<![CDATA[The Back Office - Blog]]>Sat, 12 Dec 2015 04:47:45 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Raising of Participation Age (RPA): Employing 16-17yo and Training]]>Tue, 16 Jul 2013 11:34:50 GMThttp://www.thebackoffice.co.uk/blog/raising-of-participation-age-rpa-employing-16-17yo-and-trainingNew Rules re Training for 16-17 year olds working 20+hrs pw
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New rules come into force this August (2013) regarding training for 16-17 year olds.  This is called the RPA or Raising of Participation Age.

If you employ a 16-17yo for more than 20 hours per week for 8 weeks or more, they must undertake either an apprenticeship or part-time accredited training alongside their work.  They must attend at least 280 hours of training per year, which equates to around one day per week.  I'm not sure how this will pan out if they are temping, but no doubt we'll find out soon.

Whilst training may seem a bit of a burden on employers, planned wisely it can bring added value to your organisation and improve engagement levels among your staff.

We'd be happy to talk with you about this.  Please get in touch.

Barbara Patrick
HR Consultant
The Back Office
Berkshire

Tel: 0118 988 7628

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<![CDATA[The Importance of Customer Service and Business Etiquette]]>Tue, 12 Feb 2013 20:04:54 GMThttp://www.thebackoffice.co.uk/blog/the-importance-of-customer-service-and-business-etiquetteI was called at 0958hrs today by a company called Prism Industries in Oxford, who specialise in recycling.  They said they were in the area collecting redundant IT equipment for recycling.  My immediate response was that I didn't have anything to recycle.  Before the words were out of my mouth, they hung up on me. No "thank you for your time"... nothing. Just a dead line.

I rang them back on the number they'd called from ( 01865 893296 ) and said, "Hello, you just rang me and hung up..." and, before I could finish what I was saying, they hung up on me again.  At best, they are exceptionally rude but, more importantly, they've missed an opportunity to build customer relations.

Good customer service is essential to the success of every business and, as anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I'm quick to praise good service and equally quick to criticise poor service.  And those of you who've met me through networking will also know that I'm quick to make recommendations and suggestions and to offer support.

Missed Trick # 1:
Immediately following the call, I realised that I do in fact have some redundant IT equipment in the garage.  (This will not be going to Prism).

Missed Trick # 2:
Even if I hadn't had any equipment to recycle right now, if they'd just taken another  minute or so to tell me about their recycling service, I would have remembered them when I did need their service which, given the rapid advance of computer technology, wouldn't have been too far hence.

Missed Trick # 3:
Two of my clients are IT companies and I know lots of people and businesses in Reading, Berkshire, London and beyond who may need to recycle their old IT equipment right now; people to whom I will now NEVER recommend Prism; on the contrary I will strongly advise against using their service.

The staff at Prism Industries in Oxford need to recognise that business is not just about making the immediate sale; it's about building relationships and making yourself memorable for all the right reasons and that includes being courteous.

Given that I only learned of Prism Industries' recycling business in Oxford today, they have certainly made themselves memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.

If the owners/managers of Prism Oxford ever read this brief blog, they might consider making "Five Star Service by Michael Heppell" compulsory reading for all their customer-facing personnel.

For anyone else reading this blog, I highly recommend that Michael Heppell's book be part of your staff induction procedure for all customer-facing staff.

Quality customer service is paramount to the success of all businesses.

Happy Endings...

On 11th April 2013 I received a call from John Fenton, the owner of Prism. This blog, which I originally wrote in early February, had just been brought to his attention and he rang me to apologise for the service I'd received from his company.  He didn't want me to take down the article; instead, he intends to use it as part of his training and induction process with his new recruits.

I think that's an excellent idea and one which has been adopted by many global companies including, infamously, United Airlines - whose baggage handlers broke a passenger's guitar and then gave him appalling customer service.

The passenger was so incensed by the service he'd received from United, that he made a YouTube video about his experience.  The video went viral (at the time of writing it's had almost 13 million hits) and had a drastic impact on United's reputation and share price.  United, reportedly, use that video as part of their customer service training programme.

Lesson learned.  And here's that video...

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<![CDATA[Time Management: Email Management]]>Sat, 19 Jan 2013 18:45:01 GMThttp://www.thebackoffice.co.uk/blog/time-management-email-managementTime_Management,Email_Management,Virtual_PA,Admin_Business_Support,Berkshire
There's no doubt that the internet is a wonderful... so much information available at the click of a mouse.  However, it can also be a double-edged sword with constant emails, newsletters and unsolicited mail (spam).

