Avoiding the Work Christmas Party headaches

As we snowball into the festive season, talk is inevitably turning to the work Christmas party.

You’ve been working hard for the whole year and now it’s time to slip into your most flattering Christmas jumper and have some festive fun!

But for many bosses, the prospect of the office Christmas party is enough to send them headfirst into the Eggnog. Novelty jumper-clad staff, fuelled by a mix of alcohol and the shedding of work stresses and relaxed inhibitions, can be a heady mix indeed – plus of course, the inevitable HR investigation into who photocopied their bum and posted it on the office noticeboard. Errr…. it wasn’t me Officer – honestly!
But before you all dash off to cancel the annual turkey and tinsel disco, let’s not forget that a Christmas party, isn’t just about getting everyone together for a jolly. Ultimately, it’s a thank you from management to the staff of all their hard work throughout the year. They’ve endured a year of emails, meetings and early starts, and now it’s time to have a bit of collective fun and let their hair down together. And it’s a great opportunity to really get to know each other – giving employees a chance to build a rapport with one another which can yield long-term results further down the line in a working environment.

And NOT to host a Christmas Party sends out a negative message, leaving employees feeling unappreciated. It also makes you look like a scrooge – so, pop your reindeer antlers on and get that credit card out… as there are some definite benefits to having a party………….

• Entertaining your staff at Christmas will see them return the favour in hard work, loyalty and motivation into 2019
• The event itself provides an excellent opportunity to reiterate and deliver key company messages, recognition awards and plans for the year ahead
• You can incorporate fun into your event with icebreakers and teambuilding activities to strengthen team dynamic and unite the workforce
• Believe it or not there are tax benefits to hosting an Office Christmas Party! Believe it or not ……………..HMRC wants you to let your hair down and have a good time!
• Encouraging management and staff to mingle outside of a work setting boosts morale

And here are my five top tips for keeping the Christmas party trouble-free?

1. Make sure your venue, theme or venue are inclusive and appealing to all
2. Consider your social media policy in advance – does your company have a social media policy?? If not, it may be an idea to draft one to protect your business. Drunken or inappropriate pictures on Facebook could have a damaging impact on your brand or your staff. Consider whether is appropriate and create guidelines around what is acceptable in relation to your business – and then tell your staff. They need to know.
3. It’s in everyone’s interests to have a fun but safe evening. One way to minimise risk is to control the alcohol you provide and lay on food – you could run a free bar for a limited period, then convert to a cash bar later on. Or take it a step further and hold the event during the day instead, which enables you to shift the focus away from alcohol and puts a natural cap on drinking
4. Organise end of evening transport home, with a fixed finish time – this is a quadruple win as it puts a cap on the evening, makes sure everyone is home safely and helps ensure that everyone in the office at a decent time and state the next day, whilst feeling thankful for your overwhelming generosity!
5. Be clear in advance about your expectations regarding absence the next day – this will ensure that there are no surprises and if expectations are breached, disciplinary action can be taken

Have fun guys!!

p.s. if you want me to take a glance at your social media, socialising policies or disciplinary policies give me a buzz now and we can pencil in to review them before your Christmas party. It shouldn’t take long and could help you manage any potential Christmas party headaches

When did you last review your employment contracts?

Chances are, if it wasn’t in the last 5 years then they are seriously out of date, legally out of date, uncompliant, out of sync with your company values and probably not worth the paper they are written on!
Ok, so I might be exaggerating slightly on that last point, but the sentiment is clear – you wouldn’t let your buildings insurance contract renew for 5 years on the trot without reviewing it would you? Your contracts of employment are absolutely a form of insurance for your business. In the event of any potential claim or employment tribunal, the contracts you have with your employees will be one of the first things asked for. An adequate, up to date and compliant contract can provide a solid basis in a number of different circumstances.

