July 8

How to give feedback…. both positive and more constructive….

Feedback is a tool used to reinforce positive behaviour and support behavioural changes in the workplace. While it’s helpful to deliver constructive criticism to people for them to improve in certain areas of their work, positive feedback is equally helpful.

What is positive feedback?

Positive feedback is communication that highlights a person’s strengths and achievements. While providing feedback is commonly a manager’s job, people at all levels in the workplace should try to recognise the good things their colleagues do.

Benefits of positive feedback

• Improves engagement: Feedback about what people are doing right is key and can result in increased engagement both with their work and their colleagues. A more engaged workplace culture makes people feel comfortable highlighting issues that need addressing and sharing new ideas.

• Strengthens organisational culture: Positive feedback creates a more supportive and collaborative workplace, which can lead to happier, more skilled employees, stronger teams and better company culture.

• Supports a certain standard of work: Every organisation has its level of standards expected at work, and positive feedback helps support those standards. Providing more positive feedback can also increase motivation, which can improve the standard of work and make new standards even higher.

• Develops performance: This kind of feedback helps people recognise what they do well and get even better, which promotes skill-building and personal improvement. Improving performance can increase productivity, which benefits both individuals and the organisation as a whole.

• Cost-effective: Developing a supportive, positive environment can increase productivity and reduce inefficient work.

How to deliver positive feedback

1. Try to link positive behaviour to business goals and objectives

Providing feedback so employees improve or maintain their quality of work can improve the company overall. When giving positive feedback, explain how the colleague’s actions demonstrated the organisation’s values, improved productivity and accuracy or helped the team meet a big goal.

2. Praise groups of people

If you think a team of people could benefit from the positive feedback you want to give, try to meet with them as a group to provide the feedback in person. You could also send a group email or message, make a company-wide announcement or reach out to their manager.

3. Be specific

Detailed and specific examples show people how and why they’re doing good things at work. Give as many details as possible in your feedback so that the person understands what they did well. Here’s an example of meaningful positive feedback:

‘Good job on the presentation! You backed up your argument with facts and your analysis was accurate. The audience also responded well to your presentation skills as you were engaging and you communicated the information in a clear and interesting way’.

In this example, they list specific details about the colleague’s presentation so they can maintain or improve their quality in the future.

4. Reserve positive feedback for impactful behaviour

Try to give feedback when someone goes out of their way to be great, exceeds expectations or handles a tough or important job well. Reserving positive feedback for these larger moments can make positive feedback more special and impactful.

5. Give feedback throughout the year

While you can provide positive feedback to an employee during an annual performance review or peer review, you can give positive feedback at any time of the year. Doing so fosters a culture of continuous improvement at the workplace and reinforces and awards great performance sooner.

Positive feedback tips to keep in mind

Being clear and concise with your feedback is the most effective way to help people understand what they’re doing well. Here are some other tips for providing positive feedback effectively:

• Give feedback quickly. Feedback should be as immediate as possible to ensure employees get the most benefit from it. If you see someone doing something well, address it as soon as the recipient has the time and mental capacity to fully absorb your feedback.

• Make it regular. Positive feedback should become an ongoing part of how you interact with people at your workplace. You can act as an example to promote continuous positive feedback on your team.

• Use examples. Highlight examples of what people are doing well, such as handling difficult tasks or consistently meeting tight deadlines, so that they know what to continue doing and have a reference point to remind them.

• Highlight achievements. Try to highlight a person’s good work and achievements in front of other people, such as at team meetings or office lunches.

• Master the delivery. Find the communication tools that help you best deliver positive feedback. If you feel most comfortable and have had the most success giving feedback via email, continue to hone your written feedback skills.

Giving constructive criticism

While positive feedback is vital, it is also a good idea to let others know when they have the opportunity to improve the skills and qualities that will help them succeed. Here are a few tips for providing constructive criticism:

1. Limit the number of compliments

Giving a compliment before and after your feedback, also known as a ‘feedback sandwich’, may dilute the impact of your feedback. They may not understand that they have improvements to make or may focus only on the positives. It’s best to start the conversation by pointing out what they did right and end with how you think they can improve.

2. Provide solutions to the issues you mention

Constructive feedback helps people understand why certain improvements can benefit them. For example, if an employee frequently sends emails with spelling errors, explain why sending an error-free email is important, such as that it ensures effective communication and makes the company look professional and polished to clients. Provide an example, and reiterate why they should consider proofreading before sending communications. Help them come up with a plan to improve their spelling and catch typos.

3. Make negative feedback the exception, not the rule

While providing consistent constructive feedback is a necessary part of a job, contributing too much negativity, complaints and constant criticism can be counterproductive. Try to balance each piece of constructive criticism with a piece of positive feedback that can keep colleagues motivated.

4. Try to give constructive feedback in person

It’s often better to give constructive criticism face-to-face rather than by email or chat. In-person communication allows you to use facial expressions and tone to properly convey your feedback, and you can better understand their response to the feedback with their tone and facial expressions, too. This can create more open dialogue and promote respect.

5. Remain objective

Constructive criticism should be used only as a method of encouraging others to improve as members of their team and in their career. Be objective as you talk about any performance issues you see to make sure that any personal issues are not involved.