It seems everyone you ever met - and many you haven't met - want to add you to their email lists, often without your consent, the consequence of which is that every day you are bombarded with emails that clog up your inbox and distract you from your business.

Don't get me wrong; there's some great information out there, but you just need to ration your time otherwise you'll see your productivity levels plummeting.

Here are a few tips for dealing with excessive emails:

  • Be selective about who you give your business card to.  Some networkers simply collect business cards so they can add you to their mailing lists and then send out meaningless "news" letters and emails, aka Spam.
  • Take your email offline and just check in at specific times each day.
  • The same applies for your Blackberry/iPhone, etc. Turn off alerts.  If it's important, they'll phone you.
  • Stop believing that you have to respond to everything immediately.  Unless it's urgent, it can wait.  Imagine that every email is a paper memo or letter and give it some thought before you respond.
  • Unsubscribe from unsolicited mail.  Take care when clicking links - especially in unsolicited emails. Hover your mouse over the link before you click. You should see an information box stating where the link will take you. If you are at all suspicious, email the company directly and put the word "unsubscribe" in the email header. Explain that you don't wish to receive any more emails from them and tell them which email addresses you want to have removed from their mailing list. If you attach the email that you received, that will help them identify and remove your name. This doesn't always have the desired effect, but most times it will.
  • Delete emails that you definitely don't need to keep, eg updates from Twitter.  Better still, go into your Twitter account and change your settings so that you don't receive so many emails. Do the same with LinkedIn, etc.
  • Create "Rules" in your Inbox that will sort incoming emails into specific folders.  For examples emails from Hubspot (one of my favourite subscriptions) will go directly into the Hubspot folder.  I use Outlook but you can do this in most email systems.
  • You can also create a "Rule" for an outgoing email so that it gets filed in a specific folder once it's been sent.  This is really useful when you need to find it up later. You could have different folders for different projects.
  • Create rules to "delete" or "junk" specific emails. This takes a little time to set up but is really worth doing. I do this as I go along now as it just takes a few seconds to set up a rule relating to an unwanted email.  Think carefully when creating the "rule" so that you don't inadvertently junk genuine emails.
  • Check your junk mail regularly to make sure something important hasn't been junked. Then delete the rest.
  • If you regularly find important emails in your junk folder, create a "rule" so that it isn't junked in future.
  • Empty (delete) your "delete" folder regularly. I do this at least once a day, so I can quickly glance through the headers before I delete.  If you allow this folder to get too full, it will take a while to review.
  • If you want to read a particular email but don't have time right now, go to your Inbox (list mode), right-click on the email that you want to read later, and select "Mark as Unread".  Alternatively move it (click and drag) into a folder of your choice. Perhaps call it "Essential Reading" or "Weekend Catch-up".
  • Make more use of folders to organise your workload and use the "flag" system to set reminders against emails. Again, right click on the email and set the reminder. If the email is already open, follow the usual rules to "flag" it up.
  • If you find this all a little overwhelming and too big a job, then just tackle one at a time.  Create one new folder, then create a rule to send all emails from a specific person into that folder. You should get an option to "run the rule now".  That will identify all the relevant emails and move them to the new folder.

Don't become a slave to your Inbox.  Emails can wait - at least for a few hours.

QUICK TIP: If you can't locate an important email, use your computer's "search" facility. Pop a few likely key words in the search box, and you should get a list of possible emails.  Unless you actually double-deleted the email, it'll still be there somewhere so don't panic.  Worst case, ask the sender or recipient to email it to you again.  Could be a useful excuse to phone them anyway.

Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook can also eat into your time if you're not careful, but more about those another time.

I sincerely hope you haven't found this email a distraction! 

Don't forget to get in touch if you need help.

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<![CDATA[What savvy employers should be thinking about...]]>Thu, 31 May 2012 19:44:57 GMThttp://www.thebackoffice.co.uk/blog/why-you-shouldnt-confine-hr-matters-to-the-bottom-of-the-pile-its-worth-investing-a-little-time-in-your-hr-functionOf all the aspects in running a business, the one that's most likely to trip you up is employing staff.  You simply can't afford to get it wrong.