So, if you answer no to any of these 3 questions, then you probably need to book in a contract review with me. Here we go:

1. Have your contracts been reviewed for recent legislative changes and updates in the last 12 months?

2. Are your staff all on uniform contractual terms where possible? It may be that many of your employees were engaged on different contractual terms. While certain contractual terms may be different for each employee, such as hours of work, holiday entitlement and post-termination restrictions, general terms, such as expenses, sick pay and termination should be the same. Having employees on different contracts can cause administrative issues in the day to day running of your business because you will need to ensure that you are abiding by all the different terms in each contract. By updating and aligning the contracts, this removes the confusion of having certain members of your team on different contractual terms and will streamline the administrative processes.
3. Is the competitive landscape surrounding your business the same as when you hired your first employee? Highly likely that it isn’t. Your market position and competitors are likely to have differed since your original employment contract was put in place. For example, you may now need to implement post-termination restrictions to protect your business from the risk of employees moving onto your competitors and taking your clients, other employees or business processes with them.
Another reason you may choose to update your contracts is that a number of key terms are not working for your business anymore. For example, a common complaint often surrounds high levels of employee sickness absence when they are entitled to an enhanced rate.
Ultimately while you need to ensure that your contracts comply with the relevant legislation, you need also to ensure that they work for your business. If you are considering updating your employee contracts of employment, you should proceed with caution and ensure you get an expert in to help.

Never fear, we are here to help! If you think you could benefit from a review of your employee contracts, contact us now.

Would you ‘bank’ your Bank Holidays?

Is it just me, or is the idea of Bank Holidays a bit old hat? Yes, I know its historical origins, and yes, I also agree that a well-earned day off now and then is really quite smashing – in fact, I believe, they are essential to our general health and wellbeing. Oh yes, I am definitely pro the principle of Public Holidays!

It’s not the general idea of a Bank Holiday that’s grating with me though – it’s the unchanged application of an 18th century construct in the 21st century which I have a problem with. Things have moved on a smidge guys – it’s not just the Bankers that need a day off from the daily grind. And not everyone observes the same cultural or religious holidays anymore.

We are lucky to live in a beautifully diverse world, so we need to challenge the cultural norms that are traditionally projected onto each individual and consider these norms may not reflect each person’s observations, beliefs and lifestyle. And if we believe that people are our most important workplace resource, why shouldn’t everyone have the opportunity to celebrate what’s important to them and feel included in doing so, regardless of who they are, what they believe in and where they come from?, A day off to observe a religious holiday or celebrate the start of Spring might just not float your boat!

So here’s a radical idea for you – why not let your staff nominate their own bank holidays?
Public holidays need no longer be set days.
Now let that thought sink in. Not such a bad idea, huh?

Let your staff choose to work on a day that is a public holiday and swap it for another work day instead. If they don’t celebrate Easter, they are welcome to swap the day for another one that is important to them – St. Patricks Day, National Doughnut Day, (yes, I’m still obsessed with this), a special anniversary, or perhaps their birthday. It matters not, which day they choose. What really matters is that they have been given the flexibility and freedom to choose what matters most to them – and because of this they will be all the better engaged and loyal to you. And let’s face it, you could surely do without the headache of all your staff being out of the office on the same day in August, leaving you with zero telephone cover.

The other major benefit worth mentioning is the positive impact on your recruitment message – a progressive and flexible approach to staff benefits like this would really stand out from the crowd in what is an increasingly competitive recruitment marketplace. And all this upside for little or no cost. Bingo!

So what is stopping you from rolling out a new approach to holiday entitlement in 2019?

It really is as easy as 123. All you need to do is contact me and I will review your employment contracts for you – quick, easy, and a high return on investment. Simples.

Why I’m fed up with the gig economy bashers

Over the last decade the gig economy has transformed the way we work and do business.

Access to remote working has changed the definition of work and the workplace dramatically. Advances in technology continue to facilitate flexible and remote working, and austerity measures are a reality for us all. This has meant that employers have had to become super savvy about slashing costs by cutting back on fixed costs – one such option is replacing permanent staff with freelancers.

I would argue that the rise of the freelance nation has largely been a win-win from both sides of the desk. Employers experience financial savings with independent contractors, and lower their risk. Workers use freelancing to tide them over between jobs, to add to income, and some are in it for the flexibility and/or the professional challenge of being self-employed.

