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Tough Interviews

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Interviews. The word itself is enough to stress some of us out. They are the Marmite of recruitment – some people love them and others can’t stand them!

It’s probably because everyone’s had, at one point, the interview where everything went well. The interview where you can say nothing wrong. Where you can leave with your head held high, knowing you’ve really sold yourself. And of course, everyone’s had the interview from hell. The one that you can’t reminisce about without cringing.

Many employers resent the amount of time that interviews take. Therefore, they do not make enough effort in the pre-interview stage, meaning they do not get the most out of them.

The interview scenarios

Unlike many aspects in recruiting, the interview scenario is subjective and dependent on the organisation running it.

If you attended interviews at five different companies, you may have five completely different experiences. They all varying upon, we believe, two factors: people and process.

As a business, if you make either of those negative, you could push talent away. Or even worse –  put your organisation in the firing line of a tribunal.

The people matter

Let’s start with people. The approach and style of an interviewer can have a real impact on a person’s perspective of the organisation. First impressions count and interviewers all too often forget that they’re selling the opportunity to the candidate as much as it is the other way around.

Quick-fire direct lines of questioning are great for seeing how candidates operate under pressure. They do not, however, give the employer an idea of what somebody will be like in their day-to-day working lives.

The interviewing method

Now what about process? This describes each step you take from launching job advertisements, interviewing, inducting and everything else in between. The process you undertake will vary upon the role you’re recruiting for, but please exercise consistency.

Although candidates are not yet employed by you, they can still make claims for discrimination on all protected characteristics. Be consistent in how you select CVs, how you interview and the way that you compare candidates. This could be by preparing key questions in advance and asking each candidate the same ones – this allows you to be more objective.

Of course you may want to have some fun and ask a quirky question like “If you could design a new musical instrument, what sound would it make?”.

Don’t go rogue in interviews

Sticking to the theme of interviews and process, be mindful that it’s in this sensitive phase of recruiting that most businesses fail.

Consider the girl rejected via text. The lady questioned about her age due to a concern that she wouldn’t have enough energy for the job. Or the woman asked if she was just going to get pregnant and leave. These are all examples of interviewers going rogue and landing the employer in trouble.

How The HR Dept can help

The HR Dept is, of course, here to help and advise. So if you’ve got any questions for us, please get in touch.

Tips for encouraging good mental health in your business

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With several recent high profile celebrity deaths, male suicide has been brought to our national attention.

It might have been easy to dismiss as only applicable to rock-star type lives, if it was not for the alarming statistic that suicide is among the biggest killer of men. The age group which has the highest rates of suicide is 45 – 54 in Ireland. So the reality is that this type of tragedy could affect you or one of your team.

One in four people suffer with mental health problems

Another frightening statistic is that one in four individuals in Ireland now suffers from some form of mental health problem. And as business owners, that can include us. So rather like in airline safety talks when you are told to fix the mask to your own face before helping others, it is important that you take care of your health and wellbeing.

Take care of yourself

Running a business can be stressful. If your moods are becoming more irritable, you have difficulty sleeping or you find yourself withdrawing, it is time to get help before you become ill.

Supporting good mental health for your staff

Assuming you are keeping an eye on yourself, how can you help your staff? Providing an environment where the mental health and wellbeing of your staff is paramount is definitely more than providing a box of fruit each week.

There’s a lot of negative reaction to mental illness: from those frightened of it to those who are suffering from feelings of shame. They wrongly feel they are weak and should be able to keep their stiff upper lip firmly in place. So a really positive approach you can take is to encourage open conversations. Let staff know you will support them during difficult times. Now, what other practical steps can you take? Here are five more tips for managing mental health in the workplace:

Five more tips for managing mental health in the workplace

  1. We know that stress can be positive as well as negative, but keep an eye on workloads to make sure they remain manageable.
  2. Make sure staff take holidays and have a sensible amount of free time.
  3. With smart phones, the temptation to check emails and social media can invade home life. So this should be discouraged.
  4. Look out for signs that people are struggling. These could range from sudden changes in performance to increased absence, or even panic attacks.
  5. Form links with local support organisations so you know where to access information.

It’s essential you keep an open mind if a member of staff says they have been diagnosed with a mental illness and are now on medication. In this case you may need to look at what reasonable adjustments can be made. And remember The HR Dept is always there to provide help and support.

HR myth busting!

