Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Guess who's coming to dinner?

Happy Hallowe'en! And to our friends marking the turn of the year, a very Happy Samhain. 
Yesterday the news broke that Disney have bought Lucasfilm, including the rights to the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, for $4bn. That's a LOT of ewok by anyone's standards. They also announced plans for a seventh Star Wars film to be released in 2015. That will be followed by episodes eight and nine and then one new movie every two or three years. 

Twitter has been abuzz with the news, with reactions ranging from "We might get a good new Star Wars movie at last!" to "Disney are going to ruin Star Wars!" via "Does this mean Leia is a Disney Princess now?" 

That last did make me smile when I spotted it. However, as any woman of my generation will tell you, Leia has a ray gun and so would whup the rear of every Disney Princess going- including Mulan. Carrie Fisher cannot be messed with. I love her to distraction. 

Leia was possibly the first flesh-and-blood female character I remember being wowed by as a kid. (The animated one was Disney's Maleficent. I blogged about that elsewhere. And what do you know? I quoted Carrie Fisher there too. Full circle.)

This got me remembering a long-ago late night chat with some friends around 5 brilliant women we'd invite to a Fantasy Dinner Party. The rule was that they could be living or dead, but you had to have what the group considered "a damned good reason" to include them. 

As friends mulled over the merits of Virginia Woolf vs Mary Shelley (I believe Shelley won after two falls and a submission) I went straight to my list without hesitation:

Carrie Fisher, Kathy Burke, Dorothy Parker, Nancy Mitford and Emmeline Pankhurst.

The group hesitated. Nobody challenged me. I was all ready to explain my choices. I wasn't asked to. I've always felt cheated, if vindicated. I obviously know how to throw a good party...

Let's have a little Hallowe'en fun: let's imagine you're throwing a party tonight. Male or female, living or dead, who would YOU invite- and why? 

UPDATE: Lovely Natasha (@stirthesource) has sent over her selection. It's quite brilliant. As I knew it would be.

She's gone for Jesus, Vivienne Westwood, James Corden, Paulo Coehlo, Michael J Carty, Persephone, Michael Jackson, Simon Pegg, and Morgaine Le Fey.

"Make of that what you will," she says. I see a trillion reasons for inviting them. I also suspect Persephone and Vivienne would get on famously, while I can imagine @MJCarty and Jesus ganging up on Paulo for nicking the last breadstick.

@Scarletstand aka Emma Burnell sends us this motley crew: Joss Whedon, Caitlin Moran, Steve Biko, Mary Magdelene, Jane Austen and David Bowie. I raised an eyebrow at the thought of Austen and Whedon squaring up over whether women should be more Bennett than Buffy over the antpasti, but knowing Emma's ability to bring people together, I can see it working.

More guests arriving courtesy of Meg Peppin (@OD_Optimist) who's gone for a quite inspired line up of AngelaCarter, Mo Mowlam, Scheherazade, Mary Poppins, John Hegley, Grayson Perry,Richard Hawley. Her reasons? She fancies "Wit, wisdom, stories anda little magic." As a big fan of both Carter and Mowlam, I'd dearly love to be at that table, and with such storytellers present, it wouldn't be an early night...

Further entries from the wondrous @hr_cass here: and the genius @kingfishercoach here: Both perfection! I love the way real life connections are joining the famous names.

Who's on your list? 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Drug testing and employee rights

We were recently asked some questions about why, when and how a business might safely and fairly go about testing its employees for drug use. It's a difficult area, with employers keen to protect employees, relationships and reputation sometimes going about things the wrong way, and employees left feeling confused, angry and distrusted. 

So if you absolutely must do it, how do you ensure it's done right?

We hope the tips below help create some clarity on this thorny subject...

Why might employers need to test employees? How can you ensure it's done properly?

Due to health and safety concerns- or even their own clients' requirements as in the case we were involved in- some employers may need to test employees for drug use. To do this, however, they need to use an accredited testing company and must always seek their employees' consent.  

Gaining consent

This should normally be given where an employer has grounds for testing employees under its health and safety policy. The policy should be set out in a contract of employment or in the company handbook.

Can an employer choose who to test?

Employers should limit testing to the employees that need to be tested to deal with the risk. If an employer wants to carry out random tests of these employees, the tests should be genuinely random. 

It's potentially discriminatory to single out particular employees for testing unless this is justified by the nature of their jobs.

