INSIGHTS

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Do Homeworkers Lead Pointless Lives?

An article published by the Financial Times last month suggested that those who work from home miss out on the important feeling that their lives and work have purpose. Unsurprisingly, the piece has caused a stir amongst the self-employed and business owners alike, but I wonder if there is a tiny section of those who do this on a regular basis who recognise some of the feelings she highlights?

Lucy Kellaway, the journalist who penned this recent article, suggested that there were five important reasons to favour the more traditional office environment: our need to be convinced that we have purpose, to feel human, to learn, to have a workspace that is distinct from the home. And, she also added that we need to be able to facilitate the flow of gossip. Of course, the last point is presumably tongue-in-cheek, though the article and its message have once again put the subject back on the agenda.

Yahoo boss Marissa Mayer also came into the spotlight a few years ago when she stated that homeworking would be off the agenda in order to encourage collaboration and innovation. And while plenty of virtual teams work from all over the place, it is recognised that even technology cannot build the same kind of connections you get from seeing people in person. On a regular basis.

However Flexible Working Has It’s Benefits

Large businesses including Amazon, IBM, Dell, and American Express are known for offering telecommuting opportunities, and it’s an option that’s often favoured by employees looking for an effective solution for balancing work responsibilities with life outside of the office.

There are many positive takeaways from offering your employees more flexible working conditions: being able to attract top talent, retaining the right people, and offering a total reward package that motivates and drives the business forward, particularly important if you have less cash to spend than some of the larger players.

5 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Flexible Working

Teamwork is vital in just about every single business out there, so you’ll certainly have your work cut out for you if you want to make working from home a viable option for your employees. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. It just means that you’re going to have to be creative, and have a clear but flexible approach that’s regularly reviewed.

Find my top tips on how to do this below:

  1. Use clear guidelines and objectives: If not a company-wide policy, make sure all managers are well versed in what rules are okay and what are not.
  2. Take the first step and trial it: Do it for a set period of time, get feedback, evaluate and make changes as required.
  3. Support your people: Make sure managers know what they can and can’t allow/ promote and make sure all are comfortable in having conversations about this with their teams.
  4. Trust is key: We build trust by delivering on what we say we will do and by sharing. So share your expectations clearly, including about how often you will be in contact and what results you expect to see. Engaged employees will instinctively use their time efficiently so let them get on with the job. But communicate properly with them and use technology effectively to keep in touch and encourage team spirit rather than just to scare about monitoring ability.
  5. Measure productivity: Silence the critics by measuring output – don’t just focus on feedback about staff well-being.

Offices are usually dead between Christmas and New Year. For those who have used up all their holiday earlier in the year, it’s often a really useful time to get stuff done. Consider maxmising this opportunity by letting them work from home if they want to and give them the added benefit of spending their usual commute time with family and friends. It might be just the tonic they need to start the New Year with a spring in their step.
HR issues such as flexible working are raised and discussed every day at theHRHub forum. Sign Up today and join in the debate.

Photo Source: Home Office/Breakfast Nook by Bill

Dealing With Stress And Depression At Work

In an article for the Sunday Times, David Baddiel once wrote “It’s not soft to say you’re depressed. It’s hard as hell.”. Whilst mental health issues can be among some of the most disruptive, they can also be the hardest to talk about, particularly in the workplace. Partly because of the view that personal issues should be left outside the door when you go to work, and partly down to us Brits having a ‘stiff upper lip,’ issues like stress, depression and anxiety are seldom talked about or dealt with at work, unless someone blows up or has a breakdown. Often these issues will go unnoticed and many won’t notice them as easily as they would more visible problems.

According to the Mental Health Foundation around ‘12 million adults in the UK see their GP with mental health problems each year. Most of these suffer from anxiety and depression and much of this is stress-related’. This is no small number when you consider there are roughly 42 million adults of working age in the UK (ONS, 2015). Add to that the fact that the leading cause of death for men aged 20-34 is suicide, it’s a pretty stark picture. And definitely something worth talking about.

