Three reasons your business benefits when staff switch off

Three reasons your business benefits when staff switch off

There aren’t many people around who aren’t feeling the pressure of our ‘always-on’ culture. Perhaps you’re a business owner who is feeling stuck in an unavoidable position of never being able to fully disconnect. Or maybe you’re an employee in a business where the culture makes you always feel pressurised to have your work phone to hand.

When I was researching this article, I didn’t have to try too hard to find stats like;

  • 1 in 3 people are mentally unable to switch off from work
  • 26% of people find the pressure to be ‘always-on’ interferes with their personal life
  • 20% of people feel mentally exhausted by their constant connection to work

Now have a quick look across your business. Who are the people behind those statistics?


Switching on to switching off

As easy as it was to find those, frankly quite scary stats, it’s important to say there is a groundswell of people pushing back against this.

It’s important to remember that the technological advances over recent years have been enormous. At first, companies were slow to react to the enormous potential for flexible and remote working, tech solutions were unreliable, complicated and often prohibitively expensive. As that changed, more and more organisations embraced the efficiencies available to them. Almost overnight people could work from anywhere with the need for little more than a compatible device and a Wi-Fi connection.

Large businesses could reduce their estate overheads by hotdesking and remote working. Small businesses could operate from the convenience of their local coffee shop.

Perhaps it was inevitable that this convenience would eventually worm its way into the heart of our homes, intrude on our down time and, gradually, blur the lines to such an extent that people started to feel guilty for not being online.

As I alluded to earlier though, there is a growing trend against this. Mindfulness, digital detoxing and switching off is ‘in fashion’. Although it’s likely to take some time for everyone to catch up!

Help your business by switching off

It’s important to take heed of the health warnings that are implicit in how people feel about being always-on. If your staff are feeling under pressure and stressed, there is a very real risk of them developing health problems and compulsive behaviours.

Who hasn’t spotted the people in the room who repeatedly check their phone even when there haven’t been any tell-tale pings of emails and messages arriving?

Here are three reasons why switching off is positive for your business:

1. You’ll stop damaging your reputation

Whether it’s staff or clients you’re communicating with, sending emails at anti-social times damages your reputation.

It sends a message that you are overstretched and perhaps even that you aren’t on top of things. For both staff and clients, that’s not a useful image to project. For example, if your clients feel you’re overstretched they may lose confidence in your capacity and ability to meet their needs.

Ultimately, this could lead to them looking for alternative providers who do have the capacity to deliver what’s promised.

2. Your staff will stay with you

There’s no two ways about it, recruiting and training staff is costly. So if you’re losing people because there are other employers out there who take better care of their staff, you’re throwing money away.

High staff turnover results in lower morale and a negative company culture.

Recent Randstad research revealed that more than 50% of staff who responded would consider leaving a company who put profits and revenues above the wellbeing of their staff.

Supporting your staff to know that flexible working doesn’t have to be repaid by sacrificing their personal life, you take staff loyalty to a whole new level.

3. All work and no play…

…make Jack and Jill dull employees! When people feel dull, it’s just a short jump to disengagement. If, as a manager or business owner, you’re promoting an environment where a 12-hour day is considered the norm, as the Spice Girls once said, “Stop. Right now!”

Promote a healthy work-life balance supported by manageable work schedules and you’ll find your team will work 21% harder for you!

Time to make a change?

Achieving significant culture change in your business can be complicated. You need to bring your staff on the journey with you whilst also maintaining a successful business and, ideally, continuing to grow.

Book a call to find out how we can help.

Celebrating Christmas *and other religious festivals* in a diverse workforce

Celebrating Christmas *and other religious festivals* in a diverse workforce

Religious belief has been a protected characteristic in the workplace for a very long time. Yet many businesses are still struggling to fully understand how to recognise this when it comes to observing religious festivals.

As Christmas is fast approaching, I felt it an opportune moment to explore how you can accommodate this, and other festivals within your business.

Time off for religious festivals

The Equality Act is the relevant legislation protecting individuals from direct, and indirect discrimination. However, it doesn’t stipulate what employers must or must not do when it comes to things like agreeing time off for religious festivals.

As such, you need to ensure that you consider all leave requests fairly across all staff and that you take a sympathetic approach to requests which are reasonable and practical to accommodate.

If you were to apply a blanket ban approach to leave requests, you could leave yourself vulnerable to claims of indirect discrimination. This would mean that you would be required to provide justification for your decision. Justification would take the form of being able to prove that allowing leave over a certain religious event, would render the business unable to operate properly because you would not have sufficient staff available to allow the business to function.

