Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Inspiration in words

Above my desk is a cork pinboard, the kind you can find in thousands of offices around the globe. On it are a mixture of business cards, stamps and exciting things such as a 'good luck' ornament from a Taiwanese market and our employer's liability insurance certificate. However, there's one thing that stands out and that people comment on.

It's a piece of paper that reads:

"Cherish the Past,
Adorn the Present,
Construct for the future."

The above quote comes from the visionary Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, humble architect. Williams-Ellis is best remembered as the creator of the village of Portmeirion in North Wales, famous for its pastel-painted constructs in Italianate style and as the setting for 1960s TV drama 'The Prisoner.' However, his works extended beyond this to such diverse buildigs as the memorial garden at Wisley, the now sadly-demolished original Battersea Dogs' Home building and numerous private houses. Williams-Ellis refused to become set in a signature style, being agile enough to diversify when needed while remaining true to his core values.

I've always loved the quote above, feeling it sums up beautifully what we should all aim for in business- to love what's gone before, make today the best it can be, and to build something better for tomorrow. It's what we feel is needed in many teams, providing a shared purpose and common goals. 

Over the years, Williams-Ellis has inspired us to share this message with the businesses we've been involved with, and put it to work for them. 

His words are a message we've been proud to work into our own core values and communicate to others.

Except obviously, he said it better.  

Monday, 28 January 2013

Jobsite and Treacletiger: together for better mental health awareness


We were recently asked by Jobsite's Mervyn Dinnen to write a piece around the incredible blog that kicked off the @HRforMH movement we've mentioned before. The original piece was hosted by Alison Chisnell on her HRJuggler blog, and it's well worth making time to read.

We were proud to be able to contribute to this growing debate and hope you find our thoughts helpful.

Here's our article online, and below for those who are click-averse!


A couple of weeks ago HR Blogger (and HR Director) Alison Chisnell shared on her site a heartfelt and startlingly honest piece about mental illness by an anonymous writer. This created quite a stir within the HR and L&D communities, with the overwhelming response being one of positivity and gratitude to Alison for bringing the issue to the fore.
Over the two weeks since that first post there have been a number of further posts from members of the community and a commitment to take more action to put this topic firmly on to the HR and business agenda, particularly as it relates to the workplace.
We asked Niki Rosenbaum, founding partner of HR and Wellbeing consultancy Treacletiger, to explain more about what employers can do…

“Consequent discussions (following the sharing of the original post) have highlighted the fact that often it is not a mental health issue itself that creates concern for employers, but not knowing what to do about it. Employers I’ve worked with have confessed to a lack of understanding which has either led them to make a knee-jerk decision over how to handle matters, or stymied their efforts to ‘do the right thing’.

There are varying causes of mental illness, including outside influences (social, environmental, economic and political), bereavement and so on. While these can create a ‘shift’ in behaviour and so affect an employee’s performance, they must be viewed differently from chemical imbalances causing inherent behaviour changes. ‘Situational’ or ‘responsive’ depression to a traumatic life event or stress should be viewed very differently to a diagnosed condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (both of which can be managed very successfully with the right combination of support and appropriate medication.)

Mental ill-health is a sensitive subject, and frightening for many – including those experiencing it. They may not tell their employer about it if they feel it will damage their standing, prospects for promotion or new challenges. Likewise, it doesn’t mean they’re hiding something. They may not realise or want to recognise that they’re in the grip of something more than a ‘blip.’

So what can you do? Firstly, there should be no such thing as a ‘Mental Health Policy.’ A generic, blanket approach can’t be relied upon due to the complexity and variety of issues; tailored support for individuals and targeted training for managers will help develop a better understanding than any ‘policy’ that kicks in should an employee share information about their mental wellbeing.

Employers can:
Work harder on developing communication. Don’t be afraid. With 1 in 4 of us experiencing some form of mental ill-health at some stage in our lives, it’s essential this is high on the agenda. It can also add clarity and create a space for people to open up without fear or judgment.

It’s OK to share. Over the years, it’s astonished me how many feel the need to share their story to help others, and how many are able to take something positive from their experiences and use it to strengthen their character and resolve.