In a work context, 13.3 million working days are lost every year due to stress, depression and anxiety in the UK alone. You’ve probably experienced the impacts of these conditions in your workplaces before, and you may have even had to deal with members of your team who have been through them. This article aims to give you a few pointers and tips on how best to deal with mental health issues at work.

  1. Try to notice patterns if someone in your team is acting unusually: Stress situations release the chemicals in our body that govern our ‘fight or flight’ reactions. Over time these chemicals can wear the body out and cause issues such as headaches, nausea and indigestion. These stress situations can also cause people to change emotionally, causing them to become withdrawn and distant, or sometimes tense and angry, and pretty much anywhere in between. At work it’s often easy to see these behaviours as a lapse in performance and something that should be clamped down on or, more often, left alone unless they go completely off the rails. Whilst it can be a temporary dip in performance and no more, it’s worth paying attention to these changes as they can be pointers to the fact that someone is going through a tough time and may need some support.
  1. Don’t tell them to cheer up: Unlike sadness which is a temporary feeling, often linked to an event or bad situation, depression can often be a general feeling that the person cannot shake, and often cannot tie to a particular event or issue that they can fix. Many people would love to put a smile on and feel better. But unfortunately it doesn’t work that way in practice, so if someone confides in you they they are stressed or depressed, try and avoid making light of it or making it seem trivialAnother trap to avoid is to assume that two people will suffer in the same way. If you have a friend who had depression and got over it by taking up a hobby, and you meet someone else with depression, the instinct will be to launch into the story to try and help that person out. In reality the best thing you can do is listen to them and take the time to understand how you can help them.
  1. Consider getting external help: Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are a great way to offer support to your staff. They will often come in the form of a telephone helpline and/or website with the option of telephone and face-to-face counselling. There are companies that provide these services and they often aren’t too expensive. And as a bonus, some schemes will offer you additional services such as employment law or tax advice. If someone is seriously affected and taking time off work you can also look at setting up occupational health referrals, whereby you will pay a health professional to meet with the employee and make an assessment about how best to deal with the employee. Health insurers like BUPA and other employee wellbeing companies can help set these up for a fee. Importantly with both of these suggestions, if you end up further down the road with a dismissal or resignation related to mental health issues, getting and expert medical opinion and offering staff an EAP will also show to a tribunal that you have supported your team and that you have gone a fair way to meet your ‘duty of care’ as an employer.
  1. Don’t be afraid to deal with it: This point comes back to the opening paragraphs of this article. Mental health issues are generally shied away from at work because of a lack of understanding and a bit of fear of doing the wrong thing. If someone is showing signs of stress or depression, listen to them and try to understand what they are going through. If they’re having trouble dealing with it by themselves, offer support if you can. But if they go off sick or start misbehaving at work, deal with it as you would with any other employee. Leaving someone without any contact for months for fear of saying the wrong thing could do more harm than getting on the phone and checking that they’re speaking to people and dealing with it. Equally, letting them get away with rudeness to colleagues or being distant and withdrawn can send the wrong signal that that behaviour is accepted. Obviously try and be your most tactful, but dealing with the issues is always better than leaving them to drag on for months.

The build up to the half year and the added pressure it brings can make this time of year particularly difficult for those with mental health issues. So keep a watchful eye over your team over the next few weeks and make sure no one’s suffering in silence.

For expert advice on any HR issue sign up to theHRhub today.

 

Photo Credit: alone by Georgie Pauwels

HR Horrors: How & When To Change the Lineup Of Your Start-Up Team

When you first start up your business, the chances are you will surround yourself with a team you trust and who you think can deliver what you need. Often they are university friends, colleagues from early on in your a career, even members of your own family. Sometimes there’s one person who takes the lead and brings others in as key employees, or it might be that equity is split between a core team. This feeling of ‘startup-ness’ is often a big draw for people as it is a real chance to ‘be part of something’. And the long hours spent with each other as you all pitch in to launch and run your business, leads to even greater friendships being cemented.

