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Hiring from the beginning: Knowing Your Intern From Your Apprentice

When it comes to hiring inexperienced staff, many business leaders are open to the idea of hiring in some extra help to the next generation of workers: Interns, Work Experience Placements or Apprentices are all considered and for many the terms seem interchangeable. But if you’re interested in hiring any of these routes, you need to understand the key features of each in order to work out which is right for you. 

Here are some of the key features of each:

Type Purpose Length of engagement Entitlement
Work Experience Often created for those students still at school, work experience students  learn about a business by shadowing them or helping out.   Short term – often 1 or 2 weeks Tend to be students c. 16 or younger so exempt for the National Minimum Wage.
Internship Students who are attending higher education may spend time with an employer, learning about the business as part of a higher education course or getting a feel for the type of business or industry they want to be a part of. Short term – a few weeks to a few months Normally graduates who may be entitled to the National Minimum Wage if they are promised further work. Travel and/ or subsistence expenses recommended.
Volunteering To provide opportunities for individuals to work with a charity or voluntary body, there is no particular demographic this group covers and there will normally be no specific duties assigned by the employer. Short term to long term No entitlement to the National Minimum Wage.
Apprentices To provide students or school leavers with an opportunity to complete a qualification whist learning about a business or trade. Apprenticeships are set up within a framework provided by a Learning Provider. Long term – often up to a year Minimum wage from as low as £3.30 per hour for those under 19 or in their first year as an apprentice, rising in some parts of the UK where there is hefty competition for these individuals.

As a bonus however, small businesses can often claim up to £1500 in funding for these.

For any of the types of work placement above which are unpaid, it’s not to say that you shouldn’t contribute anything to their daily grind however, and most progressive employers pay either a weekly allowance or subsistence costs plus travel for those where they have no legal obligation.   

Regardless of pay or title, with anyone working on your premises, you will have a responsibility for their health & safety whilst in your care and you need to make sure that you have sufficient liability insurance to cover them.

Employ 5 people or less? Congratulations, no need to undertake a specific risk assessment. However above that and it’s expected that you will be expected to identify the particular needs of the individuals by undertaking a risk assessment as you would normally in regards to any Health and Safety aspects.

There are numerous ways you can start to offer these opportunities and getting them set up for success and for more ideas, see our post earlier this year on How To Get The Most Out Of Your Work Placement.

If you have concerns or want help hiring and onboarding your newbies, then we can help. Get in touch today or by calling 0203 627 7048 to arrange an initial, no-obligation consultation. We’ll pinpoint any potential issues that are at play in your workplace, and give you practical advice around what you need to do next.

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5 Tips To Share With Your NightWorkers

According to research carried out by TUC, the number of people regularly working through the night has rocketed to over 3 million since the start of the recession. Interestingly, more and more females than ever before are becoming night workers.

Regardless of the industry that you operate in, it’s quite likely that there will come a time when you need your team to work night shifts, even if it’s just temporarily. Perhaps your IT staff will have to install important updates outside of usual working hours. Maybe staff on your shop floor will be asked to change their shift patterns to stack the shelves in the run up to the festive period.

The potential health and lifestyle implications are well documented and you have a responsibility to ensure that you’re giving your workforce the support they need. Let’s take a look at some valuable tips that could make all the difference to your staff if the times comes when they have to work unsociable hours:

Think carefully about the journey home

Most of us know what it’s like to feel exhausted after a long day, and drive home almost on autopilot. After a nightshift though, tiredness can become a serious problem that can quite quickly escalate into a potentially dangerous situation.

It makes sense to consider how you could help with provisions for getting home at the end of a nightshift. It might make good business sense to provide financial support for the cost of taxis, or to share information about local public transport arrangements.

Create good sleep routines

Sleeping during the day can feel unnatural, so it’s important to get into a good routine if you want to enjoy quality rest. Blackout curtains can make a big difference, as well as avoiding using mobile phones before sleeping, and ensuring that you aren’t exposed to too much daylight before trying to nod off. In other words, it can really help if night workers get straight to bed after their shift.

Of course, every individual is different, and there’ll be a strong element of trial and error when it comes to finding the best pattern and routine. To support your staff though, be sure that you’re sharing guidance and positive suggestions.

Never underestimate the value of quality sleep

Many of us would agree that there’s no better feeling than crashing out in a comfortable bed, but it’s way too easy to underestimate just how important sleep really is. There’s a whole host of medical problems and conditions that have been linked to poor sleep patterns, including heart attacks and diabetes.