Get the facts and challenge misconceptions. If we hope to defeat the stigma around this, we must challenge and cease using negative language such as “loony” and “ga-ga”. Someone who’s depressed because of a relationship breakdown or death of a loved one will not recognise themselves or their pain in this kind of abuse. We must also be cautious of treating people as if they’re made of spun glass: there’s nothing to be gained in assuming everyone who’s depressed is automatically suicidal and ‘nannying’ them to the point where they cannot breathe. Don’t smother them or ignore the issue. Yes, it is a balancing act, but where the wellbeing of others is concerned, it usually is.

Get good information. Organisations such as Mind have launched campaigns to encourage open communication and tackle the stigma around mental health. Talk to experts – there are people within the HR and recruitment fields who specialise in this. But most of all, talk to your employees.
People who have faced mental ill-health or disturbance don’t have two heads, half a brain or thick skin. They are not immediately obvious to you, somehow ‘changed’ or less capable, or impervious to negative attitudes and language. They’re still who they were- they just have something happening to them right now. Don’t react like they’re suddenly a stranger. Be mindful not to shut them out because you don’t understand.

As the writer of the original blog says- “Please remember that I live amongst you.”

Niki Rosenbaum set up Treacletiger in 2011 with her partner Steve McGrane to offer practical, effective HR, mediation and workplace wellbeing support to small to medium-sized businesses. They have worked to promote better understanding of mental wellbeing at work for many years.

If you would like to know more about the issue of mental health in the workplace visit Mind’s website and check out their excellent corporate resources – and also check out the ‘time to change’ pledge


Thursday, 24 January 2013

The cost of conflict

Conflict with work colleagues is more common than we realise. it comes in many forms, whether we attribute it to personality clashes, a lack of understanding or sympathy with another, or differences in leadership style or the way we get a job done- or not!

These issues never simply 'go away'. Left unaddressed they can lead to enormous problems amongst teams and can prove damaging and costly for a business.

The impact of conflict left to fester can be seen in lost productivity, high stress levels and absenteeism. it can also prove damaging to a company’s reputation.

I've just read that the Confederation of British Industry places an estimated cost of conflict on British businesses at £33 billion per year, swallowing up 20% of managers' time and potentially losing up to 370 million working days.

The law requires that 'reasonable' investigations be completed where there is a reported conflict, and that these must be seen to be unbiased and conducted thoroughly and in an unbiased manner. It's a good idea to have an accredited, independent service that can help parties in conflict with an impartial, professional process that is run in alignment with existing procedures, legislation and best practice. Engaging a trusted, independent mediator is seen as unbiased and credible by the parties, and offers a layer of protection for the individuals and business. It's also amazingly cost effective when you work out the cost of 20% of your management time each month, or the risk to your company's reputation.

Throughout my working life, I have been approached to help people in conflict. This led me to study mediation, and to achieve accredited mediator status, before registering with the Civil Mediation Council last year. Membership of this professional body offers clients the peace of mind they need, knowing I understand the weight of responsibility a mediator carries. I aim to reassure clients that they can trust in our professional and impartial approach.

Think about your team, or a team you know: what conflict do you see? How damaging is it right now? How much worse might it be if nobody tackles it? How could creating a safe space and allowing them dedicated time to address this help them, and their employer? What would be the immediate benefit if they reached resolution? What might we see in the longer term?

If you think we could help, drop us a line. Because we could, you know.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Young, gifted and getting the flak

Employers often express frustration with the 'unreadiness' of school and college leavers for the world of work, describing a lack of enthusiasm and reliability, poor communication and planning skills.

Last night I read a great and heartfelt piece by a young lady I was lucky to meet in 2012, Abi Kasipillai. Abi is a graduate living in South London, and she is heartily sick of the way she and other young people are portrayed. I have to say I agree with her.

Of course, 'adults' eyeing young people with frustration, suspicion and even contempt has gone on since time immemorial. We always believe we worked harder, had it tougher, were more respectful of our elders and behaved better. Cast your mind back. I bet you weren't the perfect student, employee, child or member of society you like to believe. I'll admit I wasn't, and so I'll challenge you to do the same.

