How a 4 day work week could benefit everyone

6th September 2018

OPERATIONSSMALL BUSINESS

If Monday mornings see you reluctantly dragging yourself out of bed to face another five days at the grindstone, the thought of working a four day week will no doubt hold a certain appeal!

The average working week only leaves us with 48 hours of free time – with much of that being used up by household chores, family obligations, and other ‘life admin’. It’s little surprise the weekends fly by!

Compare those 48 hours of free time with the average of 42 hours a week that many of us spend at work (according to EU figures) and the overall picture looks grim – especially when you consider that many of us work even longer hours than we’re contracted for in order to avoid falling behind at work.

The work-life balance is often talked about but how can it be achieved? After all, there are only so many hours in a week. That’s where the four day week comes in. But does it actually work – particularly from an employer’s viewpoint?

Take New Zealand firm, Perpetual Guardian, which in March and April trialed 240 of their employees in a four day week. The idea was that staff should not only be able to achieve a greater work-life balance, but would also concentrate better while at work. And from the perspective of the employees the trial was a success, with 78% saying they experienced better work-life balance.

But what are the benefits to a company? According to a study undertaken by Reed, nine out of ten employees were willing to work longer hours if it allowed them to take a longer weekend. From this, Reed concluded that their research showed that implementing a more flexible working schedule may lead to staff being happier. It’s not rocket science that a happier and less stressed workforce is a more productive and creative workforce.

There’s also the argument that working a four day week could ensure that the focus is on ‘getting the job done’ and not merely killing time and filling the day up with tasks that only exist to keep people busy. Another study showed that many employees spend less than half their average working day actually being productive. Therefore shouldn’t it be possible to reduce the number of hours worked without seeing a drop in productivity?

But what about the flip side? Before charging full steam ahead and implementing a shorter working week, you need to consider the external impact – on your clients for example. Will you still be available to them and be able to meet their demands? You also need to think whether it’s feasible to fit five days’ worth of work into four. Could trying to cram everything in have the opposite effect and actually increase employee stress? Would the quality of work suffer?

A carefully planned rota to ensure that deadlines and the needs of both customers and employees are met is crucial. And don’t forget to carefully consider the legal aspect to ensure you’re not breaking laws governing hours worked and breaks.

However you feel about the four day week – it’s certainly food for thought.

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How to Support your Ageing Workforce

4th September 2018

MANAGING STAFF

The old cliché is true: none of us are getting any younger and the impact of an ageing population on the workforce is a real one. Thanks to a greater understanding of what it takes to live a long, happy and healthy life, people of all ages are paying greater attention to their diet and wellbeing than ever before. This means that many of us are looking at an increase in lifespan when compared to people of even just a few generations ago.

But how does this ageing population affect businesses in the UK? Consider the fact that more than 30% of the workplace is over the age of 50 for a start. With the abolition of the default retirement age, we now have the opportunity to work for longer. Let’s not overlook the fact, however, that for some of us that is down to necessity rather than choice. And for those that feel they’ve reached the end of their working life but are forced to carry on through financial necessity instead of enjoying their retirement, the resentment can be real. The knock-on effect of this, of course, being a lack of morale and a drop in productivity when at work.

Some older employees also face challenges when it comes to the technology we use in our workplaces, and it’s down to the employer to address such issues. Yet having older talent among your staff can bring opportunities too – just think of the knowledge and experience gained over decades of work.

So as a manager or HR person, how can you support your older employees and reap the benefits their age can offer?

Ensuring they feel appreciated is crucial and utilising your older staff’s knowhow is key. Teaming them up with younger colleagues is one way to facilitate that – in fact it goes both ways, with older and younger generations learning from each other. Retraining staff, particularly with regards to technology, is also a step forward.

You also need to make sure managers are trained to consider the needs of older employees, and are willing to support them. After all, as our workplaces and jobs change, it’s not only newbies and graduates that need guidance. All employees do, at least at some stage of their career. Managers should also be sensitive to stereotyping and be willing to nip any stigma about older workers in the bud.

Finally, you already know the key to a productive workforce is a happy and healthy workforce and wellbeing should be a priority for all your people. Consider allowing those nearing or past traditional retirement age to work reduced or flexible hours. Also ensure their immediate manager is able to spot health issues or stress. On a similar note, why not consider implementing health checks for all staff?

As we said at the start, none of us are getting any younger and for many of us the option to retire in our mid 60s is no longer an option.