Be sure to promote the importance of sleep to your workers. If they’re struggling, do the right thing and suggest that they make an appointment with their GP to discuss their options.

There have been calls to give extra rights to staff working night shifts, to help protect them from the physical, mental, and emotional strain of working such unsociable hours. Whether this is something that will happen remains to be seen. Right now, you need to focus on doing all you can to support your staff and ensure that you’re taking reasonable steps to protect their wellbeing.

If you’re confused about your responsibilities, or you need to know more about the law when it comes to nightshift, get in touch. We can help you to understand exactly what you need to know, drop us a line at or call 0203 627 7048.

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For more great tips on how to grow your own skills as an SME leader, in our FREE eBook : Leadership 101: Your Ultimate Step by Step Guide To Being An Inspirational Leader

Photocredit: Walter Worklife balance

Brainfood: Smart Ways To Grow Your Tech Team

A recent study from CultureAmp found that the no.1 reason for staying with a technology business was the opportunity to grow. But when you’re short on levels of ‘management’ and don’t have the funds to invest heavily in this area, how do you carve out the kind of opportunities a technologist might stay for? And compete with the likes of Google/ Facebook/ ANother Startup-Down-The-Road to get employees’ development on track?

Here are our top tips for growing tech talent:


Yes, I appreciate that this word ranks up there with ‘low hanging fruit’ and ‘reach out’ in terms of business terminology that’s had it’s day – and is therefore tempting to ignore – but the literal meaning of working together to achieve results is something we should all be doing. And collaboration is something that is truly valued by most developers I’ve ever worked with. The chance to get stuck into something, to share the problems and even to out-do each other with solutions, is motivating in itself.

Pair Up

Pair Programming has proved popular in many tech businesses, mainly because of it’s ability to increase the quality of code as the output of such exercise. In this type of work, two developers are set to work side by side on a project, playing different roles (writing or observing) and switching them frequently. Although increasing the (wo)man-hours needed to deliver on a project using this style of work, the benefits of increased motivation & quality may be worth it.

Perform (and help others do the same)

I’ve been told in the past (by managers mainly) that developers don’t ‘do’ performance reviews: that they don’t believe in these kind of structured process; that they have no value. Hmmm, that’s interesting. As whatever collective behaviours may be exhibited from one employee group to another, I’ve yet to meet an individual or group which didn’t want feedback….. So if someone’s saying that to you, maybe it’s because they don’t ‘doyour performance review. So shake it up a bit. Try to to do them little and often and for gods’ sake, include some sort of peer review.

The speed of technological change makes it very difficult for tech companies to keep employees’ skills up to date – but a recent Upwork survey found that 89% of IT professionals would consider leaving their job for better training somewhere else, so it’s worth making the investment. Their development needn’t cost an arm and a leg – so for more ideas on how to inject some growth to the team, check out Fleur Winter’s great article ‘L&D On A Shoestring’ for some other cost-effective ideas.

For more great tips on how to grow your own skills as an SME leader, in our FREE eBook : Leadership 101: Your Ultimate Step by Step Guide To Being An Inspirational Leader

TheHRhub: The ultimate online support for startups and SMEs.

Join us here and get all the HR advice, tools and software you need to grow your business.

Photo credit: Scott, Jell-O-Brains

How To Encourage Creativity In Your SME Team

Innovation (or it’s close-cousin, creativity) is a key concern of businesses in the SME world, with the BIS (SMEs: Key Enablers) finding that those who invest in this area have significantly higher growth rates than those who don’t.

Yet many report that they are unable to fulfil their potential due to internal blockers. Here we examine how you can go about releasing some of these barriers with your internal team:

Change the scenery

I find I have some of my best ideas when I’m on holiday – and I doubt that I’m that unusual in this respect. Because at this point, my brain is roaming freely. Unhampered by lists with items such as  ‘Kids mufti day on Tuesday’, ‘Pay VAT’ and ‘Order no.2’s passport’…

But assuming you’re not making the latest Guinness advert, sending everyone off to a desert island to let their creative juices flow is probably not on the budget list. So instead, change the scenery and check out Hirespace to find somewhere unusual and cost-effective that will help everyone see things from a different perspective. Because if you are going to spend some time reflecting on how you could do things better, take time out in a place where people don’t normally work. 

Offer encouragement

People are more likely to come up with ideas if they think they will be welcomed. I’ve avoided using brainstorming sessions in this list as I’ve never found them that useful myself, but the principle of having ‘no-judgement’ on any ideas offered is a good one. So encourage others by thanking them for their suggestions, maybe asking them to work it through a bit more and giving them praise for doing so.

