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Issue 039 - August 2017
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Legal Update

European data protection laws are changing

The new European personal data regulations come into force in 2018 – and SMEs need to start preparing now.

In May next year, the Data Protection Act (DPA) will be replaced by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a framework with greater scope and much tougher punishments for those who fail to comply with new rules around the storage and handling of personal data. While this new framework comes into place as the UK enters the process of uncoupling from the EU, the Great Repeal Act means it it is likely to be converted into British law. The ease and sophistication of data collection means that thousands of SMEs not only collect personal details, but store, move and access them online. Personal data is used in everything from sales to customer relationship management to marketing.

Cybercriminals have been quick to see the opportunity. In 2016, companies in the UK lost more than £1billion to cybercrime. Major data breaches have given criminals access to names, birthdates and addresses and even social security and pension information. Moreover, a recent report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) claims that SMEs are now more likely to be targeted by cybercriminals than their large corporate counterparts. Cybercriminals consider SMEs softer targets than their well-defended corporate counterparts. Which is why the GDPR is considered long overdue by many authorities, and ignorance will be no defence for SMEs who fail to comply.

What does GDPR mean for SMEs?

Among many new conditions, one of the biggest changes SMEs will face concerns consent. Under the new regulations, companies must keep a thorough record of how and when an individual gives consent to store and use their personal data. Also consent will mean active agreement. It can no longer be inferred from, say, a pre-ticked box. Companies that control how and why data is processed will have to show a clear audit trail of consent. Individuals also have the right to withdraw consent at any time, easily and swiftly. When somebody does withdraw consent, their details must be permanently erased, and not just deleted from a mailing list. GDPR gives individuals the right to be forgotten. In the event of a data breach, GDPR forces companies to inform relevant authorities within 72 hours, giving full details of the breach and proposals for mitigating its effects.

GDPR forces SMEs to know exactly what personal data they hold and where it is located (whether on PCs, on servers, or in the Cloud), and have procedures in place to ensure its complete removal when a request to do so is made. Monitoring protocols must be able to recognise and act on breaches as soon as they happen, and an incident recovery plan put in place to deal with the repercussions.

Preparing for all this will require a full information audit and, for many companies, a change in culture, which SMEs should start to plan and implement well in advance of the 2018 deadline. Personal data is a key tool for SMEs looking to target and retain customers: GDPR means it must be handled with the utmost care.


Improving employee engagement

Productivity is high on current business agendas, both at a national-level and for individual business leaders. In order to attain good financial results, customer satisfaction and high output, employee engagement needs to be a priority.

What causes employees to become disengaged?

To put the issue of boredom into perspective, UK managers have identified that their employees spend an estimated 5.3 hours a week bored at work. A number that increases significantly within large companies (7.1 hours) and is higher than average in London and the South East (6.4 hours). Low engagement and boredom aren’t just down to quality of work though. Inefficient internal processes could also be a contributing factor. One in three (30 per cent) managers have stated that there are too many meetings during the working day, many of which are poorly executed.

In light of the ongoing skills shortage, stagnation becomes a key issue. Managers said that they believe roles are not interesting enough and that staff often don’t feel challenged (32 per cent) or become disheartened by the lack of diversity that their role offers them (30 per cent).

Signs of a disengaged employee can manifest in the following ways:

  • Not hitting targets
    Poor performance and consistently missing targets are clear indicators that your employee is not invested in the growth of the business or their own career within the company.

     
  • No initiative
    Your employee has little to contribute at team meetings and doesn’t seem willing to generate new ideas or share independent learnings.

     
  • Unhealthy activities
    Frequent cigarette breaks, long lunches, and multiple kitchen and bathroom trips are all signs of someone who doesn’t want to be in the office anymore.

     
  • Bad attitude
    This includes complaining, not wanting to help others, being anti-social at work and displaying an unwillingness to get involved in company activities.

How to re-engage a disengaged employee

A common misconception is that giving employees a higher salary will help to engage them again, but this is often not the case. Research has shown that employees are 3.2 times more likely to be happy at work when they’re given meaningful, challenging tasks that they find satisfying.

You can reverse employee disengagement by introducing several simple processes and practices at work and within the employee-manager relationship.

Role development via up-skilling and employee training

What are your employee’s long-term career goals? If they feel like you’re willing to help them work towards it, you might find that investment levels go up. Ask them which skills they feel they’d like to improve and address these within the employee’s learning and development plan.

Regular progress meetings

Touching base regularly after goals have been set will provide tangible achievements to keep things feeling diverse and challenging.

Give them work ownership

Research has shown that employees who feel free at work are 2.7 times more likely to be happy. More than half also say that they don’t have enough opportunities to be creative (58 per cent). Allowing employees to become more involved in their own careers gives them the personal investment they’ll need to re-engage with the company they work for.

Show them they are valued

Small signs of appreciation can go a long way in the eyes of a disengaged employee as those employees who feel supported are 67 per cent more engaged than those that felt undervalued.