If you operate a shut-down at certain times of the year, Christmas for example, then employees who do not celebrate Christmas, would have more of an argument for taking leave for one of their own religious festivals. This is on the basis that the business already observes certain events in the workforce majority’s religious calendar.

Celebrating key festivals

Sticking with Christmas as the topical example, you should apply the same principles when considering how to celebrate any religious festival within your own business.

One of the biggest barriers to achieving a harmonious balance of respect and understanding in culturally diverse workforces is the ability to consider and accommodate all. There can be no argument that this might be tricky to achieve, however, don’t underestimate the willingness to try.

Choosing when to celebrate

In just the same way you would probably think twice about booking a staff party on a Sunday as it is the Christian day of rest, so too should you consider the implications for your workforce who observe a different day of rest.

Let’s be clear though, nobody will tell you that you CAN’T hold a staff party or team celebration on any day you wish. I am simply recommending that you give due consideration to the implications for ALL of your staff when you set the date.

A celebratory feast

Whilst talking about ‘traditional’ office celebrations, it’s a good time to mention refreshments. Be sure to ask those who will be attending about restrictions like vegetarianism, the requirement for halal products, no pork, alternatives to alcohol and so on.

In reality, when you look at those questions, they are probably things that any good host would want to understand about their guests. So it shouldn’t be too onerous for you to understand these needs about your workforce.

Once you know these restrictions, be sensitive – and sensible – about how you meet them. Ensure foods are clearly labelled, don’t mix different foods together and don’t assume that seemingly innocuous foods like cheese, crisps and cakes will automatically be vegetarian.

Key Point:

If you don’t already understand the cultural mix of your employees, take the time to do so before you cause bad feeling by making assumptions! You will usually find most people are happy to help others understand more about their religion. Especially when that desire it clearly comes from the wish to meet different needs.

Alternative ways to celebrate

If you have a diverse workforce, why not use that as a reason to branch out and do something different. There are ever-increasing reasons why a ‘traditional’ staff booze-up is becoming less popular than it once was. All of which are of equal value and importance.

By taking a different approach, you may find that staff engagement increases and, in turn, the ongoing positive impact on staff morale pays dividends you would never achieve when bonding over warm wine at an office shindig at the local pub.

Options for teambuilding days grow year on year.

What about taking the team outdoors to try a new activity – abseiling, white water rafting, paintballing or similar?

Or maybe your team would prefer something a little less gung-ho, a cookery course or visiting one of the growing numbers of ‘escape room’ activities?

Of course, you may find that people aren’t overly keen to give up time of their own to spend with colleagues. And not too many businesses can afford the luxury of giving their staff a whole or half day off.

If this is the case, then you might find yourself sticking with the traditional Christmas party options. However, providing you revisit the earlier suggestions about food and drink, give consideration to the day and location of the party and ASK your staff for their input, chances are everyone will have a great time and will come together in the intended spirit of the season.

Deck the halls

Before I sign off for this post, it occurred to me that you might also find one last tip about decorations useful. An important message to send to your staff is that, whilst there may be one or two festivals that are observed by the majority, you are mindful of the minority too. So, if you are happy to put up Christmas decorations, you would be well advised to consider how to accommodate similar traditions for other festivals.

Final point to note

Consulting with your team and avoiding assumptions is key. Not just in how you handle religious festivals but also in how you ensure diversity and equality across all business activities. However, religious festivals often carry significant personal importance to people. By upping the ante you will learn more about your people and help them learn more about each other. That’s what some might call a win:win scenario.

For more information about this, and the full range of HR Support available, please contact Kate Underwood HR on 02382 025160 or email [email protected]


What’s your approach to children going ‘Back to School’?

What’s your approach to children going ‘Back to School’?

Why your business’ approach to children going ‘Back to School’ could be good for your business

The Summer holidays are over, the children have started back to school and the peak leave period is over…surely then, it’s now safe to say business, as usual, can be resumed. Or is it?

If you employ parents then actually, probably not quite yet.

You might have people in your business who have a child starting school for the first time, or whose child is transitioning to a new school, perhaps moving into secondary education, or changing schools for any manner of other reasons. Even the start of the new school year without any other significant changes can be a testing time for parents. Also, timetables change and so may the requirements for wrap around childcare as a result.