6. Set an example

If you are providing constructive feedback to others in specific areas, make sure that you are also doing your best in those areas. This ensures that your feedback is trustworthy and reliable. Also, when you are doing your best in certain areas, others who need to improve can approach you with questions or tips on how to get better.

7. Be open to receiving feedback

Being open to receiving constructive feedback increases your empathy so that you become better at providing constructive feedback to others. You can also get better at certain skills when you are open to receiving constructive criticism at work, and these skills might be crucial for advancing in your career.

In a nutshell….

Whilst giving constructive feedback feels confrontational and something that many shy away from, remember that the person concerned is probably aware that they are not performing at the level you require and so the conversation, for most, even if painful and upsetting will be welcome when they have had time to reflect. The most important thing to remember is that the worst outcome for the person receiving the feedback is confusion – it maybe uncomfortable to hear of their shortcomings but provided they have received clear feedback and clarity on what they have to do then the ultimate outcome will be positive – for all.

Any questions at all do email or call: nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44(0)7917 878384.

June 16

Do you have a menopause policy in your handbook…?

This week the House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, signed a pledge vowing to make the House of Commons “menopause friendly” for staff. The Commons Speaker said it should not be a “taboo subject” that was “swept under the carpet”.

The Menopause Workplace Pledge has been signed by more than 600 organisations including the civil service, Tesco’s and John Lewis, and obligates employers to recognise that women going through the menopause may need support in the workplace – the menopause can lead to symptoms such as hot flushes, sleeplessness, changes to mood as well as conditions like osteoporosis.

Health, safety and wellbeing

For employers, the menopause is a health and safety and wellbeing concern for staff and needs to be handled sensitively. Supporting and creating a positive and open environment between an employer and someone affected by the menopause can help prevent the person from:

• losing confidence in their skills and abilities
• feeling like they need to take time off work and hide the reasons for it
• having increased mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression
• leaving their job

Who is affected?

The menopause usually happens between 45 and 55 years of age but it can also happen earlier or later in someone’s life. For many people symptoms last about 4 years, but in some cases symptoms can last a lot longer and can vary from very mild to severe.

Although the menopause will only be experienced by women and other people who have a menstrual cycle, men should also be included in conversations and training. This is because they might be supporting others going through it.

Supporting staff through the menopause

It’s important for employers to support staff through every stage of the menopause. Having early and regular follow-up conversations with staff to understand their needs can help make sure support and procedures are in place so they can continue to do their job effectively.

1. Developing a menopause policy

To help staff feel supported it’s a good idea to have a policy specifically for the menopause. This should be shared across the whole organisation, be regularly reviewed and be the basis for any training the organisation gives to managers. A policy can help everyone in the organisation understand:

• what the menopause is and how it can affect people
• how it affects everyone differently
• what support is available to staff affected by it

The menopause policy could also:

• explain what training is provided to managers and team leaders
• explain who the organisation’s point of contact is for queries related to the menopause
• show how the organisation is open and trained to talk and listen sensitively about the effects of the menopause
• include the employer’s commitment to support its diverse workforce and to prevent discrimination.

2. Consider job flexibility

Employers should consider how the person’s job role and responsibilities could make their menopause symptoms harder to deal with, for example if:

• they work long shifts
• they cannot take regular toilet breaks
• their job requires a uniform which may cause discomfort
• their job does not have much flexibility

There are several steps employers can take to make sure they have early conversations with staff and find solutions before problems arise.

3. Training managers

It can give staff more confidence to talk to their managers about the effects of the menopause on their work if they know the managers are trained to:

• talk and listen sensitively
• find ways to give support
• have knowledge of the menopause and its effects
• know what support and guidance the organisation can offer

Employers should train all managers and team leaders to make sure they understand:

• how the law relates to the menopause
• how to talk with and encourage staff to raise any menopause concerns
• how different stages and types of menopause can affect staff
• what support and workplace changes are available to staff
• how to deal with menopause issues sensitively and fairly
• how gender identity links to the menopause and why it’s important.

4. Carrying out health and safety checks

By law, employers are responsible for the health and safety of all staff, including those working from home. Employers must conduct a risk assessment of their staff’s workplace, including any working from home. This includes:

• generally assessing health and safety risks at work
• minimising, reducing and where possible removing health and safety risks for staff

For staff affected by the menopause this includes:

• ensuring menopause symptoms are not made worse by the workplace or its work practices
• making changes to help staff manage their symptoms when doing their job

For the menopause, a risk assessment could include:

• the temperature and ventilation of the workplace
• the material and the fit of the organisation’s uniform, if there is one, and whether it might make staff going through the menopause feel too hot or cause discomfort
• whether there’s somewhere suitable for staff to rest if needed, for example a quiet room
• whether toilet facilities are easily accessible
• whether cold drinking water is available
• whether managers and supervisors have been trained on health and safety issues relating to the menopause

Employers should also make sure that staff know they can approach their managers to raise any health and safety issues and will not be put at a disadvantage or treated less favourably if they do.

