Monday, 30 January 2017

Rugby -v- HR: 6 top tips to help HR win this Six Nations


The Six Nations challenge sees the UK’s regions joined by Italy and France to compete for the RBS Six Nations trophy.  The first match of the tournament takes place this Saturday as Scotland takes on Ireland at the BT Murrayfield stadium.
Here’s just some of the issues HR Managers can expect to see during the tournament:

Diversity, racism and equality
As always, strength of feeling may be running high and extend off the pitch into banter between different fans.
It’s colloquially said this side of the Severn bridge that Welsh supporters cheer for two teams – Wales and any team playing England!  However, England, Ireland and Scotland’s fans are equally proud and supportive of their National teams.
Rugby is a multi-cultural sport with a very good track record for diversity on the field, and in South Africa the sport helped reunite a divided Nation.  Sadly last year we saw some on-pitch racist taunting from Joe Marler towards welsh player Sam Lee.  Hopefully this year won’t see a repeat.  However, any on-pitch drama has the potential to create conflict between workplace colleagues.
It’s important for HR to make sure what happens on-pitch, stays on-pitch and doesn’t descend into all out war in the workplace between opposing fans.

Hangovers, sickness absence and presenteeism
 In most home nations a big drinking culture accompanies international games.  Thankfully, none of the fixtures are midweek, but there are still likely to be consequences.
A Sunday match usually means an increase in ‘Sickie Mondays’ as people recover from a weekend of over-indulgence, or those who had travel delays.
Similarly, Saturday games often see workers trying to sneak off early to travel to the game.
One welsh rugby fan who will be literally supporting HR over the tournament is absence management expert Adrian Lewis, who has spent more than 20 years helping HR tackle challenges with software.  He’s an ex player for the London Welsh squad, as well as his local team – and still coaches his village team Bryncoch RFC.

So what top tips does Adrian have to keep HR Managers in control as the Six Nations Tournament begins?

1.  Reinforce expected behaviour ahead of time
Given the intense competition between nations, it’s important to remind people about behaviour ahead of the first match. Make it clear that racism, sexism and homophobic language and behavior are not acceptable in the workplace so that on-pitch drama stays on the pitch.  National pride cannot be allowed to create conflict in the workplace, make sure nobody feels bullied and that any workplaces discussions are good natured and inclusive, whichever nation your workplace is located in.

2. Don’t forget about presenteeism!
It may seem commendable that people come into work despite the worst hangover – however, if they are in work but not capable of working, then they are just impacting on productivity.  The UK already has productivity challenges, and in some cases operating machinery or driving whilst still under the influence is dangerous and in some cases illegal – if someone is hungover and still clearly inebriated, having them in to make up the numbers is not worth the risk.  Again, decide clearly what your policies regarding alcohol and hangovers should be and make sure the policy is enforced.  Circulate the policy and make sure everyone knows what the rules are.

3.  Make sure you have a clear absence management plan
HR should not be surprised if absence increases during the tournament, however being prepared for it will reduce the impact.  HR Managers will benefit by keeping an eye on key sporting fixtures for their region.  Six Nations fixture dates are here.
Ahead of the tournament, remind staff on your policy on sickness absence.  More than half of employed adults believe their work performance is negatively impacted when attendance policies are not fairly enforced throughout an organisation, so make sure sickness absence rules apply equally to management and staff.

4.  Educate your staff
Staff often do not realise that short term absence has a big impact on the company’s bottom line and are more disruptive to the business than long term sickness.   Our HR software allows staff to see their own Bradford Factor, which discourages short term absence.  You could subtly discourage sickies by asking staff  if they want to book Friday or Monday off ahead of the weekend fixtures (so they know their excuses are not likely to work!)

5. Use return-to-work forms and interviews
Sporting sickies almost always have repeat offenders – it’s usually the same people swinging the lead.   However, how can managers challenge sickies if they don’t have data?
Activ Absence incorporates a complete return to work process so data is reported and analysed, but even if you don’t have an absence management system, you can still use self certification forms and conduct return to work interviews to keep an accurate history of absence.  Recognising patterns and trends gives managers the tools they need to tackle the problem – although its important to give the employee a chance to speak – there may be other factors you hadn’t considered, so keep the interviews non-judgemental and fact finding.  You can decide on action later.
Using a formal absence management process helps managers:
  • welcome employees back,
  • check they are well enough to return to work,
  • identify the cause of the absence,
  • find out whether they have a disability (including invisible ones like asthma, diabetes, epilepsy etc.),
  • gently explore any early signs of stress,
  • identify if the absence has any work related cause,
  • highlight any health and safety issues.
Once a pattern of absence is identified (of course, automated systems will usually do this for you via trigger points), you can determine what action to take – and prompt action avoids escalation.
Sometimes a timely word from a line manager early on can prevent a pattern escalating into a major discipline problem involving unions, HR and legal teams.  Often, that ‘quiet chat’ (notes recorded of course) negates both the absence escalating and the need for further intervention.