Did your parents ever say "You treat this place like a hotel", "While you're under my roof you live by my rules", or "What do you think you look like, going out like that"? And have you caught yourself saying it to your own children and cringing inside, knowing you've broken every promise you ever made yourself that you'd be a cool parent?

When did we become the people who looked down on others starting out in the world? Shouldn't we stop it?

Last August I spoke with Stephen Twigg, Labour's Shadow Education Secretary, about the need for employers and educators to work in closer alignment to prepare students for the workplace. I asked what the party proposed to do to tackle the issue of youth unemployment, poor links between schools and colleges and business, and how to tackle the skills gap if they were returned to power at the next General Election. He confirmed that they were forming initiatives that would address many of the points raised, but asked that I await further information which would be set out at the party's annual conference by Ed Miliband. 

I agreed, and in October I listened intently as Ed set out plans for 'the forgotten 50%' of students who, having no desire or leaning to progress to University, often find themselves in low-paid jobs with few prospects- or worse, left to drift aimlessly with the dreadful, damaging label of 'NEET'- Not in Employment, Education or Training. The proposal is for a 'Technical Baccalaureate' to recognise technical and practical skills with a qualification equivalent to three 'A' levels.

So there are ideas in education, but this particular one depends upon whether we have Prime Minister Miliband or Cameron in 2015. It shouldn't. Too many more young people will be labeled and damaged by unemployment and lack of opportunity before then.

So what is business doing to form connections with educators? For them to have a hope of meeting our expectations, surely we need to tell them what it is we need to see in young people entering the job market? I am not talking here about detailed job specs for roles we may or may not wish to fill in three years' time, but the basic, functional skills we need to see in any new employee- such as forward thinking, proactive behaviour, and people skills. Many teenagers I know seem to have a natural talent for social networking. They also show good problem solving and planning skills if given the chance.

I am glad to see the CIPD seem to think it's about time we changed things, too.

This morning I met with a trustee of the Construction Youth Trust, to learn how my clients in the construction industry might get involved and extend a hand to encourage young people, women and young offenders to become a part of the industry, develop new skills and kickstart their career. There is a real skills problem in this field, which has taken the severest battering in the economic storm we've experienced since 2008. It's not seen as a 'desirable' industry to get into, but it is work that can often be hugely rewarding. We will definitely be working with CYT, and I am really excited to take the next step in establishing a relationship with them.

In my work with Bastows under their community and social responsibility initiative, we have formed a strong alliance with the Leatherhead Youth Project, run to give students at local secondary schools a place to be, to flourish and to develop some of the skills I've talked about above. The project is staffed by a dedicated and creative team led by Andy Gill, who is always on hand to offer guidance, information and advice where needed. They recently opened All Saints Coffee offering local young people the opportunity to learn about working, the day-to-day running of a business, customer service and team effort.

How many local businesses have got involved with this fantastic group, working with them to support their efforts, set out what employers want to see, helping these kids develop presentation skills or CVs and increase their employability - or even identify future talent?


While I am proud that's a company I work with and for, I am also ashamed that business leaders in this area are happy to sit and complain about young people, but are unwilling to do anything to change things.

To close, I'd like to set down a challenge to you all: if you're a business owner, accountant, nurse, trainer, HR professional, coach, mentor, parent, brother, sister, aunt, uncle or anything else that means you're a 'grownup' - call your local youth group today and find out how you can get involved. If you're feeling like you want to help but can't see how, do something for Andy, the LYP team and the kids they help instead.

Let's start the change we all need.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Those who can... Teach.

This evening, I was chatting to a teacher friend of mine who is having a particularly hard time with some kids and their parents of late. She's been shown a poor level of support by her headteacher and has had to deal with some very unreasonable behaviour from all parties. All she's tried to do is get kids co-operating, but it appears that wires have been crossed and a disproportionate amount of offence taken at what was a great plan to encourage teamwork and sharing.