5. Managing sickness absence and job performance

Because the menopause can be long term and affects everyone differently, managing absence from work should be handled sensitively. Employers should keep talking with their staff and be prepared to:

• make changes to help staff continue to work
• take into consideration any performance issues which might be because of menopause symptoms

It’s a good idea for employers to talk to staff about any changes that could help them do their job. Staff should also be given a reasonable amount of time to adjust to any changes made.

When someone is off sick because of the menopause, the employer should record these absences separately from other absences. This is because there may be times when it could be unfair or discriminatory to measure menopause-related absence as part of the person’s overall attendance record.

In a nutshell….

The aim should be to normalise discussion about the menopause at work, raise awareness and understanding, build a psychologically safe environment and provide guidance, practical support and training for those managers to ensure they are best placed to support their staff.

If you would like any advice or a menopause policy for your handbook email nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44 7917 878384

June 8

Are you embracing neurodiversity in the workplace…?

It’s estimated that 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent in the UK – that’s around 15% of the population.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is the umbrella term that covers all neurocognitive differences, from autism and ADHD to dyslexia and dyscalculia.

Neurodiversity refers to the many different ways brains can process information, think about things, learn and generally understand the world around us. Our brains being different is one of the reasons why some people are better at certain things than others.

People that are neurodivergent process information differently than neurotypical people might. They may also learn differently too, as their brain functions in a different way.

As humans are individuals, so are our brains – everyone’s works a little differently.

Why does neurodiversity matter?

Neurodiversity matters because the world would be dull if all humans thought the same way. Understanding neurodiversity promotes inclusiveness and fosters better working relationships. Being aware of differences in how people communicate, for example, can improve the capacity of what teams can achieve if everyone understands other people’s abilities.

A neurodiverse person might communicate differently than a neurotypical person. There are benefits for everyone in recognising different styles of communication, especially at work.

Neurodivergent people have a lot to contribute and shouldn’t be dismissed or not recognised in their careers because of the way their brain might work. Neurodiverse people have been known to display skills more advanced than others in certain areas, such as problem solving or may be particularly good at maths or logical tasks.

Understanding where any employee’s strengths lie is a great way to advance the progress and capabilities of your team.

Why neurodiversity awareness is important in the workplace

With neurodiversity related discrimination claims up by a third, raising awareness and increasing understanding of neurodivergent conditions and how many conditions fall under this umbrella is crucial for inclusive workplaces.

And awareness starts from the top. Being open and talking about neurodivergent conditions benefits everybody. If more leaders self-identified as neurodivergent, it will only encourage more people to talk about their own neurodivergences too – increasing understanding and fully appreciating people’s differences, as well as their potential.

A better knowledge of the potential of neurodivergent employees could also ease the current recruitment crisis, bridging the gaps between job vacancies and skills gaps.

Creating workplaces that support neurodiversity

There are many ways in which organisations can support neurodivergent employees by creating an inclusive working environment:

• always include agendas for meetings so everyone can prepare and knows what’s coming up, thereby reducing anxiety – this likely also benefits most neurotypical employees, too;
• offer additional support for events or larger company meetings. New situations, or those out of a usual routine can cause stress. Offering the support of a colleague to act as a ‘buddy’ during events can work well to provide familiarity and consistency;
• flexible or hybrid working policies can be a great support to neurodiverse employees. Working from home allows quiet focus time amongst an individual’s own surroundings, without extra stimuli – such as a noisy office environment;
• if there are any neurodiverse employees that struggle with hot-desking (and the constant change and lack of routine that brings) ask them if they would like a designated area or space that they know they can always work in;
• provide stress balls in the office – these can be useful to neurodiverse people who fidget or may want something to focus their energy on when anxious or feeling overwhelmed. They can also come in handy for neurotypical employees as well.

It’s always best to check with your neurodiverse employees on an individual basis as to what they might need from their working environment as everyone is different – just because something works for someone with a neurodiverse condition doesn’t mean this will be the case for everyone. They may not want to be singled out and be the only person who doesn’t hot-desk, for example.

For further support email mailto:nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44 7917 878384

May 23

Have you thought of conducting a ‘stay’ interview….?

When you recruit you conduct interviews of a candidate to find out why they want to join. When employees leave, they go through an exit interview to understand why, were there any issues and what could be done better.

But what about those who aren’t at either end of that career journey with you? The job market is super-hot right now which means that it is even more important to check in to see just how contented and motivated your staff really are…

It is really important for companies to start spending the time to understand why employees choose to stay with them. Knowing what keeps people attached to their current workplace and what their motivators are can be invaluable information for making proactive changes to processes or doubling down on what’s already working.

Cue…. the ‘stay’ interview.

So, what exactly is a stay interview?

Stay interviews are a great way of re-engaging employees by identifying:

• what motivates
• what they want from their role and career within the company
• in what areas they think the company and themselves can improve.

Unlike exit interviews, they’re about gathering feedback on any issues or concerns that could impact retention rates before they’ve handed in their resignation.

Crucially, they allow companies to take stock of how their staff are feeling about the business and their careers before it’s too late.

When should you conduct stay interviews?

Stay interviews can be conducted at any time, but there’s the suggestion it’s worthwhile considering the factors likely to contribute to staff turnover and plan them accordingly.