Like it or not, the gig economy is changing the landscape of work. Of course, hiring an independent contractor won’t always be the right call for all positions, but a freelancer or consultant, can be the perfect solution for short-term projects, tasks requiring specific or niche skills, one-off tasks, infrequent work or work that needn’t be performed 9 to 5 or onsite. Either way, as long as you categorise roles correctly, there are more ways than ever to find the right mix of in-house and freelance talent to grow your company.

So, why the constant media downer about gigging?

Lets face it – small businesses live or die on their hiring decisions, and a key strategic one is whether to hire on a permanent or freelance basis.
There are in essence two pretty compelling reasons for using freelancers or consultants as part of your people strategy:

1. Cost – You’re probably going to save yourself a chunk of cash
You have the ultimate control over exactly how much money you spend on each project. Even at a higher hourly or daily rate, you are only paying freelancers for the sole purpose of getting something done – so you can expect to save annually with a freelancer when you factor in not having to pay tax (and other ‘frivolous costs’ such as relocation and induction costs, staff benefits and training!!). If your freelancer is remote, you also reduce the need for office space and lower your office supply costs.
Let’s also not forget that the best freelance professionals are experts in their fields and understand their role in contributing to the bottom line of your business; playing a role in helping you to smash your strategic objectives.

2. Quality – You can seek out and hire only the best.

You can afford to seek out specialist consultants and freelancers who have gained complete mastery of their discipline over the years. If you want to hire a content marketer, then you’ll get someone who specialises in content marketing and nothing else. This is far better than having your sales associate make an attempt at content marketing because you simply can’t afford to hire another full-time employee.

And freelancers run their own business, which thrives on repeat work and repeat customers. They strive to turn in their best work, every time, to maintain the relationship. While staff members’ performance may have peaks and valleys, freelancers know the contract is always subject to renewal. You, the customer, are always king!

Ok, I own up. It’s not all entirely upside. There are a couple of contrary considerations that you will need to chew over:

1. Guarantee of availability – While hiring a freelancer is actually fairly quick, sometimes you need something done immediately. If situations like these are common, it would definitely be better to have someone on-site ready to go

2. Knowledge of your business – If you’re looking to develop clientele, a freelancer might not be the best choice. In-house employees are aware of everything that’s going on in the company, and can leverage that knowledge to your advantage when building relationships with clients. Freelancers don’t typically have that access.

3. Make sure they don’t become an employee – unless you want them to! With imminent changes afoot from HMRC in 2019, if you hire a freelancer who then becomes part of the furniture and in essence is an employee, then be warned – you need to be paying their NI to HMRC – or they will find you and possibly want all their NI owed backdated to when they first started and they may even want the tax owed by the freelancer to be paid back by you too!

However – there is a rather neat solution to this – if you work with a freelancer on a retained basis (a flat monthly fee for services when they are needed) you can largely manage out these two issues as you are in effect buying yourself a strategic partner. This way, you know your consultant, and they know you – you know how they do things, and you can trust in their availability, decisions and advice.

Did I mention that I was an HR consultant?! If you would like to chat with me about the pro’s and con’s of outsourcing in your business why not drop me a line or give me a call today for an initial chat about how we could work together.

Have you stress tested your workplace?

International Stress Awareness Week is coming up and it’s got me thinking. Stress is normal and healthy right? It’s what we feel when a situation is hard to handle, be it a good or bad situation. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give people more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is caused by physical danger. But it goes beyond the normal when it’s a regularly occurring thing, and that’s when it’s not healthy! It becomes a problem when the stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength.

We know that too much stress can cause mental health problems, heart problems, high blood pressure and a myriad of other health problems that will ultimately cause sickness absence, reduced productivity and poor attrition in the workplace. It is a self-feeding problem.

And given that stress accounts for nearly 40% of all work-related illness (just wow), quite frankly regardless of the cause, you need to have a kit bag of tools to manage and deal with stress in your workplace.

First and foremost, you need to ensure you are managing and communicating with your people fairly and effectively. Here are my 5 ‘must do’s’ of management best practice to help you reduce stress in your workplace:

• Provide staff with clear and measurable work and task objectives
• Review objectives and task progress with regular 1:1’s
• Ensure staff have the skills and training they need in order to fulfil their job
• Support your staff with an open door policy that encourages them to talk to you about issues that are troubling them – be approachable
• Hold regular team communication meetings, and don’t just tell them what’s going on in your team, tell than what’s going on in the business as a whole.

