Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Are you up to speed?

Red alert- this Autumn, it will become possible to impose fines on employers who breach employment law. Are you up to date?

As an employer, are you aware of the imminent changes to employment regulations, and what you need to do to ensure you're compliant?

Changes are coming into force this year that will impact on the employment relationship, affecting areas right through from hiring to termination of employment. We've outlined the big changes below but more information can be obtained from us via niki@treacletiger.co.uk

February saw an increase in the limits on employment tribunal awards with the maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal up from £72,300 to £74,200.
A ‘week’s pay’ will rise from£430 to £450 and the maximum statutory redundancy pay will rise from £12,900 to £13,500.

In March, unpaid parental leave will rise from 13 to 18 weeks.
The Government also plans to remove third party harassment provisions and discrimination questionnaires from the statute book.

April will see the rates of statutory maternity pay (SMP), statutory paternity pay (SPP) and statutory adoption pay (SAP) increase from £135.45 to £136.76 weekly. Statutory sick pay (SSP) will rise from £85.85 to £ 86.70.
All employers will be required to start reporting PAYE information in real time.
The Government is set to reduce the minimum collective redundancy consultation period from 90 to 45 days.
Employers will be able to offer employment on a “employee shareholder” basis. This means employees will be given shares in the company valued between £2,000 and £50,000 but will lose certain employment rights including the right to claim unfair dismissal.
Whistleblowing legislation will be tightened to ensure that protection is only given to employees who make a disclosure that is in the public interest- not those who act in a deliberately provocative or vexatious manner.

Once the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill becomes law after May, it will give the government the power to limit unfair dismissal compensation to one year’s earnings, or three times a person's average earnings as well as bringing in a mandatory period of Acas conciliation before a claim can be made.The legislation will also give tribunals the scope to impose a financial penalty on employers (up to 50% of the award, up to a maximum of £5,000).

The below changes are on the slate for 'Summer'- we will of course keep our clients updated on more news as it filters through.

Compromise agreements will become known as 'settlement agreements' and will be subject to a new Statutory Code of Practice.

Fees will be charged to bring an Employment Tribunal claim. The more straightforward claims will cost £160 to submit to a tribunal and this increases to £230 if claims proceed to a hearing.
More complex cases will cost £250 to submit, and £950 for the hearing.
Cases heard through judicial mediation will cost £600.

October is traditionally a big month for employment law changes and this year is no different. 2013 will see increases to the National Minimum Wage. The exact sums are not confirmed at the time of writing.

We can also expect to see changes to employment tribunal procedure, including the creation of a rapid resolution scheme to handle simple tribunal claims or those where smaller sums of money are involved.

As of October there will also be a mandatory requirement for parties in dispute to participate in pre-claim conciliation with Acas support.
There are also plans on the table regarding equal pay audits, including guidance on how you can implement them in your team.
We will also see changes to working time legislation that are designed to clarify the relationship between and management of annual leave and sickness absence.

The employment relationship is too precious and too important to get it wrong- by speaking to us and letting us take away the stress, you can mitigate risk and be confident that both your business and your people are covered. You'd get the right equipment in place to tackle and prevent emergencies- so why not with your employees?

Don't wait til there's a fire...

Friday, 22 February 2013

The glass

The meeting room was filled with executives, hoping to gain some insight into how they managed their stress levels.
One lady stood at the front of the room, and prepared to speak.
"Good morning," she began, pouring half a glass of water from the jug on the table in front of her. "I'd like to begin with a question."
She walked around the room with the glass of water raised in front of her. Everyone expected her to ask, "Is it half empty or half full?
Instead she asked, "How heavy is this glass of water?"
The answers she got ranged from 8 oz. to 25 oz.

She replied: "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm.

If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance. In each case it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes." 
"And that's the way it is with stress. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on."

"As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden - holding stress longer and better each time we practice.

So, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don't carry them through the evening and into the night. Rest. Pick them up again tomorrow."
Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Knowing when

A few of you may know that we take a lively interest in politics, and in particular the issue of healthcare. Our local hospital is facing a huge threat to key services including its A&E and maternity departments under a scheme called 'Better Services, Better Value' (which we'll refer to as BSBV hereafter.)

The scheme is designed to deliver what it says on the tin- but in these times of austerity it's become the nemesis of many a South London hospital as it weilds its hatchet over Lewisham, Croydon, Merton, Sutton and Kingston.

The BSBV review is increasingly being recognised as a costly and ineffective tool where balancing essential efficiency measures with the standard of healthcare provision so desperately needed by our community is concerned. Last summer, we were advised a decision on our hospital would be taken 'in the Autumn.' That became October, then November. All the while the costs were mounting and the reputations of those involved were heading speedily towards the bin.