For example:

• periods of change or transition can cause disruption to people’s roles and routines and add new levels of stress and increased frustrations. Communication at these times is key, as is employers understanding the feelings amongst their teams.
• workload fluctuations, whether they increase or decrease, can lead to employees feeling undervalued, unsupported or unmotivated. Understanding how people are coping with their change in workload, how this has impacted them and how they feel about it is important information to get from them.

How should you conduct a stay interview?

Typically, this depends on the make-up of the business, its people and its culture, however, it’s important to be clear on the purpose of the interview beforehand.

They are most successful if they are conversational, informal and conducted in a way that empowers employees to feel they can be transparent, open and honest with their answers. They shouldn’t feel like anything they say will impact negatively upon them.

Meeting somewhere more casual than the usual meeting rooms or offices is a good way of getting the format right, and whichever location is chosen should be far enough away from others in the office so teams can speak freely without being overheard.

Most importantly, listening more than speaking is the key for managers conducting stay interviews, as is displaying empathy and responding to the feedback where appropriate.

What sort of questions should be asked?

When it comes to gathering feedback, questions similar to the following are a great way to find out just how engaged and motivated employees are in their roles:

• What motivates you to log on/turn up every day?
• How are you feeling in your role? Can you see a clear progression path for you?
• Do you feel your efforts are properly recognised?
• What are your long-term career goals?
• What are the challenges you face which prevent you from reaching your potential? How can the business help alleviate these challenges?
• Are you able to find a positive work/life balance? If not, how can we help?
• What would make you want to leave?

Through asking honest and transparent questions like these, employers build trust and engagement with their teams, enhance their existing culture and successfully identify and manage recurring issues.

What happens next?

Following up on the feedback in the right way is the key to making stay interviews an effective employee retention tool.

The one-size-fits-all approach no longer works as each employee has their own individual values, motivators, and stresses so tailoring the response correctly is crucial. Companies should use the information to address and adjust their engagement and retention strategies as well as their teams’ individual career plans.

If they do, they should find their employees are more engaged, more supported and more productive.

For any advice do email nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44 07917 878384

May 10

Mental Health Awareness week begins today, 9 May 2022….what are you doing to support your staff….?

According to new research, supporting employee mental health remains the biggest workplace challenge for UK businesses at the moment and according to mental health charity Mind, one in four people in the UK will suffer from some form of mental health problem each year.

A poll of more than 300 companies has found 41% of employers say supporting mental health and wellbeing is their top concern, followed by retaining staff (36%), recruitment (36%), managing Covid-related absence (31%), skills gaps (29%) and hybrid working (26%).

Employers reported implementing the following in a bid to address this:

• review of benefits with increased benefits now on offer;
• investing in health and private medical insurance options;
• allowing more wellbeing days/mental health days;
• retaining flexible hours;
• implementing designated slots in the diary free from virtual meetings.

Although employees are no longer obliged to work from home, it will take time to reverse the impact of isolation and loneliness that has built up over the lockdown. As the hybrid world is still evolving, creating its own range of challenges and opportunities, the most effective approaches will be created by employers working closely with their teams.

Here are six ideas to get your comms around mental health spot on!

1. Run mental health awareness and mindfulness workshops

As well as training for leadership and management, use this week to run mental health awareness workshops to help your employees identify what mental health problems can look like, some signs that their co-workers may be struggling, and how to approach the topic. Spreading awareness of this is key in helping to create an environment where people can feel comfortable discussing it.

You could consider looking at using external providers to deliver training, resources, and workshops, such as from The Wellbeing Project.

Further, you could consider mindfulness training to give your employees the tools they need to process their negative emotions, reduce their stress, and gain insights into their wellbeing.

2. Host talks from management and leaders

Mental health has a huge stigma attached to it, and as many as 60 percent of people with mental health issues felt embarrassed to discuss it with their employers. To address this, it is important to share the experiences of managers or leaders in the team in a safe space and if they are comfortable to do so. Getting them to tell their lived experiences will help employees see that it is not unusual to struggle and face mental health issues, but it will also help them open up about their mental health as it creates a safe environment for them to do so.

3. Hold a series of challenges across the week

A fun way to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week is to hold a series of small challenges during the week to encourage your employees to take time in the day for themselves and their mental health. The challenges can be something as small as an act of kindness, or something like attending one of the mental health workshops or a wellbeing or yoga class.

Anything which gets the workforce talking about mental health and making a small change every day to look after theirs is a win.

4. Arrange a coffee morning

Arranging a coffee morning with your employees where they can talk about any concerns they may have is another activity idea for Mental Health Awareness Week. Create an open channel of communication where they can feel free to talk to their managers, peers, or like-minded individuals about anything and let them know what help is available to them.

If they don’t have anything which they wish to discuss, it is still a nice break from their workday and allows them to take some time for themselves, encouraging healthy habits.

5. Identify your mental health champions

Finally, identify people within your team who can be a mental health ‘champion’. These members of the team will receive some mental health training and can be nominated people who employees can go to if they have any issues which they don’t feel comfortable enough speaking to the managers about.

This solution is not restricted to Mental Health Awareness Week, but rather it is something which can be done year-round to ensure the wellbeing of your employees.