Teachers seem to get a raw deal sometimes. We really should treasure the good ones.

it got me thinking about the best teacher I ever had, one Mr Nicholas Whitley. I blogged on a personal basis about him about two years ago, but I think it's worth sharing my thoughts. My hope is that other bloggers will also consider joining in the teacher cheerleading by posting their own memories of teachers who they'd like to thank.

Mt Whitley (yes, I would still call him that if I met him now) was a huge part of my childhood, being my teacher for about three of my seven years at primary school.

He taught me English and made me want to be a journalist- and believe that I could. That dream fell over when I realised I might have to do things I considered a bit unethical- a la News of the World. He made me read voraciously. I credit him with my lifelong love of books.

He taught me PE and coached my love of hanging about upside down for fun into something resembling gymnastic ability.

He taught me music, and wasn't fazed when it became startlingly apparent that arrhythmic scratching on the guiro really was as far as my talents went.

He would play piano in assembly and wait until the Headteacher was safely out of earshot before breaking into a Jerry Lee Lewis impersonation during hymn practice on a Thursday morning. In our school, we looked forward to hymn practice.

He would slam the piano lid shut halfway through a hymn, saying "Right, bored with that, let's write a story" before indulging us wide-eyed kids with a unique, always hilarious, often grim, spin on fairy tales.

When he yelled, you could hear it from one end of the school to the other.

He would get kids face toward the sky in a headlock, and take them for the fabled 'Backward Walk Around the Playground' for fun, their little legs thrashing to keep up. He must have been 6'4". If he really liked you, he'd give them an extra special treat- 'the Backwards Run Around the Playground.' The recipient soon learned to lift their legs and allow themselves to to be carried; trying to keep up was impossible.

He would call his students 'geezer', 'missus' and 'fella-me-lad', looked like a football superstar, and rode a pistachio green Vespa before they were trendy again.

Mums adored him, Dads were green with envy- and his classes loved him to bits. He commanded respect by lighting a fire in your heart and making you believe you COULD.

I was fortunate to have some wonderful teachers in my years at school, but Mr Whitley was, and remains, my favourite teacher. He was a key figure in my childhood, and I hope so very much that he is well and deliriously happy out there somewhere, surrounded by dozens of excited, grinning, adoring grandchildren.

So who do you remember? Which teacher inspired you? Who made you believe YOU could?

A buzz in my head

There's been a flurry of activity in the online HR community this past fortnight as HR professionals and other enthused and interested people have blogged and tweeted in an attempt to get people talking and thinking differently about mental health. 

Our recent post was just one that's appeared amongst other talented and passionate writers, but the catalyst seems to have been this post by an anonymous writer and shared by Alison Chisnell on her blog, the HR Juggler. It's to Alison's enormous credit that dozens of us have signed up to get mental health and welbeing high on the workplace agenda, sharing our stories and experiences and recognising that tough times are impacting on business owners, employees and managers alike.

It's spawned an entire movement, in fact: find us on Twitter at @HRforMH.

We know that we have a long way to go to challenge perceptions around mental health matters. We know that the stigma will stick like glue and will take some pretty vigorous effort to shift. 

We don't imagine we have all the answers or that we can effect change overnight.  But just because we can't do everything is no excuse for not doing something.

What this new thinking has done is to create a buzz in my head that won't die down, to share experiences and knowledge and a need to explore the topic further. I'm considering the idea of a no-nonsense, straight-talking advice pamphlet for employers on managing mental health issues. I'd like to speak with employees who have first-hand experience of mental health matters. If you have thoughts on this or a story to share, do get in touch. I can promise anonymity if you'd rather not share your story so openly.

Please spread the word!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

ReMinder: mentally healthy workplaces

In May 2011, Mind issued a report on mental health in the workplace, and how Government, employers and colleagues can best support one another on this thorny issue.

Mind campaign to create a society that promotes and protects good mental health for all, and where people with experience of mental distress are treated fairly, positively and with respect. In the report they stated that 1 in 6 workers is experiencing depression, anxiety or stress and that this is costing the UK economy £26 billion each year. 

