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By partnersinhr, Mar 13 2018 01:13PM

Understanding workplace banter

A strong workplace culture can be a great asset to any small business organisation, but a light-hearted environment that's big on banter can easily walk the line between a friendly and welcoming place, and a hotbed of negative problems such as harassment & bullying. Here at Partners in HR, we're taking a look at exactly what workplace banter is, and how you can nip it in the bud if it goes too far.

What is acceptable?

The key test is what is 'reasonable' or 'proportionate'. Small businesses are often tight knit, with close relationships leading to a normal level of teasing and lightheartedness which can be viewed as part of the company’s ‘culture’. However, if that banter is perceived by the recipient or fellow colleagues in a negative or derogatory way and actively affects a person's career progression prospects, mental health or the ability to do their job - it's gone too far. Things like regular comments, practical jokes, strong language or in-jokes can all be problematic for individuals, and potentially damaging for a small business resulting in disengaged staff and an increase in absence and raised grievances. No company wants to have a reputation as an unwelcoming or discriminatory place to work.

Under the Equality Act, harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating and intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual”. We'd all like to think we can spot harassment easily enough because it's an obvious and open thing, but harassment, discrimination or bullying can also be extremely context dependent - it isn't always clear on the surface. While women are often disproportionately affected by workplace 'banter', anybody can potentially be a victim - which could prove an issue if the grievance goes to a tribunal, or even to court. For example, in 2015 there were over 11,000 age discrimination cases (http://www.agediscrimination.info/age-discrimination-claims) and 43% of men don't report sexual harassment they witness in the workplace.

What can I do?

As a small business, it's important to act quickly and have all your bases covered in case a situation becomes out of control. You shouldn't attempt to stifle the kind of humour and team spirit that makes your company such a great place to work. A simple conversation may suffice to solve the situation but do have robust HR policies and procedures in place in case they are needed. These should cover the actual workplace (for example codes of conduct, harassment & bullying policies) and online (social media policy), where employees are the public face of your company. Company owners must set the tone and onboarding processes should make it clear exactly what is expected of an employee. Company functions need to be monitored and other measures such as anonymous reporting functions and regular training on inclusion can also be helpful.

Are you in need of HR support? We offer a free meeting to discuss how we may help.

By partnersinhr, Jan 9 2018 12:27PM

The story of data protection in 2018 is going to be all about the new General Data Protection Regulation, which will come into force in May 2018. HR teams will now have far heavier responsibilities, and although the protection of workplace data was never something to be taken lightly, advances in technology will mean it's now much easier to do.

New technology means safer data

Modern advances in the technology used by HR teams have a lot of positives. New systems allow better integration and connectivity in the workplace, improved HR & payroll software means more efficient cost and time management, and HR will generally have more information at their disposal which they can then use to shape and develop work forces.

However, all of these changes also mean that their security and privacy responsibilities will grow exponentially. When the General Data Protection Regulation goes live, it will give HR far more stringent rules for how they gather, store and use personal information, including encryption obligations and far more regulated “opt-in” rules.

Size doesn't matter

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you're a smaller business, you won’t have to consider GDPR. However, this definitely isn't the case. It will affect businesses of all sizes, and will be a legal requirement - so it's best to get clued up on how you can meet these regulations early. You still have a duty to protect sensitive information for employees past and present, as well as candidates you are considering for new roles. Failure to comply can result in substantial fines.

Good housekeeping

As well as being a legal requirement, early auditing of what happens to your data in line with GDPR will also mean you can get a clear picture of how your data management stands at the beginning of the year. It's essential to assess how your company's information is processed and for what reason - and this doesn't just apply to in house data, but also to third party providers, pension and payroll providers and recruitment providers. The GDPR will affect every area of your business, from employment contracts and privacy notices through to archived documents.

Data protection for a modern world

In 2018, data will be going round the world faster than ever before. It's incredibly important to ensure your business has chosen a data service with excellent encryption ability and security features, that will mean your information is well protected. You need a way to access the best technology out there, whilst still retaining the ability to share data freely and control data processing.