Mental health is not just something to speak about and raise awareness of in May, but an issue which needs to be addressed on many levels within the organisation. Having a healthy company culture and offering support to your employees all year round is essential in actively tackling mental health issues.

For any support on this do email nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44(0)7917 878384

May 3

Are your ‘interns’ entitled to a salary and annual leave?

With the summer approaching, students, or those just leaving higher education, are going to be on the lookout for internships or work experience placements to enable them to gain valuable work experience and improve their CV ahead of any future job application.

Typically these schemes have been unpaid, or the employer simply offers to pay travel or lunch expenses, and organisations have been accused of taking advantage of people without a job and bypassing the laws on the minimum wage.

Tribunals are taking up the cause and a number of recent legal cases seem to say that an intern who does work that would be paid work if done by an employee or contractor, can be a ‘worker’ for the purposes of national minimum wage law. If they are a ‘worker’, you must pay them at least the relevant national minimum wage for their age – even if they are prepared to work for nothing.

Identifying workers

The law defines a ‘worker’ for the purposes of national minimum wage law as someone who has either:

• A contract of employment with you, or
• A contract with you under which they must personally perform work or services for you. The contract can be in writing or expressed orally or implied from the circumstances.

Using this definition, it is usually relatively simple to determine whether an intern is personally providing a service, and thus entitled to the national minimum wage. The fact that there may be no formal written contract in place and that their title or role is described as work experience/internship/voluntary work makes no difference.

A clear example of where an intern would not be personally providing a service, and thus not entitled to the minimum wage, would be where they are simply learning a job by shadowing a member of staff, no work is carried out by the intern, they are simply observing – they would find it difficult to show they were actually providing a service to the organisation.

Exceptions

It is important to be clear about those students who would not be classified as a ‘worker’ in the eyes of the law and therefore would not be entitled to the national minimum wage:

• students on work experience for fewer than 12 months as part of their course
• students on work experience who are still under the school-leaving age (but not school-leavers working in the UK during a gap year)
• some apprentices and some volunteers

An intern is more likely to be classified as a ‘worker’ during their placement if:

• their placement lasts more than a few weeks
• the placement may lead to an offer of permanent, paid work
• the employer is obliged to give them work to do, and they are obliged to do it
• it is real work of the sort a paid employee or contractor would be asked to do
• the business is relying on their specific skills in the tasks they undertake – for example, a marketing student might be asked to draft a market research proposal to put to an external agency
• they cannot come and go as they please

For example, in one legal case a 21-year old worked as an intern on a publishing business’ website for two months. She worked from 10am to 6pm each day, and had been promised payment. At the end of the two month period the company argued she had been working as an unpaid intern.

The Employment Tribunal upheld her claim that she was a ‘worker’ for the purposes of the NMW, even though she had no written contract. She was clearly doing proper work, of real benefit to the business, which would have been done by a paid employee or contractor if she had not done it. It therefore said she should be paid for her work.

In that case, the intern was doing valuable work. Work can be less valuable but still amount to real work – for example, opening or delivering post, stuffing envelopes or photocopying.

Right to paid holidays

As we have established, the majority of interns will be providing a service and thus deemed to be a ‘worker’ who will attract at least the national minimum wage. In addition, those ‘worker’ interns will also be entitled to at least 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year – or, more likely, the pro-rated equivalent to reflect their part time or short term contracted status. This holiday may be taken during the internship or the intern may be paid in lieu of their accrued but untaken holiday at the end of the internship.

Either way, ensuring your intern is allocated the correct amount of holiday entitlement is as important to remember as paying your intern the national minimum wage.

Consequences of ignoring the law

It is important to know if, based on the reality of the relationship, the intern is a ‘worker’ and therefore entitled to the national minimum wage. The consequences of non-payment can be serious – the employer can be required to pay six years backdated pay and could face criminal charges if found to have wilfully neglected to pay the national minimum wage.

If we can assist by supplying with you with an internship agreement email nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44 (0)7917 878384

April 11

Supporting employees observing Ramadan….

Ramadan began a week or so ago and so it is a good time to remind employers of the importance of supporting Muslim staff who are observing the Islamic holy month. Many Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. They may also wish to spend time in prayer, engage in charitable activities and spend time with family and friends to celebrate.

To be an inclusive employer it is important that employers accommodate employees who are observing Ramadan which runs from 2 April to 1 May 2022. There is a festival (Eid al-Fitr) to mark the end of Ramadan when Muslims break their daylight fasting.

1. Encourage openness about religious observance

Employees who are fasting will usually attend work as normal but can be encouraged to tell their employer that they are fasting. However, employers should not assume that all employees want to be treated differently because they are fasting. Further it is important to note that not all individuals observing Ramadan will actually be fasting – for example, there are exceptions for people with health conditions, or who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

To strike a balance, employers could put a message on their intranet about the fasting period, with an invitation to employees to make their needs during Ramadan known.

2. Educate line managers and colleagues about Ramadan

Employers can raise awareness of key religious events, including Ramadan, by having a calendar of the key religious days and festivals on their intranet. For example, publicising the dates of Ramadan and explaining about fasting can enable employees to be sensitive to the needs of colleagues who may be observing the fast. This can also help managers to anticipate requests for annual leave.

