Wellbeing that works

When we talk about wellbeing we don’t always mean the same thing.

For some it is about fitness. For others it’s about mental health.  For others, it is simply about physical health (the absence of disease).

There are so many lenses through which we can view a topic as broad as this; physical, psychological, nutritional, financial, social.

The World Health Organisation defines wellbeing as: Wellbeing is where each individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community. 

Other ideas about wellbeing talk of thriving, flourishing or being your best self.  Some talk simply of happiness. 

When it comes to wellbeing in the workplace, different perspectives are taken.  Some organisations focus on managing absence and ill-health.  Others want to improve wellbeing to increase productivity.  Others consider it as part of their employer brand or corporate social responsibility.  

Whatever the overall aim or approach, there are three parties in the workplace wellbeing relationship; employees, managers and the organisation itself. 

The organisation is responsible for the strategy, plan, culture and resources.

The manager is responsible for enabling wellbeing within their own team, having wellbeing conversations, tackling behaviour likely to negatively impact upon wellbeing – as well as doing the managing ill-health stuff. 

The individual employee is responsible for their own wellbeing and what they choose to do to support it.

For wellbeing in the workplace to really deliver, all three roles need to be considered and addressed.

·         The development by the organisation of an overall strategy for employee wellbeing, with an operational plan to deliver it and budgets and resources allocated.

·         Managers trained in their role within wellbeing, capable of spotting the signs that something is wrong, able to have effective wellbeing conversations and understand how their role is capable of enabling or negatively impacting the wellbeing of others.

·         Both manager and organisation can provide permission – they can influence the organisational culture. 

·         Finally, employees who are enabled to focus on their wellbeing, can maximise the offering of the organisation and can raise areas of concern without fear. 

An approach that fails to take into account all three parties to wellbeing at work, won’t work.  You may be able to make small improvements but they will not have the potential impact of a holistic approach.   

For wellbeing that works, all three players must part of the game.

Small Numbers; Big Impact

There are some employment policies that don’t have a big impact.  Not in terms of numbers of employees impacted, at least.

But to a small handful of people, these policies make all the difference in the world. 

Let me give you a few examples:

Fertility Treatment Policies. 

Domestic Violence Policies. 

Premature Birth. 




Even if you employ hundreds of people, these policies might only see the light of day every once in a while.  A few times a year perhaps. 

You can get by without them.  Deal with these situations as and when they arise.  Do what feels like the right thing to do as and when.  It’s doubtful that an employment tribunal will criticise you.  There’s no ACAS Code of Practice to fall foul of. 

There’s often a desire not to have too many policies.  Let’s face it, in most organisations there’s often already plenty to read and keep up to date with. 

But there are reasons to have these policies all the same.  Some of your employees won’t ask questions or raise an issue for a whole variety of reasons from being embarrassed to worry about stigma or implications for their career.  Knowing that you have a policy gives them permission to do so.  Having a policy also gives your managers a framework within which to work; it gives them clarity on what to do when challenging issues arise.  Having a policy can provide information to your people at what could be some of the most difficult times of their lives.  These policies also set a tone for those that never need to use them: that your organisation cares. 

Like any policy, they don’t have to be long or overly complex. You don’t need to get people to sign them.  You don’t have to cover everyone in your induction or your company handbook. You can just have them, let people know that they are there if they need them, use them when you have to.

Small policy changes, small numbers of employees…….but big impact. 

PS. We write these sort of policies.  Just ask us for help. 

Candidate Experience – what, why, how?

Remember the saying that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression? Your recruitment process is your first impression. The candidate experience is everything that happens between a potential new recruit engaging with your organisation in a way that leads to them becoming a candidate (most often, seeing a job advertisement) through to the conclusion of the process. For some, this might be the day that they join your organisation as an employee. For others, it will be the point at which you conclude their application with a thank you but no thanks communication. 