6. Kick out staff planning spreadsheets!
If there was one tool I’d like to see kicked out of an HR Manager’s toolkit it’s spreadsheets for staff planning.
They create more problems than they solve and have a bad track record for managing people, they are prone to error, prone to pc crashes and offer zero in the way of reporting and analysis.
Maintaining spreadsheets creates a dependency on HR for information, line managers don’t often have access to staff absence information, so they can’t see who’s off sick, who’s taking annual leave and who took time off, why and when.  This means in practice that by the time a situation is escalated to HR, there is already a big problem.  It also means HR are flooded with a sea of calls about how much annual leave people have left, who can take what, when, and then liaison calls between the employee, line manager and HR.  Honestly, it doesn’t have to be that complicated!
Absence management systems like Activ Absence are designed for the job – employees self service leave requests, the system calculates leave allowances and line managers can deal with most issues… leaving HR free to to the job they trained for.  If you are worried about money, the systems usually pay for themselves in terms of reducing sickness absence, improved staff engagement and streamlined reporting – all of which frees up an HR Manager’s time to do more important tasks, as well as giving useful data enabling better targeting of wellness budgets.
Adrian says:
“Spreadsheets are the problem – not the solution.   If they were on a rugby field, they’d be scoring tries for the opposition!”
We hope you’ve found these six tips useful – and no matter who you are rooting for this Six Nations, we hope that HR emerges as the winner!

Monday, 16 January 2017

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

First day back and only 4% of Senior Execs think HR is highly effective? WHAT?



Having worked in the HR software field for some time now, I was very disappointed to see the findings of a recent global survey sponsored by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The study found only 4% of the senior business executives surveyed thought their HR function was 'highly effective' in addressing the needs of the business. 
60% of respondents described HR’s capabilities as “adequate but needing improvement,” and another 30% said “significant improvement” is required.
I wonder how busy those senior executives will be today, on the first day back after a Christmas break.  Their HR colleagues will be flat out, trying to simultaneously compile last year’s End of Year Staff Holiday Report whilst already juggling the first holiday requests for 2017.
What the senior execs fail to appreciate, as they glance through the HR reports, is all the hassle that the HR team endured in order to deliver a seemingly smooth performance, and all the challenges HR dealt with that went unnoticed, not in the report because potential problems were averted.
Staff holiday planning is a good example.  If there has been no leave crisis in that senior exec's team that year, it's probably because someone in HR spent time treading a delicate balance to keep everyone happy, motivated and most importantly ensured adequate leave cover.   What seems insignificant took time and effort.
These battles are no better illustrated than on the first day back to work, as staff argue, race and cajole in order to secure the best holiday dates.  HR will be the judge, peace-keeper and will have to regulate the in-house arguments over who placed their request first, who deserves the best dates and why as the excuses mount up.  
The admin burden is just as tiresome - and it seems, wholly unappreciated.  According to data from top auditors, 80% of HR Managers have to use paper forms, spreadsheets or an office wall planner, even though leave planning software has existed for years now (Activ Absence is in its 10th year).  
Note to senior colleagues: HR cannot perform miracles on a shoestring without the tools to do the job.  
Paper is messy, important data is often lost and reporting is time consuming and disjointed. Spreadsheets often result in lost data due to human error, PC crashes and confusion.
Change is overdue and most HR practitioners are calling for it, indeed Activ Absence saw a huge rise of enquiries from HR Managers in December.  Our customers range from employing 5 staff to 5000, and we are used to working with HR professionals across all types of organisations, including charities, SME's, blue chips and start ups.  
We have the utmost respect for HR professionals because we see first hand the difference their contribution makes to the workplace.  In fact, we take pride in being able to help most of them - and if we can’t help or meet their needs, we’ll tell them that honestly. 
However, the main challenge for HR is not in finding a software provider like us, but in persuading senior execs that the profession makes a massive difference to the business, and is worthy of investment in software.  
It doesn't inspire confidence when HR reads their colleagues 'don’t think HR supports the business well enough’.   
Perhaps senior execs, in their technology rich specialities, could take a walk in HR shoes for a day and see exactly what it's like to be managing as best you can without the aid of technology and it seems without the support of your colleagues.
My New Year message to the unsung heroes of HR, is we’re among the 4% who appreciate the huge difference you make, and we will strive to keep supporting you.  
Have a fantastic 2017 everyone.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Could double ‘Black Fridays’ impact staff productivity in Welsh SMEs?