Understanding how to identify disengaged employees and acting on those observations will help companies attracting and retaining employees, and get the most out of their workforce to overcome the current productivity slump.

Setting effective goals for employees

One of a manager’s key responsibilities is encouraging the growth of his or her employees. By setting measurable and attainable goals, the manager not only guides improvement in employee performance, but can actively help strengthen the business and enhance its reputation as an employer of choice.

Other benefits of setting goals for employees can include:

  • Helping employees focus more closely on the company’s short-term and long-range success

  • Establishing guidelines and criteria for a successful employee performance review and/or company bonus program

  • Driving deeper employee engagement

Here are seven tips for setting employee goals that can help make these benefits a reality:

1. Set goals that align with company objectives

Each employee’s goals should be tied to the company’s overall growth strategy in order to be effective. When employees understand how their individual role and responsibilities contribute to organizational growth, they’re often more focused and motivated to achieve goals that result in success for both the business and themselves. Consistently communicating strategic business goals (and regularly emphasizing the company mission) can help to keep employees engaged in the work they do.

2. Invite employees to identify job-specific goals

Managers may have certain goals in mind for each employee, but they will likely get insightful answers if they ask employees to identify goals specifically related to their individual jobs. There’s a big difference between imposing goals on employees and encouraging them to suggest goals of their own. When their suggested goals align with company objectives, a manager can help develop action plans to attain those goals.

3. Set SMART goals

Asking an employee to “do a better job” doesn’t constitute an effective goal. Every goal should be set within the SMART framework:

  • Specific: A goal that clearly states who is involved, what you want accomplished, where the goal will take place, within what timeframe, what requirements and constraints are involved, and the benefits of achieving the goal

  • Measurable: Setting concrete criteria that measures progress towards reaching the goal

  • Attainable: Improve the likelihood of success through setting goals that are within the employee’s reach

  • Relevant: A goal closely aligned to the company’s overall objectives

  • Timely: A goal grounded within a specific timeframe

4. Emphasize attainable goals

Goal-setting sometimes fails when the objective is too ambitious or simply unattainable, given the employee’s skill set and available resources. Burdening an employee with an unattainable goal can lead to frustration with the process and a resulting lack of motivation for further improvement.

5. Set consistent goals for employees with similar responsibilities

Goal-setting is usually unsuccessful when framed as a contest or competition among employees. Avoid setting different goals for employees with similar responsibilities and refrain from encouraging internal rivalries, which can lead to diminished morale and resentment for managers.

6. Reward employees who achieve their goals

It’s critically important to recognize employees who set goals and then achieve (or exceed) them. Not only does such a reward (a bonus, certificate, public acknowledgement at a staff meeting, etc.) honour that employee’s efforts, it demonstrates clearly to his or her co-workers that the company values this type of commitment and hard work — thus providing further initiative from the rest of the workforce. When such hard work goes unnoticed, employees can justifiably feel there’s no point in working so hard and may begin looking for a new job elsewhere.

7. Work closely with employees who fall short of the mark

Not every employee will successfully attain their goals, regardless of how hard they try. Ideally, their manager is periodically assessing progress and stepping in to provide assistance where needed. In any case, when the agreed-upon deadline arrives and goals haven’t been met, there should be an in-depth discussion about what went wrong, combined with encouragement to try again and/or rework the stated objectives.

When employees fall short, avoid recriminations or other negative responses. Focus on their sincere attempts to succeed and give them the resources necessary to get it right the next time.

How to conduct difficult conversations

Difficult conversations are an unavoidable part of working life. Although you'll probably never feel entirely comfortable broaching tricky topics, there are things you can do to help difficult conversations go more smoothly – for everyone involved. It may sound obvious, but don't have a difficult conversation with someone on the shop floor; do it in a private room, where they will feel more relaxed. It could also be suggested to do it at the end of the day, so the employee doesn't have to go into the workplace when they may be feeling uncomfortable about what's just happened.

Don't go into these kinds of discussions thinking 'lets just see how this goes'. It is best to have a clear picture of what you want the outcome to be. Plan, but don't script, the beginning and end of the conversation in advance. How the passage of the middle part goes will be dictated by how they person reacts to what you are telling them.

When you have these conversations there is often a shock factor, meaning the person's immediate thoughts and reactions might not the be the same as what they think once they have had time to digest what you've said. If someone reacts badly, or emotionally, it's important to maintain a level tone of choice to help put them at ease. Slow down your voice, and give them the time to think.

What you are trying to do is move the past the emotion. But it is vital that they let it all out, because then you can begin to move forward. If they appear apathetic, the big concern is whether they have actually processed what you have said. You might feel good because you've got through the conversation, but has your message sunk in? Make sure you are not talking down to the person – speak to them as if there is no hierarchy, and use open body language. Mirroring is also something to consider. Depending on how they react, make sure you are not closing themselves off. If they cross their arms and lean back because they want to disengage from the conversation, stay open and lean forward. This will make them more likely to be receptive to you.