Candidate experience includes your employer brand; the external perception of your organisation as a place to work. It encompasses all of the processes, from application forms to psychometric tests to the interview itself. Each and every communication and interaction. At its most simple, candidate experience is the way that you make people feel during recruitment and selection. 

Why is candidate experience so important? There are several reasons. 

Firstly, candidate experience is about your company reputation. In an age of increasing transparency, candidates, successful or otherwise, will share their experiences on review sites, or simply talk about it on social media. Today, most candidates don’t just respond to a job advert and then head off to an interview when offered. They will peruse employer review sites, they will check out the social media feeds – they will do their research way beyond the corporate website. They will form an opinion of an organisation from this vast array of data – and the interview process will either confirm or deny those first impressions. 

Of course, for many organisations, job applicants may also be consumers, linking inextricably the consumer brand and the employer brand. Even unsuccessful candidates can be an advocate for your brand if you provide them with the right kind of experience.  

But it’s not just about reputation. It’s also about engaging talent in a competitive market. The second reason why candidate experience is so

important is that, for the successful applicant, the candidate experience is the start of the employee engagement process. The experience of the recruitment and selection process is a window into your organisational culture; its overall experience provides an insight to an applicant on what it will be like to work for you every day, should they accept. A poor candidate experience may directly impact on whether someone chooses to accept or reject a job offer. When they do accept, the steps before their actual start date can either reaffirm that decision – or call it into question. Put simply, poor candidate experience is a missed opportunity for businesses.

Finally – providing a good candidate experience is the right thing to do. Can you remember the last time you were looking for work? Talk to many people and they will describe job hunting as a fairly miserable experience. Unanswered applications. Ignored requests for feedback. Ghosting. All too often, the effort required of a candidate is vastly disproportionate to the time taken to consider their application.  How you treat your job applicants says much about you as an organisation. Where people take the time and trouble to apply for a role with your organisation, so too should the organisation take the time and trouble to make this a human and fair process, with the experience of the candidate right at its heart. 

Recruitment is too important for it to be undertaken poorly. It’s time to focus on the candidate.

You can download a copy of our book on Candidate Experience with a free 30-day trial here.

A different kind of email policy

A mobile phone email inbox showing one new message

As someone who has been involved in policy work for a good while, I remember the days when creating an email policy was a big deal. It had the same level of focus that social media policies get today.  I’m sure that when workplaces first introduced desk phones we felt the need to tell people how to use them too. We created rules and processes.  Management guidance and lists of dos and don’ts. 

Eventually, these things become so part of the everyday (or even passé) that the need for a policy wanes.  I reckon there are plenty of email policies out there though, all the same.

Recently, someone in my Twitter timeline talked about the need for a different type of email policy – a healthy email policy.  

Email as a bad reputation.  We know that it can be a problem. Not the tool itself but how, and often when, it is used. There are many organisations where the email culture isn’t healthy at all. Competitive late night emailing. Expectation of immediate responses.  Meaningless out of office messages, because employees feel like they can never really switch off.  The passive aggressive cc.  The ‘confirming our discussion’ type.  And so on.

Of course, it’s not just unhealthy organisational habits, but personal ones too. We jump to the inbox ping, an ingrained Pavlovian response. Our emails are often in our pockets or on our smart watches, following us everywhere, quietly nagging us for a response.  And we do.

So just what could a healthy email policy look like? For some organisations it means banning emails ‘out of hours’ or automatically deleting emails when people are on holiday.  Both of these feel a little too much like treating employees like children who can’t manage their own workloads.  It also risks enforcing the idea that there is any such thing as a ‘normal’ working day.

Instead, a healthy email culture is one where someone does not feel like they have to respond immediately or be thought of as less committed or motivated. Where you can put an out of office on and mean it.  Where, if someone wants to work late at nights or weekend, they do so in a way that doesn’t role model unhealthy or unhelpful habits (just put them in your drafts folks and send them in the morning or let people know that it’s because you work flexibly).  It also means an email culture where sometimes we don’t send one at all and just get up and have a conversation instead. 

