What's your thinking on flexible work?

A recent report by CIPD has shone an interesting light on how both employers and employees are feeling about flexible - or hybrid - working. Driven, of course, by the pandemic, this has become a key demand from candidates, and we're finding that companies who are sticking rigidly to office-based working are struggling to recruit.

Of course, there's a balance to be had, and we're working closely with our clients to help them construct flexible working processes that are legal, fair and support good quality recruitment and retention. Below are some of the stats we've found most interesting - if you'd like to talk to us about how to design your own flexible working approach, just contact us today.


workplace stress

The four surprising things about workplace stress

workplace stress

There is – quite rightly – a lot of information around concerning stress in the workplace. Our jobs can be one of the major causes of stress, or can exacerbate the stressful situations we are experiencing in our home and private lives.

But are we approaching stress at work in the right way? There’s certainly a lot of advice for businesses, but as HR professionals, we’ve got four surprising facts about stress that might help you to plan better from the very beginning. Better planning means reduced risk, and that puts you and your people in a much healthier position from the outset.

Fact 1: Work pressure causes stress

Stress is often caused by external factors. At work, that means your organisation could be responsible for the stress people feel when they are under particular pressure. Look at the way you manage high pressure situations, and they way you support people through these times. Remember that while some people thrive under pressure, others find it very stressful, so be more aware of the individuals in your team and how they react in these circumstances.

Fact 2: Poor organisation is stressful

Your people need to know what is expected of them, who they are reporting to, and where their place is within the organisation. This is down to you. Think of the three ‘R’s – Role, Responsibilities and Reporting. By making all these things clear, you are giving your employees clear guidance, boundaries and understanding of where they fit into your organisation. This automatically improves wellbeing.

Fact 3: It’s stressful to feel unsupported

Good leaders support their people. Not just when they are obviously stressed, but all the time. Putting in place regular reviews, and ensuring you catch up with individuals informally gives you a better insight into how your team is feeling, and gives you a heads-up when someone may start struggling. Supporting your people is vital to positive collaboration and better productivity.

Fact 4: Good HR planning can reduce stress

If you have clear policies in place and you communicate them well, your people will feel confident about their role, understand the culture of the company and feel better supported in their work. Sudden policy announcements, poor management of disciplinary issues, negative communications and an assumption that the employee is always wrong are commonplace – and they create stress.

In turn, stress reduces productivity, damages teams, increases staff turnover and bruises your brand reputation. If you get your HR and leadership priorities right, you can run a much happier and more productive organisation – and you will automatically be in a position to help your employees manage stress when it occurs.

If you’d like any support or advice on how to manage fundamental HR policies and procedures to manage stress in your organisation, contact us today.


Should you be offering sabbaticals?

A sabbatical is a period of time away from work – usually longer than a standard holiday. There are lots of benefits to the employee and to the employer, because a sabbatical represents an opportunity for new experiences, fresh thinking or even updated qualifications.

Some organisations use sabbaticals as rewards for long service, whilst others are thinking more innovatively about non-work time, including regular time off for volunteering projects or family time as part of their CSR or ESG programmes. So, how can you build positive sabbatical offerings into your organisation?

What is the legal position?

There are no laws in the UK that cover sabbaticals, so HR departments and senior leaders have to create their programmes in the way that works best for each organisation. It is important, however, to make sure that your sabbatical programme doesn’t breach any existing laws – particularly those relating to discrimination and equality.

For example, a request for a sabbatical would come under the same umbrella as a request for flexible working. This means that employees should have worked for the organisation for at least 26 weeks – on a full-time or part-time basis – and should not have made any other requests for flexible working in the past 12 months.

Are sabbaticals paid?

This is really up to each organisation. If you choose to keep paying your employee during their sabbatical, then their existing contract will stay in place, including any benefits they may have. If you decide that sabbaticals will be unpaid, the employee’s contract will usually come to an end, but you can make an agreement with them to return to employment when the sabbatical is finished. You need to make sure that you have clear agreements and that both parties understand their responsibilities before the sabbatical is agreed.

Why are sabbaticals good?

Offering a sabbatical brings benefits for you and your workforce.

It brings new perspectives – whatever your employee chooses to do with their sabbatical, they will return to the workplace with new perspectives, ideas and energy.

It increases skills – your employee may choose to do a further qualification, add to their professional development, or take on a voluntary role. All of these will mean they come back to you with new skills that can benefit the business.

