Saturday, 22 December 2012

Inspiration, friendship and fun: a seasonal thank you

2012 started out in fairly unpromising fashion (personal) but with a glimmer of something intriguing on the horizon (the beginnings of Treacletiger as a business.) We've learned a lot this year, been to some great events, had some amazing conversations.

None of it would have been as much fun without the incredible, inspirational and downright fun people we've met on the way. It would have been far tougher if we'd not been welcomed by them at unconferences and talks, chatted about work and non-work stuff online, and seen off the odd pie and snifter with them too.

I'd love to think I can name them all, but in my post-flu state I fear I am doomed to omit some; this would quite honestly upset me, because these people matter; so I won't do a list. 

They should read this and know who they are. 

And when you read this and know you're one of them... Thank you. 2012 was fun. 2013 can be better if we keep doing our thing.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Employment updates: December 2012

Parental leave increases from three to four months

The permitted period of parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child is to increase from three to four months, and at least one of the four months will not be transferable between parents, according to the amended EU Parental Leave Directive. 

The change came into force in March 2012, but the Government confirmed at that time that it planned to rely on the exception that allows EU member states an extra year for implementation, and that it will implement the change by 8 March 2013.

The extension to leave presents both a benefit to new parents and an issue that can't be ignored for businesses; though before creating any anxiety it should be remembered that not all parents will wish to take four months, so keep speaking to all expectant parents about their intentions!

Confirmation: 'Employee-owner' contracts to be introduced in April 2013

The 'employee-owner' contract is a new type of employment contract which will see 'Employee-owners' given between £2,000 and £50,000 of shares in the business (exempt from capital gains tax) in exchange for forgoing certain employment rights. 

The key rights to be forfeited:
Employee-owners would not receive the standard unfair dismissal protection after two years' continuous service. 

Employee owners would be unable to make statutory requests to work flexibly or in relation to study or training. They would also  not be protected against dismissal for making such requests. The exception is a request for flexible working made on return from parental leave. 

Employee-owners would not be eligible for statutory redundancy pay.

They would also be required to give 16 weeks' notice if they wished to return early from maternity or adoption leave; this is compared with eight weeks for employees.

The decision by the Government to press ahead with this initiative is an interesting one. During the consultation on the proposals, they were supported by only a very small number of businesses, and have been universally opposed by employee representatives and Trade Unions. They have been criticised by key voices in the HR profession as "damaging" to the employment relationship, with a risk of huge impact upon staff loyalty, engagement and skills retention. 

More details are due to be announced, and we hope that companies will be prevented from offering only this type of contract in future.

Financial penalties to be imposed on employers that breach employment rights

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill gives tribunals the power to levy a financial penalty against employers that are in breach of employment rights "where the breach has one or more aggravating features."

If the tribunal makes an award of compensation, the amount of the penalty will be 50% of the award. The penalty is subject to a minimum threshold of £100 and an upper ceiling of £5,000

Employers will qualify for a reduction of 50% if they pay the penalty within 21 days. The Bill can be viewed on the UK Parliament website.

Eye tests for professional drivers

The EU Driving Licences Directive prescribes that holders of commercial driving licences will be required to have their eyes tested every five years. The UK must implement the Directive by 2013. The Directive can be viewed on the Europa website. 

The Directive is welcome news which can only serve to better protect the eye health and safety of professional drivers and increase safety on our roads.

All potential employment tribunal claims to be referred for mediation

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill requires potential claimants to lodge details of their proposed employment tribunal claim with Acas in the first instance. Acas will offer the parties the opportunity to engage in conciliation with a conciliation officer for a prescribed period. Where the conciliation officer concludes that a settlement is not possible, or where the prescribed period ends without reaching a settlement, the claimant will be issued with a certificate permitting him or her to issue proceedings. 

As accredited mediators, we welcome the news that mediation will have a part to play in early resolution- too many cases come before tribunals that could have been addressed with better communication in a dedicated space suitable for all parties.

Merry Christmas from the Treacletiger family

Friday, 7 December 2012

2012: a bit of a mixed bag, really...

Reading through Twitter this morning I was compelled to reflect on the year by some thoughts posted by the supersmart HR professional and writer Neil Morrison.

