interesting question, and one that we’re going to see more often. Employees, especially smartphone savvy millennials, are increasingly communicating with their colleagues via private messaging platforms. It’s a new dynamic in the workplace with some surprising consequences.

What are the risks of private messaging platforms?

They’ve opened up new comms channels between employees. Using WhatsApp as an example, the group chat function keeps employees looped in after hours and over the weekend. What’s the risk? People are much more likely to put a message out to colleagues via WhatsApp after a drink than to log on to their work emails!

Snapchat (a unique picture messaging app) introduces a whole new level of risk. It’s the platform for sending selfies.  One careless bus driver has already been sacked for his antics on Snapchat, filming himself and passengers from behind the wheel.

Again, once it’s been posted you can’t get it back! If someone is sending out Snapchats of themselves at a party until the early hours only to call in sick the following day, there is an issue there that needs to be tackled.

People are accountable for what they post even over private messaging platforms. Just because they didn’t intend their employer to see it, doesn’t mean that it’s OK.

How to get a social media policy

If an employee comes to you with an issue that’s arisen over a private messaging platform, make sure you’ve got the policies in place to tackle it with confidence. The fact that you, the employer, have learnt about the private message is no better example that nothing online is ever truly private.

To get a social media policy drawn up, call The HR Dept today.

What progress have we seen since the last International Women’s Day?

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Every time we celebrate International Women’s Day, we get a chance to reflect on a year of progress and change for women around the world.

At home and abroad, women are taking steps that realign cultural norms and smash gender boundaries. These leaps forward have a real impact on the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of all women – so we think they should be celebrated!

In the last year, there have been triumphs for women in the workplace, but also notable reminders of the progress that still needs to be made.

A key issue is pay equality. 47 years after the Equal Pay Act was introduced, women overall are still paid less than men. The government has introduced legislation to tackle this i.e. Shared Parental Leave to get women back onto their career path more quickly after childbirth. This Gap is narrowing, but it needs to do so much faster!

What else has been going on?

Let’s start with the top job. Hilary Clinton was the first woman to win a major American party’s presidential nomination. An achievement in itself and one that gave her the potential to become the first female President of the United States.

Despite losing the Electoral College, she led the popular vote – showing the extent of the support she garnered. That said, in her own words, she still “had not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling”.

Other shocking elements of the presidential election campaign highlighted the serious issues that women still endure, and the unpleasant attitudes that need to be confined to the history books.

Diversity at the top of companies is improving. By 2020, 33% of boardroom positions are to be held by women in the UK. But what about diversity in certain roles? The first all-female flight crew made its trip from Brunei to Jeddah, smashing barriers for women in an industry within which only 3% of pilots are female.

The UN ran a #HeforShe movement, led by actress Emma Watson. It was an attempt to engage men to speak out for the injustices faced by women, alongside promoting gender equality.

So after some notable breakthroughs made by women over the last year, today is a day to celebrate these achievements. It should also be a day to reflect on what more needs to be done to promote gender equality across the globe.

Despite all the achievements that have been made over the past year there are still some top jobs in the UK which have not been filled by a woman:

  • Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Head of the BBC
  • Leader of the Lib Dems

Hopefully by the next international Women’s Day this could all change!

If you want to ensure you are following best practises for gender equality within your organisation, call The HR Dept.

Will robots decimate Ireland jobs?

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Robo-workers are replacing humans at an ever-increasing rate.

In Japan there is a hotel staffed by robots. In France Wall-Ye Vine picking robots help farmers cut, prune and harvest crops. While in England, Premier Foods use 47 robots to pack Mr Kipling cakes in Barnsley.

Is the rise of the robots a bad thing? Will we all lose our jobs to automation?

Automation has always been there: think the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution for instance. And there has (probably!) always been resistance. But things feel a little different this time. Today artificial intelligence and advanced production techniques hint at there being no end to the rise of the robots.

Millions more jobs are predicted to be lost to automation. Perhaps this will be great for efficiency, but it raises a lot of HR issues and wider ethical debate.

In February Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, suggested that governments should introduce a robot tax – to make up for lost tax revenue from human workers and to help fund retraining into other jobs where empathy is essential.

A robot tax is an interesting solution because it not only levels the playing field when making a business case against employing humans, but also generates tax revenue to retrain people. The care industry, teaching and childcare need the human touch and they are all crying out for investment. What an opportunity a taxed robot workforce could present for getting human resources to these sectors!

It’s clear that technology is going to have a growing influence on the workforce. Consideration must be given to how humans are to be managed in the changing world. It is worth investing time now to ensure that as a robot workforce is introduced, it benefits all of society – not just the bottom lines of companies.