It prevents burnout – giving people a chance to take some time for themselves means you prevent some of the absenteeism and productivity issues around burnout.

It helps with recruitment and retention – candidates are looking for employers who are flexible and offer a wide range of opportunities. Having a good sabbatical offering will help to retain valuable employees and improve your brand reputation.

When we ran a poll on LinkedIn about sabbaticals, 43% of people said they would want to use the period to spend more time with their families, 29% would take the opportunity to travel, 14% said they would study for further qualifications, and the remainder would use the time to volunteer.

Whatever your employees – or you, if you choose to take one – decide to do with your sabbatical, it’s clear that a well-structured and thought-through sabbatical programme can help both your employees and your organisation to thrive.

To find out more about how to build a sabbatical programme, or to ask us about building a more employee-focused culture in your workplace, contact us today.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash


Are you on top of your HR risks and mitigations?

Most businesses have some sort of risk assessment. A good business has a risk register that is regularly reviewed to make sure that risks haven’t changed, new risks are added and mitigations are still valid.

For every organisation, part of that risk register should be HR-related. The people working for your business can pose a risk to it in a number of ways, as does being unable to find suitable new staff, for example.

HR risks to consider

What constitutes a risk for HR managers in the context of the wider business? Here are some to consider:

Discrimination – this could occur at several different touchpoints within your organisation, and can result in legal or regulatory penalties. Risks including discrimination at interview, in general working practice, in promotions and development opportunities and for pay rises and benefits.

Legal workers – HR and hiring managers are obliged to check that new employees have the right to work in the UK and have the qualifications and experience they say they have. Without proper screening, organisations may fall foul of employment requirements. This means risking fines, and also incurring the costs of starting recruitment all over again.

Health and safety – in some businesses, there might be a department responsible for just occupational health and safety issues, but in smaller companies, this often falls under the HR function. So you need to be aware of the potential risks in your business operations and be able to show that you have clear and well-communicated policies. You also need to provide relevant personal safety equipment and train existing and new staff so that they are always up to date.

Data – you will be in charge of all employee data. There is a huge risk to the organisation and to individual employees if that data is compromised, lost or stolen. So you should make sure you are following the guidelines on data management, complying with relevant data legislation and have mitigation in place in case of cyberattacks or an internal leak of data.

Theft and fraud – this is a problem in many companies and poses a severe risk to the finances and to the wider reputation of the business. Having procedures in place that help to prevent theft or fraud – including multiple signatories for cheques or payment requests and working closely with the finance department to create solid policies for this area will help to reduce that risk.

This list isn’t exhaustive – there will be particular risks your business faces and, as an HR professional, you will have your own responsibilities as dictated by senior management. Now is the time to put a comprehensive risk register in place if you don’t already have one. Talk to other departments or to the person in charge of risk to make sure that your department is part of the overall risk strategy and make sure you review regularly to make sure your register is still relevant and up to date.

Contact us to find out how we can help.


Are you ready for in-person Right to Work checks?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, all employers had to conduct Right to Work checks. These were usually done in person and required the employer to have sight of original documents.

By the point of the first lockdown in March 2020, it was impossible for in-person checks to take place, so the government allowed Right to Work checks to take place digitally. This has meant that employees have used video calls, scanned documents and sometimes checks via mobile apps.

Originally, in-person checks were due to start again in May 2021, but the government has extended this to June 21st – the start date of the final step in the roadmap to lockdown easing.

What does this mean for you?

As an employer, the return to in-person checking means that you must now check the applicant’s original documents. For employees, you must be in possession of all the relevant documents needed to confirm that you have the right to work in the UK. You must give these documents to your employer – they will be returned to you – so that they can carry out the appropriate checks.

What are the checks?

Employers have a responsibility to check that:

  • The documents are genuine, original and unchanged and belong to the applicant
  • The dates for the individual’s right to work in the UK have not expired
  • Photos are the same across all documents and you are sure they look like the candidate
  • Dates and places of birth are the same across all documents
  • The candidate has permission to do the type of job they have applied for, including any limit on the number of hours they can work
  • For students, you should ask for evidence of their study and holiday times
  • If documents give different names, you should ask for supporting documents, such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree to prove a change of name

Make sure you know what’s needed

There’s a clear guide on the government’s website – the Right to work checks: an employer’s guide. This sets out what’s required in terms of checks for applicants from a range of different areas, including EU, non-EU, EEA and non-EEA applicants. It’s worth checking the guide so that you know exactly what you need to do depending on the candidate.

