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Managing Absence Without Being An A*se This Christmas

Most staff will be burning the candle at both ends right now – from a work and personal perspective. So it’s little wonder that sickness levels go up at this time of year. After all, who wants lots of horrible germs floating around the office?

But how do you manage it when the occasional sick day starts to become noticeable and before you can say “ What? Again?”, you’ve got someone who’s clocked up so many sick days that you’ve lost confidence in their ability to actually be there to do their job. I mean, you likely want to be a good boss, but you also need your team to actually be there to do their jobs.

Of course, there is a direct link between happy, healthy employees and the quality and quantity of their output at work and evidence suggests that promoting a happy healthy workforce – including paying attention to the physical environment, creating a supportive sense of community and giving autonomy to people – not only improves people’s performance but also reduces the amount of time people will be off sick. But these are things which be a longer term fix. When you’re the one in receipt of the text or email from someone explaining they won’t be making it to your client meeting or project finale, no amount of chat about Wellbeing Strategy is going to stop your initial reaction being some akin to “Arrggghhh…”

So if you find yourself in this situation:

  1. Take a deep breath: just breathing deeply puts you in a calmer and more receptive mood…
  2. Acknowledge that you have received the message, assume it is genuine ( or suspend any form of disbelief you may harbour that it isn’t) and wish them a speedy recovery
  3. Dust off your own sick policy and take a read to refresh your own memory. Chances are, it will say that anyone off sick need to let you know that they are sick, what the illness consists of and when they are likely to be back. If a reason hasn’t been given, make a note to follow up.
  4. Gather up the information given from any previous communications the individual has provided to get an accurate record of how many days they have been off, what the dates were, as well as any reasons given. It might be that when you take a look at the data you realise that really, your own imagination is exaggerating the time off they have had. But it will also help you spot any obvious trends you can discuss with them when they return if there are any in evidence.
  5. Once they do return (and for the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume they do..if they don’t, then that’s a whole other ball game I’m afraid) ask to speak to them in private
  6. During this meeting – a.k.a the Return To Work interview in HR circles – ask how they are feeling and outline your concerns over the amount and/ or frequency of their absence using the data you’ve gathered in point 4. above. Doing it this way not only helps objectify your point of view, but also serves as a reminder to the individual of their own sickness pattern if they’ve forgotten (and many do).
  7. Ask if there is anything the individual feels could be an underlying cause to all of these periods of absence. At this point, it becomes harder to template your response – an individual might unleash a florid explanation of other things happening in their life or conversely just be very factual – but don’t forget to listen as well ask what they think they can do to help improve their attendance moving forward.
  8. And the end of the meeting, re-cap on anything you have agreed, including any steps they are going to take and any additional support you can provide. And then agree a period you are going to review this over.
  9. Follow it all up in writing. Doing this doesn’t make you an a***, it makes you sensible. And it doesn’t need to be in a physical letter either. Email is fine and far more natural.
  10. And finally. Try and avoid paying statutory sick pay for every instance of sick leave. There may be no statutory obligation to pay above this – however recognising that sometimes people need help when they are sick goes a long way to creating more of a sense of support in your team.

Most sickness is genuine and so treat it as such – but in the unlikely event that you suspect someone really is trying pull a fast one on you, addressing it head on and highlighting that you are monitoring any time off goes a long way to knocking it on the head.

Out of all of these points listed above, it’s Point 6 – actually having a conversation about your concerns over the sickness – which is the one which people most often stumble over and avoid. Often hoping that things will improve if they ignore for long enough or simply because they feel too awkward to address it directly. But there are no laws you are breaking in doing so – although I would counsel not being too brash in the words you choose – and taking another route, such as burying yourself in policy wording  rather than using genuine language, telling someone that they’ve breached their sickness ‘allowance’ or taking any action that penalises someone without talking to them first (I’m talking sick pay, verbal warnings etc). Now, that is being an a*se..

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Would You Have a Problem With a Tattooed Employee?

It’s fair to say that body art and the workplace are two things that haven’t traditionally gone hand in hand. But in recent years though, things have started to shift.

Back in 2014, Starbucks famously lifted its tattoo ban for staff in a move that was applauded and welcomed with open (and perhaps intricately adorned) arms. The coffee chain is known for being a creative brand, with a predominately young workforce and modern-minded customers, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the business decided to move with the times.

New research from Acas though has suggested that employers as a whole may well be out of touch with the changing public perception of visible tattoos, piercings and other modifications.