Mind recognised that businesses can save money by creating a mentally healthy workplace, and offered to provide employers with guides and advice. Speaking to employers, many have no idea of the help out there, and had never heard of this initiative or the brilliant 'Time To Change' campaign- with only two people out of seventeen I spoke to recently connecting the TV ads with a workplace mental health campaign.

To refresh our memories, Mind set out some simple and practical steps that can make a workplace more mentally healthy and help people cope with the pressures of the working day. I've set out my own understanding of them below in brackets:

• Connect: (engage with others and your role)
• Be active: (sitting at that desk all day isn't healthy. Move around. Tax your brain a little.)
• Take notice: (look after others, as well as yourself)
• Learn: (develop a real understanding of mental health and stress factors in your environment. Learn and develop new skills to keep your thinking- and your role- fresh.)
• Give: (a little basic human kindness makes an immeasurable difference sometimes. Be generous with your knowledge, your ears and your time.)
• Take action: (don't ignore an issue, whether it affects you or not.)

Is your understanding different? Please do comment below. (I like to be challenged on this stuff. I can only learn from it.)

So what did they recommend could be done? Well, the report's key calls to action were as follows:

Employees should be provided with genuine control over their work and an appropriate degree of self-management of workload.
Roles should be clearly demarcated with defined responsibilities and expectations.
Employees should have a say in planning and decision making.

So far, so logical, right? It's good to see movements like Engage for Success springing up in partial response the Mind report and other studies, but with a belief that engagement leads to growth. There's certainly a link, but as we see today, even the most committed and engaged staff on the 'shop floor' can't save a business from irreversible decline thanks to bad decisions at the top. Engagement is not a one-way street, nor do the Board escape responsibility in this. 

Also, if this HR person is overwhelmed by the plethora of voices all screaming "ENGAGEMENT!" and offering differing, sage advice- what hope does an average MD have of identifying what's best for their business?
The physical workplace environment should be of a high standard, including natural light where possible, good ventilation, good health and safety practices.
● Employees should be actively discouraged from working excessively long hours.
● A supportive working environment should be provided for people with mental health problems.
● Flexible hours schemes should be introduced to take account of regular hospital check-ups.

All great ideas and highly commendable, and certainly in an ideal world (and stronger economic conditions) I am sure employers would be falling over themselves to refurbish offices, learn all about mental health issues, overcome prejudices and misconceptions, review working hours and employ more people to help them meet these requirements. This doesn't excuse them from doing nothing, mind you, as health and safety requirements on us all prevent employers and employees making workplaces  uninhabitable. As for the basics of occupational health, a simple strategy for this is quickly and easily implemented and properly managed, can deliver surprising results.

There should be a gradual return to work for those who have had to take time out after illness.
Positions should be kept open during sickness absence.
● There should be on-the-job support and mentoring schemes.
● There should be ways of tackling employment discrimination and providing support during periods of ill health.

I think legislation has addressed much of this- generally good employers would offer a gradual return and they are more aware of ways to address discrimination nowadays, if they have access to decent HR advice. IF, there. I appreciate that not every employer can afford or allow for a phased return to work, lighter duties and so on- but again, it doesn't mean the position is irreversibly damaged and there's nothing to be done.
There should be government support for proactive recruitment of people with mental health problems.
● There should be better legislation to protect people with mental health problems from discrimination, including provision for those who experience episodes of depression of less than 12 months.
● There should be improved mental health assessment for people applying for the two new benefits replacing Incapacity Benefit.

Here's an interesting bit- where can those in Government step up? So in the eighteen months plus since the report appeared, what's happened? 

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has closed a loophole that saw doctors 'section' up to 5000 patients without being technically qualified to do so under the legislation. Labour leader Ed Miliband called for an end to the 'taboo' around mental health. Gavin Barwell MP has introduced a Bill, likely to become law, to scrap the law that prohibits those with a history of mental illness from becoming MPs (a Bill which sadly doesn't translate to other professions.) All positive steps, but for every bit of good news there's cause for concern, too. Out of work benefits for those with short and longterm mental health issues are under scrutiny, too.