Roll forward  2, 3 and beyond-years:  The business is growing and the all-round skills which were so valuable in the early days may seem less-required now as your business changes in shape and size. Whilst you still very much respect the people or person in question, some just don’t seem to have grown at the same rate as the business and you’re drifting apart. Sometimes the catalyst is external investors and this additional pressure exposing any areas where there are gaps. Other times there are much smaller, less obvious signs. Niggling away. Just enough to need you to pause for thought …

5 Signs You Need to Pay Attention to

  1. Responsibilities & accountabilities are unclear: Their part of the org chart looks more like a plate of spaghetti than resembling a way which accountabilities can be delegated.
  2. Their role doesn’t really make sense anymore: You hear yourself explaining their responsibilities to someone outside the business and realise you’d never design their job that way if you could start again…
  3. You get resistance from them on most things: Constructive challenge is good. Particularly if it is from people you trust. However when challenge turns to resistance including – crucially – other new hires, it’s bad news. On first glance they seem fine about these, but then you realise they are actively not helping these people get hired and/ or get on.
  4. The fire has gone: They’re actively disengaged from any future plans. They don’t come up with the ideas when previously they used to share two-a-penny.They make excuses not to be at meetings and show disinterest in their colleagues and things they used to be a part of.
  5. The business is taking a hit: last but not least, when all these issues are causing an impact on their teams and performance is suffering. This is the point at which many take action. 

Objectivity Will Help You Decide What Is Best For The Business

  1. Talk to them and find out how they are feeling: Absolutely do not do anything before doing this stage. You never know – it may be something totally unrelated to their work. Find out what are the bits of the role they are still enjoying and what are their thoughts on how things are structured in general? You might find they are feeling starved of interest and involvement and that this kind of conversation is exactly what you need to re-ignite the business passion.
  2. Be clear on what the business needs are: Then consider whether they align or not. Don’t just put someone in a box on an org chart because ‘they’ve always been there’. And don’t leave them floating in any ‘Director of Special Projects’ type role. It doesn’t fool anyone.
  3. Could they do something else? Think about what other roles they could do in the business. Or, as is often the case if there are no other roles to be found, maybe you can help with their own off-shoot.
  4. It might not be as bad as you think: If you choose to take the decision – as many have done – to part ways and release them from the business, take heart that many will have been in the same boat and that it is possible to keep some form of relationship beyond the employment one ending. It just may take a bit of time.
  5. Treat them fairly: Do cover off your legals and be clear over what your risks are (financial, legal and the impact in the organisation of any changes) and think about what you can do to mitigate them. With individuals, one of the best ways to mitigate risks tends to be treat people with respect, and sometimes that doesn’t always mean following a formal ‘process’. Cash helps this stage too.
  6. Be normal with them: And by that I mean don’t start adopting the tone and written language of a lawyer as soon as you start to discuss with them the possibility that there may not be a job for them anymore. Put yourself in their shoes and see how you’d like to be treated.

Organisational restructures are one of the many areas where theHRhub can help. Don’t be shy. Sign up today or get in touch here for more information.

Photo Credit: the scream by Mark Tighe

Friend or Boss? The Importance of Boundaries When You’re The One in Charge

People often say that you should never mix business with pleasure or work with family and friends. But within SME’s it can be difficult to avoid.

One of the challenges companies face as they grow from a micro business to an SME, is that inevitably colleagues who were in the past peers (and indeed friends, partners, family) become managers of one another. This can often lead to feelings of sour grapes and at worst, complete rebellion within the ranks.