In small businesses HR is often pushed to the bottom of the pile.  You can't justify a HR role, either full time or part time, and you think that employing an external HR consultant will be expensive.  So it often falls on one or two of the managers, or even a secretary, to take charge of HR issues, employment records, documents and compliance.  As Julia Roberts famously said in Pretty Woman... "BIG mistake!".

If you're giving HR a low priority - as many small business owners do, at least until there's a problem - then you are definitely missing a trick.  Employees can be your biggest asset or your worst nightmare.  So, aside from the legal compliance issues, here's what you should be thinking about:
  1. Recruiting the right people at the outset and not just settling for the first applicant with a pulse.
  2. Making sure your staff know what is expected of them in terms of the job role and their behaviour and level of commitment.
  3. Making sure that your employees are "engaged".  It's a bit of a buzz word in HR at the moment, but if they're not interested in what the company is doing or how they can contribute, then you won't get the best out of them and they won't feel fulfilled in their work.  They have to buy in to what you're doing and they should want to be part of it.
  4. If you can provide training - even just cross training across different roles - this not only makes the jobs more interesting, but it helps plug gaps if someone leaves the company or is on sick or holiday leave.
  5. Don't under-utilise your staff's skills.  It will just leave them feeling frustrated.  Let them shine.
  6. Reward your staff fairly, in line with market rates.  You don't need to be over generous, but don't be a scrooge either.  Remember, though, that job satisfaction and loyalty are never the outcome of high salaries.  I have been in positions myself where I've been trapped in jobs because of the salaries and perks, but I've hated the role. This causes resentment to build which is not conducive to a happy work environment.
  7. Ensure that everyone knows the company rules, and that they are applied fairly across the board, without exceptions.  For example, timekeeping standards and absence levels must be evenly monitored and any problems should be nipped in the bud.  The longer you leave it, the harder it is to address.
  8. Likewise, performance issues need to be addressed early and support and training should be provided if necessary.
  9. Hold regular team meetings and swap ideas and news.  Make sure the meetings are accessible to all and that all views are respected and welcomed - however trivial.
  10. Appreciate your staff at all levels and remember your Ps and Qs.  "Thank you" goes a long way.

You can't afford to ignore documentation, policies and procedures, but these 10 points should help you make a healthy start.  There are undoubtedly many more aspects that you need to consider, and I'd love to hear your views.

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<![CDATA[Using Employee Photographs & Information Online and in Marketing Materials]]>Fri, 27 Apr 2012 14:01:02 GMThttp://www.thebackoffice.co.uk/blog/using-employee-photographs-information-online-and-in-marketing-materialsWe increasingly see photographs and personal information about directors and employees both on websites and in marketing materials. This could also include company Facebook pages and other social networking sites.

A word of caution...

Under the Data Protection Act 1998, photos, names and work histories of employees are considered to be "personal data".  This information can only be used for the original purpose intended (eg identity cards) and must not be processed unless employees have given their express consent - ideally in writing.

So if you are updating websites, social networking pages or company marketing materials and you want to include details of your team, make sure they are aware of what you intend to do with the information and that you have their express agreement.  Ideally you want this to be in writing.

If employees object to you using their personal data in this way, then don't use it.

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<![CDATA[Work Experience... A valuable opportunity or slave labour?]]>Mon, 16 Apr 2012 06:49:53 GMThttp://www.thebackoffice.co.uk/blog/work-experience-a-valuable-opportunity-or-slave-labourThere was a big hullabaloo a few weeks ago about the big supermarket chains exploiting work experience to create a pool of "slave labour".  Whether the criticisms were right or wrong, there is absolutely no doubt that work experience is a great opportunity for the young unemployed to acquire some new skills, gain self confidence and add to their employability.

OK, so shelf stacking may not be mentally taxing and it may not be a great skill, but is it really so bad?

As a 14/15 yo I had a Saturday job working for FineFare, a supermarket chain in the North East.  Guess what I did?  Yep, I stacked shelves.  Bloomin' hard work it was too.  It involved:
  • humping heavy boxes from the warehouse (no wheeled cages or H&S guidance those days),
  • keeping records of all goods removed from warehouse,
  • removing existing stock from the shelves,
  • cleaning the empty shelves,
  • dusting all the tins/packages,
  • printing and attaching price stickers to each and every item,
  • loading the new stock at the back of the shelf - all facing forward,
  • then replacing the older stock to the front of the shelf,
  • ensuring shelf price labels were correct.
Everything had to be pristine, facing forward, like soldiers awaiting inspection.  However mundane this work was, it required discipline and attention to detail. Not to mention that we were expected to get on with the job and do it in record time.  Sometimes we had to reconfigure entire aisles of shelving.  Back-breaking work.