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HR has more than its fair share of myths and misinformation! Could it be the ever-changing legislation and case law, the conflicting pressures that many SME business owners face or simply the fact that we are in the business of people problems? It’s probably down to a combination of all three. Here, we dispel a selection of the most common HR myths that our experts around the country encounter.

“You can’t make a pregnant employee redundant.”

Yes you can. However it must be a procedurally fair process and the pregnant employee has first option on any available positions that they are qualified to do. Be careful though that there is no sex discrimination in the selection process. Get HR support!

“No one can take you to tribunal without a year’s service.”

Now this is a really dangerous one because, yes they can – and for a range of reasons. For example: discrimination related to any of the nine protected characteristics, underpayment of wages like the National Minimum Wage, breach of working-time regulations in terms of holiday pay or a breach of contract. –

“You don’t have to give part-time staff the same benefits as full-time staff.”

Part-time staff must suffer no detriment, and so must have the same benefits as full-time staff (or broadly equivalent ones if the same are not possible). Many benefits can be pro rata for part-time staff, such as holiday allowance.

“Casual and zero-hour staff do not get holidays.”

All employees and workers accrue statutory holiday from day one. This is 20 days plus bank holidays.

“I can decide if I want someone to be self-employed.”

Oh no you can’t, as Uber and Pimlico Plumbers are finding out. There are strict rules for deciding the status of people in the business. It is unhelpful that employment law rules are different in deciding if someone is an employee, a worker or self-employed.

“I can’t contact sick employees.”

As an employer you have a ‘duty of care’ to keep in touch with a sick employee when they are signed-off to see how they are doing. This doesn’t mean daily calls and emails as this could lead to a harassment case. Regular contact should not just focus on their return to work, but their well-being, and if any reasonable adjustments can be made to help their return.

“If an employee has a fit note for two weeks, they can’t come back before the end of the two weeks.”

If your employee wants to return to work before the end date on their sick note this should be discussed. However, in some cases you may not be able to agree an earlier return for the employee due to required workplace adjustments. Therefore the employee should stay off work until the doctor confirms they are fit for work.

“Employees don’t have a contract unless there is something in writing.”

Express terms can be agreed between both the employer and employee in written or verbal communication. So, salary at the interview and pay rise promises at the Christmas party can count! 

Don’t get caught out by HR myths

If you want to take advantage of our HR myth-busting teams, or are interested in any of our other services, be sure to contact your local HR Dept office today!

Ramadan: What employers need to know

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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on lunar cycles. It is a sacred period for Muslims during which they abstain from pleasures (including food), pray and come together as families to celebrate.

The impact of Ramadan spreads far and wide this will include many workplaces. So with employees feeling the effects of fasting, and requiring increased time and space for prayer, how should employers handle this?

Be ahead of the game before Ramadan

As an employer, the best action you can take is to talk to any of your staff who might be affected before Ramadan starts, and agree how best to accommodate their needs. While you don’t have a legal obligation to grant requests, there are several ways you could still fall foul of the requirements to avoid discrimination on religious grounds; so be mindful of this.

Also, be aware that some staff members who would otherwise participate in the fast may not do so for very personal reasons. These could include a health condition, medication or a female staff member during her menstrual cycle. So tread with caution around these conversations.

The main Ramadan requests you may face are for flexible working hours, a prayer room (or time off to go and pray), staggered breaks and annual leave. The key, in most cases is to act reasonably, and not deny a request without good justification.

Managing Muslims fasting during Ramadan

Depending on the moon, fasting will begin on the 15 or 16 May in 2018, and lasts for one lunar month. Practising Muslims will fast between dawn and sunset each day. As summer is almost upon us, that can mean up to 18 hours without being able to eat or drink (or, if applicable, smoke).

For many fasters, this will lead to lethargy as the day progresses and quite possibly irritability. Most of us have experienced feeling ‘hangry’ for far less!

Be sensitive to this. If you can, avoid scheduling team meetings, training sessions or tasks which require high levels of concentration in the afternoon. And while you wouldn’t ban team lunches or block someone bringing in a box of Krispy Kremes for their birthday, again, a bit of sensitivity wouldn’t go amiss.

Permitting staggered breaks including unusual lunchtimes may be helpful here, and you should allow these as a long as they do not adversely impact your business. Failure to do so without a good reason could be construed as religious discrimination.