Do we need a healthy email policy?  In an ideal world – no. Or at least we shouldn’t, in an adult to adult working environment. Instead, we need to start with ourselves by creating our own healthy email habits – and challenging the unhealthy ones we see from our colleagues too, along the way.  Maybe what we need instead of yet another policy is a reminder that when it comes email (and indeed pretty much everything else) we need to work with both wellbeing and colleagues in mind. 

Flexible working for all?

The Labour party recently announced that should they return to government they would introduce flexible working from day one, with the intention that there would be a presumption for flexible working with all roles.   It’s hard to see how this could work in practice – but of course it all depends on what we actually mean by flexible working.

Talk of flexible working brings with it a range of assumptions and biases. Many people understand flexible working to mean working part time  or some form of reduced hours – very often for family reasons.  It is, regretfully, seen as omething of interest primarily to the mothers of young children. Within that somewhat limited definition it could be possible to have a legislative framework in which any full time job should be considered as suitable for working fewer hours.  The 37.5 hour working week is after all, a fairly arbitrary invention.

But flexible working is so much more than that.  All too often we look at it through the family friendly lens. This article from the Guardian illustrates that nicely.  Check out the accompanying stock image (also included at the top of this blog).  A woman in a business suit, baby on shoulder.  Flexible working isn’t something that mums want when they have a small child – but this is how it is often portrayed – both in the media and within organisations.

There are so many reasons people want to work flexibly. Some of these are practical; caring responsibilities, financial reasons (just consider the cost of commuting), disabilities, children.  Others are lifestyle or wellbeing choices.  Combining work with study or hobbies, the desire for greater life work balance.  None is ‘better’ or more important than others. 

Yes, women do the bulk of the childcare in our society, and broader care responsibilities too. That’s part of a bigger problem.  The solution isn’t to make it easier for women to get flexible working, but to make flexible working an accepted norm for everyone.  The 26 week wait to request flexible working is undoubtedly a barrier to flexibility.  The statutory framework could also be much improved, not least because it’s all too easy to reject a request on the flimsiest of grounds. Of course, in our internal policies we can always choose to do so much better than the minimum statutory requirements. 

But when it comes to flexible working the real issue (and barrier) however, is attitudes.

Too often, when it comes to flexible working, the answer is no,now what’s the question?

There is all too often a belief that flexible working will be exploited. That it’s an excuse for skiving.  That there’s nothing in it for the organisation.  That men don’t need it, and those that do are somehow weak or available for jokes.  That those who work flexibly are somehow less committed and motivated.

This is the stuff  that needs to change, perhaps more than the legislation itself.

Perhaps we can start with our stock images – and our own internal framing. Where’s your flexible working policy?  In with your employee benefits – or next to the maternity and adoption policy?

GDPR – 5 steps to take today

Wondering what all the GDPR fuss is about?  There is plenty of information out there – so here is our attempt to make it simple.  Here are the practical steps that you need to be taking today in order to be ready for the new regime in May.


1. Review your contracts of employment  

You probably have a standard contract of employment that contains a consent clause.  After 25th May, you won’t be able to rely on this clause.  Instead you will need to review your contract template and include a privacy notice which makes explicit what personal data you are collecting, why you need, what you’re going to do with it and how long you’re going to keep it. More on this below.


2. Train your people

You need to ensure that your employees know about the GDPR.  This is especially important for those who have data processing as part of their jobs.  They need to be aware of the changes and how they need to act differently after the new regulations come into force.  You also need to make sure your people are aware of the rules around reporting data breaches to the relevant authority within 72 hours. You may also need to inform the subject of the data breach in certain circumstances. So you can see why it’s important that your people understand this.