Some weeks I'd have to bag up potatoes - weighing and bagging for hours on end.  Other weeks I'd be on the checkouts handling lots of cash and occasionally cheques - no credit card swiping those days and no bar code scanning.  Everything done by hand and mental agility.

Occasionally I'd have to mop spillages or clean the glass windows/doors. I truly didn't mind.  It was work.

To earn extra cash I used to volunteer for overnight stocktaking duties.  Now that was REALLY mundane. All done by physical counting with pen and paper and lots of mental arithmetic.

Was this slave labour?  OK, I wasn't doing it for free; I think I earned around £1 each Saturday. But, hard work though it was, I definitely didn't regard it as slave labour.

Did I gain any transferrable skills?  You bet your life I did!  I learned to get out of bed on a Saturday morning - which at 14/15 is no mean feat!  I had to be tidy and presentable (washing and ironing my own uniform).  I learned to communicate with my peers and with customers of all ages.  I learned to be punctual and reliable - no phoning in sick.  Most importantly, I acquired a work ethic.  I learned that if you want something in life, you have to work for it, and that requires effort and persistence.

So despite the recent furore about Tesco et al not paying their work experience candidates, those who were given the opportunity to enlist as "slave labour" could have gone on to permanent roles with their respective employers or at least have gained some experience and transferrable skills to add to their CVs, and improved their self-confidence.  Those with intelligence and initiative could even perhaps have joined management training schemes.

All forms of work is honourable - however menial. 

And all experience is valuable whether paid or unpaid.  Our characters are built on our experiences as is our employability.
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<![CDATA[Why you must give employees the benefit of the doubt]]>Wed, 28 Mar 2012 17:57:35 GMThttp://www.thebackoffice.co.uk/blog/why-you-must-give-employees-the-benefit-of-the-doubtAn employee has done something totally unacceptable in the workplace and you are not pleased about it; in fact, you're furious.  What do you do?Well you don't knee-jerk for a start.  Unless you actually witnessed the event, things may not be all that they seem.  So you must give them the benefit of the doubt and you must follow your disciplinary procedure which, as a minimum, should follow ACAS guidelines. 

(If you don't have a formal discipinary procedure, we can help you produce one, together with other essential policies. It's a legal requirement to have formal disciplinary and grievance procedures if you employ staff.)

  1. Conduct investigation which may involve inviting employee (unaccompanied) to an investigation meeting
  2. If you decide to proceed with disciplinary proceedings, invite the employee (accompanied if they wish) to a disciplinary hearing.  At the disciplinary meeting go through all the evidence objectively and allow the employee to present his case
  3. After the meeting decide whether disciplinary action is appropriate, and advise the employee in writing and notify them of their right to appeal
  4. Hear the appeal as soon as possible and notify them of outcome

1. Investigation

The first thing you need to do is notify the employee that in accordance with your disciplinary procedure you are commencing an investigation. Then you should obtain statements from all parties as to what actually happened. If you need an appropriate letter, or a line manager briefing, we can assist.  You may wish to invite the employee to an investigatory meeting to obtain his/her side of the story.  At this stage it is just fact finding, and they are not entitled to be accompanied.

2. Disciplinary meeting

Once you have obtained everyone's account of what actually happened, you should invite the employee to a meeting to discuss the offence.  Keep detailed notes of everything and make sure you provide the employee with copies of all the evidence prior to the meeting taking place. 

You must remain objective at all times and should not reach a decision about the outcome of the meeting before it has taken place.  If the meeting gets heated, adjourn for a while to allow everyone to calm down.

3. Disciplinary Action

After the meeting, decide what action, if any, you wish to take. This could be a verbal warning, final warning or, in the case of gross misconduct, dismissal.  Advise the employee in writing of the decision. Also advise them of their right to appeal and how they should do this.

4. Appeal

Any appeal should be heard as early as possible, ideally by a different manager, who must reach their own conclusion based on the facts of the original hearing and the basis of the appeal. If you are a small company, then the same manager may also hear the appeal - again, keep an open mind.

After the appeal, notify the employee of the decision and the consequences.