Colleagues who were once ‘Friday night pub buddies’ suddenly move to being manager and employee. This changes the dynamic of the relationship.  In the past, there may have been conversations which just don’t seem appropriate when a friend becomes your boss, like bragging about how much you drank on Sunday night and then complaining about your Monday morning hangover…

Of course relationships will always develop at work and this is the nature of the beast (I’m not one to criticise – I met my own husband at work!). But the reality is that as a company progresses from micro business to SME you need to have boundaries between managers and employees.

Traditionally Managers Always Kept Their Distance

Conventional management would tell you it’s absolutely not OK for the boss to be friends with their team. In fact, some companies might even try to outlaw it by having guidelines in place that specifically mean that colleagues who are either in a relationship or are related cannot work together.

Lines are More  Blurred Now And Even The Most Experienced Managers Can Find Themselves In The Friend Zone

Believe me, this isn’t just something new managers struggle with (and most of them do). Experienced managers also suffer with the same issues although most would be likely to tell you that it isn’t a problem (essentially because they have already blurred the boundaries and so don’t see it as an issue!). Managers are not robots – they have feelings and emotions. Sometimes you can’t help but like one employee more than another. Sometimes workplace romances blossom between managers and employees (that’s a whole other issue). So how can they be expected to just turn those emotions off when they enter company property?

By All Means Be Friendly – But Remember You Are Not Friends

According to the English Dictionary a friend is “A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection”. Hmmm, I’ve been a manager for a while now, and that would be how I would describe most of my employees. In fact, I would, in some circumstances, use stronger words to describe my relationship with employees – words like close, supportive, caring, trusting, fun, and respectful. I really enjoy spending time with my employees both individually and in a group. We laugh, sometimes cry and often have differences of opinion – just like friends, right?

No matter how close you may feel to an employee, it should never be confused with a real “friendship”. You might consider yourself to be a “friendly” boss, however, the role of a manager transcends friendship and creates a boundary and potential scenarios that would never exist between true friends.

The ‘Buddy Boss’ – Bad Idea Top Five

There are numerous reasons not to consider employees as friends but here are my top 5:

Your Responsibilities As A Line Manager: As a manager, part of your job is to assess your employees, to give constructive feedback, and sometimes to discipline them, even fire them. Does this sound like something you would want to do to a friend?

You And Your Company Could Get Sued: Seriously. Although this threat never seems to scare managers, yes, it’s true. You are exposing yourself and your company to the risk of discrimination lawsuits. Don’t think it never happens…..it does. That’s why HR people are so crazy about the issue – we are trying to protect you!

You Don’t Want To Look Like You’re In Someone Else’s Pocket: Your friend employee may have expectations of you that are unrealistic or unprofessional, such as sharing confidential information. Not ideal. Even worse if the rest of the team suspect it – whether it’s true or not.

They’re Going To B*tch About You: ALL of us complain about our bosses now and then, even the best managers. You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re immune from this. However, if you see your employees as friends, you’re more likely to take it personally.

Your Own Boss/The Board Might Not Be Too Keen: Friends let their hair down outside of work and sometimes do silly things with each other. Managers are supposed to set examples and be role models. So, as a “manager-friend”, you’re either going to be a boring uptight, friend, or an unprofessional, immature manager. Oh and remember if it’s that latter your own manager is unlikely to appreciate those pictures of you and your ‘friends’ that are all over Facebook on Monday morning!

Recently Promoted to be Your Mate’s Boss? Putting Yourself In Their Shoes Is A Good Place To Start

Think about how you’d like to be treated if your work friend had been promoted to be your boss – and let that shape your management style. Don’t cut yourself off from friendships altogether. If you do that you’ll get a reputation for having ideas above your station. There’s no reason not to still enjoy some office bonding time but you should be aware of transitioning back into that old buddy type role. And remember that in some cases people will be experiencing a touch of fear. After all, you know all about the time they called in sick to stay home and watch the entire box set of Orange Is The New Black and, they know you know.