Yesterday, we thought we'd get a decision today. We steeled ourselves. What we got were more excuses, more bluster and another postponement- this time indefinite. Those in charge look foolish and pigheaded to continue with this flawed process. The community is in uproar. The costs stand in the millions of pounds and rising.

And still, nobody knows what's happening. 

How has this come about? Because someone has a vision, and no matter how flawed they refuse to recognise it. They refuse to say "when" and either scrap the process or halt it for a full, frank review.

My question to those in business is this: what pet project is costing you in terms of time, cash and reputation? And are you brave enough to know when to trash it?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Three books, one promise


I am not employed by Doug Shaw, paid by him or bribed in any way with cash, fast cars or cake. 

I just think he’s a guy who talks a lot of sense on the impact the employer/employee relationship, customer service, and social media have on the success of a business. 

(Though Doug, if you’re reading this, a custom metallic red paint job would really go with my eyes.)

Today he’s reviewed a book entitled ‘You’re Not That Great.’ Well, yes, I was intrigued too. It turns out that the author Daniel Crosby has plenty to say on learning, development, effort, and being crazy. One thing Doug’s pulled out as a call to action is Daniel’s challenge:

Choose three books that you’ve always wanted to read (or that would deepen your understanding of some desired content area) and purchase them today. Right now.  Seriously…  go ahead. Now choose a date three months from now by which you will have read all the books. Determine a reward for reading them in time as well as a punishment for not having read them and make it known to someone you trust who will hold you to your goal.

Doug’s chosen his own books, and I’ve just selected mine.

Mediating Dangerously:  because anything that challenges the way I do something might just improve how I do it, right? I hope to refresh a few skills and perhaps approach conflicts in organisations in a different way. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. It’s worth a shot. Plus it’s been sitting on my bookcase for a while, taunting me.

The Advantage:  I recently read Lencioni’s Silos, Politics and Turf Wars and greatly enjoyed its message and structure. The ‘silos’ message really resonated with me with regards to one company I encountered recently and  I’m intrigued by what he’s got to say on organisational health.

When I Die: Again, I read An Unfinished Life last year and was overwhelmed by Gould’s sense of purpose, dedication and vision, and how that informed his working and personal relationships. It was a close call between this and Bevan’s In Place of Fear, but Gould edged it- he may be one of the more modern political figures but he is no less fascinating.

My reward for reading all three by 21st May? I’ll finally get my rear into gear and arrange to go and see my dear friend Lee in Liverpool.   

My punishment? I’ll up the gym sessions to four a week.

You’re my witness.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Poor show, UK

The UK is amongst the worst nations for employee wellbeing, according to the Workforce Quality of Life Index.

Today's news, courtesy of HR Magazine should set alarm bells ringing across businesses large and small. 

For me, the issue here is that the UK has lagged behind many other nations in making the link between wellbeing and productivity. Whereas Scandinavian countries (for example) have led on this, it has taken a deep double-dip recession and misery galore before the lightbulb moment has occurred here. Suddenly, people are starting to connect the dots between work and health and to believe that how you treat employees and whether you keep them safe at work may impact on their health and performance. Well, who'd have imagined?

We will get there, but we need sustained effort, an investment of time as well as money, and to open the minds of business leaders to the power and value of physically and psychologically healthy employees. 

Sadly, with the chipping away of employment rights and the demonisation of health & safety, I fear we could undo what little progress we have made in this area.

Welcome to the revolution... what kept you?

Over on his excellent blog today, Doug Shaw has something to say about our habit of taking work on holiday with us, and how we neglect those we're with as a result. When I met up with him last week and we talked about this and the effect on wellbeing, I found myself thinking of one of the key rules of some customer service training I did many years ago as a call centre worker for RBS.

That rule was 'Be There.'

http://www.charthouse.com/assets/library/bt_7215.jpgIn the RBS environment, that meant active listening on calls, giving the caller your full attention. It also meant doing the same with your colleagues, affording people respect by giving them your time and focus. It meant being with them, not wondering what you'd be having for lunch or silently cursing that you'd forgotten to let the cat out this morning.

There were others, and despite this training being some 13 years ago (and having read many 'How to...' business books with varying degrees of interest, disbelief and  since) the rules have stayed with me. They form the basis of pretty much everything I do and I try to work with them in mind pretty much whenever people are involved. So- every day, then.

The tenets we were taught there make up the Fish Philosophy, four interwoven practices designed to improve working relationships and make workplaces happier, more communicative places to be- and have a big impact on productivity, engagement and business culture, too. 