Eid and annual leave

To mark the end of Ramadan and of the fasting, there is a three-day religious festival called Eid al-Fitr. You may well receive holiday requests from Muslim employees during the last 10 days of Ramadan and during Eid.

These should be dealt with in line with your normal holiday policy. But do remember that the major Christian religious holidays of Christmas and Easter are already marked with bank holidays. Therefore, with good planning, it may be both desirable and possible to prioritise holiday requests from Muslim staff at this time. You do still have a business to run though, and business needs may ultimately determine the outcome.

Talk to The HR Dept

Generally, there are strong long-term benefits of being accommodating to staff who have specific needs, such as Muslims during Ramadan and Eid. Productivity may take a hit in the short term, but do consider the long term benefits of good relations with employees. If you need any help with Ramadan requests, give us a call.

How to manage an employee selected for jury service

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Jury service is a trying time. And not always just for the accused. A juror may find it an unusual and difficult situation. And if they’re employed, what about the knock-on effects on their boss and the business?

Some people will come up with all manner of excuses to get out of jury duty. Here, attorneys in America recount a few of their favourite excuses for avoiding jury service. These include “I have a weak bladder”, “I don’t believe in the law”, and even a potential juror saying that the attorney had picked her up in a bar five years previously! They were all excused – as was the person who walked in holding a book published by the defence attorney which repeatedly criticised prosecutors.

That’s all before the trial begins. Depending on the crime, time in court could be harrowing, draining, or just plain tedious. You can’t forget Homer Simpson’s jury duty, in which he took to wearing a pair of glasses with fake eyes to allow him to sleep through proceedings.

Jury service advice for employers

So what about for you the employer? Having an employee announce they have been selected for jury duty could represent a major business disruption. Or at the very least, leave you scrabbling around finding out what you need to do. So let’s take a look at what you can and can’t do, which will help inform your first response to your employee.

Who can be called up to jury service?

Jury service is a public duty, and every Irish citizen from the age of 18 and 70 and is on the Register of Dáil Electors can be selected, however certain occupations are exempt.  A computer randomly picks jurors. If your employee is chosen, they should inform you as soon as possible.

How long does jury service last?

The normal length of time an employee is tied up with jury service is up to ten days. However, for complex trials it can last much longer. If your employee is not required at court, they should return to work unless other arrangements have been made.

Do I have to let my employee go on jury duty?

In normal circumstances, you have to let your employee go on jury duty. There is a provision by which you can apply to delay the jury service if it would seriously damage your business. You’ll need to provide an explanatory letter if you go down this path.

Do I have to pay my employee while they are on jury service?

Anyone with a contract of employment (e.g. temporary workers, contract workers etc.) are entitled to be paid by their employer whilst they are on jury service. You can request for your employees certificate of attendance from the Jury office if required.

Do employees in jury service receive any special employment protections?

While employees are on jury service they enjoy some enhanced employment protection. They are legally entitled to time away from work and are protected from being treated unfavourably and being dismissed. They cannot be selected for redundancy due to reasons connected to their jury service. If your employee feels these protections have been breached, they can take you to an employment tribunal.

The HR Dept Advice Line

Jury service is just one of those many unexpected issues that employing people throws up. It’s hard to keep on top of all the rules and regulations by yourself, but getting it wrong can be so costly. That’s where our retained advice line comes in. For a small monthly fee we provide unlimited telephone and email support to make sure you get your HR right. Better still, it is backed by tribunal indemnity insurance. We are nationwide, so call your local HR Dept office for more information.

Culture clashes at work and how to avoid them

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A French employee at a restaurant in Canada filed a complaint with British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal against his former employer. He claimed the dismissal was due to his French culture being perceived as ‘rude and aggressive’.

What can we do to embrace and use cultural variety to our advantage? And do so whilst minimising cultural clashes and misunderstanding in the workplace? Of course, bad or unacceptable behaviour must not be excused as part of someone’s culture. It’s a fine balance but there is much that employers can do!

Hiring to fail?

Looking at another restaurant closer to home, let’s consider our much loved Fawlty Towers. Manuel’s eager efforts to communicate to customers were unsuccessful, much to the amusement of the audience.

However, the joke here is not necessarily Manuel’s bad English skills. It’s more that any employer would want to allow their employee in a customer facing role without the appropriate training, or ensuring that they can communicate effectively. You don’t want to set your employees up to fail by hiring them for a job that doesn’t suit. Or by not providing the necessary training and support.