You can implement some meaty pro-active stress busting measures into your workplace. Given that 35% of employees view support in this area as a staff benefit, there can be serious traction to stress management schemes. Companies are increasingly realising that stress is a thief of productivity and are putting creative measures in place to stamp it out. Luckily, most of them can be low cost and bring about a great deal of return in employee happiness and productivity. The result is a more harmonious, high-functioning, happier workplace.. I have to admit that my hands down favourites are two super simples cost free schemes I came across recently: One which encourages its staff to diary meetings as ‘walking meetings’ whenever possible – what a brilliantly simple, cost free way to encourage exercise, fresh air and a new perspective on thinking! Secondly, Etsy, who encourage staff to bring their pets to work – because doggy mums and dads who are able to bring their pet to work with them report greater job satisfaction and lower stress. I love it!

If you want to carry on the conversation, why not give me a call or drop me a line?

How am I going to get this people stuff delivered?

A recent study found that small business owners are on the brink of a burnout due to their heavy workload. SME leaders and managers are close to hitting boiling point because of the stress and pressure that comes from running a small business.

Just under a half (47%) of the business owners cited their lack of time as the main source of the work stress and pressure.

So, I always say a problem shared is a problem halved. You don’t need to struggle on, breaking your back. There are alternatives, and they needn’t break the bank. If you need dedicated and experienced support to deliver an HR project, you can outsource it.

I know what it’s like running a business. Competing demands on your time from staff, customers and suppliers. It’s brilliant fun and I love what I do, but it’s a constant juggling act! And sometimes you need a hand – and we can lend that hand!

For a fixed cost, you can access our tried and tested HR Project Service. So, if you don’t have the time, skills or the resources necessary to deliver an important people project for your business, then get in touch.

For example, our team can help you to:

• Design a bespoke recruitment or appraisal process
• Help you design a new organisational structure to deliver your business goals
• Manage a redundancy process from beginning to end
• Design and deliver an Employee Engagement Survey

We have:

• Collectively over 100 years HR experience at Director level
• Exceptional project management skills
• The flexibility to adapt quickly and effectively to any business, whatever the sector you work in

Call or email us today to book a meeting with us to talk about your HR project – and let’s see if we can lend you a hand.

Tel 01280 848415
Email emma@emmacbrowning.com

Team building + Volunteering = Business win

I’ve been doing my bit! Click here to donate today to my Muddy Race for Life…


If I told you that approximately 70% of FTSE 100 companies have a volunteering programme, would you be surprised? I know I was!

So, there must be a compelling reason why our biggest and most successful corporates do this. After all, they have budgets and performance targets like the rest of us. So how do they justify this ‘charitable’ financial commitment to their returns-hungry shareholders? Because they know that engaged employees make better employees, that’s why!

One really smart business solution is to combine volunteering with team building activities. This means you are not only helping your employees to get the feel good factor, but by doing your bit for the local community, you are playing an important part in your role as a responsible employer and meeting your Corporate Social Responsibility too!

Community volunteer team building events have a proven track record of developing team cohesion, staff morale and motivation while making a substantial contribution within the community. Importantly, they are also extremely enjoyable, rewarding and satisfying.

The most successful organisations’ are always seeking competitive edge, and they know that good employee engagement directly correlates with better productivity, superior recruitment and retention, better staff morale and reduced sickness and absenteeism. The icing on the cake is the double benefit of volunteering upon skills development -a 2014 CIPD report showed this ‘double benefit’ of volunteering, and identified ten key skills and behaviours that it developed including:

• coaching and mentoring,
• confidence,
• communication,
• team-building,
• self-awareness and
• creativity

So, couple all of this with the obvious philanthropic aspects of giving back to your local community, whilst enhancing your local Brand profile, and strengthening local connections – and you have a ‘win-win’.

So come on, be be smart about it. Why not incorporate a community volunteer activity into a company team building day this year? Clued-up local charities are always more than keen to reciprocate; often offering to organise your event and provide highly engaging volunteer activities which provide wide opportunities for personal and professional growth and development.