3. Issue a privacy notice and make it publicly available

As mentioned in point 1, this is an essential step for both employees and job applicants alike. Resist the temptation to make it one of those 94-page terms and conditions documents that we all mindlessly agree to for all kinds of internet services these days: the regulations are very clear that notices must be easily accessible and easy to understand, as well as free of charge. The ICO has helpful guidelines around privacy notices on their website here: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/privacy-notices-transparency-and-control/privacy-notices-under-the-eu-general-data-protection-regulation/ 


4. Audit – and conduct and initial risk assessment

The precise details of this audit will depend on your business and what you do, however there are common principles.  For example, start by ensuring that you are only collecting the minimum amount of personal information that you need for your business.  Check all of your data storage: both physical and digital. Are they safe? Where are your biggest risks of data loss? Do you still need to keep data that way or can you change your processes? How do you get consent from your data subjects? Will it be sufficient for the GDPR? What Data Protection Impact Assessments do you need to carry out? Again, the ICO website has some helpful self-assessment tools to help you here.


5. Review the personal data you are currently holding – and have a big clear out

It is time to clear out the clutter!  Do you need it full stop?  If you do, do you need it stored in the same format? For example, could you scan physical data and store it electronically (more securely). Does your business rely on paperwork being taken off site? This could make it all the more important to move to digital storage.  Digital devices can be password protected, but once lost, pieces of paper cannot be secured.


Finally, review your HR policies and procedures.  This will include those that specifically reference data protection but will include others too that reference the processing of data such as your sickness absence and recruitment policies. And if you need any help with this – well, this is what we do.  We can help you review your existing policies, and we can provide up to date, GDPR compliant policies on data protection.  Contact us for more information on how we can help you further.

Time for a menopause policy?

We spend a lot of time doing policy work for our clients. A little while ago the question arose…. Should we have a policy on the menopause at work?


My immediate response, fuelled by a general dislike of having a policy for absolutely everything, was…. no. Why would we need one?


And then I educated myself a little bit more.


It’s an area that is getting increasing focus from government, trade unions and organisations. You can find a recent publication here.


Here is what I now know:

  • Women are working later in life than they did in the past.
  • If we take the typical age that women experience the menopause, over 4m could be working through this life transition in the UK.
  • For some women, the symptoms can be severe and debilitating. There’s various research, but around 10-15% of women experience very severe symptoms.
  • Symptoms vary – but many can impact upon work either practically or in terms of confidence.
  • At the same time, for many women, it’s hard to talk about their menopause in the workplace – especially to male and/or younger managers.
  • Some women find coping strategies. Others opt to hide their symptoms.
  • Women are concerned about how they will be perceived if they talk about it. Some research points to discrimination and inappropriate comments and banter (otherwise known has harassment) about the menopause.
  • More research pointed to the increased likelihood of negative reactions in male-dominated environments – making women even less likely to speak out.


We’ve seen the matter of the menopause in the employment tribunal too. The leading case involves a women being dismissed for performance, which she alleged was as a result of her menopause and associated health conditions. The dismissing (male) manager made no attempt to verify this with Occupational Health, and instead based his decision on the (non-severe) menopause experiences of his wife and HR advisor……. I’ll just leave that there.


On my commute today I saw a poll on Twitter, asking if women should get ‘menopause leave’. The evidence is clear that menopause is an experience that differs significantly from woman to woman. So a one stop shop piece of legislation or ‘right to request time off’ isn’t the answer.


Small changes are sometimes all that is needed. If you provide uniform, making sure it’s made of natural fibres, or providing more than normal so that women can change at work. Small adjustments to working hours or breaks for women who are experiencing sleep problems or fatigue. Ventilation, fans and access to cold drinking water or changing facilities.


Above all, like with most people stuff, it is about dialogue. Creating the conditions where conversations are safe, people feel like they can raise the difficult stuff and reach out for the support that they really need.


So, maybe it is time for a menopause policy – or at least some guidance to help employees and managers alike. We have recently written our first documents for clients – so if you need any help with thinking about how your approach the menopause where you work…. get in touch!

