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Archive for the '2007 Articles' Category

The bully and the bullied – how can they both be helped?

By: Clive Lewis Managing Director Globis 
Date: December 2007 

Being bullied is a harrowing experience. The recent increased national focus on banishing bullying from the workplace means that incidents of bullying at work are declining – Aren’t they? 

A former colleague once told me the story of how she had resorted to switching her mobile phone off and keeping the answering machine on at home, even when she was there. Why? Her boss kept calling her for work-related information even when she was away from work. The duration of the calls were lengthy and she felt that she had no choice but to be constantly available for her boss. 

On one hand, I thought, it must be great to be in such demand and be the person with all the answers. It may even provide a sense of security knowing that you have information that is difficult to be retrieved elsewhere in the organisation. On the other hand when the lines of separation between home and work become blurred levels of stress and dissatisfaction are likely to increase. In my colleague’s case, it wasn’t the fact that she was being asked that gave her the problem. It was the way in which the caller asked for the information in addition to the frequency with which these calls were coming. 

Fortunately, my colleague was able to find an HR colleague, in whom she trusted, to talk to about her predicament. This helped bring about a solution. This included arranging a mediation session between the two parties, which was successful. But solutions aren’t always this easy. We have seen in the most extreme cases of bullying that a former employee of an investment bank won £800,000 in damages from her former employer for psychological injury. Recent research shows that only 33% of line managers feel trained to cope with relationship difficulties at work. 

Most bullies don’t intend to be nasty. Very few people go out of their way to make others’ lives a misery. Most people don’t realise how hurtful they are being until confronted. In one case I dealt with recently, the line manager began to cry when she realised the impact she was having on the life of one of the members of her team. 

One piece of advice to anyone being bullied is to keep records of incidents. Relationships can be rebuilt after allegations of bullying if handled properly. Having detailed notes that allow a discussion based on fact to take place will help a great deal. Respondents to a recent Amicus Survey said they thought that 80% of bullying was down to miscommunication that escalated into real interpersonal problems. 

Organisations can also help the bully by offering training and development programmes that include topics such as managing difficult conversations, influencing and making an impact. The business case for improving relationships at work is well proven. Poor relationships at work lead to issues such as higher rates of sickness absence, increased levels of stress, increased levels of employee turnover, lower productivity and poor customer service. 

The best way to deal with any breakdown in relationships is to act quickly before the problem gets worse. 

To help you, here are some tips for your organisation: 

  • Define the problem – what is and isn’t acceptable
  • Provide managers with appropriate training courses – such as managing difficult conversations, influencing and making an impact 
  • Provide individual support – through HR teams and other departments
  • Support the bully and the bullied – both parties can benefit from on-going interventions such as coaching

This article is also published in the Opportunities Magazine

Secrets behind a business marriage made in heaven – Brian Bloch

Date: October 11th 2007
Source: Daily Telegraph

Organisations must be aware of the importance of good relationships if they are to work together like one happy family
Almost all firms conduct joint projects with other firms. Yet, a recent study conducted at the University of Cologne has shown that over 50pc of supply-chain management projects fail.

For instance, in early 2006, a large German chemical producer attempted to improve its delivery process with a major client. The latter was to transfer data to the producer in order to increase the level of service and simultaneously reduce stock levels. 
This sounded good for both parties. However, far too late in the day, the customer realised that the chemical company would be receiving detailed information on its demand, stocks and costs. The managers baulked at revealing what they regarded as confidential information. This reluctance to divulge data, and the associated conflicts between seller and buyer failed to be resolved and the project ultimately petered out. 

Such simple, but prohibitive difficulties result in the failure of many supply chain projects, which really could have and ought to have been mutually beneficial.

At the University of Cologne, Andreas Brinkhoff and Ulrich Thonemann have researched supply chains for three years and found that the majority achieve less than expected. 

This is particularly problematic given that firms often devote years and substantial proportions of their IT budgets to this part of their operations. Brinkhoff and Thonemann investigated 87 supply chain projects in the manufacturing and consumer industries to determine which factors lead either to success or failure. 

They concentrated on inter-organisational initiatives which are becoming increasingly more important in the current business environment. By 2010, 97pc of the responding managers intend to extend their partnerships with other firms. 