Being able to work together as a team is one of the biggest assets that you can have in the workplace. Volunteering as a team takes teamwork to a whole new level and is unparalleled in how effective it is at building a sense of shared objectives among the team. I can personally vouch for its effectiveness, having just completed a Pretty Muddy Race for Life with a team of professional colleagues!! What we learnt about ourselves and each other during the process couldn’t have been learned in an office or any meeting room.

So, are you convinced that team volunteering would a good idea for your business? Talk to me today about how we can together build an innovative employee engagement strategy for your business.

Duvet Day, yay or nay?

Let’s face it, life just doesn’t get any easier. We are collectively working longer hours than ever before, juggling busier working lives and family commitments. What with the prospect of health issues left right and centre (dicky knee, anyone?!), eternal traffic jams and seemingly endless queues for our daily shot of Skinny Cortado I’m surprised we even make it through the week!

Some days we just want and need to STOP. Turn off the alarm. Stay in bed. Rest. Relax and recharge. So why not? Why not just pull a Duvet Day?

On the face of it, Duvet Days make a whole heap of sense. Who hasn’t experienced a nightmare day with an unexpected childcare crisis, boiler breakdown, unintended hangover from a spontaneous night out (or is that just me?) or even just felt a general sense of burn out, stress or seasonal weariness?

So, if we accept that this is just an inevitable fact of life, why not embrace it and make a proactive effort to improve the lives of yourself and your employees by introducing a Duvet Day Policy at your workplace? Honestly, there are lots of compelling business reasons to do so:

– It can help thwart the underhand ‘sickie’ culture
– It can reduce stress levels and ultimately reduce unplanned sick days
– It ties staff in to a positive workplace culture
– Encourages honesty and transparency
– Promotes greater staff retention
– There are likely to be less instances of genuine disciplinary and grievances with management over ‘legitimacy’ of absences
– It is a great recruitment tool as it differentiates your business from competitors in the marketplace
– It presents your company brand in a positive light to potential customers; it shows you care about people as human beings and are forward thinking

HBOS long ago launched an innovative late notice shift swapping scheme in its call centres, which halved its sickness rates in the first six months AND increased customer service standards exponentially – brilliant business result!  Ah, but this approach wouldn’t work for us, I hear you say –‘ it wouldn’t suit our business model’. Well the great news is that one size needn’t fit all. There is tremendous scope to flex the general concept of a duvet day to suit your own specific business needs.  The DVLA, for example, runs its own hybrid scheme where it allows staff to take ‘short notice’ days from their generous holiday allowance, no questions asked. Conversely, staff with 100% attendance can win an extra day’s leave. Nice!  In fact, in a survey carried out by LTSB, staff said that they valued a work life balance more highly than a pay rise! – so could a Duvet Day Policy even have a Day 1 impact on your bottom line???!!

Of course there is no such thing as a magical panacea. You are likely to have disaster on your hands unless your Duvet Day Policy is well thought-through, actively managed and clearly communicated:

– How would your business handle understaffing if your entire workforce called in a Duvet Day together, or what about managing a key project deadline or maintaining customer service levels?
– How would you handle crunch days such as the day before Xmas and the morning after the World Cup Final?
– In fact, how would you ensure that staff didn’t abuse the scheme generally?

There is also a powerful argument that Duvet Day Policies are just a reactionary measure; and that it would surely be more effective to identify likely causes of absence at work and work to reduce these factors. After all, surely it is a negligent employer that isn’t always take active steps to ensure the general health and wellbeing of its staff?

I say, you should and absolutely can, be doing both – business owners and managers should be taking proactive responsibility for managing the wider health and wellbeing of their employees, as well as the reactionary solutions such as Duvet days. Surely it makes business sense? So, I have three final questions for you:

1. Do you pride yourself as a business innovator?
2. Would you like your HR policies to make a positive ££ impact on your bottom line?
3. Would you like to reduce absence costs and increase recruitment and retention KPI’s?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions then you really should drop me a line or 07766741738, and let’s together make a plan for action!  As a nice tidy coincidence, this week is National Work Life Week – what better time for employers to focus on well-being at work and work-life balance!