The implications here can be fairly serious… If you have a policy, either formally or informally, that bans body art, then you could be missing out on a huge pool of talent. Furthermore, you could be causing unrest and resentment amongst your existing workforce.

So could it be time to rethink your stance?

As a starting point here, let’s consider your legal position as an employer. Body art is not classed as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, so there are no direct implications in the eyes of the law. Still though, there is a possibility that you could be challenged on the grounds of a breach of human rights.

How you decide to approach the issue of tattoos comes down to you, though it could be worth giving some serious thought to whether your position is serving a purpose or exists solely as a result of outdated workplace culture and practice.

Ultimately, it’s essential that whatever you decide, your polices are clear and well communicated to ensure there’s no ambiguity around what’s acceptable and what isn’t. It also makes sense to consult with your staff before making any big changes to ensure that they’re on board from the start. 

You stance on issues like this are valuable contributors to the culture of your business. For employees, being culturally aligned to the company they work for is the cornerstone of engagment – so you’d be wise to tred carefully when pinning your colours to the mast on potenially contentious issues. For advice and support, give us a call on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at

Image by Annie Spratt

HR Horrors: Managing In A Downturn

Restructure. Rightsizing. Downsizing. And any other ‘ing you might use when you are considering making people redundant. It happens to most companies at some point. Even the best ones you can think of – will at some point realise that they can’t sustain themselves at the size and structure they are and look to make changes.

The average person spends around 2 years in tech companies in the UK (can be higher in other industries), so being ‘let go’ is not quite the kick in the teeth it once was to many in this area. However regardless of what is the ‘norm’ in an industry, handing in your notice to trade your skills elsewhere is not the same as being asked to leave and so it will still come as a shock to most in that situation. To help you through such a sticky situation, here’s our quick guide for things to be mindful of when proposing any cuts.

  • Don’t procrastinate too much: over both the decision to make the cuts and the timing of taking any action once your decisions have been made. Some of the companies I most respect are in the successful position they enjoy now because they had courage to make changes in advance of when they needed them rather than waiting and praying for things to improve.
  • Do try and think of alternatives: yes, the consultation period is designed to provide the time to do this, but by and large people see this is just part of the process to follow. And in reality, although an individual can suggest alternatives during that period, it is your role to do this before it even gets to this stage.
  • Know your legals: although evidence suggests that treating people with dignity and respect throughout such a process is the best way of avoiding any comeback, get familiar with what you legally need to provide for all those you are considering losing.
  • Be honest: people can smell fake redundancies a mile off. And while there are many businesses which use a mass change to sweep up a few individuals who they haven’t dealt with at a performance level, if the business needs to change, then be frank about it.
  • Be respectful: for every time an individual hears ‘it’s not you we want to make redundant, it’s the role’ they just hear ‘bullsh**. And following on from this…
  •  Avoid making irrelevant comments: In the past I’ve heard ones such as  “it’s as hard for me to make this decision as it is for you”. It’s not. You are the one in the driving seat, so you will not be thanked for this.
  • Think of the others in your team: By all means, manage a smooth and respectful exit for those leaving, however your real efforts should be reserved to focus those who will see you through the next few months and years.
  • Work on bonding the team back together again: Having a big party post-layoffs will likely be ill-advised, however bolstering your team by spending some time with them re-focussing them on future goals is heartily encouraged. From All-hands, team meetings, 1-2-1’s – you can never over-communicate during this period.

Yes, there is paperwork and a (sometimes complex) legal situation to manage, however having managed many of these situations myself over the years, the best way you are going to deal with this is by treating people with respect, paying above the bare minimum if you can afford it and moving the process through as quickly as possible.

Want some more tips? Check out our YouTube video here.

If you’re considering such a change and worried about how to even start going about it, drop us a line at, call 0203 627 7048.

Photo Credit: the scream by Mark Tighe


HR Hacks: 3 Easy Ways To Save Money On HR

If you’re an ambitious and smart leader, then you’ll already know that spending money on your HR function is absolutely essential. Your people have the power to drive your business forward and are the ones making sure your big vision comes to life. When you get things right, your HR spending is an investment, rather than a cost and can deliver a return many times over.

It’s important to be realistic here though and recognise that there’s a balance that you have to strike. If times are tough and you’re concerned about your budget, then there are things that you can do right away to ensure that your costs aren’t going to spiral out of control. Let’s take a look at some practical considerations that you can action today: 

1. Sort out your admin

It’s a myth that HR is all about admin and box-ticking, but like any good and efficient function, having supportive and streamlined processes will you to focuss on the bits which will really add value to your business. It’s also one of your responsibilities to ensure your paperwork is in order when it comes to your team and is the easiest way to save money and insure against future pay-outs. 