Tips for managing cultural differences in the workplace

But how, as an employer, can you train your employees to embrace cultural differences to enhance the team and your customers’ experiences?

Firstly, have your own company values and cultures. These should include expectations around behaviour styles, customer service and team engagement. That way you have a shared culture whereby individual cultural differences could add value. But equally, it is very clear how your business expects your employees to behave.

Now, you can’t change someone’s cultural identity but you can ask for certain standards of conduct to be met. Embracing differences could even boost your business performance. Un-diverse workplaces can harbour group-think and struggle to diversify their customer base.

It is important to be sensitive to differences in habits, traditions and values. A willingness to expand your cultural awareness and focusing on the unique strengths of your employees can be beneficial for your business. It can bring in new ideas and allow new avenues to be explored.

Having a team who speak many languages may help you secure that all important overseas client. And having a diverse team who are comfortable with different languages and backgrounds can really help with understanding your diverse customer base. Being culturally diverse can give you the competitive edge!

Make sure you stand up to discrimination and try to foster a culture of understanding in the workplace. Lazy stereotypes about people’s culture could end up in a tribunal! Celebrating and being aware of different cultural or religious days can really help to promote diversity in the workplace.

Need help with managing cultural diversity at work?

Having said all this, there really is no place for rudeness in the workplace, whether it is deemed part of a culture or not!

So why not take the time today to get in touch with The HR Dept? We can discuss how your business can embrace cultural differences and diversity in the workplace.

Paws for thought

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The benefits of allowing staff to bring their pets to work is well documented and proven. As long as no one is allergic to them and the pets (usually dogs, but not always) are safe and well behaved, everyone gains. It could even be a deciding factor in staff retention — after all, who wouldn’t want their best friend sat next to them at work?

One area that’s often overlooked, is how do these pets get to work?  Great if the employee lives a walkable distance from the office, but what about those travelling from further afield? And what happens during the day if their owners need to travel to appointments, particularly in company vehicles?

Clunk, click every trip?

On a sunny day we have probably all smiled at the cute dog with its head stuck out of the car window enjoying the breeze, but no one would dream of driving with an unsecured child — because it’s dangerous and illegal. However when it comes to pets, only 44% of motorists say they take proper precautions and restrain their pets correctly.

It’s easy to forget that a pet moving around the vehicle or barking, can be a huge distraction. And if the driver breaks suddenly, they would be hurled like a missile and possibly seriously injured.

Protect yourself and your pets

So the company “bring your pet to work” policy needs to go further than looking at the office, the types of pets allowed (we might be tempted to pull a sickie if we had to share our work space with a snake!) and team agreement — it should also extend to travel. If you need help putting this into practice, do call The HR Dept. As well as preventing people problems, we also prevent pet problems!

What business owners can learn from Australia’s cheating cricketers.

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So much has already been written about the ball-tampering scandal that has hit Cricket Australia. But what could business owners learn from this?

Expectations of staff should be set from the top that projects and tasks will be completed on-time, and to a high level to meet your company goals. But what if there was a perception from the team that these targets should be met no matter what? That the ends justify the means.

The ruinous impact of ruthless competitiveness

In sport, psychologists talk about the ruinous impact of ruthless competitiveness, whereby winning matters above all else. This is exactly what took hold in the Australian cricket team, where the desire to gain a competitive advantage against South Africa led to the hatching of the unethical plan. The final version of events will be confirmed in time, but it appears the ball tampering tactics were devised by the leadership team of captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner, and that they influenced a junior player to carry them out.

It all unravelled and the three individuals concerned have been severely punished as well as facing the wrath of the wider public. There has been a sense of national shame with many, many questions asked about how this was considered an acceptable way of winning.

Setting the right expectations within businesses

Let’s look at this from a business perspective. The owner and senior managers set the expectations, and the managers work with their teams to meet them. If the culture and values are not right and the expectations are unachievable, businesses are risking bad behaviour taking seed. The same is true if there are extreme penalties for not meeting expectations.

Un-diverse, small and closed-shop leadership teams can be subject to damaging group-think, whereby bad ideas go unchallenged. An unhealthy team culture may mean that team members feel they must be deferential to their manager’s instruction – even if they know it is wrong. What if one of your staff wanted to speak out or whistle-blow about unethical team practices or management expectations? Do you have the right policies and procedures in place and the culture to be able to deal with it?