Conducting searches fairly

Searching employees is a sensitive matter and we recommend employers have a written policy on this. Searches should respect privacy- for example, be carried out by a member of the same sex and take place with a witness present.

What if an employee refuses?

You can't make an employee take a drugs test, but if they refuse when an employer has good grounds for testing under a clear health and safety policy, they may face disciplinary action, including dismissal- though we always warn employers to investigate the circumstances around a refusal before taking drastic action. Don't assume they have anything to hide- they may just be unclear on what they are being tested for, and may be worried that medication they take could threaten their job.

As ever, we advise that employers and employees check their policies allow for testing, are widely understood by those they affect, and access the facts before taking any steps that may affect the working relationship.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Happy Retirement?

Talking about 'Retirement' has become a bit of a no-no in certain HR circles, with many overly cautious around discussing options and some reluctant to broach the topic at all.

In the course of his eternal quest for further knowledge, my fellow Tiger and workplace wellbeing officionado Steve recently discovered a 2002 paper from The King's Fund named 'Great to be Grey'. The paper looks specifically at the problems presented by NHS workers leaving the service and the impact of lost skills and experience. 

The paper was of course issued prior to the scrapping of the default retirement age and some themes are key to the issues faced in the NHS ten years ago. I am unsure whether retirement still looms large on the NHS' current list of problems and threats, but reading it raised some key points around older staff moving on- and it did set us thinking:  

What cultural and commercial considerations must businesses give to the issue of retirement?

The paper identifies some leading causes of why older NHS workers decided to move on, including increased workload, physical wear and tear and long hours. It's clear that good training, occupational health support and flexible working could help address these specific concerns, but if you've done all you can to address objections, what should you think about if a key staff member decides to retire anyway?

Where's my map?

New and existing employees often look to senior staff for guidance and support, and to share their experience. We should consider the damage that can be done by losing mentors in the workplace- if people opt out early, we can lose a wealth of talent and knowledge, meaning that the next generation risk missing out.

Can we counter this with a commitment to lifelong learning and CPD alone? Or is mentoring a more holistic method- and one we should value more than we currently do?

It's not enough

We should realise too that often the financial reward of staying in a role is not enough if the conditions and culture are wrong.

Offering flexible working, more diverse duties, continuing training and creating chances to add to the mix by sharing experience and knowledge can help older workers feel valued and appreciated. All employees like to feel their role and opinion counts, so don't dismiss the contribution older staff have to make.

Look at the culture in your business: perhaps it's not just your older employees who are feeling a little disillusioned or confused.

Letting go

Understand that there are times when an indvidual just wants to move on. They may have a plan to be a full-time  retiree, tending the garden and making jam- or are looking forward to going parascending and llama trekking in South America.

Never forget that they have family commitments too. 

They may wish to enjoy more time with their families, who may have been patiently waiting for time with them for many years. They may have caring obligations; I recently met a lady who was about to retire, and when I flippantly asked "Are you looking forward to being a lady of leisure?" she told me the tale of how at 60-something, she was just looking forward to being able to spend a decent amount of time with her 80-something mum who has dementia. Her employer hadn't even begun to train anyone else into her role and had put a lot of pressure on her to stay, leaving her feeling guilty and with an unfair sense of responsibility for the problems the business faced on top of the emotions and hard work of her caring role. It left her with a negative impression of her final months in a job she had loved, and she doesn't answer the phone gladly when the boss calls to get her to fix something.

If they say they want to retire, by all means ask if they are sure, and determine their reasons. Talk it through and see if you can adapt if you really wish to retain their skills- but if they are set on it, make a succession plan, shake their hand, throw them a party and bid them au revoir.

Just remember to keep in touch. Work has been a huge part of their everyday life, and no matter how much they may love not setting that alarm clock every day, they WILL miss it. 

So remeber they exist and they'll do the same: they won't mind you calling up to ask a question or spending a little time helping a former colleague- and you'd be amazed how many retirees still act as unofficial salespeople for their former employers.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Fake it and you won't make it

On Saturday night I watched possibly the most incredible bit of telly since we waved farewell to the Olympic and Paralympic Games a few weeks ago. Political comedy The Thick of It offered up a seminal moment as the cast of SpAds, spinners, civil servants and politicos appeared before the Goolding Inquiry in the hope of establishing the truth behind departmental leaks that had catastrophic results.