At it’s worst case scenario, great admin and record keeping could save your bacon if you happen to face an employment tribunal: if you can prove that you’ve created and collated all the right documentation during the employee’s time with you, it will make any case you have a lot easier to fight. Many business owners, if they’re being completely honest about things, could make instant improvements in this area.

2. Use the power of technology to boost your reach

You might be amazed to hear that there are plenty of business leaders who are still carrying out most of their HR tasks manually. Maybe you’re one of them. But while it might have been true that it seemed easier to do things yourself in the early days when you didn’t want to invest in solid systems,  the increase in accessibility of many systems now available and the lowering of the cost of these through cloud based delivery, gives no one an excuse anymore in these areas.

Many businesses get to the point though when they’re wasting a ton of time and money by doing things the old fashioned way. It may be time for you to admit that things have to change, and that technology could make your life a lot easier. Payroll is always a key area to have oversight of (after all, your costs here are likely to be a high perecentage of your costs) however manually intervening in preparing this is unnecessariy these days. Imagine how much simpler your role would be if you knew that all of this was taken care of automatically. Fantastic HR software is included comes free with the monthly membership subscription option to theHRhub – find out more here.

3. Audit your practices and procedures to pinpoint problems before they arise

There are a ton of costly HR mistakes that could be easily avoided by just ensuring that you’re regularly reviewing the way that you do things and calling in a little professional help. Legislation, for example, can change often, and you may find it hard to keep up. The truth here is that you could be breaking the law without even realising it. Check out your own HR Health by taking our short survey here: you’ll get a written report outlining any risks your business may have & the peace of mind of knowing how to set things right. 

If you’re concerned that you’ve let things slide, get in touch today. Investing in some advice is likely to be more affordable than you think –  and it can definitely be kinder on your finances than the alternative. We can have an open and honest discussion about where you are right now and what you need to focus on to get the most out of your HR budget.

Call us on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at

Image by OTA Photos

Could We Learn a Thing or Two From Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day?

Sweden has made headlines in recent weeks after some companies decided to make the shift to a six-hour working day, in an effort to increase productivity and offer staff a more fulfilling work-life balance. Interestingly, Toyota workplaces in Gothenburg went down this route thirteen years ago, with great success and it’s been reported that the business experienced a profit increase, higher retention of staff, and happier employees.

6 Hours A Day? I Wish….. 

As an employer, it’s likely that you read these latest developments with great interest. But did you applaud the decision to do things a little differently, or did you roll your eyes and quietly confess to yourself that this kind of working arrangement could never work in your business?

Maybe you think that cutting down the working day is a nice idea but not something that you could realistically try any time soon. It’s true that you can’t successfully roll out changes like this overnight. But the changing culture in Sweden offers an excellent opportunity for us all to rethink how traditional working practices could be holding your business back.

Let’s consider the constraints of an eight-hour working day…

There’s no denying that it’s almost impossible to stay alert and focused for the entirety of a nine-to-five shift. When it comes to your members of staff, and even your own performance, it’s highly likely that a significant chunk of the day is spent on mundane tasks that add no value to the business. From browsing social media to staring out the window looking for a little inspiration, eight hours in the office are very rarely eight hours of productivity.

And of course, we’re all familiar with how tricky it can be to find a happy balance between work and our personal lives. If we could find the secret sauce that allowed us to work less hours, enjoy more time at home, and still make an effective contribution at work, then the benefits could be endless.

Is it just habit that’s holding us back?

The concept of an eight-hour working day is one that’s been carried down for generations, so it’s no surprise that so many companies work this way simply because they’ve never even stopped to consider any other alternative.

Final thought

Swedish companies embracing the six-hour day will no doubt have their fair share of challenges ahead, but with effective leadership and a commitment to questioning the status quo, it could prove to be one of the most meaningful initiatives that the world of employment has ever seen.


If productivity is a problem in your workplace, or you’re simply looking for ways to get more from your staff, then get in touch today to arrange a no-obligation consultation. After taking the time to get to know your business and the key challenges that you’re facing, we can implement an action-plan to ensure that you’re on track to achieve your wider strategic goals.  Get in touch at, or give us a call on 0203 627 7048.

Image by Matthew Peoples