Conflict at work

Conflict happens in all organisations, to some degree or another. Wherever there are people, there are diverging views, approaches and thoughts and the workplace is no different. Whilst steps can be taken to prevent or minimise it, the chances are that it is something that every organisation will need to deal with at some point. This is why we have formal procedures.


We are often asked to help organisations deal with conflict, whether it is between two colleagues who have a personal disagreement that spills over into their work or between two Directors which can threaten the very future of the organisation.


When conflict arises, those within the situation fix their positions quickly : “this is what I think and this is what I want”. When strong emotion is involved, it is all too easy to see only one point of view: our own.  Our cognitive biases kick in.  We want to be right.  Often, those involved in the conflict seek support.  They talk to others, put their point of view.  They are seeking to have their positions and their feelings validated.  If this isn’t quickly addressed, the conflict can then spread, impacting other employees and even the organisation itself.


The challenge with the traditional grievance procedure is that effectively, one person ‘wins’.  The hearing manager has to make a formal finding.  They either agree, or they disagree.  Little room for middle ground.  This leaves one person feeling like they have lost.


Put all of these factors together and you have a toxic mess.  Relationships can be damaged to a point where they cannot be repaired.  The emotion lingers on long after the formal processes have been concluded.


We’d take mediation over a grievance procedure any day.  It is however not an easy option.  The parties to the conflict have to get in a room and deal with it.  They have to be prepared to say the tough stuff – directly to the other person.  Emotions often run high and it takes much longer than a grievance hearing will.  Going into mediation does require bravery.  It requires people to put aside their need to be vindicated for the possibility of a long term solution.


All HR people have to manage conflict at work. It is part of the job description.  After many years of doing so I have learned that there is no one best way of dealing with it.  Each situation needs to be managed according to its context and the needs of the individuals within it.  But there is one thing that I do know.  However you think best to approach it, do it quickly.  Don’t let conflict linger.  This is how it spreads, this is how it impacts upon other employees, and this is how it infects your organisation.


Adult to adult conversation is the key – as soon as the issue arises.

The Top 5 Business Risks of Social Media

I’m a social media evangelist. You’ll usually find me advocating its use to and for everyone from business leaders to small business to HR professionals. But for all its benefits, social media is not completely without risk for the organisation. We’ve all heard the horror stories – in fact when I speak about it, I often share some of my favourites. So rather than another piece in praise of the virtues of social media, here are the top five social media risks for business…. and what you can do about them.


1. Confidentiality. All employees have an implied duty of confidentiality. It exists specifically in most standard contracts of employment too. Breaches via social media might be deliberate, they might be accidental – even the White House is apparently not immune to the accidental share. Passwords can be changed quickly though. Staff can mention clients who don’t want to be talked about. In any of these situations, disciplinary action may result. Preventing breaches is all about communication and training. Something I’ll be saying often in this blog post.


2. Bullying and harassment. Inappropriate comments, so-called ‘banter’, unwanted or inappropriate messages have been part of the workplace since, well, forever. But the difference when it takes place in the social world is its 24/7 possibility. Social media never sleeps. Often, the cases that find their way into the Employment Tribunal system involve bulling and harassment. Policies and training should make it very clear that social media activity ‘in the course of employment’ doesn’t just mean during the 9-5. In cyberspace, everything is transparent. Everything is relevant. Even on Facebook.


3. Inappropriate material. Or, as we like to say in many an HR policy, “bringing the company into disrepute”. Employees identifiable as working for their employer, posting dubious opinions, being discriminatory or even sharing pornographic images (and yes, I have dealt with this….). You can’t stop employees doing inappropriate things. If you could, HR would probably have much less to do. But you can have a clear, robust policy, and act accordingly.