I may be the sensitive sort, but as I read his posts, I felt a rush of emotions as memories of the year came flooding back. The good ones first- and I smiled. And then the sadness.

As an HR and employee engagement practitioner, mediator, and a community activist I've seen the best and worst of things this year. I've told people they've won and lost jobs, dealt with employees suffering stress and unhappiness, sent flowers to those celebrating new babies and weddings, felt the excitement of a new beginning, and worked with families facing extreme hardship and elderly people faced with a choice between eating and heating this winter.

It's been another hard year for so many. Too many businesses are still battling, facing frustration and stagnation. Many employees feel demotivated, yet compelled to turn up and work harder than ever for fear of losing their jobs. Even bosses have had it up to the eyes with fighting. There are communities, families and individuals facing hardship beyond anything we've seen in decades.

The Chancellor's Autumn Statement this week seemed to confirm that we were on the road to recovery, albeit with growth forecasts downgraded.

Then the news broke that he'd factored in a predicted profit from the auction of the 4G network- something that hasn't happened yet and so the sum cannot be established. It seems that despite George Osborne's assurances- however well intentioned in an effort to boost confidence- the figures were still grim reading, and we are in for six more years of austerity. It's not doing much for everyone's Christmas spirit, and we are in danger of looking back at 2012 through the filter of hardship alone.

Yes, times are hard. Times have also been fantastic at different points. Most of the fantastic has come from moments of real connection, of emotion and humanity rather than from affluence and prosperity. Reflecting on the year, there is much to smile about, and learn from.

Steve and I officially launched Treacletiger in January with the backing of our mentor Frank Bastow. We are blessed to have Frank as a cheerleader, and to have his knowledge and abilities to hand. 

We decided to do it as a 'real' business after a while of doing what we do quietly and for various friends and family over the preceding two years. Looking back, those were nervous times. It's not been an easy first year- making that transition from 'helping out people we know' to 'charging for helping out people we know' was difficult to manage, and we've learned a fair few lessons on the way. We've worked to keep to our ethos of keeping things simple, clear and energetic and remain true to what we want Treacletiger to be about. We have some wonderful clients, and we treasure their loyalty to us. But we know we can do so much more, and for so many brilliant businesses. We'll be expanding our services in the Spring to include Health & Safety support alongside Steve's existing work.

Next year it's time to get our heads down and grow this baby. It's what we dearly love doing, and we are determined to see our client base develop and be exciting in 2013.

In March I managed a set of redundancies for a client. I'd done them before but this was hard: I knew these people quite well, having worked with them to implement training and development plans for some time. Also, every candidate had been in their role for several years and were considered 'part of the family.' Telling them first that their jobs were under consideration, and then working with them through the process to ensure fairness, and ultimately the 'right result' for the client was difficult. It became clear that the candidates selected were going to behave very differently, and I found myself assuming the roles of practitioner, mediator and outplacement support counsellor in just a single meeting. It was challenging, and at the time I was inspired to write this- but I have since heard from the employees who were made redundant, and even been thanked by them for making sure that things were done correctly and as fairly as possible.

In June I turned 40. I was less bothered by this than anyone around me. But you know, it does make you take stock, and there are always certain frustrations, things I wish had been different and people I wish I'd kept hold of longer or got shot of faster. However, I was happy to realise that I was entering my fifth decade in a better frame of mind than I'd met my fourth. Onwards, I said.

July and August will remain with me always. How can we ever think about letting this feeling go? How do we keep hold of the awe-inspiring moments we were privileged to share this summer? So many memories that I hold close and which have me glassy-eyed even as I type. In London on the day of the men's Marathon, my daughter made me proud by recognising that those working on the Games- in this case the Police- wanted to have fun too. The evidence of this can be seen to the right.

My Wenlock and Mandeville stuffed toys still sit proudly above the fireplace in my living room, a permanent reminder of the magic we can create when we come together.

We did something amazing in September, taking part in the 20 mile London Night Hike and raising over £5500 with our friends at Bastows for Maggie's Centres. Sore knees for two days afterwards? Yep. Body clock knackered for the entire weekend? That too. Immeasurable sense of achievement? You bet. Our Maggie's medals adorn the aforementioned Wenlock and Mandeville- a reminder that we too did something brilliant in a year where humanity shone that wee bit brighter than usual.