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How to Manage a Team of Different Personalities

21st August 2018

MANAGING STAFF

As a team leader you know how tricky it can be to manage your staff. However, managing a team that’s made up of wildly different personalities can mean you really have your work cut out for you. So how can you overcome the difficulties to get the best out of your people?

It’s often differences that round out a team. You have the go-getter who’s always up for a challenge, the perfectionist who ensures all the details are taken care of, the clown who keeps everybody motivated, and the caretaker who makes certain everyone on the team is doing okay.

And when everyone’s personality compliments each other, that’s when targets are hit and expectations are exceeded – it’s teamwork at its best. But what happens when all those different personalities need handling in different ways? Your clown likes one on one chats but your caretaker prefers to converse by email. Your go-getter rarely shuts up in meetings, but your perfectionist barely utters a word. As the person who needs to pull it all together, it can be exhausting coping with so many different preferences and styles of communication. It’s like being the parent who has to cook different meals for each of their picky eater kids!

Understanding your team is key. Knowing each person’s strengths and weakness will make sure you’re not going against the grain all the time. But how do you get this insight in the first place? A certain amount of emotional intelligence is a must; you need to be able to read between the lines to know when someone is uncomfortable or stressed out. In particular quieter team members may have trouble speaking up if something is bothering them and being able to spot the signs will make you a better leader.

Emotional intelligence is based upon, among other things, self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy. To develop it you’ll need to assess yourself and look at the way you react to people. Put yourself in your employees’ places. Ask yourself what is motivating them, what might they need, what could be their perspective on the situation or their place in the team?

Part of this is also knowing what’s going on with your staff outside of work as something may be affecting them. The only way to find out is to talk to them – and we don’t mean during their appraisal. Check in with people on a one-to-one basis and ask how things are; see if there’s anything you should be aware of. Get to know them as a person and you’ll be more effective in managing them and the team as a whole.

Finally, as team leader, it’s crucial that you’re an advocate for your people. Let the company and management know when your team, or a team member, has done a great job. And of course, let them know too by showing recognition; a team that feels valued is more likely to work as a coherent unit, no matter what their personality type is.

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The UK’s Top 10 Annoying Office Habits

14th August 2018

MANAGING STAFF

A recent study uncovered the ten things that UK employees find most annoying about the people they work with. We all know how important it is to be aware of how you’re presenting yourself if you want to get on with your team and flourish in your role, so let’s take a closer look at them.

Some of the survey findings might surprise you while others may have you groaning in recognition, but be honest, are YOU guilty of any of the following?

In at number ten comes ‘wearing the same clothes’ which 10% of respondents voted for. This may be a victimless crime, but is turning up day in day out in the same outfit giving the impression that you don’t care about appearances? What could it be saying to your bosses?

It seems that navigating the lunch break is a minefield if the results of the survey are anything to go by: cooking stinky food took the 9th spot with 12% of votes, while not washing up garnered 30% making it the third most irritating office habit. They key here is to be mindful of what you bring in to microwave – eggs and fish are probably not your best choice. And it should go without saying that washing your own plate and cup and not leaving them for the kitchen fairies is a must.

When it comes to work-related issues, speaking loudly on the phone took 7th place with 18% of votes, interrupting others was 5th with 21% and ignoring emails came in at 2nd with 31%. The takeaways? Take calls in a meeting room or corridor, or lower your voice if you need to stay at your desk. When it comes to not interrupting others, implement the ’10 second rule’ and wait before you speak. Ignoring emails, however, is downright unprofessional – if you’re overwhelmed by the amount of mail you receive, allocate dedicated time throughout the day to deal with your inbox instead of dipping in and out of it and not actually achieving anything.

A couple of entries you may not have expected: untidy desks (number 4, 26%) and staying in the toilet too long (number 6, 20%). Keep your work area clutter-free – buy a pen holder, cable ties…anything that helps you get organised. And as for those lengthy loo breaks – it’s really obvious you’re killing time, so nip them in the bud and just go when you really need to!

Finally, it will come as no surprise to learn that two ‘odour issues’ round out the list. Smelling of cigarettes is number 8 with 15% while the number one office irritant is offensive body odour which “won” 43% of the vote. If you smoke, be mindful of your colleagues and suck a mint after a cigarette break. BO is trickier to deal with as you might not notice it yourself, but ensuring you wear clean clothes and are showering daily will help, especially over these hot summer months.