But don’t try and incentivise them with the reddies

Whilst I am sure that if you told people you’d give them a tenner for every idea they came up with, the list may be long (and of questionable quality), research has proved that for complex cognitive tasks, incentives can actually drive worse performance on these kind of tasks. So ditch the cold hard cash on this one and instead reward people with a memorable experience for their contribution instead.

Mix your team up a bit

Diversity encourages creativity and innovation and discourages group thinking (the type you get when all the people in the room have similar backgrounds, schemas etc). So the case for inclusion in terms of the people you actually include in your team to drive ideas is strong. This can be difficult to change overnight (for more information on how to actually go about this in your business, take some tips from the blog post, The Unusual Suspects: How To Do Diversity In An SME) but how about including your customers in the process if they are willing and able? As prime beneficiaries of any new product or service, I am sure many would be keen to be able to input if it had benefit to them. Plus you get to build up a better relationship with them in the process.

For more great tips on how to grow your own skills as an SME leader, in our FREE eBook : Leadership 101: Your Ultimate Step by Step Guide To Being An Inspirational Leader

TheHRhub: The ultimate online support for startups and SMEs.

Join us here and get all the HR advice, tools and software you need to grow your business.

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4 Ways You Can Reduce Absence In Your Business

According to research by PwC, the annual cost of sickness absence has rocketed to £29 billion for UK organisations. Simply put, your staff are calling in sick, and it’s having a severe impact on your bottom line. If you want to mitigate the impact, it’s time to think about how you can nip the problem in the bud.

Now of course, it’s important to note that managing absenteeism isn’t about trying to ensure that every single employee is always present and correct. Even with the best people management policies and procedures, it’s highly likely that you’ll still have to pick up the phone now and again and be told that an important member of your team can’t make it into the office today.

But there are key things that you can do to make sure that the occasional absence doesn’t spiral out of control, and become a real problem for your business. Here, we’re going to outline some proven ways that you can put into action.

Clearly outline your expectations

If you don’t already have an absence policy, then this needs to be a key priority. You can’t expect staff to follow your guidelines, if they don’t even exist! A good policy will outline arrangements for calling in sick, identify trigger points that indicate that absence has reached an unacceptable level, and will be clearly communicated to all staff.

Of course, your policy won’t be worth the paper it’s written on if it doesn’t become part of the way you do business on a daily basis. Line managers need to be confident with putting it into action, and it’s vital that the rules are applied to everyone. If you have staff members with a disability, then there will be extra considerations that need to be made. For help with complex issues, speak with an HR consultant about your circumstances.

Always hold return-to-work discussions

After any period of absence, whether it’s two days or two months, there should be a return-to-work discussion between the individual and the line manager. It’s important that you establish the reason for the absence, assess what you might be able to do to support that person back into work, and follow the procedures outlined in your policy.

Even when schedules are busy, make sure that these conversations are always marked into the diary. When they’re carried out correctly, then can help you prevent a whole load of potential issues.

Think about engaging your team more in what you are trying to achieve

The reality is, is that not all ‘absence’ is linked to sickness. So you can have policies galore to show what you need to do, how you need to communicate and when you need to report in regards to someone being sick, but evidence suggests that those who are less engaged in their business are more likely to take days off.

Take a flexible approach to managing the workload

It’s important to recognise that your team have a life outside of your business: they may want to attend a parents’ evening, go see their favourite band, or have to take care of serious matters such an ill family member or relative. If they’re forced to choose between missing out and calling in sick, then you aren’t always going to win. There is of course un-paid dependant family leave people can take in an emergency, however most are disinclined to do so due to it being unpaid, so many don’t even really see this as a viable option. 

Ask yourself instead whether it would be feasible, from an operational point of view, to add some flexibility into how working schedules are managed. From time to time, could you allow staff to swap shifts, or catch up with their work later in the week? As long as you have firm boundaries in place, this kind of approach could help you to minimise problems.

If absence is an issue in your business, then the bad news is that you probably can’t make improvements overnight. You need a considered and careful approach, and it’ll certainly be a learning curve. But when you get it right, the benefits will be huge.

Do you want to discuss your challenges with a professional, and walk away a manageable action plan so you know exactly what you need to do? Book here to get in touch today for a no-obligation chat. You’ll walk away with a clear idea about what you need to do next.

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p.s – To get ahead of your game when it comes to another area important to your employees: Reward and Recognition, download our FREE eBook: Show Me The Money! The Ultimate Guide To Reward And Recognition In An SME.

Photo Credit: Tina Franklin