There are simple steps that everyone can take to support individuals during Ramadan observance, including:

• avoiding placing additional burdens on them while they are fasting, for example not asking them to do overtime;
• being considerate by not offering them food or drink;
• avoiding having work events that involve food, such as working lunches and team meetings where biscuits or food spreads are placed in front of them; and
• avoiding scheduling important meetings, such as performance appraisals, late in the day when their energy levels may be low.

3. Be flexible with working patterns

One of the most helpful things that an employer can do for employees observing Ramadan is to allow them to adjust their working patterns. Employers should remember that an employee may be getting up earlier than usual to have a meal before sunrise and staying up late for evening prayers. These factors, and the fact that the employee is not eating during daylight hours, can lead to fatigue and drops in concentration.

Employers could put in place temporary arrangements during Ramadan to allow employees to:

• start work earlier than usual so that they can leave the workplace earlier; and
• be flexible with their lunchbreak, for example by shortening it or taking it earlier or later in the day.

However, employers should ensure that such temporary arrangements are not seen by others as allowing the employee to reduce their working hours. In addition, employers need to be careful that any temporary arrangements are not in breach of working time legislation. In particular, remember that, where an adult worker’s daily working time is more than six hours, they are entitled to a rest break of at least 20 minutes (30 minutes for young workers).

4. Embrace the advantages of hybrid working

The pandemic has meant that many employers have introduced hybrid working for most or all of their staff. Employers that have moved to the hybrid working model can use this way of working to support employees who are observing Ramadan.

For example, the employer could temporarily amend the ratio of time spent attending the workplace compared with time working remotely, allowing fasting employees to spend more time working at home during Ramadan.

Line managers who are organising meetings on a particular day should think about whether it is possible for the employee to work from home and join the meeting remotely. For example, is the employee being asked to commute to the office during Ramadan to attend one in-person meeting that they could just as easily participate in remotely?

Embracing hybrid working during Ramadan as a way to reduce commuting, which can be draining for an employee who is fasting, is a good way for employers to show their support.

Any questions at all do email or call: nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44(0)7917 878384.

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Tel. 44(0)7917 878384

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March 1

Working from home – hybrid working: the tax implications….

HM Revenue & Customs has offered various tax reliefs while employees were required to work from home during the pandemic, but these will soon come to an end and how will they impact hybrid working….?

Following the recent removal of work from home guidance in England and Scotland, thousands of workers have begun to return to their offices for at least a few days a week.

It is now clear that many organisations plan to adopt hybrid working arrangements on a permanent basis, but there are a number of important employment tax and benefits issues that they should keep in mind.

Travel expenses

Employees who have to commute to work may have previously received some form of travel reimbursement from their employer if they were mainly working from home during the pandemic, which would be taxable and liable to National Insurance (NIC). But now, hybrid working raises the question of where the employee’s permanent workplace is, and if reimbursed travel expenses are considered taxable.

For tax purposes, a home can be a place of work, but is not always a permanent workplace – to be a permanent workplace, the employee must be required to work from home and perform substantive duties there. However, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) emphasises that in most cases, it is the employee’s personal choice to work from home.

Ordinarily, a permanent workplace is any place where an employee’s attendance is frequent and follows a pattern. Travel between two workplaces is considered business travel; however, if one of those locations is the employee’s home, HMRC may contend this is ordinary commuting (unless home is a “permanent workplace”) and any reimbursements are thus taxable and liable to NIC.

A temporary workplace is where the employee performs duties of “limited duration” or for a “temporary purpose”. If an employee works at the same place for more than 24 months continuously, it is considered their permanent workplace. HMRC defines continuous work as doing at least 40% of your work from a single location.

The key question is whether an employee’s presence at the office has now become temporary or is simply the normal performance of their role.

Hybrid working arrangements must be carefully structured for home to be a permanent workplace, and travel to an office may still be taxable.

Under hybrid working, an employee may have a pattern of home and office working. In this case, any attendance at the office would be “in the performance of their duties” and the office would be their permanent workplace. Any reimbursed costs for travel from home to a permanent workplace are taxable and liable to NIC.

In contrast, if the company no longer has an office and employees are forced to work from home, their homes may now be considered permanent workplaces. As a result, business travel can be defined as travel from those residences to other temporary workplaces, and tax relief given to any expenses reimbursed.

Hybrid working arrangements must be carefully structured for home to be a permanent workplace, and travel to an office may still be taxable.

Temporary tax reliefs

During the 2020 lockdown, HMRC launched several tax reliefs to help support people working from home. However, these benefits are due to end on 5 April 2022, so it is worth both employers and employees understanding the steps they can take before these reliefs come to an end.

Working from home allowance

In line with HMRC’s home working guidance, employers can pay staff £6 per week tax-free to cover increased energy costs incurred while they are working from home. No records are required unless more than £6 per week is claimed.

Employees whose employers do not cover these costs may still claim tax relief on £6 per week as additional household expenditure through the government microsite. Employees can claim this tax relief for the entire year, regardless of the days they worked from home.

The tax code is amended to provide tax relief, and if the employer does not pay the full amount, the employee can claim tax relief for the difference.

From 6 April 2022, employers might want to consider adopting a formal home working arrangement, if they haven’t already, to use this exemption and pay the tax free allowance.