It featured a mesmerising turn from Peter Capaldi's Machiavellian spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (though he is argued to be far worse than that, more the "Chief Medical Practitioner of spin.") Tucker turned the Inquiry on its head with an argument around breaches of privacy that many of us would do well to pay attention to.

To create the unease and sweaty-palmed nervousness of being called before an Inquiry, The Thick of It's creators prevented the cast from mixing with one another, allowed them no rehearsals, and blocked them from meeting the inquisitors before the cameras rolled. If the cast look wide-eyed and shifty, it's genuine. It worked magnificently, delivering a truly unsettling and uncomfortable experience and the feeling that there really were careers and reputations at stake. It goes to show: there's no substitute for authenticity. How do you demonstrate it?

There's a magnificent line towards the end of Capaldi's final scene where he refers to "a political class that has given up on morality and pursues popularity at all costs." I found myself pondering how many businesses we encounter that have also taken this tack; how many business leaders we meet who have lost the connection with their customers and their people. How do we make them aware of their moral and social responsibilities, and the good they might do if they just stopped to think about it for a moment?

Here is Malcolm's speech, in all its glory. Forward to 3m34s for a tour de force (Caution: it is Malcolm Tucker, so there is some rather *ahem*... 'colourful' language.)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Workplace Mediation Services


We are pleased to announce that we are now offering independent mediation services to workplaces and employers seeking resolution to conflicts and disputes that create tension, stress, costs and lost productivity in their businesses.

Conflict exists in every organisation. Some level of disagreement is expected and even healthy, as it encourages debate and allows for different thinking. The issues experienced are often resolved through negotiation.

At times when communication and negotiation doesn't work or cannot be taken up, things can escalate and relationships falter or fall apart. Workplace conflict left unchecked can lead to long-term misery, stress, unhappiness and frustration or even an industrial tribunal, loss of skills and reputation and escalating costs.

As an impartial third party, we use professional conflict resolution techniques to help people find a way forward.

Our service is confidential, impartial, professional, empowering, and forward-thinking, encouraging those in dispute to look at how things need to be in the future. 

We are Accredited Workplace Mediators, registered with the Civil Mediation Council.

Prevent workplace disputes posing a risk to your business: contact us about mediation today.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

What makes an expert?

ex·pert  (ek'spurt)
1. A person with a high degree of skill in or knowledge of a certain subject.
a. The highest grade that can be achieved in marksmanship.
b. A person who has achieved this grade.
adj. (ek-spurt) Having, involving, or demonstrating great skill, dexterity, or knowledge as the result of experience or training.

The web- no, the World- is filled with experts. People who claim that they can show you how to start a business, make money, how to be happier, more successful, have better sex, raise better kids, win arguments, use social media to make cash or have a more fulfilling social life. There was a time when experts were people of learning; people who had studied and worked in their chosen area, often for decades. People with gravitas, wisdom and insight. Now it seems experts are ten thousand a penny.

So what makes someone an expert? Is it learning plus experience- or is that just competence?

If you call yourself an expert, what can people expect of you? Should it be you that confers expert status on yourself, or others? 

What standards can you say you have set yourself? Are you necessarily officially qualified in some way?

Is being good at something, passionate about it and keen to share what you know good enough? How do you assure people that your expertise goes beyond what's worked for you and will deliver for them too?

I was told the other day that someone was a 'Twitter expert.' I stifled a laugh and said "Yes, so am I. I know how to use it too." It seems the defining line between us was that they advise businesses on how to make money through tweets. I pondered for a minute whether that made me an expert on the car park behind our offices: I've advised people that they risk getting clamped if they park without a pass. Ta-da! I have saved them money. Does it make me an expert? It's doubtful.

A retired teacher friend of mine (and someone I consider an education expert, given his decades of experience and knowledge) says "Expert is a level beyond Competence - it's certainly into the extra knowledge/understanding/skill range. Is it beyond Unconscious Competence into Reflective? And capable of extending into more complex areas?"

He then wandered off to 'look at Vygotsky for a bit.' 

Ade of @OHCSolutions says "Social Media has radically changed the world of info. So, for me, Expertise is now more about deep insight, skills and relevance."