It was meetings, rain, panel discussions, rain, meeting some truly inspiring and fascinating people, rain, late nights and some serious time management issues as I headed North to be a part of a party conference (my first ever!) in October. Fiding yourself chatting about youth unemployment and training courses with people you've seen on the news- and who present the news- at midnight is surreal, as is bumping into the same (and very nice) Member of Parliament in the ladies' loos not once but FOUR TIMES in the space of four days. The poor woman must have assumed I was a particularly persistent stalker. (I have seen her since and she's been kind enough not to mention it.)

Inspired by this and the US elections, a few of our November musings had a politcial slant. As employment relations and legislation come under scrutiny from both the Treasury and Dr Cable's team at BIS, we face interesting times. We were proud to guest on the Shifting Grounds site, with thoughts on whether quotas are the right way to get women into positions of trust and power (they're not.) I was out and about in my own community too, listening to local people in one of my Borough's poorest wards about their financial pressures and worries about keeping or finding work. I'm aiming to set up a small but powerful project next year to work with long-term unemployed people and would love for my network of friends to join me in giving a little of their time to help with the reality of jobhunting: not just writing CVs or knowing how to impress at interview, but tips and tricks that will help people be truly effective when applying. Let me know if you think you can help.  

We also helped a client pick up an award for Corporate Environmental Responsibility this month- one to add to the growing list, and one they celebrated in style.

December has really only just begun. For many it's the month of winding down, of enjoying a leisurely stroll into the festive season. We are infected with the Christmas spirit too, but we're fighting complacency and aiming to win more business before Santa visits. We'll close this year considering how we build on what's been done and determined to do better next year.

So in 2013, we want to ask you to think about how what we do can help you. How can HR support your business? What impact could a simple wellbeing strategy have on staff retention and engagement? What could mediation do to help your people find solutions?

Thank you to everyone who's supported us this year, whether as clients, friends, mentors, family or other. You are Treacletigers, because you know that strength really does come from sweetness, and you're looking forward to seeking out the adventures 2013 has to offer.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

What HR needs to remember about Christmas parties

It's 'works Christmas party' season!

*Cue a billion blogs and articles telling you how to prevent normal human behaviour.*

I'm not going to tell you how to control the behaviour of merry employees.

 I'm not going to do that because: 

1. You can't. They are people with beer and party hats, and by nature unpredictable. The presence of karaoke may also be a factor.

2. You need to trust them to behave themselves. If you don't, why do you employ them?

3. They are not children. They are perfectly reasonable adults. Karaoke aside.

4. They work all year and like to cut loose a little. Especially if it's the one time of the year they get to do it on company time and money.

5. Drunken stories and moments of genuine personal connection swapped at these events can often lead to clearer understanding and better working relationships. Those "You're my best mate, you are" drunken declarations can hold some water come daylight.

6. They sort of want to keep their jobs, so generally have a lovely time and don't create mayhem. Or they don't do it so obviously as to be found out or create real mayhem.

7.  They want to have a lovely time and not create mayhem. I mean real mayhem, involving the scanner, a stuffed badger and custard.

8. The old horror stories of fights over work issues and Jim from Packing and Sally from Accounts being found having sex in the stationery cupboard are largely rubbish. Idle gossip, on the whole.

9. It's meant to be FUN.

10. You are not a sponge there to soak up any FUN that may leak out.

Relax. Communicate the party details confidently and show people you're excited to let your hair down a little too. If they feel it's a positive thing and time and care is being taken to organise it, only the biggest fool would abuse that and behave badly. And at least you'll know who the biggest fool is in your business come January.

So HR people, take part and party. You've earned it too.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Autumn Statement round up

Thanks to the BBC being quick off the mark, here are the key points from today's Autumn Statement by the Chancellor, George Osborne.