If you're looking for a way to prepare for GDPR, and aren't sure where to start, why not get in touch with us here at Partners in HR. We'll complete an HR data audit, prepare paperwork for contract clauses, and help prepare you for future changes by giving you comprehensive guidance on auditing and recording data. Partners in HR have got years of experience helping HR departments and companies to personalise their data protection, so come and talk to us for more information on how we can help you today.

By partnersinhr, Nov 6 2017 12:40PM

In a fast-paced world, you need your employees to share your vision of a productive and profitable business. Particularly in smaller teams, the impact of underperformance can be very noticeable and cause real problems.If you’ve come to the difficult point where you’re in need of some assistance with employee performance issues, then you may be aware of two potential avenues that can address the problem – capability and discipline. The two terms seem pretty interchangeable, but there are some key differences between the two, and both should be treated in line with their respective policies. The question is whether you understand the difference between the two.

The University of Nottingham has found a way to summarise the two. With capability, the employee is not able to get to the standards required, but with a disciplinary matter, the employee is not willing to get to the standards required.

If an employee’s performance isn’t as good as it could be, or poor behaviour is a problem, then the usual course of action is to treat it as a disciplinary matter. Disciplinary procedures usually come about as a result of the employee deliberately failing to do something that they should have been able to do. This could be classed as negligence, carelessness, or just a lack of effort.

Capability procedures are a different matter, and should be considered if it’s felt that the employee lacks the ability, skill or knowledge to do their job to the level required of them. The capability procedures should be put into place as soon as possible, to help the employee improve their performance, and provide them with support to get them back to the required standard within a given timeframe.

One particularly difficult facet to address is how to tackle capability matters when it comes to ill health, particularly where this results in long-term absence. UK businesses lost 137 million working days due to sickness or injury last year, leaving them with a bill of £15 billion. In this instance, you should tread carefully, as if handled incorrectly, it could leave you open to a claim for unfair dismissal. It’s wise to start with a discussion with the employee regarding the cause and effect of their absence, and then seek a medical report either from a medical professional you have appointed to make suggestions about how to assist the employee. You may be able to make reasonable adjustments to resolve the situation in a supportive manner. You must be able to show that you have been fair to all parties to avoid the potential of an employment tribunal.

It can be confusing to come to a decision on which way to handle poor performance, particularly when many cases can initially present as one but then transpire to be the other. We would always advise that you have individual policies for capability and disciplinary procedures, as they really are very different matters, and it’s vital that you select the correct option to avoid getting yourself in hot water. After all, a tribunal case from unfair dismissal can lead to an employee being awarded as much as £80,541 if they can prove their case. If you’re unsure of the best way to proceed, then Partners in HR can advise and support you on this and all matters of employee relations.

By partnersinhr, Sep 5 2017 11:43AM

Stress and pressure are often used interchangeably at work, but they actually mean quite different things. For managers looking to run a happy ship, understanding the differences between these two terms is key.

Ironically, you can experience pressure without feeling stressed. In fact, pressure can be a good thing! It gives us a kick up the backside, makes us feel invigorated and challenged, and can improve productivity or teamwork. A dose of pressure can even be a boredom buster, with some people thriving when the pressure is ramped up.

Pressure is usually associated with a sense of urgency to get something done. There could be a deadline looming, or a nagging pile of extra work needs tackling, or perhaps a troublesome client has got their hard-to-please hat on. Often, pressure can be tricky to avoid, such as during peak or busy times of business.

It's only if pressure becomes overwhelming, unmanageable or prolonged that it may manifest as stress. This is when pressure is no longer a good thing, so managers really need to listen up here. In fact, stress causes physical, mental or emotional strain, and can lead to anxiety, depression and other illnesses. Shockingly, if you're in a high-stress job, you're 22% more likely to suffer from a stroke.