If you need any support on reintroducing in-person Right to Work checks to your organisation, contact us today.

 


Onboarding: How are you changing?

If there’s one thing we know about working during a pandemic, it’s how tricky it is to bring new people into the business when we are working remotely.

In pre-COVID times, of course, we would have had a well-thought-out induction process. This would give a new starter not just the legal information they needed, but a chance to meet their team properly, sit in on meetings and discussions and get to know the business and how it works. There would be tours or walkabouts, a desk to get set up, and much more.

Today’s new starter is likely to have a laptop and phone couriered to their door, a Zoom meeting and not much more.

But that will need to change, because our ways of working are changing. Anecdotal evidence suggests that whilst businesses are starting to return to the office, they are also looking at hybrid working, where people use a mixture of office and remote working.

Businesses should also note that ‘remote’ does not equate to ‘home’. Many people want to reduce their commuting hours so would rather work closer to home for a few days each week. For some, that might mean a home office, but others may use co-working facilities, so it’s important to know what sort of facilities your people are working from, so that you can support them accordingly.

Why change your onboarding process?

A good onboarding process can be the difference between your new employee integrating really well into your business, and deciding to leave pretty quickly. You need to make them feel welcome, be clear about their role and responsibilities, and help them to communicate with their line manager and team members. But that’s just the start. Onboarding doesn’t finish after two hours of induction – in order to onboard well, you need to make sure your new starters are supported on an ongoing and regular basis.

Here are some of our key thoughts about updating your onboarding process for today’s workplace:

  • Assign a buddy – we’ve seen this work really well in client businesses. A buddy can be on the new starter’s team, or part of a general ‘buddy’ group. Their job is to check in regularly, answer common questions, help to integrate the new starter into the business and give them somewhere to turn to with questions.
  • Give line managers clear guidance – whilst initial onboarding is often carried out by the HR team, the ongoing work needs to be done by the new starter’s line manager. So that line manager needs to be engaged with the process, understand its purpose and importance and commit to keeping in touch and making sure the new starter can get to work productively and comfortably.
  • Use technology to your advantage – you can use aids like DocuSign to allow new starters to sign contracts, staff handbooks and other paperwork remotely, and you can also use technology to help integrate people into the business. If everyone is still working remotely, why not hold an informal half hour lunch meeting, where people can have a chat over food? Or introduce a coffee break to allow people to have those all-important ‘water cooler’ conversations? Technology allows you to introduce informality into the work day without disrupting positivity.
  • Bring new starters into the office – if they are comfortable doing so, arrange for new people to spend a day or half a day in the office. They will get a feel for your workspace – and for the journey – and can get used to the way things work without the office being full of people. If you’re bringing people back into the office on a rota basis, make sure your new starter is in at the same time as members of their team, so that they can meet face-to-face.

Onboarding obviously varies from one company to another. The thing to remember is that you can’t just shoehorn your existing process into a new form. You need to think it through and plan it carefully so that it works within the new way your business is working.

We’re guiding and advising clients on improving their onboarding process to help them motivate and retain productive, engaged staff. Talk to us if you’d like help or advice for doing this in your own business.

 

 


Q&A: Need help choosing a Kickstart Scheme gateway partner?

The Government’s Kickstart Scheme is underway, and is helping to create thousands of six-month job placements for under the age of 24 and on Universal Credit. The aim of the scheme is to help this age group into permanent employment once they have completed their placements.

Q: Who can take advantage of the scheme?

A: Any business or organisation can take on a young person under the Kickstart Scheme. You can be in the private, public or voluntary sector. When you take on someone under the Scheme, you’ll get a payment of £1,500 – per placement – to help you support the process. The Government says that: “Funding available for each job will cover the relevant National Minimum Wage rate for 25 hours a week, plus the associated National Insurance contributions, and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions.”

Q: How does it work?

A: You can apply to the government direct if you want to take part in the scheme. Until recently, only companies who could offer more than 30 placements could do this, but the rules have recently changed to allow any employer to apply. You may choose to use a Gateway Partner, however. This is someone who can manage the process for you.

Q: What’s the benefit of using a Gateway Partner?