The 3p-a-litre increase in fuel duty, planned for next January, is cancelled


Predicted to be -0.1% in 2012, down from 0.8% predicted in the Budget
Forecasts for next few years are: 1.2% in 2013, 2% in 2014, 2.3% 2015, 2.7% in 2016 and 2.8% in 2017


Most working-age benefits to rise by 1% for each of next three years
From 2014-15 lifetime pension relief allowance to fall from £1.5m to £1.25m
Basic state pension to rise by 2.5% next year to £110.15 a week
Child benefit to rise by 1% for two years from April 2014
Local housing allowance rates to rise in line with existing policy next April but increases in the following two years capped at 1%
Changes to welfare to save £3.7bn by 2015/16


Basic income tax threshold to be raised by £235 more than previously announced next year, to £9,440
Threshold for 40% rate of income tax to rise by 1% in 2014 and 2015, from £41,450 to £41,865 and then £42,285
Main rate of corporation tax to be cut by extra 1% to 21% from April 2014
Inheritance tax threshold to be increased by 1% next year
Bank levy rate to be increased to 0.130% next year.
£5bn over six years expected from treaty with Switzerland to deal with undisclosed bank accounts
HM Revenue and Customs budget will not be cut
ISA contribution limit to be raised to £11,520 from next April
Prosecutions for tax evasions up 80% - with anti-abuse rule to come in next year
No new tax on property value
No net rise in taxes in Autumn Statement


Point at which debt predicted to begin falling delayed by a year to 2016/17
Deficit forecast to fall this year, as is cash borrowing
Deficit to fall from 7.9% to 6.9% of GDP this year, and to continue falling to 1.6% by 2017/18
Borrowing forecast to fall from £108bn this year to £31bn in 2017/18
£33bn saving to be made on interest debt payment predicted two years ago
Deficit fallen by a quarter in last two years
Government spending as share of GDP predicted to fall from 48% in 2009/10 to 39.5% in 2017/18
Spending review to take place in first half of next year
Departments to reduce spending by 1% next year and 2% year after


Unemployment expected to peak at 8.3%
Employment set to rise in each year of the parliament


Extra £1bn to roads, including upgrading A1, A30, and M25
£1bn loan to extend London's Northern Line to Battersea


£1bn to improve good schools and build 100 new free schools and academies
£270m for further education colleges


Ultra-fast broadband expansion in 12 cities
£600m for scientific research
Annual infrastructure investment now £33bn
£1bn extra capital for Business Bank
Gas Strategy to include consultation on incentives for shale gas


Promise to spend 0.7% on development to be honoured next year, but not exceeded

Help is at hand: Pensions auto enrolment

One of our favourite HR news websites HR Solutions has teamed up with Money on Toast to bring you an interactive guide to help you through the pension scheme auto-enrolment maze.

This guide will help you to understand if your current scheme meets the new legislation requirements and will provide you with recommendations if any changes need to be made.

It will also tell you when you need to be ready for auto-enrolment and how the costs will affect your company.

The guide is totally free, and there are no obligations for any further action.

If you have any questions please contact Money on Toast on 01243 819 101 or e-mail

Fingers crossed for a girl...

We are all delighted at the news that William and Kate are expecting their first child, but sorry to hear poor Kate's having a rough time of it and has been hospitalised for 'severe morning sickness'.

When I heard the news reporters use the term, I was sceptical. 'Morning sickness' doesn't tend to debilitate women so much that they need to be kept in hospital for three days. However, in extreme cases dehydration sets in rapidly with some women, meaning that saline drips and a watchful eye are in order- especially where the woman in question is carrying a future monarch. It's not just the 'feeling a bit sick' feeling that will see a GP or midwife recommend dry toast and ginger biscuits (I swear by the latter after two babies and some awful sickness.) Dehydration on this level will put both mum and baby at risk- and this is what they should have reported.

It does throw up (excuse the pun) some interesting points as to how employers might handle a similar situation. While there are potentially huge issues affecting a business where an employee is unexpectedly away from work, the rights and care rightly offered to pregnant women mean employers must tread carefully and show sensitivity where there's anxiety on this scale for the expectant parents. Adding to it will do you and the parents no favours, and may damage the working relationship beyond repair.

So, employers: how good is your maternity policy? Would you know what to do if you had your own Kate on board? If not, you know what to do.

This is good news of course; Kate is in good hands and I am sure all will be well, and as a bonus, the law is finally to be changed to allow the first born child to maintain their place in line to the throne- regardless of whether they happen to be a girl. 