Purchasing equipment for use at home

Home office equipment is tax and NIC exempt if the sole purpose is to allow the employee to work and there is insignificant private use. The employer must retain ownership of the equipment to qualify for this exemption and should take care when updating or replacing old equipment so that the ownership does not pass to the employee.

A temporary tax and NIC exemption allows employers to reimburse employees for expenses incurred due to working from home if it is available to all employees on equal terms.

HMRC has confirmed that no benefit-in-kind arises should employees resume work and keep the equipment, because there has not been a transfer of ownership.

Cycling to work

Many employers have a cycle to work programme to assist employees with their commute. In these schemes, employees are expected to cycle to work for at least half of their commutes (however, those who joined before 20 December 2020 are exempt from this requirement). Employers must also undertake an annual audit to ensure any company bicycles are used for qualifying trips only.

Other hybrid working benefits

There are also a number of additional benefits employers can offer under hybrid working arrangements that are not subject to easement. For example, some employers may wish to provide a company mobile phone or sim card.

Hybrid working may affect the perceived value of some more traditional benefits for employees. As some benefits become more appealing, employers must decide if company cars, workplace parking, and season ticket loans are still a viable offering.

Many employers will be deliberating whether hybrid working arrangements should be a permanent fixture. In particular, it is important that they regularly audit any policies and seek expert advice to ensure they fully understand HMRC policies on hybrid working benefits.

For assistance please get in touch: nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44(0)7917 878384.

February 16

Flexible working requests – what is an employer’s obligation?

As more businesses look to encourage people back to the office, how flexible should they be and could refusing flexible working requests constitute indirect discrimination?

Flexible working is evolving rapidly and an increasing number of people are seeking more freedom over when, where and how they fulfil their role. Employees are seeking to break out of the traditional and rigid structure of working 9-to-5 in the office and employers have seen a sharp rise in flexible working requests since the pandemic.

At the end of 2021 the government consulted on introducing a day one right to request flexible working but as yet no decision has been made.

Although there is not a burden or an obligation on an employer to agree to all flexible working requests, it is imperative that employers understand how to handle flexible working requests and consider the risks associated with them.

Although working from home is unlikely to become a strict legal right for everyone, employees who are called back into the office after having enjoyed the benefits of hybrid or remote working may turn to statutory flexible working requests. It is important to remember, also, that women who are seeking flexible working for childcare reasons will have the added layer of protection from discrimination laws.

Seeking flexible working for childcare reasons:

Two recent cases have made it clear that indirect sex discrimination may be a successful basis for a claim after refusal to accommodate a woman’s request for flexible working to accommodate her family.

Indirect discrimination is concerned with decisions or policies which, in practice, have the effect of placing a group of people with a particular protected characteristic at a disadvantage. Sex is included as a relevant protected characteristic under the Act.

In one case a woman asked to finish at 5pm instead of 6pm to enable her to pick up her child from nursery. Her employer refused the request giving, amongst others, the following reasons: an inability to reorganise work among other employees and an inability to meet customer demand.

The tribunal considered that the employer’s practice had put the woman at a disadvantage because of her sex. It was argued that the practice for sale managers to work full time 9am-6pm, Monday to Friday, was a practice which placed women with children at a substantial disadvantage compared with men with children. Therefore, the tribunal upheld the following:

• refusing the employee’s request was indirect discrimination
• whilst the employer’s business concerns were recognised, they did not outweigh the discriminatory impact on the female employee.

Another recent case ruled that employment tribunals must accept as fact that women are still more likely to bear the primary burden of childcare responsibilities and this often hinders their ability to work certain hours. There is childcare disparity, this must be accepted as a ‘fact without evidence’ and the employment appeal tribunal held that….“While things might have progressed somewhat in that men do now bear a greater proportion of child care responsibilities than they did decades ago, the position is still far from equal.”

Tips for employers

The above recent cases have reaffirmed the need for employers to carefully consider all flexible working requests. Before rejecting proposed changes, employers should not only assess their practices and business needs, but also ensure consideration is given to whether the employee making the request may have a protected characteristic and whether they are likely to suffer a disadvantage.

Employers need to consider the following:

1. Try to be as flexible as possible and treat the request as a conversation with the employee in order to identify a pattern that works for both parties. If the request has been refused for a business reason, can an alternative working arrangement be agreed with the employee? Even if this proves not to be possible, this will assist employers in demonstrating that they have acted reasonably.

2. Offering a trial period may provide a way to assess the impact of modified working arrangements in the workplace and whether the request can work in practice.

3. When considering a flexible working request, employers should keep clear records of their reasoning when making decisions.

4. Employers should ensure they remain fair and consistent in their treatment of flexible working requests.

5. Employers should consult their existing policies and practices for flexible working, which ideally will incorporate the statutory requirements and principles outlined above and from the Acas code of practice.

For assistance on flexible working requests, do contact: nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44(0)7917 878384.

January 14

The Great Resignation….how do you retain your staff in 2022?

In August 2021 the number of open job positions in the UK exceeded an unprecedented 1 million for the first time in the UK’s history. ‘The Great Resignation’ is making it harder for companies to recruit people and many existing employees are considering changing jobs and moving employers. Data from Microsoft published earlier in the year suggests that an estimated 40% of the global workforce is considering changing jobs in 2021-2022.