So what do Mind say employers can do? Firstly, they set out the need to encourage awareness, understanding and openness when handling or talking about stress and mental health in the workplace. And this is a huge sticking point- not everyone CAN. It's not always a generational or cultural thing; some people are just unable or unwilling to talk about depression, anxiety or any other mental stress they've seen or faced. A need for a change in the workplace can drive a change in their thinking, but we must accept that there will always be those who don't want to admit that they have, or have encountered, an issue of this type.
Mind recommend too that businesses adopt and adhere to formal policies on stress and mental health in the workplace and demonstrate a commitment to addressing issues. It's great to have policies, but they must do more than sit on a shelf- they must inform the culture of the organisation and how it operates. Also, a commitment must be universal- not favouring the 'easier' cases, but positively supporting all.

Mind also call upon organisations to allow employees to make reasonable adjustments in working patterns such as flexible working or working from home to help them to manage mental health problems and work related stress issues. Business leaders, get off the ceiling: you won't be managing this kind of thing regularly. Really. Well, you shouldn't- unless you're getting it drastically wrong.

Businesses should also offer resources or procedures to help manage stress at work and generally improve mental wellbeing. This might be stress awareness training, access to counselling or stress-reducing measures such as supporting staff facing personal pressures with time and advice to get things resolved. It might be organising things so you can give staff the opportunity to 'recharge' by visiting a favourite local place (the image on the left is from the Natural History Museum, of course- a place I love to visit whenever I need a boost.) Yours might be a local park or cafe, another museum or a walk by a river. Giving people time and space to access these things can help enormously.

This could be read as placing a huge burden on small businesses, but remember- you don't need to be an expert, do all of the above, or do it all yourself. That's why companies like us are in business; and we know that often the smallest things like ensuring people have the resources they need to do their job (including a sense of being valued and cared for) generate the greatest goodwill.

For more info on workplace health and wellbeing, clickety click here.

For details of your nearest local Mind association and of local services, contact Mind's helpline, MindinfoLine on 0300 123 3393 or go to www.mind.org.uk 


Monday, 14 January 2013

Making the most of minutes

Imagine you bank with an organisation that pays £1,440 into your account every single morning.

Every evening they dock whatever you didn't use and take you back to a zero balance. No, you can't carry it over. No, it's not a savings account. You snooze, you lose. 

Soon, you'd learn withdraw every penny of that £1,440 every day and have some fun with it, wouldn't you?

Each of us has an account just like this, but instead of pounds and pence, it gives us hours and minutes. Every morning, we are gifted 1,440 minutes.

Every morning of every day.

If you don't use all you've been given, that's down to you. Nobody made you waste anything.

No, you can't have an overdraft and use up some of tomorrow's gift. Stop worrying about tomorrow's gift. It's not in the account yet.

You must live on today's amount. Invest it well and get the most out of it. Make the minutes count.

On ice?

Over Christmas I gave some serious thought to the business. 2013 is going to be a busy year personally for Steve and I, and so I've pondered pressing 'pause' as much as how we can develop Treacletiger in 2013. Do we focus on our 'day jobs', or do we work our socks off to grow our small but treasured client base? Do we place the business or the celebratory champagne on ice?

As ever, Steve asked the fateful question that's led us into so many challenges: "How hard can it be?" And so here I am setting out a plan of action for how to grow this baby in the coming year.

It's important we do this so we a) continue to challenge ourselves, and b) reward the faith placed in us by our mentor, family, friends and supporters. In the time I've had to think on things, I've taken stock of what makes us worth getting to know, and to consider what skills we have that go beyond what 'yer average HR company' has to offer. (And don't forget HR is just one thing we do. There are others.)

So, me first.

Before I moved into HR, my background was in customer services, including complex case resolution, work in call centres and in-person support for clients. This also involved addressing issues within teams (hence the eventual gravitation into HR and Chartered MCIPD status, something that I work hard to live up to every day.) Without sounding blasé, I've seen a lot of things and am fairly unshockable. I have a strong awareness of what people can do to either help or hinder. I tend to be able to get a good feel for what makes people 'tick' fairly quickly. I didn't just learn about personalities through study, but by going out of my way to meet people and being just as delighted, amazed, frustrated, enthralled and disappointed by them as they were by me, no doubt.