Be Fair and Objective

At all stages, be fair and remain objective, follow your disciplinary procedure (or the the ACAS code) and keep detailed records of everything.

Failure to conduct an objective investigation will put your company at a severe disadvantage if it ever goes to Tribunal.  And you will almost certainly fail miserably if it's proven that you had already decided an outcome before following the disciplinary procedure.

Give us a call if you need assistance.
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<![CDATA[Staff Policy regarding provision of Testimonials/References]]>Sun, 25 Mar 2012 14:43:11 GMThttp://www.thebackoffice.co.uk/blog/staff-policy-regarding-provision-of-testimonialsreferencesWith the ever-increasing use of LinkedIn, now is probably a good time to decide who within your organisation is authorised to give testimonials/references either on LinkedIn or to new employers.

Often employees approach their Line Manager or perhaps a colleague to provide them with a testimonial/reference, on the basis that the testimonial will likely be more favourable.  However, it is important to make clear that such a testimonial does not necessarily represent the views of the Company.

The easiest way to deal with this is to have a company policy which states that all requests for references or testimonials should be directed to a nominated department (HR?) or person (Director?).  This is simple enough to do, or we could assist if you prefer. 

Ensure that everyone is aware of this company policy, and it is probably a good idea to remind them by regular email - perhaps monthly.

Then some thought needs to be given to the content of the reference you are willing to provide.  If you don't tell the truth, new employers could have a comeback.  If you do tell the truth, past employees might not be entirely happy.  The easiest solution is to keep references truthful but simple.

There is a widely held belief that you can't say anything bad about a former employee.  Not true.  If, for example, an employee was dismissed for theft, then you are perfectly able to say so. In fact, not disclosing something so important could come back and bite you in the proverbial.
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<![CDATA[Why your Disciplinary Policy shouldn't be part of the Employment Contract]]>Tue, 20 Mar 2012 11:09:30 GMThttp://www.thebackoffice.co.uk/blog/why-your-disciplinary-policy-shouldnt-be-part-of-the-employment-contractMany employers issue Contracts of Employment or Statements of Terms and Conditions that include their Disciplinary Policy and Procedure.  Whilst it's great that they've given consideration to this, it's not so great that they've made it "contractual". 

Up until recently, in these circumstances, the company would be guilty of Breach of Contract, with potentially very serious consequences, if they failed to follow their Disciplinary Procedure.  However, a recent tribunal, which went to appeal and further appeal, has determined that if a company fails to follow a disciplinary procedure that is contractual (ie contained in the contract of employment), they won't be guilty of Breach of Contract - just guilty of failing to follow their own disciplinary procedure.

This is good news as the penalty is potentially less severe but, in an unfair dismissal claim, they could still find themselves having to pay out over £70k!  This could literally put a small company out of business - but a Tribunal wouldn't be interested in that... just the facts of the case before them.

So, yes of course you must have a Disciplinary Policy and Procedure.  But keep it as a separate employment policy - non contractual.  It will still need to be followed during disciplinary proceedings, but you will be free to amend the procedure in line with the needs of your business, just as long as it follows ACAS guidelines as a minimum.

Caution! 
ALWAYS follow your company's procedures - to the letter!  You could be heavily penalised if you don't.

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<![CDATA[The need for a Social Media Policy within your organisation]]>Fri, 16 Mar 2012 16:09:43 GMThttp://www.thebackoffice.co.uk/blog/the-need-for-social-media-policy-within-your-organisationI attended a Mock Employment Tribunal earlier this week. The grounds of the claim were age discrimination, victimisation and harassment.  The claimant was claiming against his employer AND against his line manager personally.

Ultimately, the claimant failed in some elements of his claim but won in one, with an award against his employer and - surprisingly - against his line manager personally.  That would lead to an interesting atmosphere in the office!

One of the issues that arose during the hearing was the inappropriate use of Facebook.  

Even though his line manager's Facebook settings were private, the Claimant was able to access them via a group that she belonged to - and thereby see negative comments about himself.  You could argue that he shouldn't be looking so hard, but you could equally argue that a line manager shouldn't post negative comments on Facebook about subordinates or colleagues.

It's becoming increasingly important to have a Social Media policy about what is and is not acceptable online behaviour - both during and outside of working hours.  Such policies will vary depending on the nature of your business and the culture within your company. 

We can help you produce a Social Media policy to suit your organisation.  Don't wait until you have a problem.

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