Lead By Example and Always Be Consistent

I’m afraid this is an unavoidable fact: Getting slaughtered with the gang on shots really is something best consigned to the history books for you now. Can you socialize with your employees? Or go out for a drink? Sure. But just make it a habit to stick to one drink and be the first to leave (to give them time to moan about you). At the very least don’t be the last one to leave whilst shouting at people to stay for just one more drink!

What’s most important is that you are consistent. It’s simply confusing for people if you’re larking around one day and coming down like a ton of bricks the next. Being consistent will earn you the entire team’s respect, even if it is hard initially for some employees to see you in an authoritative role.

To join in the discussion, sign up to theHRhub and head to our Hub Forum.

Photo Credit: Office_Party_091 by Carlton Theatre Group

Happy? Grumpy? Sleepy? What Conflict Style Are You? And Is It Holding You Back…?

According to an article by The Guardian last week, doctors are so expensive to train and hire, they are ripe for replacement by machines. The benefits for not employing humans abound. No gripes about long hours, career blocks, trouble with consultants, conflict and local dramas  – and as for patient care… Business leadership books are littered with strategies to deal with battles and conflicts fought. Understanding your approach to conflict and how it helps, or not (!) can help you reduce the negative impact significantly. Mike Myatt has sound advice for business leaders “Don’t fear conflict; embrace it – it’s your job.” 

Successful leaders, who cultivate high performance from every team member, consistently do this, using effective conflict management as a critical skill. Knowing your conflict style raises your game. Practicing conflict management will guide you and your team’s success through to honest and better collaboration. There are five conflict styles. Choose which style best describes you. Then see how to get the best out of each conflict without losing your mind.

AVOIDANCE

“I prefer it if others take the lead when solving a problem. I do not like unnecessary tension and will do what I can to avoid these types of situations.”

COLLABORATION

“I will solicit the advice of my peers to help solve a problem. I often try to find solutions to my counterpart’s problems, as well as my own. I like to address all concerns immediately in order to promptly resolve them.”

COMPETITIVE

“I take a strong stance when conveying my views. I then support my position with clear logic and benefits in hopes to change my opponent’s perspective.”

ACCOMMODATING

“I try to focus on what we both agree on as opposed to our disagreements. At times, I will concede some of my viewpoints if it will help maintain a beneficial relationship with the other party and not hurt the person’s feelings.”

COMPROMISING

“I like to find a solution somewhere in the middle. I realize that I might have to sacrifice some of my points in order to gain others.”

The good news; everyone can be better prepared to handle conflict constructively by understanding their own approach and identifying the approach of the others involved in a conflict. The bad news; no one style is good for every situation. Sometimes conflicts need to surface so that communication can become more real and less superficial.

So here’s some guidance on how and when to use each conflict management style, brought to life with examples from Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs as depicted  by Dr.S. Livingston.

An Avoider dislikes conflict or confrontation. With this approach you may seek to thwart the other party through passive-aggressive tactics.

The “Bashful” personality appears shy, blushes often, and looks down frequently. Bashful avoids eye contact with the leader, hoping not to be called upon, and wants to hear everyone else’s opinion before speaking.

Perfect to use Potential pitfalls
  • If an issue is inconsequential
  • When you have limited power or influence
  • If the cons of confrontation outweigh the pros
  • When a higher level of perspective is needed before taking action
  • Limits communication and information gathering
  • Taking no action may lead to unintended consequences or undesirable outcome
  • Tensions may be aggravated

Top Tip: Bashful is highly observant, sensitive to the feelings of others, and hard-working. Leaders can draw Bashful out by asking an easy, neutral question first, pairing Bashful with someone else, and encouraging/allowing him to write down his answers first before speaking. The leader knows that Bashful succeeds best in a structured environment.

A Collaborator likes to work together to get as many needs met as possible on both sides, which solves conflicts in the short term and can also build a foundation of trust for the future.