One thing I've discovered over the years is that I do like to celebrate achievement and hard work. I like people and businesses to be recognised not just for the quality of what they do, but how they do it. That's how I got into working with businesses to secure them industry accreditations and awards, recognition and attention. The 'trophy room' at Bastows is looking pretty impressive thanks to their hard work, dedication and me helping draw all the threads together to develop new intiatives and ideas that have seen them go from strength to strength. I am impossibly proud of their commitment to stand out in the construction sector and my work with them.

I've worked in sales. I'm not good at it. I prefer to listen to others and then see if what I know or do can help rather than 'pitch' to them. As a result, I miss chances to sell them something. I like to problem-solve. I like to listen. I like people. I love the power of communication. This is what led to me become an accredited mediator. 

So that's me, a people-focused person and a terrible salesperson- but by jingo, if you hire me, I will work my rear off to make you magnificent.

Steve has an entirely different set of skills that appeal to another set of clientele. His talents work with, interact with and compliment what I do. That's why we think this business is a goer.

His experience is a mixture of twelve years in a high-pressure sales environment, specifically the insurance market, with eleven years' work for Royal Mail in both logistics and health & safety while he studied for a BA Hons degree in Health & Social Care. He's continued his studies in that time picking up a qualification in teaching adults (PTLLS), an IOSH Occupational Health & Safety qualification and has his NEBOSH National Certificate pending. (He's not one to let the grass grow, our Stevie.) 

He too likes to problem-solve, finding the simplest, most cost-effective solution to a sticking point and ensuring it's tested by those most affected. He likes to use visuals, telling stories and using real-life experiences to foster understanding and co-operation.

If he has one fault (and please remember he's my partner in life as well as business, so I may be either too kind or too harsh, depending on your point of view) it's that he loves information. He will soak it up like a sponge, whether it's got immediate value or not.  He retains data. He has a memory an elephant would envy.

This means that me winning an argument with him is nigh on impossible. Clients however  only gain from this. 

So between clients gaining and becoming magnificent, that's why we're moving on in 2013 to grow and develop Treacletiger and establish more services, more skills and a broader client base than in 2012. First off, I need to get past my salesphobia. Steve will have his hands full helping me do so!

One thing for you to do. If you know any businesses we should chat to, give us a heads up would you?  Thanks!


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

HR are people too

Tomorrow, I am handling a disciplinary meeting. It's a severe case and one I fully expect to challenge me all the way to the wire. It's so grim I've used my very favourite work of art to illustrate this piece to lift my spirits. (Thoughts on this post and my taste in art are welcomed.)

No matter how many disciplinaries you've done, it's never the greatest feeling when faced with the situation. I generally quite like people, and giving another a bit of a hard time doesn't come naturally to me. I think it's because during the hearing, you're effectively responsible for the future employment of another human being, and there's a need to ensure fairness, balance and the right outcome for all involved.

Because that's what people in HR do- well, those of us that like people, anyway. There are a lot of us, contrary to an accusation I've heard that suggests we are misanthropes created by seeing the worst in employees. (Ignroring the fact that we get to see the best, too.)

I hear some common phrases when I tell people I 'do' HR. Here are a few.

"Ooh, disciplinaries..." Yes, there are those to contend with, but preferably as a last resort. There's a raft of stuff a good manager should try first. Want some ideas? HR has those, too.

"It's all women in HR, isn't it?" Oh no. No. Thankfully, no. We've let men join the party for at least five years now. And without them, we'd be in as much of a mess as... as... well, a FTSE 100 company with no senior female executives. Can you imagine?

"People get into HR to make others' lives difficult." OK, first up, by insisting that things get done right we generally make a fair heap of work for ourselves. When we advise on a change to policy or recommend a new initiative, we take responsibility for seeing it's drawn up properly, consulted upon, communicated, implemented and reviewed when needed. It's all for the benefit of everyone affected by it- so give us a break, please. We're not here to create problems, but to solve them.