A Gateway Partner already has experience and expertise in using the scheme. In our case, we are able to support clients with a development plan for the placement including help and support with their CV and interview skills, and joining our online development sessions in a range of topics around personal development skills (prioritising, effective communication, presentation, etc).  We work closely with the organisation during the placement and if there is not a role at the end, we would support the individual in gaining employment and give them some 1-1 advice and support.

Q: How do I work with Objective HR as a Gateway Partner?

A: We can apply to the government on your behalf. We ‘batch’ applications into groups of 30 or more and submit them directly to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

We’ll give you all the help and advice you need to decide how many placements you can offer, and to complete your initial application. We can also help you to set up a plan for onboarding, training and developing your placement person so that both you and they get the most from the scheme.

We have been approved by the DWP to offer this service, and we can keep on applying for placements as long as the demand is there. We can’t guarantee that you will be approved – there are other checks that the government carries out to make sure you meet the criteria – but we can make sure that you can apply and that your application is as good as possible.

Q: How does the selection process work?

A: Once the placements are agreed and the job spec is complete, we send the details to the DWP and they source and send CVs directly to you. You would then follow your own recruitment process to choose a suitable placement – you will not be forced to take anyone. We can support the interview process if needed, and if your sector is regulated, we can also offer referencing, credit and DBS checks if that is a normal part of the selection process in your sector.

Q: Do I have to be a client to work with Objective HR?

A: Absolutely not – we work with a wide range of organisations to manage Kickstart Scheme applications. There’s no obligation on you to work with us at all in any other way.

Q: Do I have to pay you to be my Gateway Partner?

A: No. We do not charge for the placement service – the government pay us a small fee per placement.  If you wanted to take advantage of our in-depth training, we’d be happy to discuss this with you as a separate project.

Q: Why should I choose Objective HR over other Gateway Providers?

A: You might want to work with a trade body or your local authority to apply for a placement. We are HR specialists with lots of experience in placing and developing people. We understand how the process works and we’re used to working closely with employers and communicating well, so that you know exactly what’s happening at every step of the process.

Q: Can you support the development of our placement trainee?

A: Yes, we can. We are specialists in development and training and we can help you put a clear process and programme together that helps your placement person to get real value from your business, and for you to feel they are delivering value to you too.

Q: Can we apply more than once for a placement?

A: Yes, you can. You can create as many positions as you like, as long as it’s a genuine role, not previously advertised and will not replace any existing employee now or in the future. Once any placement trainee’s six month period has finished, you can apply for someone else to take the placement.

Q: Can we offer our placement trainee a permanent position once the initial period is over?

A: Yes, you can. You’re under no obligation to offer them a permanent job, but if you and they feel that there is a good fit, and you have the budget and role available to offer a permanent job, you can.

To find out more about using Objective HR as your Gateway Partner, please contact us today.


An antidote to ‘the saddest day of the year’

Do the things that make you feel better.

This may be the trickiest post-Christmas period for many years. Usually, we talk about how difficult it can be to get back into the swing of things after the Christmas break, but there are always ways to overcome that initial slump. Some companies save their ‘Christmas’ parties until the New Year, and others use this time to re-evaluate goals and targets and to inject some positivity and action into their teams.

This year is different. This year, we’re recovering from the hammering that most businesses took in 2020. This year, we have gone pretty much straight from Christmas into a lockdown. The fact that many people predicted this would happen doesn’t make it any easier when it does. This year, the lockdown is accompanied by a scarier strain of the virus, bad weather and a fair amount of cynicism.

The importance of being optimistic

There’s a lot to be optimistic about, however. The roll out of vaccines means that we can start to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. We are seeing lots of posts from friends about how relieved they are that elderly parents and relatives are starting to be vaccinated. Even though it may take a while to roll out completely, it’s a huge scientific success story, and a real symbol of what can be done when countries collaborate and finance is made immediately available.

We know that, if you’re sitting at home, on your own or juggling home schooling or caring for a vulnerable person, you might not feel very optimistic. You’re likely to feel physically and emotionally tired. That means you’ll find it hard to concentrate; your sleep might be suffering; you might have mood swings and you might find it difficult to motivate yourself. And then you switch on the news or your social media and you see that you’re about to hit ‘the saddest day of the year’ – Blue Monday.

What is Blue Monday?

Blue Monday falls on the third Monday of January. It was conceived by Dr Cliff Arnall in 2005, after he created a formula that looked at criteria including bad weather, dark nights, lack of money or post-Christmas debt and the falling away of initial enthusiasm about new year resolutions.