Be There is about being not just physically there, but also emotionally present. Giving your attention and focus makes for better communication and stronger relationships.

Play taps into your natural way of being creative, enthusiastic and having fun. Play is the spirit that drives the curious mind.

Make Their Day is finding simple ways to serve or delight people in a meaningful, memorable way. It’s about contributing to someone else’s life, not because you want something out of it, but because that’s the person you want to be.

Choose Your Attitude means taking responsibility for how you respond to what life throws at you. Once you are aware that your choice impacts everyone around you, you can ask yourself, “Is my attitude helping my team or my customers? Is it helping me to be the person I want to be?”

Trust me- this philosophy is simple but effective. Give it a try.

I learned this stuff 13 years ago and it spurred me into developing skills around company culture, happier workplaces and business relationships; this morning I heard Anthony Jenkins, the new Chief Executive of Barclays finally catching up as he spoke about changing the culture at the beleaguered bank after the LIBOR and misselling scandals that have plagued it in recent times. 

He spoke about his wish to change the culture at the bank, and told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme "It's going to take years to change people's perception of us. I'm not daunted by that". He went on, "I've been very clear that we have to run this business in a way that delivers for customers and clients. There can be no trade-off betwenn delivering business success or working ethically. If you don't want to work in this new way, you can leave Barclays. In fact, we will make sure you leave Barclays."

It seems that big change is afoot for this most corporate and chilly of companies, and that RBS, for all their own flaws, stole a march on Barclays all those years ago. I wish them well and hope they begin with the four rules above. They're a fine start to begin real change.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Sick of working: advice for employers

Handling dismissal due to illness

Occasionally an employee may have to leave  employment because of long-term ill health. Sometimes the employee will simply choose to resign. However, if they do not and a return to full duties looks impossible, you might eventually have to consider dismissing them.

You must consider every reasonable measure you could take to help them get back to work; dismissal is a last resort and could be ruled unfair if not handled properly. It's vital that you determine whether or not they are disabled under the Equality Act 2010.

You can seek to obtain a medical report from their GP (you'll need their permission), or an occupational health assessment. Remember to ask questions that are relevant to their job- how else can you hope to get the information you need to make an informed decision? Employees have the right to see a GP's report before you, and may choose not to disclose some information. This is their right.

If it's just impossible for them to remain in employment because there are no reasonable adjustments that can be made, it may be fair for you to dismiss them, even if they are disabled.

During any dismissal procedure, you should treat all employees with sensitivity. Be human about it- it's going to change their life after all. You should also act fairly and reasonably. A dismissal procedure should follow the Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

If you are seen to have unreasonably failed to follow the code, and the issue ends up at an employment tribunal, the employee's compensation could increase by up to 25%.

If the employee involved is disabled, you may also have to make further reasonable adjustments to allow for their needs.

Get good advice, don't write people off- and you'll protect yourself and your business.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Start the conversation

I spent a long tube journey between King's Cross and Morden last night without music, a book or flicking through my phone. Instead I sat reflecting and thinking about the remarkable event I had just attended, the speakers who'd been so honest and energised the people who I'd shared it with. That time felt precious.

This was the #HR4MH evening, organised in just three weeks and which attracted dozens of HR people, employment law specialists and business development experts. There's not enough kudos in the World to share out between the fabulous team who worked to make this happen, and the speakers who shared their personal stories, expertise and insight so freely with us.

It was refreshing to speak with people without the stigma which the wonderful @BipolarBlogger described as "a boulder", which if we all push against, will eventually move out of our way and clear the path we must travel. That stigma affects our quality of commuication and understanding of an issue that affects 25% of us, strips talent from businesses and costs them serious money, and makes people miserable and isolated - so why do we allow it to hang around?

There were many great ideas flying about the room around how we approach the tricky subject of mental health at work, how we manage individuals with issues, and how to handle it sensitively and with care when recruiting. I could list them here but they boil down to one act that must be the first step for any business with a desire to be a psychologically healthy workplace.

Talk about it. 

Talk about it in meetings. 

Talk about it at appraisals.

Make it NORMAL. Let's get that stigma boulder moving. It's in the way and is seriously getting on my nerves now.

Share experiences and stories just as you would about any other health condition. You'd share details of your broken leg/ diabetes/ migraines so an employer or colleague could look out for you - so why should mental health be any different?

Ask people how they are and mean it- listen to their response and don't be afraid. They aren't expecting you to have all the answers, but they'd like some understanding and respect.