Business owners should be wary of putting too much pressure on their team through unachievable targets or penalties that invite stretching of the rules or bad behaviour. It is worth pausing to consider whether all your team know and live by your values. Are you accessible so that even the most junior person within your organisation knows that they can report bad practice by managers without fear?

Expert help with management culture

Getting this culture right, along with the correct structural policies and procedures, can be a challenge for any business. But, as events from the world of cricket have shown,  it is arguable that you can’t afford not to try.  Professional, external advice can be extremely helpful here, adding vital perspective. To discuss how we can help with this, speak to your local HR Dept adviser.

Why bullying needs to be banished from the workplace

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Workplace bullying can have a devastating impact on the individual and erode your organisation’s culture. It is a risk to health and safety because it may affect the mental and physical health of workers.

There is no place for bullying behaviour at work and organisations must take responsibility for stamping it out or face the consequences. With the current spotlight firmly on harassment in the workplace, this is a real risk area for business owners if not taken seriously.

The cost of bullying

It can be easy to think of bullying as a bit of ‘banter’ between colleagues. And that it’s not for the boss to break it up. But it can have a huge negative impact on individuals, the team and the organisation as a whole.

Bullying costs businesses €3bn a year in lost productivity, turnover and disruption. In addition, it causes delays in projects, a hostile working environment and a drop in morale.

Despite anti-bullying policies being widespread, the problem is becoming worse, not better. In 1998, managers in 7% of workplaces reported grievances raised concerning bullying. This rose to 8% in 2004, and to 11% in 2011.

What is the impact?

A staff member who’s being bullied can dread coming in every morning. They can feel overwhelmed, less motivated, hopeless and depressed.

Bullying is never acceptable in the workplace. As well as the impact on individuals, it can cause issues such as:

  • Poor morale and employee relations
  • Loss of respect for managers and supervisors
  • Reduced performance and productivity
  • An increase in absenteeism
  • Higher staff turnover
  • Damage to your company’s reputation

Bullying and the law

Bullying and harassment linked to civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race or membership of the Traveller community is covered by the Employment Equality Acts. Bullying which is not linked to one of the discriminatory grounds above is not covered. But employers do have a duty of care for their employees’ wellbeing under the Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. There are serious implications for employers who do not prevent and tackle bullying.

Stamp it out

So what should you do? Have a policy in place. Make sure staff receive regular training on the anti-bullying policy so everyone knows and understands it. This should be supported by clear procedures for dealing with grievance and disciplinary matters in a handbook. This will ensure staff know what the consequences are and that it could be dismissal. It needs to be acted upon consistently, and your managers will need support in this.

Management action that is not carried out in a reasonable way may be considered bullying. But proper performance management, expectations that your employees meet their goals and that they shoulder their responsibilities is not bullying. Whilst we support employers in dealing with and standing up to real bullying in the workplace, we are a little fed up with the cries of bullying when poor performance is challenged.

Training managers on how to spot bullying and root it out can improve their management style. It can help them be the flag-bearer for challenging bullying and building a culture where it’s not tolerated.

Need a hand?

Bullying can be a very emotive issue. Sometimes it can be hard to work out where to start in changing a culture and challenging the behaviour. Get in touch with The HR Dept for a chat about how we can help you reduce bullying and staff turnover in your business.

Sacking staff is never pleasant, but it always needs to be done right

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Sometimes staff can’t keep working in the business. Whether it’s misconduct, not following policies, attendance or fraud – it can be tempting to fire on the spot and just get rid of them.

Dismissing someone the wrong way or letting emotions rule can lead to disastrous consequences – and a swift court case. There should be a reason why you’re giving someone the boot – you can’t fire someone because they don’t make coffee the way you like it!

If there are areas they need to improve, give them space, time and support to do better. Without a full performance management process, sacking someone for not pulling their weight might put you in hot water.

Why can’t I just fire someone?

If proper procedures and investigations aren’t carried out, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) may find that a staff member was dismissed unfairly or unlawfully.

Every day, the WRC tribunals rule on new court cases and can award tens of thousands of euros and can cost even more in legal fees.

Nobody will sue me!

Small businesses appear quite frequently at a tribunal, not because of bad bosses, but often because the right way of doing things hadn’t happened.

Airing grievances in calm, structured and a mediated manner can help avoid heated and regrettable decisions.

If you’re thinking of sacking someone, speak to the experts at The HR Dept before you end up in court!