Stress, on the other hand, has been defined by the UK Health and Safety Executive as: ‘The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.’ People become stressed when they feel they don’t have the resources they need (whether material, financial or emotional) to cope with these demands.

Good people management is the starting point for effective prevention of stress. The CIPD believe that people work more effectively within a participative management style and are better motivated when work satisfies economic, social and psychological needs. Employers that pay attention to job design and work organisation and equip all managers with people management skills will better support employee engagement.

It is important to think about a wellbeing strategy for your employees before stress starts to get on top of them. Ideally employers should approach stress management proactively, focusing on prevention and early intervention, not just responding when a problem becomes significant or when someone goes on sick leave. Stress also have the potential to affect other colleagues with a third of stressed employees admitting to yelling at their co-workers!

What's more, last year there were 488,000 cases of work-related stress in the UK, with the average person affected losing almost 24 days of work. Another study claims that almost half of UK workers know someone who has quit their job due to stress. However, losing employees to sick days can only increase pressure on those left in the office - creating a vicious cycle!

So, as a manager, you need to differentiate pressure from stress, if just to avoid a war breaking out in the office. This doesn't mean that bosses should shy away from exerting any pressure on their staff, but they should keep a beady eye on things, especially staff who take excessive sick days, which could be stress-induced.

It's good to talk, so regular communication with staff is key in managing stress and pressure at work. Give them room to voice their concerns if pressure starts to escalate. Ensure pressure is manageable for staff by monitoring them and how their behaviour is affected at times of high workload, but also remember that everyone has different thresholds.

If you want to nip excessive workplace pressure and stress in the bud, get in touch with Partners in HR.

By partnersinhr, Jun 7 2017 04:40PM

Are bosses misunderstood? If staff are unaware as to what their boss is thinking, be it about their own promotion prospects, or the direction of the company, maybe it comes down to communication?

It was found that 95% of respondents to a business survey admitted that they planned to replace face-to-face meetings with another form of communication - be it through email, phone or intranet. In an age when it is becoming easier to send employees an email rather than call them in for a chat, bosses can gain a lot from demonstrating a personal touch.

What's the problem?

There are many reasons why bosses should endeavour to be an open book. Research by the Harvard Business Review shows that employees believe the second biggest communication issue which affects their relationship with their boss is "not giving clear directions" (57%), with the top spot going to "not recognising employees achievements".

Staff who feel confident in the knowledge of where a business is going and how they can contribute, feel more engaged, motivated, and enjoy peace of mind - that all adds up to stability. But in the day-to-day quest to secure new business, keep existing clients happy and generally steer the ship, it is easy for bosses to forget that their staff need to know the future of the organisation they are working in.

What to do?

There are plenty of ways in which bosses can reconnect and reinvigorate their employees. Holding regular one-on-one meetings & informal chats over a coffee can do wonders for a relationship, as can organising 'away days' where the entire team or department can come together out of the office. This can take the form of 'half work, half play', with half the day focusing on business strategy in a relaxed environment with the boss taking the lead followed by half a day being devoted to team building or having fun.

What else?

Communication is a two-way process, and by ensuring employees are continually invited to offer their feedback and ideas, you can see an increase in their engagement. Likewise, appraisals can be used to show how individual targets link to the business objectives, and for those employees who do not work on-site, a staff e-newsletter can be crucial to keeping staff up to date about what's been going on, business results, team achievements and future projects.

Cultural values and beliefs in an organisation originate from the top and often the business owner sets the tone. As businesses grow it is vital to ensure the growing the workforce understand, support and live the culture. For this reason it can be beneficial to articulate and promote the company aims, beliefs and values either formally eg. ‘How we work’’ on a website or simply leading by example.

Contact us to see how Partners in HR can put smart human resources strategies in place for your business,

By partnersinhr, Apr 6 2017 08:52AM

One of the toughest aspects of being a business owner is dealing with more sensitive situations with individual staff members. It doesn’t get more sensitive than when their colleagues are complaining of their poor personal hygiene!