Brinkhoff and Thonemann found that the problems go well beyond the standard text-book issues. The investigation revealed 10 key problem areas (see box). The top five are decisive and by far the main causes of failure. Most (88pc) of successful supply chains were those which managed to avoid the five key problems.

On the other hand, 91pc of the failed projects were characterised by three or more of the infamous five. These are extremely compelling results.
The first factor is that of insufficiently clear goals or insufficient agreement with the other partners. This problem was only manifest for six of the successful projects, but noticeably present in 58pc of the failures. In some cases, the teams actually performed as planned, but went off in different directions. For a joint project, such plans and mismatches are hopeless. Philipp Karallus, who heads the e-business centre of Bayer Material Sciences, found that this problem created enormous difficulties in the supply chain logistics. Fortunately, this was solved early on in the process, through a very consistent and well-communicated standardisation of packaging and quantities.The second cause of disaster is a lack of employee commitment. The people who actually work on the project must be convinced that the planned changes are necessary and appropriate. In 75pc of the failures, the employees directly affected were not fully behind the project. Supply-chain manager Jeremy Bentham of plastics manufacturer Borealis found that joint workshops, including both firms, provide a good solution. These entail not only communication on all elements of the project, but ensure the mutual development of change. This regular exchange of ideas also works wonders for motivation. In fact, the relationship between the company and its clients also improve at all levels of the hierarchy. 

Factor three relates to top management. Their support is particularly vital in order to ensure that the necessary resources are provided. And of course, this applies to both companies. Yet, such support is by no means the rule and two thirds of failures were attributable to this shortcoming. However, a project between 3M Healthcare and a large clinic is one example of where it did succeed. Ulrich Gellings, head of customer service at 3M in Germany, said that “the whole thing worked because the managers of both enterprises were clearly and genuinely behind the project and its objectives”. But he explained that this kind of positive interaction between project and line management can never be taken for granted – particularly between two different firms. 

Next comes the basis of trust, factor number four. As with any relationship, people must feel free to talk openly about problems in order to find solutions. Of the failed projects, just over half were plagued by a lack of trust, whereas this applied only to 19pc of the successful projects. As the manager of a Dutch chemical concern pointed out: “Of course, the partnership has to make economic sense in the first place. But whether or not the whole thing works will ultimately depend on the relationships involved.”Specifically, where there is a lack of trust, the participants often spend more time haggling over contracts than they do on the actual work. The inevitable lack of transparency and concealment that accompanies such relationships, generally leads to the collapse of the project. After all, once the relationships are damaged, getting them right again is somewhere between time consuming and impossible.

The effectiveness of the project leaders constitutes factor number five. Given the time span and organisational separation of the partners, such leadership is fundamental.These leaders form the interface between project teams and have to cope with problems from both sides. They have to be excellent communicators and motivators, not an easy task in complex projects where the contribution of the individual to the whole is not always particularly clear. Brinkhoff and Thonemann found that in many cases, the integrative skills of managers saved the day. Their willingness and ability to approach and resolve conflicts constructively, proved indispensable. So, according to the research, if the five cardinal errors are avoided, the supply chain project has a good chance of succeeding. Nonetheless, the standard bases of project management remain as important as ever. These include sound processes and structures, competent employees, well organised resource flows and a lot more besides. The point is that these criteria were unproblematic for almost all the investigated projects, yet so many still failed. The secret of success is apparently to deal with these five most common sources of disaster, which takes time and is not easy. Objectives and other core managerial processes have to be constantly discussed, evaluated, reworked and coordinated. Employees generally need sufficient workshops and interaction to ensure there is effective communication and consensus. Inter-company relationships have to be cared for and maintained. If all this is done correctly, the benefits are there in both economic and people terms. In almost all successful projects, the relationships between the partners are sound and positive. Not surprisingly, this is never the case where the result is ultimate failure.

How to conduct an effective employee investigation

Date: 4 October 2007

Source: People Management

Conducting an internal investigation into alleged employee misconduct requires skill and tact. Those carrying it out must balance thoroughness with fair treatment towards those under investigation. This isn’t easy but can be achieved with a little forethought. 