"They get into it for the power." Because he or she who controls the holiday planner rules the world, right? HR does have a clearer voice in business now that ten years ago but it's been hard fought for. We've had to prove we know what we're on about. Power, though? If I can keep hold of my own stapler for a week I've done well.

"HR just tells me I can't sack people." Well, no, just sacking people without reason has been frowned upon since we stopped sending kids up chimneys. If you really have tried other options, or the offence is serious enough, of course you can take steps to end someone's employment. But you have to have a solid, evidence-based reason and do it fairly and do it right. Pesky HR people insist you do this so you don't end up defending yourself and facing losses of thousands of pounds at a tribunal. You're welcome. No really- that's our job. We like to do it well.

However, while we are undoubtedly heroic- others say the bad things so I thought I'd lift the mood a little- working in HR does not render us immune to stress, joy, anxiety, elation, tears, smiles, frustration, achievement, disappointment, serenity or anger. We are human, and possibly the most emotionally aware function of a business. We do great things, we make mistakes. As I said above, we see the best and worst of people, and it affects us. Like anyone, we go home at night and we think about what's happening- but at the heart of our thoughts are the people, with all their brilliance and nonsense. Pondering how to make a tricky spreadsheet work is no fun compared with the joy of finally working out how to get a team to 'click' or an individual motivated- however many swearwords you've silently used along the way.

Mostly, we love our roles because a) people with their talents and flaws are endlessly fascinating, b) people are unpredictable and can surprise you whatever you think you know, and c) we're masochists we love a challenge.

So when you need your brilliant business to succeed, please remember it all rests on the people involved- and as the function most connected to your people, that's where we HR types can shine.

Health & Safety: the real risks

Health & Safety is a much-maligned area that is commonly misunderstood and the subject of so many myths it's no longer funny.

All employers have a duty of care to their people, and of course we all wish to remain safe in our workplaces. Of course, there's responsibility on employees too, but how clear are they on what's expected? Are they trained and competent? How do you know? How do you check?

The consequences of not doing things right can be disastrous for both a business and the individuals concerned.

When did you last review how you do things? (Remember, this isn't about doing it annually, but when it's needed.) 

Are you still meeting your obligations? (And what are you prepared to do about it if not?) 

Are your policies, risk assessments and method statements still relevant? (You'd be amazed how many we see that bear no relation to what a business actually does or needs. Chuck them out and get the useful ones working properly for you.)

Keeping up with changes is difficult enough without the aforementioned myths foisted on us by the media- from attempts to prevent charities benefiting from the generosity of donors to the astonishing story of the furious lady who confronted our friend Claude Moraes MEP demanding to know why the EU was preventing her refilling empty jam jars with home-made preserves (the Daily Mail had reported on the prohibited reuse of pesticide containers but helpfully negected to mention the word 'pesticide' or clarify the types of container, choosing instead to indulge in a little light Europe bashing.) Even Santa fell victim to overly zealous and unnecessary anxiety this Christmas. Is it any wonder business owners are confused, irriated and poorly informed?

An unexpected bill...

For example, many people don't realise there's been a recent change that sees the Health & Safety Executive able to charge businesses for intervening in matters of employee safety for the first time in its history. So suddenly, a failure to comply with H&S law will see them receive a bill.

The Fee for Intervention (FFI) scheme came into being on 1 October 2012. Under the scheme, employers who breach health and safety legislation will be forced to pay the HSE’s enforcement costs. Costs will be recovered where the HSE has to make a formal written intervention to address an alleged contravention of health and safety law. 

So how do you reduce the risks to your business? 

We are urging all our clients, friends and contacts to ensure their businesses remain compliant so they do their best to avoid these costs- an expense which can damage your business, morale and reputation. 

So what can we do to help?

With Steve's qualifications in both standard workplace and occupational health and safety and his experience of supporting businesses and people in a wide variety of workplaces, we can help you prevent the stress and manage the risk- so get in touch if we can help.

We'll help you make sense of what's needed.