For the parent of a child starting school for the first time, the challenges can be both hugely emotional and a logistical nightmare! Whilst the workplace has changed considerably over the years, school schedules, largely, have not. This means that, depending on the school, it will be a few weeks before the child is actually at school full time. In the meantime, parents are faced with the conundrum of how to manage a phased entry period whilst also meeting their work obligations. This will include calling in favours for childcare wherever possible as well as needing increased flexibility from you.

After the challenges of juggling work and family commitments through July and August, many working parents feel under pressure to ‘up their game’ now that the Summer holidays are over. Much of the pressure may well come from themselves, but it might also come, intentionally or otherwise, from colleagues or employers.

What can you do to help?

As an employer, there are things you can do to help valued employees through a challenging few weeks.

You are the leader of your team or business, which means that you can directly influence the culture, and can foster one which is positive and supportive towards the parents in your team.

By proactively engaging with your team ahead of the new school year, you can plan ahead to ensure resources are appropriately allocated meaning any additional time off doesn’t result in unmanageable workloads – for them or for their colleagues.

Flexible working is another area to ensure you have discussed with your employee. There is a legal obligation for you to consider requests for flexible working. For more information, check out my previous blog post here.

You may also wish to consider making sure that your staff are fully aware of the options available with regards to childcare. This could include affiliations with local child care facilities or ensuring that full information about childcare schemes is readily available for staff.

Other avenues you could consider are enabling working from home on a temporary basis, or having the option to take extended leave with salary deductions being made over the financial year for example.

How will your business benefit?

The benefit of supporting an experienced member of staff extends far beyond simply meeting your legal obligations as an employer.

You are also protecting your business financially. The loss of each employee costs businesses an average of £5000 in terms of lost experience plus the recruitment and training implications of replacement staff. Not to mention the impact that staff turnover has on the rest of the team.

Working parents can be amongst the most loyal people you have on your team. Generally, they will recognise that they have been well looked after and supported when they needed it and will repay that in terms of commitment and productivity in the future.

And last but by no means least, a reputation for being a supportive, progressive employer means that you can be sure you will attract the very best new staff in the future as your business grows.

If you’d like more ideas or feel you would benefit from some advice on how to support your team whilst protecting the interests of your business, give me a call and I would be happy to help.

Contact the office of Kate Underwood HR on 02382 025160 or [email protected]

How to handle poor performance

How to handle poor performance

It can seem easier to ignore a poor performer. Dealing with the situation can seem daunting to managers and sometimes it’s uncomfortable to deal with things you would rather avoid. However, there is no advantage to delaying the inevitable. If an employee is not reaching the standards you expect in your business (and to avoid more serious disciplinary consequences and disruption to your business) there are steps you can take to try to improve the situation.

What do I need to consider?

Good performance management helps everyone in the organisation. If employees are working with an unmanaged poor performer in the team it can hit morale.

Ask yourself if it is fair to ignore a performance issue. Are you managing these types of issues fairly and consistently? Wouldn’t it be better to resolve a situation early than letting it escalate?

How to recognise a poor performer

The best source of information about performance is generally the person who directly manages the employee.   Are they making more errors than other members of the team? Do they take up more management time? Do you suspect that they may not have the capability to do the job? If so, the employee may have a performance issue.

Identify the cause of underperformance

If poor performance is unusual for the employee, communication is the key.  Regular appraisals can help to understand any issues to nip them in the bud, but a general culture of open communication is important.  Does the employee have personal problems that are affecting their work? Are they under undue pressure and unable to cope? Are they being bullied or have they recently been moved or promoted into a new role with isn’t suiting them?

If you are unable to resolve the poor performance by dealing with any of the issues already mentioned, it could be that the employee is unsuited for the role or your business.

What to do to improve poor performance informally

Explaining to an employee that you are unhappy with the quality of their work is a difficult conversation to have and managers may benefit from training in this area.

Hold a meeting with the employee with the aim of setting targets and a reasonable time limit within which you expect improvement.  This would generally be called a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).  Offer training, mentoring and support (as appropriate) to help the employee and put the targets to them in writing explaining that disciplinary action may follow if there is no satisfactory improvement.

You must be able to measure and assess the targets you set to ensure fairness. It is very important to be able to demonstrate that you have provided the necessary support to help the employee to improve.

When poor performance becomes a disciplinary matter

If informal action fails to improve performance then disciplinary action will be necessary.  This can mean a first written warning if performance hasn’t improved following the initial informal meeting.  If the employee still doesn’t improve their performance then a final written warning may be given and ultimately there is dismissal as the last resort.  Be careful to follow your disciplinary procedure and provide the necessary support to improve the employee’s performance throughout.