So, what is an expert in your eyes? I doubt that it's someone with umpteen degrees- but possibly limited experience in applying that knowledge. I doubt too that it's someone who's been 'doing it for years' but never tested their methods or sought official recognition or qualification of their talents. I am guessing its somewhere between the two- meaning we're back to the issue of Competence, and how much further one has to go to become Expert.

For me, it's as Richard and Ade say above: it's training, qualifications, experience and that added something that takes you beyond 'Qualified' and into 'Expert.' Ade defines it as insight, and I agree to a large extent. I think that communicating that insight is something that's largely down to how much passion you have for your chosen field, and how you present yourself.

So, budding experts- here's a few things to keep in mind.


if you're often asked "How did you...?", "How can I...?" or "Tell me how..." then you have knowledge that has worth to others. But- that in itself does not make you an expert. My kids often ask how to iron a shirt. It doesn't make me an expert on ironing; it just means I can solve that particular problem. Until next time.


Our life experiences have made us who we are today and determine our future goals too. Draw upon your story to connect with others. Share the fun stuff about success, happiness and wealth, but tell people the truth about how you achieved it. People want to hear about your successes, but bad experiences have enormous value too. Hearing about how you coped and emerged from tough times or what you learned from your mistakes or even complete disasters) can be more inspiring than stories of rainbows and unicorns. To someone facing dark days, hearing from someone who has been there can make all the difference. Share the knowledge you have about life as well as specific subjects that impact on our personal and business lives.


If you're going to be an expert, do it right. This means choosing one area and sticking to it. This is not a 'spray job' whereby you glean only the key info in several areas of knowledge so that you can skip between different areas depending on where the money is. ('Business gurus' turned 'social media experts' almost overnight, I am looking at you.)

It means hours of research, hours of testing theories. It means listening to all schools of thought in your field, not just the ones you agree with. It means not being afraid of starting again if you realise you're wrong.


Don't introduce yourself as an expert if you know there are flaws in your knowledge and your experience is limited. Be aware that what worked for you may not work for the person in front of you. Listen to their needs rather than impose what you think will work. Recognise differences, define common ground, and you'll both move forward with more trust in your position. (Oh, and claiming 'expert' status after a short time of doing something without encountering any problems? No. Just no.)


Tweet. Blog. Facebook. LinkedIn. Go to seminars, conferences, meetups, tweetups. Make friends with people in your field. Give some knowledge to people for free. Prove your stuff. Show the World what you know- but don't discredit yourself by getting carried away the first time you get something right. Listen. Compare stories and experiences. Don't resist changing the way you view something just because it's not what you thought.

Is there a business value to you knowledge and expertise? Are you ready to try it? Really, honestly? Are you ready to see them reap the rewards of your expertise? Are you ready to get it wrong on someone else's dime- and know what to do to put things right?

A lot to consider, I know, and I am still not sure I come close to getting it right. In short, I'd recommend you let others confer 'expert' status upon you. Claiming it- and being found out to be lacking- is embarrassing, can create serious difficulties and discredits the work you've done to learn and develop the skills you possess.

And if you want to be recognised as the best person to seek out- be passionate about it.


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Absence and sensibility

The latest CIPD absence report makes interesting reading, with the average absence days for employees down by almost a day from last year's average of 7.6 days.

There are concerns however that the findings may hide a rise in 'presenteeism', which sees sick or stressed employees report for work rather than be marked absent in these uncertain economic times.

Almost a third of employers surveyed responded that they'd seen a rise in the number of people going into work when sick. 

Time off due to stress has also increased; 40% of employers stated they'd experienced a rise in this in their workplaces over the past year.

Today is World Mental Health Day. As I type, I have just taken delivery of Mind's Job Retention Practitioner's Handbook, which aims to support employers' need to understand by bringing together four leading lights in the field of mental health and employment to offer guidance on the issue of maintaining mental wellbeing at work. It's a slim volume, so there's no excuse for not investing a tenner and some time in reading it. I'm looking forward to learning lots more about how mental health and work go hand in hand.

In these testing times, it's worth keeping one thought close: when we talk about struggling businesses, redundancies and unemployment statistics, we are taking about people. People like us, who fear losing their job more than they fear passing 'flu to their colleagues. People who lie awake at night worrying about their work and ability to cope to the point that it makes them physically ill.

It is possible that a drop of slightly less than a day's absence in the CIPD figures should be celebrated, but whilst there is doubt and potential for unhappiness and stress in workplaces that is impacting on real lives, we should remain aware, too.