Maintaining a comfortable environment in which all employees can work in is an important part of being an employer.  If you’ve been forced to field complaints from other staff members regarding an individual’s dragon breath, grubby hair or, worse still, pungent body odour, you’re going to have to pluck up the courage to have a private chat about their hygiene - particularly if it’s affecting the performance and morale of others.

A survey back in 2013 by the Australian Employment Office found that the vast majority of workers are hugely affected by the cleanliness of their colleagues. Three-quarters (75 per cent) said they struggle to work alongside someone with body odour, while almost two-thirds (64 per cent) said they find it difficult to work with a colleague with bad breath.

Whilst an employee’s personal hygiene may only be slightly damaging to your company's profile, it’s more a case of being cruel to be kind by encouraging them to take pride in their appearance. Your business will reap the rewards if it is tackled earlier rather than later.

It's important to bear in mind that an individual’s poor hygiene may be the sign of a deep-rooted health or mental health issue. It’s therefore crucial as their employer that you have an open mind before engaging in discussion with them. There may be an understandable explanation for their personal appearance issues such as a break down in a relationship, substance abuse, sickness or general depression.

With the end goal of encouraging your employee to take more pride in themselves and feel more confident, you’re going to have to tread a fine line between encouragement and criticism, which could result in social isolation if your discussion isn’t taken in the spirit intended.

With that in mind, here are a few tactful solutions to stop the problem festering – quite literally - and minimise embarrassment all round:

Have a low-key chat

There’s no two ways about it, you’re going to have to speak directly with the individual in question, but make sure you don’t do it in front of their colleagues. Consider having ‘the chat’ at the end of the working day when the office is much quieter and the chances of colleagues gossiping is at a minimum.

Be sure to show empathy

The last thing you want to do is completely offend your employee – you could end up with a larger problem on your hands! Don’t pussy-foot around the issue either. Make it clear that you have their best interests at heart and that you want them to take great pride in their appearance but also remind them that they are in the workplace and representing the company.  If there is a dress code / personal hygiene or code of conduct policy which refers to elements of personal hygiene then remind them of it.

Be prepared for fireworks

No-one likes to be called up for bad work, let alone bad personal hygiene. So, when you’re preparing to have the chat with your employee, be mindful that they could become aggressive and emotional once confronted. If the worst happens, try to remain calm and reiterate the quality of their overall work – if it up to scratch, of course – and encourage them to simply step up their personal grooming to better represent the company and be in a better position to be considered for greater responsibility and promotions within their team.

Closely monitor improvements over time

Following your initial chat, make sure you keep a close eye on their personal hygiene standards. If they refuse to take your advice on board and don’t address the issue then it’s probably time to take a hard-line approach, involving HR.

However, in many cases, employees will, in the long-term, benefit from having a frank discussion on their personal hygiene. They may not thank you for it at the time, but by remaining supportive and encouraging you should be able to achieve a positive resolution for all concerned.

At Partners in HR, we can help your business deal with sensitive employee issues in the right manner, avoiding the threat of compensation claims and improving productivity and morale in the workplace. For more specific advice on this and any other HR issue, contact us today.

Blog Index:


GDPR & the future of data protection compliance for HR teams.  


Whats the difference between capability and conduct?


Getting to grips with work place stress and pressure.


Help! I have no idea what my boss is thinking!  


Difficult conversations, encouraging staff to take pride in their appearance


How to deal with an office relationship with professionalism.  


Recruiting? Tops 3 reasons why you shouldn't do it all in house.


How to deal with a 'problem' employee the right way 


Am I paying my employees enough?


Why should you hire an intern, work experience student or apprentice?


How do you ensure your employees work as hard for your business as you do?   


How do you handle that difficult conversation with an employee?           


Social Media & the workplace: friend or foe?  


The problem with presenteeism.


When does your growing business need HR Policies?


Why HR is a waste of time and money!


Factors to consider when drawing up a contract


How much time is actually wasted in the office on Social Media?



Holiday Pay - Implications for Employers



Shared Parental Leave