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Tips for Working Smarter, not Harder

9th August 2018

MANAGING STAFFTECH

Digital magazine and website, Computer Weekly, ran a recent article about a new Microsoft function that nudges employees if they’re sending emails outside their usual working hours. It also reminds staff about tasks they need to tackle or complete. Part of Microsoft’s 365 cloud services, the feature, called Teams, is intended to improve efficiency and combat the stress that comes with consistently working late.

Technology is fast becoming a weapon in the struggle for a healthy work-life balance. Indeed manufacturers of smartphones and tablets are under increasing pressure to address our tendency to check our phones, tablets or e-readers (whether for work or play) last thing at night. The blue light emitted from their screens has been shown to disrupt sleep, and even delay it by up to an hour.

In addition, many companies have a culture of working late to contend with. Just one more thing that can lead to employee burnout. Time spent hanging around the office when you’ve completed your daily tasks or worked your hours just because others are still at their desks, are rarely productive either – they’re more likely to lead to resentment and stress.

Whether or not you implement Microsoft’s new feature, you may still want to take steps to ensure your employees are learning to work smarter not harder. Here are just a few ideas you can implement.

If Microsoft isn’t your thing take a look at other technology solutions that may help you run a tighter ship. Focus on tools for communication and productivity – there are plenty of programmes, software and apps that have been created to help your people organise their time more effectively.

If staff appear to struggle to get started in the mornings or complain of not being able to sleep because they’re always stressing over the things they need to do the following day, suggest they write a to-do list before going to bed to unclutter their minds and help them sleep better.

If you don’t already, start setting deadlines – they should be strict, but achievable. Tell your staff that they may manage their own schedule within the given timeframe. That way they’ll be more likely to use their time productively rather than procrastinating and having to scramble at the last minute.

Consider adopting a more flexible approach to the working day if your business allows for it. Will parents of young children work more effectively if they can work around the school run and sick days? Will staff who have a lengthy commute be more engaged and efficient if they can work remotely a couple of days a week?

Finally, back to that culture of working late: you need to lead by example and if you rarely leave the office until well past dinner time most evenings, no doubt your employees feel under pressure to do the same. Encourage a work-life balance and you’ll very likely see productivity and engagement increase and stress levels and resentment take a dive.

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Why you need an Onboarding Practice that Rocks

7th August 2018

MANAGING STAFFSMALL BUSINESS

UPDATE: Since we wrote this blog post we’ve added staff onboarding checklists to Staff Squared. They automatically manage all of the onboarding processes so you don’t have to. Check them out!

What’s your company’s onboarding process like? Do you go the extra mile to make new employees feel welcome or do you struggle to find the time for onboarding and hope your newbie will figure it out as they go?

If you’re the latter, or if you believe that new hires should be thrown in at the deep end, you might find this approach is costing you dearly.

For example a survey found that nearly a third of office workers hired by an SMB didn’t end up starting work even though they’d accepted the job offer. 33% of these people said this was due to a lack of follow up once they’d accepted the job, or a negative experience with the company prior to beginning working there.

In addition, 42% of those surveyed stated they’d left a job within six months, with 33% of them saying this was due to not feeling welcome. One final statistic: 56% of respondents left during this same period as the job didn’t live up to expectations.

Non-starters and early quitters cost you time and money – and hurt your company’s reputation. So what can you do to limit brand damage and ensure you’re not wasting valuable resources on re-recruiting for the same role? It’s great to create a good impression in the interview but as the above data shows, you need to follow through and keep your future employee engaged and enthusiastic before their first day.

If you’ve ever joined a company and sat waiting for ‘someone in IT’ to ‘sort you out with a computer’ you’ll know how frustrating it is. That company likely didn’t have an onboarding process in place. Here’s how NOT to be that company.

Make sure you have everything ready that your employee needs to get started. That includes not only a desk and computer but the software and programmes to allow them to start working. Also have ready any forms they need to sign plus your onboarding guide – more on that in a minute!

Ensure your hire’s team know they’ve a new colleague starting that day, and that they know their name, background, position and responsibilities. The manager should also take the new hire around the office and introduce them to people in person.

Finally, being prepared is everything so have a designated backup person to run onboarding in case the manager calls in sick or is unexpectedly busy. If Mondays are manic, why not switch the start day to Tuesday?

So what should your onboarding guide contain? Include your company history and its values plus practical information such as a company who’s who guide. Detail what their job entails and what is expected of them. Also include info about benefits, holidays, how to call in sick, and disciplinary procedures. Including little details like if you have a casual Friday will be appreciated too: no one will feel part of the team if they arrive on their very first Friday suited and booted to find everyone else is wearing jeans.