Why are so many people leaving?

Many workers are thought to be making the decision to leave based on how their employers treated them – or didn’t treat them ¬– during the pandemic. The pandemic has changed the way people work and how they view work. Reversing the tide is going to require managers who care, who engage and who give workers a sense of purpose. In other words, people are looking for roles with more progressive, supportive cultures than they may have experienced to date. There is now a greater emphasis on wellbeing and flexible working, among others.

The importance of ‘people first’ company cultures

The importance of company culture really can’t be overstated in the battle for recruitment and retention. If people are leaving an organisation because they are feeling unsupported or poorly treated, word will get round very quickly and a business will suffer reputationally, along with its ability to attract candidates and retain existing team members.

How to build a great company culture

There are plenty ways to build a great company culture as the business grows:

1. Establish your culture by defining your values

Your values will steer the way your people behave, treat one another and go about their day-to-day work. When a company is in its infancy, the culture that develops will be that of the founders. It’s often one that values a ‘can-do’ attitude. Your culture is a consequence of your values. So before you do anything else, you must establish your company values:

• what is the business’ purpose?
• what do I want the business to be known for?
• which characteristics do we value in our employees?

2. Communicate your values

Once you have agreed your values, you must communicate them to your employees. Only when this is done can they start to translate into company culture. Get your staff together for an afternoon and communicate your values in an engaging and inspiring way. Invite them to participate – this way they’ll be more likely to engage with your vision and contribute towards building your new culture.

Going forward, ensure projects and initiatives are underpinned by these culture-relevant values. And be certain to communicate them at every employee induction.

3. Hire for cultural “add” rather than culture “fit”

Hiring the right people is an important way of building a strong company culture. Which makes hiring for culture fit seem like a great idea. You ask candidates what they value in a company and gauge if they align with your culture or not.

But hiring on the basis of cultural fit can quickly create an environment where everyone thinks the same. Further, it also limits employee diversity which is bad news for company culture and business results.

Instead, hire for culture add. Ask what candidates can bring to your business that will move your culture in the right direction.

4. How does your culture define success?

The way a business defines, measures and rewards success says a lot about its culture. You will need to agree how you will measure company and individual performance. Think also about the way your definition of success reinforces your culture. Will you reward employees for hitting targets, or award them bonuses for passing certain levels of turnover? What about customer satisfaction or cost-reduction? Each type of measurement sends a message of its own and affects the way your culture develops.

5. Be transparent

Transparency helps improve trust and satisfaction for your employees. It’s also an important component of a strong culture. This also applies to communicating how employees’ work will help the organisation towards its mission and objectives (which can often get lost in day-to-day work.)

Don’t try to hide the low points – celebrate the highs and analyse the lows, consulting with staff about where things have gone wrong and what can be done to improve them in the future. Be transparent about your successes too; be sure to share any upturns in revenue, exciting achievements and business-growth.

6. Culture leads from the top

Leaders need to acknowledge that – like it or not – they set the cultural agenda and are responsible for curating how it builds in a company. It then needs to exist independently of the leaders. It’s also important for leaders to connect with their people emotionally. Gone are the days when managers keep their distance and focus on the metrics. People need to know that their leaders care about them and that they take rational decisions based on sound ethical principles.

7. Do what you say you’re going to do

Building a strong company culture is about practicing what you preach. Company values are only worth something when you put them into practice. If you say you’re a ‘people-first’ company, demonstrate this by investing in your people. Failing to deliver on your promises creates a distrustful and disloyal culture. Live up to your promises and you’ll be rewarded with a strong culture and a happy, engaged and motivated team.

Flexible working and recruitment

Allowing people to work from home and balance duties of care with their work lives means employers can recruit from a wider and more diverse pool of people than they did before the pandemic took hold. The result is that more employers are recruiting outside of their geographic area, with more people using technology to communicate and collaborate from wherever they live.

Obtaining feedback – and acting on it

It is important to obtain feedback regularly to understand how employees are feeling about their roles and employers and to use this as the basis for a framework of changes and improvements that are needed. Asking employees for their thoughts on either an informal or more formal basis will suffice – if you don’t ask you will never know. The final step is to ensure that employers act on the feedback from these surveys and make the changes.

Exit interview, meet ‘stay interview’

A stay interview is essentially a conversation between an employer and employee about the latter’s experience of the company and views on their working lives. It provides insight which an employer can use to highlight areas for improvement which may otherwise be ground for an employee choosing to work elsewhere.

‘Stay’ interviews are obviously preferable to exit interviews and should be prioritised, especially for high performing employees whose departure would be the most damaging to a business.

In summary….

Following two difficult years, confidence is returning to various sectors yet many business leaders’ plans for recovery will be thwarted if their most talented people look elsewhere.

Employers must work harder than ever to attract the best candidates and retain existing talent. Focusing on building a strong culture can help businesses compete with larger competitors who may be able to offer larger salaries and a reputation for genuinely putting people first will also go a long way in the battle for recruitment and retention.

For assistance in conducting stay and exit interviews please get in touch: nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44(0)7917 878384.

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