Of course there will be some element of fear- but there always is for those who wish  to effect and drive change and see astonishing things happen. 

Open and honest communication never served any purpose other than creating clarity and better understanding. In the case of mental health at work, it's long overdue.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Order and disorder

The BBC News website asks today if the public really does dislike it when our MPs get raucous and rowdy in the Commons or if we in fact relish a good dust-up between the parties, whether it be over personaity or policy.

There's no argument that the passion and energy we witness from Messrs Cameron and Miliband and their ilk as they do battle can be inspiring at times, but there is a clear line which is crossed from time to time when more personal insults or patronising comments get bandied about. Dennis Skinner's down-to-earth ripostes to attacks on his age and politics are the stuff of legend, making this long-serving MP an unlikely hero for some. 

The media respond to such moments celebrating and reporting them in elaborate fashion- and this often paints a portrait of MPs as shouting, jeering, downright unpleasant little monkeys whose behaviour is an embarrassment. Rarely do we read a story of a particularly heated or charged exchange and think "Good for them. I wouldn't have stood for that either."

But do we love or loathe our MPs when they get their collective underwear in a twist? From the BBC report, it's clear that the jury's out.

In the light of the above, what I'd like to ask today is this: how do you conduct yourself in a difficult meeting? If disagreement takes hold, do you handle it in a manner that wouldn't embarrass you or the business if an outsider was watching?

Wen it comes to debate, are you a volatile Cameron, a keep 'em on track Bercow or a straight-talking Skinner?

Monday, 4 February 2013

Better together?

There are three excellent points over on the People Management website today about how to foster teamworking and increase engagement. I've reproduced them below with a few thoughts in red italics, and added one glaring omission I hope will get you thinking and chatting.
--- --- ---

How to build team morale – without the cringe factor

There’s no i in team – that’s basic spelling. But if you want to encourage people to get along, tread carefully.

Or not. Assess the personalities involved and the situation they've found themslves in. Will straight talking serve them better than talking around the subject or pussy-footing? How bad are things? Do you have time to adopt a 'softly softly' approach, or is it time for action? Be ready to shoot from the hip and take a firmer line if needed - it may be what they've all been praying and hoping for.

Choose life 
Allow employees time off to pursue passion projects, such as charity or sport. And try not to disrupt personal schedules. “The millennial generation – both men and women – don’t want to live their entire life to work,” says Elisabeth Kelan, senior lecturer in work and organisations at King’s College London.

Hang on. I'm a confirmed, dyed-in-the-wool Generation X-er, and I need all of that too. Don't be fooled into attaching labels to people, assuming all 16-24 year olds want one thing and 30-40 year olds another. If it rewards you and enriches you, age is irrelevant. Putting people into neat little boxes may make things tidier for you, but it can restrict them horribly. 

Encourage collaboration 

If people are actively pushed to contribute ideas beyond their job description, it makes them feel warmer about organisational goals. Ensure staff are aware of major initiatives, and invite feedback from everyone. Celebrate successes as a team, but don’t limit it to performance-related events – birthdays, engagements or babies are ready-made opportunities to get people together.  

Goodness me, yes. You're dealing with human beings after all. They celebrate and find motivation, energy and happiness in all manner of stuff, but rarely is it being hauled in to applaud the 'Employee of the Month.' What to do if they don't offer feedback? Are you creating a space where they feel comfortable in doing so? Some people are't happy putting their idea on a company intranet for the world to see/ analyse/ pick apart. Make sure all possible channels are open for them to contribute- this includes face-to-face conversations, perhaps a physical 'suggestion box', and definitely employee groups and social media. 
Don’t force it 

New age motivational exercises, personified by “blue sky thinker” Stewart Pearson in TV's The Thick of It, may unite staff – but only in disdain. Out-of-office socialising can also be divisive. “Employees find it a burden,” says Jane Applegate, author of 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business.

You're darn tootin'. Putting people drastically out of their comfort zone can sometimes be counterproductive if they don't see the point or grasp the relevance of the exercise. Sometimes, they just feel insulted if they believe they're being fed "a load of old tosh" as my five year old nephew recently described a TV show he's not fond of (and I wish more employees felt they could express a similar sentiment when they're being subjected to it.)  Let them disagree and find their own place within the team. Don't force it or expect everyone to get along all the time. A degree of conflict can be healthy- it encourages fresh thinking, challenges the status quo and enables problem-solving- far preferable to the fixed grins and nodding heads that get us nowhere fast. 