What do I do if I don’t want a protracted disciplinary case?

A settlement agreement can be an option. It is a legally binding voluntary agreement where the employee will waive their rights to make any sort of claim at the employment tribunal or in court.  A settlement agreement usually involves a payment to the employee from the employer.

We are happy to advise you on any of the stages described in this article please get in contact




Employment Tribunal Fees Unlawful – What now for Small Businesses?

Employment Tribunal Fees Unlawful – What now for Small Businesses?

So yesterday it was announced in a that it was unlawful to charge for Employment Tribunals and that any fees that had been paid would be refunded.
The introduction of fees was to try and reduce the number of malicious claims. The fees were between £160 or £250 to submit a claim and a further £230 or £950 for the hearing fee. It had reduced the claims by 70% but I did wonder how many employees were unable to make a legitimate claim simply because they couldn’t afford to do so.
So what happens now, well anyone that feels that they have a claim is able to submit it and they don’t have to pay a fee. We all know that with the internet everyone can find information in a matter of seconds. But how relevant to a situation is that information is the question. In my experience, no employee relations situation is ever the same. From some reviewing cases involving small businesses, the majority of cases are due to lack of understanding rather than malicious intent.
So how can you as a small business make sure you are doing the right thing by your employees.


Strike whilst the iron is hot, make sure you get your contracts, personnel files, policies and procedures reviewed if they haven’t been in the last twelve months.
Have you recently enrolled into the workplace pension, you might want to take a read of my blog – 4 things you don’t get told about the workplace pension.


Even for small businesses, it is important that you have some basic processes in place. These could be just a word document that you keep adding to – it doesn’t have to be flashy. It would just outline simply or example how you expect an employee to answer the phone or how long it should take to respond to an email. If you give your employees clear expectations they will know what is expected.
Also if you do any in-house training – in my opinion, if there is no signature it hasn’t happened. Remember – get your employees to sign to say they have received any training.
I offer a free HR Heathcheck to make sure you are protecting your employees and your business.
If you are anything like me as a small business owner I want to told whats wrong I want to know how to fix it. I have designed some workshops especially for small business owners – why not take a look. I will be adding more but please get in touch if there is a particular topic you would like to see.

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Making those tough decisions – Redundancy

Making those tough decisions – Redundancy

Working in HR is not always pink and fluffy and sometimes you have to be that confident to a CEO or MD and help them make those tough employee relations decisions.  Terminating a contract due to redundancy is one of those times.
Recently I have had to deal with one of those tough decision phone calls. The calls that you dread …. the business is not doing as well as I had hoped and I need to downsize the team.
As a small business owner taking on an employee is an incredible responsibility. We have all seen those pictures on twitter or facebook saying ‘support small businesses you are paying for ballet lessons, not a new company jet’. What they don’t say is that they are also paying the wages of employees so that they can pay for the ballet lessons and electric bill.
Although this is a difficult subject to talk about I felt it was necessary to write about it and make sure that you don’t put your head in the sand.

Be prepared

In most contracts of employment, there is a clause called – Layoff and short-time working. I usually have to explain this to employers and employees. This clause means that should the work reduce for a temporary period of time for example if there is a reduction in sales such as a recession. Rather than making everyone redundant if you have 3 full-time staff if you reduce their hours for a set period of time. This would enable them to keep a job with reduced pay, but keep some money coming in and when sales do pick up there are employees ready to work. There are some rules and an employee may be eligible for some guaranteed statutory payments from the government.
You might also want to be careful with those notice periods as a small business. Long notice periods are great for ensuring you don’t get left short handed but can prove to be costly.

Be Realistic

Running a small business takes a lot of hard work and keeping up with all the obligations of finances, operations and people is hard.
Make sure that you have an understanding of your finances and if you think that the sales are just not coming in then be ready with a plan B.
What does plan B look like? I always say to employers that they should treat their employees as they would want to be treated. If you know that you don’t have enough money to pay your employees in one months time – don’t wait. Give some notice of what is happening, give the opportunity to give some ideas on how things could be improved. At the very least give them an opportunity to organise their own finances.

Get Support

Make sure you are getting some advice and support, I know most business owners making these types of decisions want to do it themselves. But it is tough and making sure you get it right is the most important thing.
If you have employees on Maternity or Long Term sick it is important that they are advised and consulted in the same way as other employees.
They say that in today’s working life as an employee you have an average of 10 jobs in their lifetime.
Want to learn more about how to look after you people then take a look at my workshops.

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