4. Contacts. In the old days, sales people used to have contacts lists. Remember the desk bound Rolodex? The challenge back then was to stop anyone leaving business getting near the photocopier or the fax machine. Today, it is not quite as easy. You can incorporate terms into a contract about ownership of a social media account and its connections or go down the restrictive covenant route. I even know of someone who was required to delete their LinkedIn contacts one by one. I’d suggest this is largely futile. You can’t un-know someone – in real life or the social world. Better to make sure that that contact information is somewhere else like a CRM database than try to prevent the unpreventable.


5. Time wasting. It isn’t difficult to waste time on social media – we’ve all gone off down rabbit holes from time to time (cat videos anyone?). But that issue is much bigger than social media. Employees can waste time in all sorts of ways from the extended lunch break to simply wandering around the office. Monitoring social media usage is permissible – just make it clear that you are going to do it. But this isn’t really about social media. It’s about employee engagement. It’s no more or less a management problem than people taking too many cigarette breaks (something anyone who has their HR stripes has dealt with on numerous occasions). So if find your employees are using social media to excess, maybe don’t start by running a usage report and reaching for the “block” button, but by asking yourself why…


When it comes to addressing these risks, there are plenty of things you can do. Have, and communicate, an effective social media policy. Train your employees on using social media professionally and appropriately. Tell them what you consider acceptable, and what you do not. Make sure your company’s culture is the best it can be. The risks I’ve outlined above are very real – but they can be managed. That way, we can ensure that we reap the rewards of social media’s virtues too.


Of course, you could also attend one of my masterclasses on social media and employment law too. Self-promotion over. Kind of…!

Digital – the new HR space?

Tim writes…

Last week I attended a great event called ‘Our Digital Future’ run by the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). The aim of the day was to bring together people working in the Digital and Creative sectors to discuss the skills and business support that are needed to enable those businesses to grow and thrive. We had some excellent keynote speakers and some fascinating table discussions, facilitated by the Liverpool Girl Geeks.

You can find my Storify (which shows you how the event was covered by the participants on Twitter) of the event here – or view the slideshow below…

In my last role, I was both Head of People and Head of IT. From the outside these two may look like strange bedfellows and, frankly, sometimes, this was true. Managing a complex employee relations issue one minute and attempting to negotiate a national network upgrade the next was always an interesting switch to make – but the disciplines have more in common than you might first think.

The digital skills gap is becoming an increasing problem and HR needs to get involved. Automation, ever-increasing social and digital technology, AI, augmented reality…. all coming to a workplace near you in ever increasing amounts. A recent Government report said that 90% of jobs require already digital skills to some degree and concludes that the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP. Whilst some organisations are already thinking about this stuff, many are not. But those that aren’t could soon find themselves left behind. Permanently. Disruption is probably one of those annoyingly overused words in the modern business world. But digital disruption is happening to all sorts of business models and will continue to happen. No organisations and no business sectors are immune from its challenges and opportunities.

Dan Rubel from Shop Direct spoke on the day. He talked about their evolution from the catalogue-driven Littlewoods organisation to now, where they see themselves being as much of a tech business as a retail business. A mindset many organistations need to adopt – and HR too. As Dan said, ‘underpinning our digital success is our people’.

It was going round and round in my head that this is our space and it is time for HR to step up – and, in some cases, to catch up. We can’t just be the people people any more. We need to be the people people who can also do tech. In the past, the tech side of a HR role probably amounted to advising what the Acceptable Email and Computer Systems Use Policy ought to say about discipline (we do love a snappy policy title in HR don’t you know). But now we need to be thinking about the impact of technology and digital on our businesses. Right now and in the future. How is it going to change our business, our sector, our marketplace? Will our employees have the skills to be able to help change the model? If not – what are we going to do about it?

For HR professionals, it starts with you, now. This is a big opportunity. Get the skills. Understand the landscape. And then help others at your workplace to do the same. Your employer and your colleagues will be indebted to you and it will have a lot greater organisational impact than the Email Policy, I promise you.

It’s hang back or get ahead time.