Read more about how Staff Squared can support your staff onboarding here!

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Why you Should Encourage your Staff to go Outside

2nd August 2018

MANAGING STAFF

How much time are you spending outdoors on average every day? (And, no, we’re not talking about your commute!) If you’re anything like the majority of the 1,000 office workers that recently took part in a survey, your outdoor time is worryingly limited.

Why worryingly? Because there are a multitude of benefits from being exposed to nature and spending time outside. But the findings of this particular survey revealed that most people who work in an office spend less time outside on a daily basis than those in prison! See, in accordance with UN guidelines, prisoners should be given a minimum of an hour a day to spend outside. And only 26% of the survey’s respondents said that they spent more than 60 minutes per day in the great outdoors.

So if our office workers are getting less exposure to nature than those who are incarcerated, how does this impact on a business? It’s no big secret that the wellbeing of employees has an effect on their ability to be productive, engaged and creative. And time spent outside will boost that sense of wellbeing.

Your workplace may not be nestled deep in lush countryside but getting outside still has its advantages. For example, simply getting some fresh air each day will, on the whole, make us feel less stressed and anxious, and happier and healthier.

But while big companies have the resources to create gyms, yoga rooms and outside spaces for their staff, the options are obviously more limited for smaller enterprises. However encouraging your employees to get a little fresh air is easier than you think.

Creating a ‘greener’ workplace can have a positive effect on wellbeing. Plants are the obvious place to start – place greenery around the office and pot plants on each desk. Ensure communal plants have a designated ‘waterer’ and encourage staff to look after their desk plant.  

When the weather allows, open windows to let air circulate, and always keep blinds pulled up to let as much natural light in as possible. If you’re lucky enough to have access to an outdoor space, make sure it’s inviting and encourage staff to take meetings and eat lunch there.

Even if you don’t have an outside area, implementing outdoor ‘walking meetings’ is a great way to get people moving. Encourage staff to step away from their desks and go for a walk during their lunch break. Find out if there are any causes you could support through step counting for charity. Or why not issue pedometers and promote a company-wide initiative to see who can amass the most steps on a weekly basis? It’s a fun way to get people walking more that will boost camaraderie and appeal to competitive streaks.

However you encourage your staff to spend more time outside, the knock on effects for your business will be positive: happier, healthier and more productive staff can only be a step in the right direction – and yes, the pun was intended!

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How to Protect your Company from Data Loss

31st July 2018

TECH

Here’s a shocking statistic: there are currently almost a million businesses in the UK who don’t backup their company data. In addition to that, new research has shown that another 2.8 million organisations who, despite backing up, are still at risk of losing their data because they store it in the same location as the original.

That means there are approximately four million businesses in the UK who are leaving themselves wide open to losing their company data, whether it be through a manmade disaster like a malware attack, or a natural one such as a fire.

But unfortunately, while you can’t do much about a fire breaking out, if you’re a small business it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking you fly under the radar of hackers and data thieves. However the reality is that smaller companies are more vulnerable than the big guys. Think about it – whose lines of defence are likely to be more robust? Mr. Multinational or the local vendor with just a few members of staff?

Hackers are always on the prowl for poorly defended networks and if you’re not backing up securely and remotely, or are storing data on your office computers and employees’ laptops and phones you’re extremely vulnerable to attack or disaster.  

So how do you protect your data? Probably the easiest way is to address password issues. Many companies choose passwords they think will be easy for staff to remember – thus avoiding the hassle of forgotten passwords, numerous log-in attempts and locked accounts. However, the easier it is for your employees to remember your passwords, the easier it will be for a hacker to crack them.

You also need to establish a backup routine. If you’re a small business you may find backing up to a hard drive sufficient. Make sure you do so nightly and, if possible, adhere to the ‘30 mile rule’ which means physically keeping backup devices away from the original location to eliminate the possibility of data loss through flood, fire, or theft.

Using cloud-based storage such as Google Drive or Drop Box (to name just two) is an alternative and is quicker and easier as it removes the need to perform physical backups, however these services can be vulnerable to security breaches.

Finally, if you have a LAN – a local area network – you could backup data to a separate server or computer. Again, it is preferable they are remote and not on the same premises as your original data.

If all of this sounds too much like hard work and you need a cast iron reason to backup your data bear in mind that if you lose your data you’re going to be losing money while your systems are down. You’ll also be at potential risk of your customers or clients finding out and losing their faith in you. Data breaches can also lead to serious legal issues if private information has been exposed. Take steps now to protect your data, your business and your livelihood before it’s too late.