Before holding a disciplinary hearing, it is crucial that employers have sound evidence on which to base their decisions. Failing to conduct a full investigation, in all but the most exceptional of circumstances, may render a dismissal unfair and result in costly consequences in terms of tribunal awards, staff morale and stakeholder confidence. 

1 How serious is it? 

An investigation must establish the seriousness of the alleged misconduct and be proportionate to it. So, your response may range from a brief discussion with the employee to establish the facts, to a full-scale investigation involving other agencies such as the police. The objective should be to provide sound evidence for any subsequent disciplinary action. Investigators should ask themselves what they can reasonably expect to achieve given the time and resources available. Any internal investigation should follow the ‘Lift’ principle – it should be logical, impartial, fair and time-bound. 

2 Separation of powers 

Those conducting the investigation should not also hear the disciplinary complaint. These two functions should be kept separate in the interests of natural justice. Tribunals and the Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures acknowledge this will not always be possible, especially for small businesses ( Even so, if funds permit, employers should consider commissioning an independent investigator for more serious cases. For larger organisations, it is important that HR and the investigating manager work together. Protocols need to be agreed and good communications maintained throughout the investigation.

3 Keep an open mind 

Do not assume guilt or innocence. Decide whether the employee should be suspended on full pay pending the investigation. Make sure this is described as a precautionary measure – it should be made clear it is not a disciplinary sanction. Such action should only be considered in more serious cases where the employee’s continued presence in the workplace might have a disruptive effect or enable employees to undermine the case against them.

4 Establish the evidence 

Identify the types of evidence you need to gather. Don’t rely merely on witness statements. Think about gathering files, documents, CCTV footage or computer records, if available. Policy documents and training records can also be used. If any evidence is likely to perish or be removed, gather it as a priority. Decide who you need to interview and do it as soon as possible before memories fade. You are entitled to interview the employee against whom the allegation has been made, but it should be made clear it is an exploratory interview and not a disciplinary hearing. Identify what you need to establish from each interviewee and prepare accordingly. It is not advisable to have a pre-prepared list of questions as you may need to explore particular responses in more detail during the interview. It is better to prepare a list of topics and decide on the order in which you wish to deal with them.

5 Interviewing witnesses 

Make full notes when interviewing witnesses. At the end they should be invited to read through the notes and sign them. Draft statements should be taken back to the witness for signature and the notes on which the statement was based retained until the conclusion of any disciplinary hearing or subsequent appeal. Don’t put words into witnesses’ mouths or suggest answers. Your questions should encourage them to recall their version of events in their own words.

6 Manage witness expectations

Witnesses should be informed at the end of the interview that if the case results in a disciplinary hearing, they may be required to give evidence. They need to be aware that anonymity cannot be guaranteed unless there is a genuine fear of reprisal. 

7 Is it criminal? 

Some of the more serious allegations of misconduct may potentially be criminal offences. If you suspect this is the case, you may need to inform other agencies – for example, the Health and Safety Executive or the police. The evidence you gather for your internal investigation may also be required for a parallel criminal investigation. If this is the case, continuity of evidence is important. For your evidence to be admissible in a criminal prosecution, you need to be able to demonstrate its physical location at any point in time. Seek legal advice at an early stage on how continuity can best be achieved.

8 Handle confessions with care 

If an employee admits to a criminal offence during the course of an internal investigation, it is advisable to make a note of it in case it needs to be used as evidence in any subsequent criminal proceedings. The note should be timed, dated and signed by the person taking it and the employee should read and sign it. Where the employee disagrees with the record, note the details and ask them to read and sign them to the effect that they accurately reflect the disagreement. Any refusal to sign should also be recorded. The investigation should then be terminated with a view to involving the police or any other appropriate investigatory body. Failure to do this is likely to make such unsolicited comments inadmissible in a criminal court. 

9 When it’s over, it’s over 

Once you feel you have sufficient evidence on which to base a decision, finish the investigation. The standard of proof for most internal investigations and any subsequent disciplinary hearing will need only to be “on the balance of probabilities”. You do not have to prove your case “beyond reasonable doubt” for it to stand up in a tribunal. 