We should be proud of our Queens; Elizabeth I and Victoria presided over times of great change, upheaval, enlightenment and challenge, and our own Elizabeth II has just celebrated 60 years as Queen. She too has seen enormous change- consider her time fixing jeeps in the war, being the first monarch to broadcast a Christmas message to the country via television, completing a parachute jump with James Bond (yes, we know) and seeing turmoil of a nature previously unknown (or just unreported) in the Royal Family.

Now I am pondering a 'What Business Can Learn from the Queen' blog. Any thoughts?

We hope that Princess Frances Elizabeth (yes, we're calling it now, place your bets) will find her place in history, and is welcomed by her family and the nation with love.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Mind them Ps and Qs

As I've journeyed through life and met umpteen people both profesionally and privately, there are three qualities that have always stood out for me: consideration, kindness and manners. Consideration for the position and feelings of others, kindness towards those in need of it, and manners in your dealings with everyone you meet.

This post has been inspired by the lovely David McQueen, who encountered poor manners in business a few days ago. How anyone could be rude to Dave I cannot work out, as he is generous with his time as well as his talents, and treats everyone with respect. 

It got me thinking however about the importance of good manners in our business dealings, and the damage we can do if we let ourselves descend into rudeness or plain disregard.

Trust in me

What does it to to your standing- and that of your organisation- if you're rude, inconsiderate or fail to keep a promise?  Trust is damaged or evaporates all together. You're not making their dealings with you pleasant or friendly, and you're certainly not making it easy for them to do business with you. When the deal's done show appreciation. Follow up to see how they're doing, and if they need anything. Be considerate to their needs and position.

Being heard

There are a myriad of ways to vent about rudeness or poor treatment. No longer do people reach for the 'letter of complaint' kit or prepare to spend ages on hold to express their frustration; thanks to social media, their reactions are far more instant - and potentially far more damaging. (It's great when companies get it right, of course.)

Don't dismiss their concerns with a standard, stagnant response- or even worse ignore them.

If you're found to be rude, your brand can suffer, your reputation is tarnished and if the other party's co-operation is essential for the benefit of others in your organisation, you've stitched your colleagues up too. Guess who'll be off a fair few Christmas card lists?

Great moments

Sadly we live in an era where someone just doing their job is too often considered 'great service.' A thought on this: No. 

Doing what's needed or explaining politely why they can't do it and finding an alternative way forward is the bare minimum. Great service- and great moments- come from that human connection that stretches beyond the standard to deliver something that's truly exceptional. Stuff like this, from someone at Sainsbury's who clearly likes their job.

Not being rude is not enough to be great.

Professional courtesy

If basic courtesy is what you do, fine. I don't want you to fawn over me or anyone else if it's really not your thing. Just be consistent, or I'll wonder why I'm being treated differently to others.

Leave it at the door

In short, nobody cares if you're busy, your dog kept you up all night or if you've fallen out of love with your job - park it. They don't identify with your issues while they have one of their own to resolve.

Basic politeness is a human need, and if you don't deliver, they'll be off to find it somewhere else- badmouthing you all the way.

And you know, that really is your loss.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Jobs for the Girls

Now I am out of the rain, I thought I'd reproduce my Shifting Grounds piece on HR, women and politics here for your viewing pleasure.

Please do comment either here or over on the main site- I've had a great response to this piece and would love to hear from all sides of the debate. 

And do keep up to speed with all the other writers contributing to this fantastic site- it features voices from across the world of politics, making sense of what Westminster's decisions mean for businesses and individuals.


Traditionally, the world of Human Resources (such a cold expression) nee Personnel (not much better) has been considered womens’ domain.  In business we’re either portrayed as policy-driven, process-obsessed middle aged women in a closed office who tell you what you can’t do, or as mothers- supportive and nurturing of those in favour, punitive if you cross the line.

Men who have opted for a career in HR are often overlooked, or are considered somehow beyond it and into the realms of business advisors, coaches and mentors. It’s a shame. There are some brilliant, creative men in HR, such as Doug Shaw, Mervyn Dinnen, Michael Carty, Sukh Pabial and many others I will kick myself for not remembering to recognise as soon as I post this.
HR has undergone a revolution in recent years, with the perception of our profession being blown wide open in favour of remembering what we’re all about: the People.