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Why it’s Time to let go and Start Delegating

26th July 2018

MANAGING STAFF

In order to be able to delegate effectively, your time management skills need to be on point. Delegation is all about increasing efficiency but even if you’re good at managing your time, you may find yourself micromanaging too much and unable to relinquish control.

The reason that so many managers are unable to delegate is the fear of putting trust into another person’s abilities to get the job done – something that’s compounded by the fact that this person is normally someone with less seniority than yourself. But the benefits of delegating tasks can be immense, for when you’re not spending your time on smaller tasks, you’ll have the time, capacity and energy to focus on more important facets of the business.

While that might be the most obvious benefit of effectively delegating tasks, there are others too: for example learning how to delegate will enable you to develop a sense of trust and camaraderie with the people that you work with.

From an employee point of view, if you are delegating to them, it’s speaking volumes about the faith you have in their capabilities and will make them feel more valued by you and more engaged with the company as a result. In addition to this, when your team or staff are given more responsibilities, it enables them to grow within their role and develop their skill sets – something that can only be a good thing for the business in general. And who knows, you may even find new ways of tackling tasks that are more efficient!

So, if we’re in agreement that delegating is a good thing for you, your people, and your business, what is there to stop you? The majority of people, when asked why they don’t delegate, will tell you that it is “quicker and easier to do the job themselves” – let’s be honest, we’ve all been there. But the fact is, you need to learn to loosen your grip a little. If you’re struggling to take a leap of faith and let others perform tasks for you, start small: no one is suggesting you hand over an important project to the intern, but by allocating smaller tasks to team members you have faith in, you’re taking your first baby steps towards delegation.

One of the main issues with learning to delegate is fearing that the job will not be done to your standards. Therefore you need to give your employee the best possible chance of succeeding at the job you’ve assigned to them by being very clear in your instructions and telling them if there is a deadline. This will enable them to perform to the best of their abilities – and lessen the chances of you having to step in, pick up the pieces and do it yourself. And of course, there’s always the very real possibility that they do a first rate job, allowing you to give them more projects while you move on to more important things.

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Are you Putting your Employees First?

24th July 2018

MANAGING STAFF

Is your company one that people love to work for? Do you put your employees first and value them over your other assets? You might be shocked to find out what your staff really think.

When asked by HR Grapevine whether or not they considered themselves to be a ‘people company’ 55% of senior executives stated the affirmative. Aside from the fact this leaves a rather high percentage of companies who don’t think of themselves as putting their people first, the other shocking statistic is that only 29% of these senior execs’ employees agreed with them.

So why should you care about being a ‘people company’? After all, you’re paying your staff to do a job, you’re not a charity, and surely it’s not your responsibility to hold their hand as they navigate the world of work? Well, that may be true, but consider that ‘people companies’ typically see higher rates of growth thanks to their investment in one of their greatest assets: their people.

After all, doesn’t it stand to reason that the more a company respects the contributions of its staff, the harder they will work for it? If you’ve a nagging suspicion you could be doing more to achieve ‘people company’ status, read on.

A good starting point is to ask your employees how they feel about the company; this is the first step to demonstrating that you value their input. How you go about this is up to you: one-on-one meetings between managers and employees are a way to engage, or maybe you’d prefer to ask staff to complete an anonymous questionnaire.

If step one is asking, step two is showing you’re listening. Let staff know which ideas you’ve implemented or what changes you’ve made, and give a valid reason if it’s not viable to change something immediately.

Recognising a job well done is crucial in ensuring your people feel valued. Don’t forget that not everyone shouts about their achievements so make sure you’re acknowledging quieter members of the team too when it’s deserved. Finding different ways to reward people on the successful completion of a project, or for coming up with a great idea that saves the company money is also important. You’ll have people that relish the thought of a shout out at a company meeting, while others would rather something more discreet such as a heartfelt email from a manager.

Finally, to become known as a ‘people company’ you need to think of potential employees – the top talent you’d like to attract – as you do your clients. You use marketing to win customers; in today’s competitive environment you need to do the same to attract skilled staff. Research has shown that salary is not the only thing jobseekers are interested in; company culture ranks highly too. Applicants will want to see that your company offers the opportunity to progress within it via internal promotions.

Are you ready to find out what your employees think about your organisation? If that’s a yes, you might just be a people company after all.

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