Remember, you are not having a one-way conversation. Listening to the other party is critical to being able to steer the discussion where you need it to go. Afterwards, it is unlikely that you will leave them room feeling happy, because you still know that you have affected the other person. You will need some time to take a deep breath and process what has been said.

 

First Call HR
Director: Jeanette Lonsdale
07917 333999
jeanette@firstcallhr.com
www.firstcallhr.com
Emma Armytage - HR Consultant: 
07973 531589 
emma@firstcallhr.com
Emma Browning - HR Consultant:
07766 741738
emmab@firstcallhr.com

THIS ISSUE
Legal Update
Improving employee engagement

Setting goals
Conducting difficult conversations
Off the record discussions
Workplace conflict

Five things you must know about 'off the record' discussions

'Off the record' discussions with an employee can be a useful tool for quickly working through a problem and reaching a solution that is acceptable to everyone. However, employers need to be careful to ensure that the conversation isn't going to be used to support a claim against them or is going to damage employee relations.
 

  • Know your 'without prejudice' from your 'protected conversation'
    Under the 'without prejudice' rule, details of settlement offers made to employees are normally inadmissible in a court or tribunal. However, the rule only applies when the parties are already in dispute and does not assist employers who wish to negotiate an amicable exit.

    In an effort to tackle this problem, the government introduced 'pre-termination negotiations' (also known as 'protected conversations'), allowing parties to hold settlement discussions before a dispute has arisen which cannot be referred to in ordinary unfair dismissal proceedings (unless there is 'improper behaviour').

    'Protected conversations' can be a useful tool, but employers should bear in mind that the protection only applies in respect of ordinary unfair dismissal claims, not discrimination or other claims.

     
  • Assume that what you say will be repeated in a court or tribunal
    The limitations to the 'without prejudice' and 'protected conversation' rules mean that it is very difficult to have absolute certainty that what you say is not going to be repeated back to you in a court or tribunal. Accordingly, employers must be careful abut what they say and how they say it.

    You should assume that anything you say could be relied upon by an employee in a tribunal claim against you. You should therefore not say anything that could support or give rise to an employee claim. For example, you may wish to present a settlement offer as merely an option for the employee to consider, rather than threatening that if it rejected they will be dismissed in any event. You may also wish to consider having different people dealing with the settlement discussions and open proceedings, such as any ongoing disciplinary or grievance process.

     
  • Act reasonably
    It is particularly important when tying to establish that your discussion is a 'protected conversation' that you have acted reasonably in how you have put the proposal to the employee.

    They will need to understand the offer that has been made, why it has been proposed and what the impact would be on them if accepted. They will also need time to consider the offer and take legal advice. Deadlines should accordingly be set with caution.

     
  • Keep a record
    Employers often fail to keep an internal note of settlement discussions, on the basis that they are entirely ‘off the record’. However, this is a mistake. If an employee seeks to refer to an ‘off the record’ conversation in a tribunal or court you will want to hold an accurate contemporaneous record of what had been discussed to help protect you (assuming you have followed rules 2 and 3!).

    Also, a clear record of what has been offered and accepted will help ensure that there are no complications when it comes to recording any final agreement.

     
  • Open conversation vs ‘Off the record’
    Employers should be aware that if they have a ‘protected conversation’ with an employee, they will not be able to change their mind at a later date and seek to rely upon ‘protected conversations’ in subsequent unfair dismissal proceedings.

    It is accordingly crucial that any open communications are kept very clearly separate from any ‘off the record’ discussions. A failure to properly distinguish between the two types of communication may make it difficult for you to establish that you have followed a proper procedure. For example, if the employee’s grievance is only discussed and investigated under the cover of a ‘protected conversation’, you may be unable to establish to a tribunal that you have properly considered it.

Summary

In our experience, the vast majority of ‘off the record’ discussions proceed without problem, however, we sadly have seen many discussions which have upset relations or have even resulted in claims. We really would recommend that you give us a five minute call before you speak to your employee, as it could save a lot of time and cost later.


You. Me. Outside?

Research conducted by Cascade HR has revealed the top causes of workplace conflict in the UK. The piece of research also showed that 49% of staff feel their company deals with conflict effectively – so it's worthwhile looking out for the top 10 reported flashpoints:
 

  1. Unfair workloads and disparity between employees' working hours (32%)

  2. Gossip and rumours (31%)

  3. Friendship groups and cliques (27%)

  4. Preferential treatment of some staff (23%)

  5. Negative attitudes towards the company (22%)

  6. Salary/wage differences (21%)

  7. Promotions and progression (20%)

  8. Staff arrivals/departures (19%)

  9. Unfair distribution of training and development opportunities (18%)

  10. Extra breaks for smokers (15%)







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