HR in small business – an interview with HR solutions

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HR Solutions is one of the UK’s leading outsourced HR consultancy firms. Founded in 2001 by Carol Ann Guilford, the business has grown from strength to strength over the intervening years. In 2014 Carol became Director of Consultancy as her son Greg, himself a CIPD qualified HR professional, took over as Managing Director. Following a recent merger the business has doubled in size, adding yet more talent and expertise to the team.

Why is the effective management of staff important in a small business?

It’s important to manage staff effectively in a business of any size. In a small business each individual’s contribution carries a greater weight, as with a smaller team people will take on a broader range of responsibilities out of sheer necessity.

This additional workload needs effective, skilled management. This is so that the business can maximise the limited resources available to them.

What type of support are small businesses generally seeking when they contact you?

We get enquiries from right across the spectrum. One call might be from a small business with less than 10 people and a management query that they need some advice about, and then the next is from a large multinational looking to setup in the UK and with no idea where to start.

As a general rule the enquiries we get from SMEs tend to be about getting the full protection of our Retained HR Services package. They’re looking for comprehensive cover that means they won’t need to worry about their HR, and that’s exactly what we provide.

What HR issues and concerns do you think are common to all small businesses?

Due process is definitely a big one. UK and EU employment law is so comprehensive that it’s easy to find yourself on the wrong side of the fence if you don’t know what you’re doing. A lot of employers are realising this, and so they want to find a way to manage their business the way that they like but without fear of reprisals from a disgruntled employee or unsuccessful candidate.

What’s the biggest issue or hurdle you face when working with small business owners and managers?

We’ll speak to people who have gotten themselves into a situation and then made it worse for themselves by not getting advice. The situation could often have been resolved in a far simpler way if they had just picked up the phone and given us a call two weeks earlier.

The problem is that this happens with established clients as well as the new ones. If you have any doubt about whether or not you are doing the right thing, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and seek a professional opinion.

Do you have any good tips for effectively managing absence in the workplace?

There are two main categories of employee absence: motivational, which comes down to work ethic and job satisfaction, and logistical, which means transport, childcare, health, and other such factors.

If employee absence is becoming an issue you need to record it for empirical evidence. Speak to your employee to get to the bottom of the issue and then try and work out a mutual solution. If this is not possible you will need to consider taking disciplinary action instead.

How can you help small business managers improve the performance of their team?

HR is often seen as a gatekeeper standing between where a business is and where the management wants it to be. That really is only half of the story though.

An integrated HR department that understands your business can work with you to assess and develop staff, aid retention and boost morale. Having an active HR partner involved in the business means that your employees feel like a valued part of a structured environment.

Why is it advantageous for small businesses to work with HR providers such as HR Solutions?

Hiring a full time HR advisor can be expensive, and you have no guarantees that they will be the right fit for your business. We’re cheaper than employing someone full-time, we work alongside your business rather than directly in it (but we’re still there with you for the tricky stuff) and our proven expertise means that you know that you’re in safe hands.

What are the most significant challenges small businesses will face in the next two years? 

Pension auto enrolment is the big one as that’s going to affect every business that hasn’t already sorted itself out. That’s something that we’re going to be really pushing over the next year because an awful lot of businesses are still unsure as to what their responsibilities actually are.

Another big talking point is George Osborne’s National Living Wage and the higher wages dictated by the Living Wage Foundation. Some business leaders have come out and said it’s unfeasible whilst other businesses have embraced the higher pay rates with open arms. It will be interesting to see how that plays out over the next year as the war for talent intensifies.

If you could get small business managers to change just one thing about how they manage their staff, what would it be and why?

More flexibility, without a doubt. The world has changed and moved away from the 9-5, chained to the office culture that’s existed for so long. If the UK talent shortage becomes as drastic as predicted it will be the smart, forward-thinking and flexible employers that attract and retain the brightest staff.

How can small businesses benefit from using HR software?

HR software such as Staff Squared provides an all-in-one management resource. Employees can access their own information, book holidays and liaise confidentially with their line managers about both professional and personal subjects. Good HR software simplifies HR administration and makes it affordable to all.

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