Consider if they want to succeed together, or exist closeted in their own role. Do they want their colleagues to win, or are they interested only in their own victory? Are they genuine?
Personally, I'd love to see less of the cheesy grins in the stock photo above, and more of the joy, shared achievement and relaxed and entirely comfortable mutual respect we see below. They seem to be having a little more fun, if you ask me.

So what's missing above? The standout omission for me is TRUST. Without it, any team will falter, no matter how many initiatives, rewards or coaching sessions you throw at them.
So if you're tackling a team problem, consider this:  

Do they Trust each other? Do they Trust you, and you them?


Doesn't that seem a good place to start? 

The King in the car park

Today there can be only one topic of conversation: dedication.

A team from the University of Leicester have announced that the bones found buried in ignominious fashion beneath a city centre car park are those of Richard III, the last English King to die on the battlefield. 

Richard III's skullThe team have confirmed that the skeletal remains are those of Richard, the last Plantagenet King, killed in 1485 (and how impressed with myself am I that I recalled that date from memory?) and whose death paved the way for the Tudor dynasty that was to rule England until 1603 (and that's two points on the date recall for me.)

With the skill, spite and speed of the most ruthless modern spin doctor, the Tudors set about destroying Richard's reputation, portraying him through the art and documents of the time as a bitter hunchbacked figure, murderer and usurper of the throne. This image abides, with anyone asked to mimic him instantly adopting a hunched posture and crying "A horse, a horse...", and referring to the grisly death of his nephews, the young 'Princes in the Tower'- allegedly on Richard's orders. You might say Tudor propaganda was so absurd... but I digress.

It appears that there was some truth in the rumours of a deformity, but scoliosis (curvature of the spine) rather than the hump and withered arm we believed was true. Was he the murderer of his nephews? Who knows- the grave isn't giving up every secret.

What we should pause to recognise is the remarkable dedication and skill of the team at the University of Leicester, who pursued the belief that they could find the King's grave so doggedly and made such a convicing case to be permitted to excavate the car park. They fought for years to be allowed to search, making a solid case to the Leicestershire authorities that even they saw the value in conducting excavations and began to get excited that the truth may be unearthed. Their research was so thorough, their talent so unstoppable that they found Richard in the first days of the dig. 

Apart from being an enthralling tale, and a reminder of the power of the image and reputation we leave behind, it illustrates perfectly the power of great research, belief and talent combined. The team's ability to work with the authorities, galvanising interested parties into working together to uncover the truth and solve a centuries-old mystery is to be lauded and celebrated. Their dedication to closing this coldest of cases is nothing short of remarkable.

It should be every leader's ambition to harness what the team from Leicester have achieved and put it to work for them. Seek out what captures people's imaginations, recognise natural talent, reward co-operative working... and value sheer dogged commitment and hard work.

You may not unearth a King, but you'll be rewarded in a hundred other ways.

Friday, 1 February 2013


Yesterday I was delighted to support our client Lynas Architecture as they launched Renovate

Renovate is a new product inspired by Michael Lynas' experiences of self-renovating a home he bought that was in dire need of both structural and cosmetic makeover. From stripping floorboards to installing new windows in keeping with the Victorian grandeur of the house, Michael and his partner Maedi have either completed or overseen the works themselves, making their home a true labour of love. You can catch up on their progress here.

Lynas' speciality are large, transformative projects that see existing buildings developed for new use. They have grown and thrived, but realised like many involved with the construction industry in recent years) that they should develop new ways of working if they are to maximise the talent in their team, sustain growth and remain ahead of the market.

What struck me yesterday as Michael spoke about his obvious passion for restoring and transforming living spaces was how he referred back to the key concepts of Renovate as being 'care' and 'advice'. 

'Advice' can be described as being one service he offers to those wishing to renovate a home themselves. This involves helping them get planning permission sorted and meet building regulations, offering a vision and expertise- but leaving the creation of the space to them. His idea of 'Care' on the other hand involves working in partnership with trusted builders and tradesmen to offer a complete solution for those either too busy to get stuck in, or who are wary of picking up the tools themselves. The word that kept coming to mind was 'Agility.'

I often urge business leaders to demonstrate agility, explaining it as the ability to adapt and evolve according to resources, influence, conditions and to behave with an awareness of the needs of the business and the people. Michael's vision is the creation of a smaller, but more consistent revenue stream that doesn't detract from or affect his larger projects (including the stunning building where his own team are based) or affect the service he gives to current clients. Agility is the capability to diversify, to research and try something new, shift your thinking, act fast and be fearless. It's frustrating when I don't see it, and fantastic when I do.

Yesterday I saw it by the bucketload, and I am still smiling. I wish Michael and the amazing team at Lynas every success with Renovate.