The new voices in HR are positive, recognising the importance of engaged and collaborative teams, of living by strong values and preferring productive conversations over appraisal meetings. It’s friendlier, and more about practicalities than creating endless documents and memos that are rarely read or understood. Suddenly HR is a career choice for a wide range of people, rather than something many people end up doing by accident.

As both HR practitioner and political activist, I can’t help but note that as HR evolves to be more relevant to business and people (and how this is driven by both genders) we have seen a changing role for women in politics. Currently, more Shadow Cabinet posts are held by women than ever before.

So how about our Cabinet? There’s precious little diversity at all, even before you consider there are half as many women as in the Shadow Cabinet. It’s disappointing when you consider that the Conservative Party saw more of its female candidates elected than ever before in 2010, while Labour has seen its number decline from the 1997 high of 101 female MPs. Of course this reflects changing electoral fortunes, too- but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Meanwhile in business, the statistics around female Managing Directors or CEOs and the number of HR professionals on boards are grim reading, with only two women heading up FTSE 100 companies at time of writing, and a poorer picture still for HR, despite our accepted purpose of establishing connections with people at every level of our organisations.

So what would I do about it? Well, jockeying women into positions to fulfil some sort of target isn’t healthy for anyone, least of all the women involved.

We've recently seen an EU proposal that would see companies compelled to ensure 40% of board members are female. I have mixed feelings on this. While there is certainly a need to see more women on boards, there’s often little to be achieved in crowbarring people in to roles to fulfil an imposed obligation. A board position- like any promotion- should be awarded on the basis of ability, not gender. 
There’s a risk of boards becoming bloated, with women promoted into non-executive positions to meet the target and fake a commitment to equality- but with the key decisions retained by the existing (male) board members. So in effect, you have women who look to hold positions of responsibility, but with little say in how things really get done. Trust me when I tell you: that’s frustrating, and you often feel more disrespected than if you’d been left off the list all together.

But if working in a male-dominated world, how does a woman make her abilities known, and gain recognition?

I would suggest that perhaps better talent identification holds the key. Business owners should present challenges that will enable problem solvers of both genders to show their abilities. They should hold conversations about personal goals that count instead of “Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?” Business leaders- and not just HR- must allow employees equal time, opportunity and space to shine in order to learn what their people are really good at. If they do this they can develop them well, foster loyalty and get the most value from them. 

It often requires a drastic change in culture, which sadly doesn’t happen overnight. But it’s not an excuse not to start. If you create a space where women and men can flourish, natural abilities will come to the fore and leaders will make themselves known.
So yes, women need to be board members and Ministers, but let’s ensure they are given the opportunities and resources needed to win their place in the same way as their male colleagues. Let’s identify the talent. Let’s prepare them, coach them and position them in such a way that a seat at the table is the natural progression, not something that’s done to tick a box.

In the same way, I don’t fully support the Labour Party’s use of All-Women Shortlists (AWS) when selecting candidates. This Party already has the strongest track record of all Parties in promoting the role of women in politics- but even that could be drastically improved.

There is too high a concentration of women in the UK in minimum wage and often part-time jobs. They often have familial responsibilities or are politically disengaged, but are usually painfully aware of the impact that decisions made in Westminster have on working people. These are the women we should be encouraging into politics, and as yet I see no evidence that AWS has done that.

I don’t advocate dropping AWS all together, but I would venture that it could be improved enormously if the shortlists included employees of ASDA and the cafe at the local garden centre as well as the University educated women in higher-paid jobs. For me, there’s a need for local politicians as well as national ones to connect with community groups, where women’s talents often shine and candidates may be identified.

With turnouts falling and an increasing disillusionment with politics and politicians, there’s a real need for all parties to select candidates that look like the communities they represent- whether that’s working class, black, white, gay, straight, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, women, men, mums and dads- or any combination of the above. 

Let’s make “They’re all the same” something we heard in the dark years post-expenses scandal, before we saw sense and made aspiring representatives of the people representative of the people.

So, from this HR practitioner’s perspective (from her desk amongst the people she works with and for) it doesn’t matter if we’re talking politics or HR: it’s about People, fairness and equality of opportunity- for everyone.