Having advised on employment law through economic booms, busts and the bits in-between, I thought I’d dedicate my ‘ten things’ article to some valuable observations that I’ve collected over the years.
The clients that have prospered most during good times and bad share some common attitudes to employment, which could be best summarised as being calm, considered and fair. So here are my top 10 habits of highly successful employers.
- Use contracts and policies to protect your organisation
Contracts and policies are a legal requirement in the UK, but they also provide excellent protection for organisations. These documents don’t have to be long or legalistic (the best are concise and written in plain English), and they should include appropriate clauses to protect against employees leaving with confidential information, intellectual property or business contacts. Review documents regularly in line with changes in law to minimise your exposure to risk.
- Training keeps you strong
Without a proper induction an employee’s productivity may be severely limited. Without adequate professional development they may feel undervalued or prevent the organisation from adapting effectively to market conditions. Perhaps worst of all is inadequately-trained managers, who can cascade bad habits throughout their team.
- Act promptly
Deal with challenges immediately rather than tabling them for future action, which can lead to a significant breakdown in the employer-employee relationship. It may need bravery to tackle certain issues, but doing so promptly is more likely to head-off a potentially damaging incident further down the line.
- Be frank
Acting promptly also means being honest about problems, locating the underlying issues and implementing actions to address them (e.g. training). For example, encourage those managers who undertake appraisals to be honest with staff, rather than providing ‘fair’ feedback that avoids addressing a potential issue.
- Anticipate problems
The best management teams take action before an anticipated set of circumstances arises. In the lead up to the recent recession, a number of organisations undertook reorganisations that made them more streamlined. It also allowed them to consolidate their market shares and emerge from the recession in a considerably stronger position than competitors.
- Avoid snap decisions
Too many employment disputes arise from emotions clouding sound judgement. Decisions made when emotions are high run the risk of exacerbating the issue rather than alleviating it. A good example is expressing views immediately on social media, which often can’t be deleted. Take time to reflect on the full scope of the issue and its potential outcomes before responding.
- Keep an open mind
It’s quite common for employees to believe that the only way of resolving a grievance is for them to leave their role. Employers can also enter disciplinary proceedings with the same end game in mind. This is why the presence of independent decision-makers such as mediators can make such a positive difference. They keep everyone focused on preserving and even mending the ongoing relationship between employer and employee.
- Communication is key
I’m still surprised by the number of employment-related disputes that stem from a breakdown in communications. Left unaddressed, problems such as poor performance and a disenfranchised workforce escalate. The best employers are those that listen to their staff and involve them in the decision-making process.
- Give staff a say
Employee forums are becoming increasingly common as a way for employers to not only gather employees concerns, but also the great ideas that can arise from any level or part of an organisation. Anonymous feedback is another way of obtaining important input from employees, as are exit interviews. Admittedly, exit interviews come too late in the day to allow discrete issues to be resolved, but they do lead to open and honest feedback that could minimise the risk of similar issues arising in the future.
- Have a career progression policy
One common reason for employee departures is a perceived lack of career progression. Whilst promotion opportunities are often limited during a recession, having clear promotion procedures helps employees to see what they need to achieve to get to the next level. This can also incentivise performance and enhance loyalty.