The “Happy” person smiles a lot at the leader, tries to make eye contact with the leader. Happy is warm, energetic, and very responsive to the leader’s requests. He promptly does anything he is asked to do. Happy may try so hard to please and provide the “right answer” that he can be inauthentic in his input.

Perfect to use Potential pitfalls
  • To improve a difficult relationship by working through issues
  • When both parties have issues that they feel are too vital to compromise on
  • To create a win/win solution that incorporates ideas and perspectives from all sides
  • To gain consensus on an issue involving different perspectives of the problem
  • Wasting time on unimportant issues
  • One party taking advantage of the other

Top Tip: Leaders can help Happy thrive by creating a fun, whimsical environment and by offering recognition and support. The leader can call on Happy first (he’ll be anxious to speak up), which will help convince less cooperative participants to become involved.

A Competitor is not afraid to take an aggressive approach. You use power and advantages to pursue your goals, even when it negatively impacts others. Winning in the short term may be valued more highly than long-term gains.

You can spot “Grumpy” because he says “no” a lot and may sit opposite the leader. His arms are often crossed, and he’s pushed back from the table. He looks annoyed and is critical. Grumpy values competence, efficiency, and quick results, is assertive and self-confident. He strives to meet and exceed expectations.

Perfect to use Potential pitfalls
  • When you have to move quickly
  • As a method of defense in competitive situations
  • When the best interests of your business are at stake
  • A lack of give-and-take
  • Limited opportunities to learn or get different perspectives from the other party

Top Tip: Leaders can best leverage Grumpy by giving him specific assignments that require logical steps and by enlisting his help where a particular sales pitch or argument is required.

An Accommodator values their relationships with other parties. You seek to gain favour by giving in to demands in the hopes of getting what you want later.

It’s easy to spot “Sleepy” staring out the window, hiding in the middle of the group, and probably yawning. Sleepy is rational, logical, and comfortable with hands-on learning.

Perfect to use Potential pitfalls
  • To give ground on an issue that is more important to the other side, as a positive gesture
  • Build goodwill you can use to get other concessions that are more important to you
  • When you realize that your position is inferior or that you are going to lose
  • Losing power to influence outcomes
  • Others may ignore your ideas and contributions

Top Tip: Leaders can draw Sleepy out by encouraging him to share personal reveries as possible unconscious approaches to solving the problem at hand, asking him about logical and practical implications, and encouraging partnering and the sharing of ideas about technical applications.

A Compromiser likes to meet in the middle. You can resolve a conflict quickly but can disproportionately reward the party with the more extreme position.

Dopey is far from being “dopey,” these people are flexible, using humour to defuse group tension. They are good at finding practical applications and take life very seriously, even though they may appear light-hearted. Dopey sits in the middle of the group and speaks only when spoken to. He parrots anything the group expert says.

Perfect to use Potential pitfalls
  • When parties have to come to an agreement quickly
  • Achieve aims whose importance is not a top priority
  • When two equally strong parties have mutually exclusive objectives
  • Using it as a temporary solution to put off the resolution of major disputes and issues
  • A perception of betraying values, which can lead to a lack of trust

Top Tip: Leaders manage Dopey by pointing out practical applications and benefits to others and by reassuring Dopey that “all responses are good responses.” Dopey needs to put ideas first to paper and will respond favourably when leaders laugh at his or her jokes.

The Best Preparation For Handling Conflict Is To Manage Your Own Emotions

  • Be clear, direct and unemotional
  • Put yourself in the right frame of mind and have empathy
  • Stop procrastinating – Initiate the conversation yourself
  • Get to the point, but don’t rush
  • Begin by describing the conflict in neutral terms
  • Do not blame
  • Be curious about the other person
  • Be curious about yourself
  • Acknowledge the other person’s feelings

More suggestions for handling difficult conversations can be found by our team at TheHRhub, so sign up today for expert advice and support.  

 

Photo Credit: Meeting the Seven Dwarfs At The Character Fan Weekend by Loren Javier