In Wales, Black Friday is the last Friday before Christmas, and the most popular night for office parties.

It’s thus called because historically, miners coming out of the pits covered in coal (and therefore black) would hit the town for a drink after work. As time has passed, the tradition is endemic in many Welsh industries, but spare a thought for the emergency services who find it incredibly hard.

This year is looking particularly challenging – with double the usual challenges.  That’s because many business owners are unwilling to hit the town on the Friday before Christmas Eve, so many of the parties have been booked the week before – however, most of the staff seem so far to be regarding this as an ‘extra night’ of partying and have made their own plans for the following week.

Trying to make plans for our own team meal was challenging – everywhere on both days was full, and that was before the end of October.  A friend who owns a bar in Cardiff is rubbing his hands with glee!

Whilst it’s indeed, great for hospitality, as an HR Software specialist, I see the other side of workplace Christmas parties.

On the day itself, HR sees increased holiday requests to get ready early, and hit the beer before the rest.  It’s easier if you have HR software with a built in leave planner, like Activ Absence, because you can restrict leave during busy periods using the system.  However, that’s not a common scenario in Wales.

Doing it over the phone or with a wall planner, faced with 10 leave requests all at once, lots of pleading faces, and 10 sob stories, managers can easily feel overwhelmed and just give in, leaving the office short staffed, or say no to some, leading to accusations of nepotism and a bad atmosphere when everyone is supposed to be socialising.

Then, after the party, there’s almost always fallout.  The faux pas, the post-party photos on social media, the well-intentioned teasing that got out of hand, incidents, allegations and alcohol fuelled arguments - the scenarios that mean HR rarely relax at staff parties.

Even if managers get through all that unscathed, Black Friday almost always heralds the start of a winding down at work that can escalate into further sickies, poor performance and a general lack of care among those who have to work up until Christmas Eve.

Normally, we are only talking a day or two, but with most Welsh businesses hitting the town a week earlier than normal, there’s a full week of potential low productivity followed by, in many cases, more partying at the end of it – I doubt there will be many minds focused on work in the week in between – and then, on the next party Friday, it starts all over again.

For managers, it doesn’t end there.

After the Christmas break, there’s more people-challenges because it’s a new Annual Leave Year.

Tech can really help here, but there are only a few SMEs who have invested in absence management software in Wales (it’s a different story over the border).

While all the other staff are chatting about what they had for Christmas, HR will therefore have the annual joy of merging spreadsheets and manually calculating the end of year leave report, deciding who can carry what over to the next year, who did and didn’t use all their holiday and what next year’s leave allowances are for every member of staff.  These annual leave calculations can be complex for part time workers, and it typically takes 4 or 5 days in organisations with 100 staff or more.

Of course, not everyone has an HR Manager – small business owners are often left to figure it out themselves.  They, too, would really benefit from a system like Activ Absence which takes some of the pressure off at this challenging time of year. A new appraisals system is also probably on their wish list, so that when appraisals meetings start, usually at the end of January, they aren’t passing bits of paper to and fro and are actually delivering performance reviews that deliver improved performance!

There are lots of new rules expected for 2017, especially about contractors, pay rates etc. expected over the next 12 months and a looming Brexit, so without an easy way of communicating staff policy handbooks using software, managers could also be facing a long wait at the Photocopier.

For those managers who don’t get Santa’s software wishlist, this December is  harder than most – so we hope that staff will not judge them too harshly if they aren’t celebrating quite so loudly as everyone else.

As for those who are reading this thinking “I will do better next year”, it is still possible to get cloud based HR software in place by 1st January – and it costs less than you may think.

Either way, I wish the people who keep welsh businesses running a very Merry Christmas, and hope you escape the double Black Friday unscathed.

Here’s to a prosperous 2017 (and a Six Nations win) for Wales!

Adrian Lewis

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Activ People HR expands Partner Network with Counselling, Legal Services & Occupational Health Services

HR software experts Activ People HR have today announced the addition of several new partners to their extremely successful HR Partner network.

New Partners to the programme include:


The new partners will compliment the range of services offered to organisations who use the Activ People HR suite of products, and the company's contribution to the wider HR community continues to be supported by the company's ongoing sponsorship of HR News.

Commercial Director Adrian Lewis explained:

"Our customer base has grown phenomenally over the last 18 months, but software can only go so far towards solving HR challenges.  The Partner Network enables us to join forces with like-minded professionals to give our customers access to a range of trusted, external HR professionals at reasonable rates as and when needed.
Lewis continued:

"It is great to have enthusiastic new partners on board and expand the range of services we can offer - with many partners offering exclusive rates for our customers.  This supports our ethos of continually adding value for our customers, and HR News helps us to add value to the HR community as a whole."