But this is just a formula – it’s not an instruction. We encourage everyone to stay as mentally optimistic as they can, even in really tough times. If you’re an employer, perhaps Blue Monday is a good day to check in on all your teams, giving some details of your plans, asking how they are doing and helping to keep morale high.

If you’re working from home, or are a key worker and finding it hard to keep going, here are some simple techniques that might help:

  • Get some exercise – you can exercise locally under lockdown. Take a new route, take pictures of the nature around you – you can do this even in the heart of the city – and look around you rather than down at your feet. If you can’t do this, just 10 minutes dancing in the kitchen or doing some stretches will help to take you out of the room for a while and focus on something else.
  • Have a non-work conversation – this might seem tricky when we’re all locked down, but perhaps all you need to do is give someone a call. Someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Or someone that you promised to call and haven’t. Or just someone you speak to regularly who you know can give you a bit of a boost.
  • Give back – again, difficult if money is tight, but perhaps this can be the day that you donate to the food bank, give some money to a homeless charity or decide to support something that’s close to your heart. Perhaps sign up for a virtual charity challenge to help focus your mind?
  • Be kind to yourself – we’re conditioned to feel that we’re not doing enough. That we should always be working and if we’re not working, we should be cleaning or organising or planning. In fact, what you need is some time for yourself. Do whatever makes you happy: watch TV; read a book; have a bath; play with the kids; do some gaming. Just take a bit of time out.
  • Think ahead – this will end. It’s pretty miserable now for many of us, but it will end. So why not make a list of the things you’d love to do when you’re able? It might be a hug with your parents; it might be a day at the beach; it might be a night out with your friends, or a long-awaited holiday. Making your list will make you feel much better and it gives you a sense of purpose.

Blue Monday is just a day. It comes and goes like any other day. This year, we have additional troubles to bear, but by looking out for each other, taking some time out, getting some fresh air and not piling pressure on ourselves, we can ensure that we can build our resilience and come out the other side with a better understanding of what’s really important to us.


Motivating your staff for 2021

Photo by Lindsay Lenard on Unsplash

There’s not an HR manager in the country – possibly in the world – who hasn’t been extremely challenged by the events of this year.

Often responsible for managing the transition to working from home, ensuring ongoing health and wellbeing, organising changes to holidays and benefits, thinking about safe office spaces and considering how best to return to the office, HR professionals are now turning towards the coming year and planning how to maintain motivation during a further period of change.

What might 2021 look like?

With the positive news that a vaccine is now rolling out across the UK, employers and HR professionals may be starting to think about how things might start to return to ‘normal’. This is a great goal – we have been back in our offices since June and it has made a huge difference to our business to be able to work together – and it needs to be carefully planned.

  • Getting the vaccine – there’s a priority list for people to receive the vaccine. Healthy people under 50, many of which might make up your workforce, are a long way down that priority list, so the first thing to consider is how safe it might be to return to work. Employers shouldn’t mandate that their staff have the vaccine, and so should still be thinking about providing a Covid-safe workspace for any employees who want to return to the office.
  • Supporting choice – it’s important to listen to your employees and how they feel. Although 2021 might see an improvement in the way we can interact together, not every employee will want to return to the office. Many might have benefitted from the change in work-life balance offered by home working and will want to retain that flexibility. As you move into 2021, think about how you can support the choices of all your employees.
  • Reward and recognition – a recent survey by Willis Towers Watson showed that more than 50% of respondents agreed that their pay, reward and recognition strategies are still assuming an office-based or geographical location employee group. This means that schemes are unlikely to be as relevant or as motivational as they may have been when you conceived them. So now’s the time to think about how you motivate, reward and recognised people who are working in different circumstances.
  • Maintaining connections – one of the most important roles for HR and internal communications professionals this year has been keeping people connected when they are working remotely. Maintaining team spirit, managing wellbeing and keeping a sense of purpose have all been critical to keeping people productive and your business on track. As we head into 2021, this should remain at the top of your list – it’s likely that at least a proportion of your staff will remain remote for many months, and so need certainty in the processes and policies that support and protect them.

2021 may still be a year of uncertainty but, unlike 2020, it is uncertainty that we can plan for to a certain extent. If you need any support or advice to help you manage pay, rewards or productivity during 2021, contact us for an initial chat today.