Key Points 

• Those conducting the investigation should not be involved in the decision-making at any subsequent disciplinary hearing. • For more serious cases, consider suspending the employee on full pay.• Approach investigations with an open mind and decide in advance what evidence you need.• If you decide to interview the employee against whom the allegation has been made, make it clear that it is not a disciplinary hearing.• The civil standard of proof (“on the balance of probabilities”) is an acceptable standard to work to.

CIPD Managing Conflict at work Survey 2007

Date: 1 October 2007

This latest CIPD conflict at work survey reports survey findings on:�

  • the impact of the statutory dispute procedures 
  • training to manage conflict at work 
  • mediation 
  • formal disciplinary and grievance cases 
  • employment tribunal claims 
  • causes of conflict at work 
  • sources of advice for UK employers in managing employment disputes 

Click here to review the report in full. (This link will take you to the CIPD’s website)

Employee well being and the psychological contract

Source: CIPD
Date: 4 July 2007
Something seems to be happening to the state of the psychological contract. The CIPD research report, Employee Well-Being and the Psychological Contract, highlights areas that many HR professionals, as strategic business partners, will want to be thinking about. So the wealth of material contained in this survey is invaluable to HR professionals.

At the CIPD, we’ve been undertaking annual surveys into employee attitudes since 1996. This report is based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,000 people in employment in Great Britain.

The psychological contract is built on the three pillars of:

  • fairness 
  • trust 
  • delivery of the deal between organisations and employees.

And research has shown that a positive psychological contract is the best guarantee of good performance outcomes.

Analysis of the causes and consequences of the psychological contract

This research report outlines the state of the psychological contract on the main dimensions of trust, satisfaction and commitment. Findings suggest that organisations are now more successful in delivering on their promises than they were in earlier years. But there are real issues in relation to employees’ feelings of fairness and trust, levels of which have been decreasing over the last two years or more.

The survey concentrated on four distinctive themes – the concept of the good employer, effective supervisory leadership, the high-quality workplace and the link to work-related stress, and contemporary career preferences.

The concept of the good employer

A cluster of practices are associated with the concept of the good employer. These include the presence of a range of progressive HR practices, the adoption of flexible family-friendly practices, effective supervisory leadership and the delivery of promises leading to perceptions of fair treatment and high levels of trust.

The composite measure of the good employer is strongly associated with higher levels of worker satisfaction, commitment and excitement at work, as well as higher levels of motivation, positive behaviour at work and a lower intention to leave the job. The findings therefore confirm that engaging in good employment practices brings benefits not only to workers but to the organisation as well.

Effective supervisory leadership

One of the biggest challenges for HR is to support line managers in their role of managing and developing people. Line managers have emerged from earlier surveys of employee attitudes as the ‘good guys’. Employees have reported feeling significantly more trust in them than in senior managers or in the organisation as a whole. The picture that emerges this year is less positive. A majority of line managers seem to be failing in many or most of the basic elements of good management – including providing regular feedback or offering to help improve individuals’ employment.

The high quality workplace and stress

Stress has been moving steadily up the workplace agenda in recent years and the survey asked a number of questions about possible sources of stress. These questions were designed jointly with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The survey shows that on a number of dimensions respondents are reporting stress levels that exceed those incorporated in the HSE standards on stress management.

The survey provided a preliminary measure of six criteria identified by the HSE as likely to be associated with lower levels of stress at work.

Contemporary career preferences

There has been much debate about what’s happening to careers. The survey identified three distinct groups of employees in terms of their attitude towards their career:

Traditional – working longer hours than most, displaying high commitment and motivation. These people wanted long-term tenure in one organisation and upward mobility, and tended to be younger workers. 

Disengaged – work is not a central life interest, and they want no emotional ties to the organisation. These employees tend to be older, long-tenure, low-income workers, displaying low levels of motivation and a reluctance to do anything extra. 

Independent – low commitment and satisfaction. They want career success, but on their own terms and without being tied to any one organisation. They tend to be graduates on high incomes and with a short tenure. They report lower organisation commitment, lower satisfaction, a poorer psychological contract and a higher intention to quit.

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