Author Archives: Donna Obstfeld

Recruitment is no longer about finding the perfect employee

10 Feb
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   

Record levels of employment, the uncertainty of Brexit and the need for new skills for a modern workplace have led to a significant increase in competition for the best talent in what is now an employee-led recruitment market.

Organisations are having to work harder and harder to attract the right people. That is not necessarily those with the right skills, as skills can be taught, but those with the right aptitude and an attitude which will fit with the company culture.

Recruitment is no longer about finding the perfect employee, it is about marketing your business and the opportunities you can offer so that the right person can join your business and evolve into the perfect employee. To market your business effectively, you have to have something to offer. More than ever before, you need to understand what makes your business appeal to employees and what will differentiate you from the crowd so that the right people apply and want to work for you.

Just like you market your products and services to attract and win clients, you now need to market your business as a whole to attract and win employees. Flexibility is going to be a recurring theme this year with the use of the #Happy to Talk Flexible Working slogan being adopted by an increasing number of businesses, both large and small. Recent studies indicate that if you are able to offer Flexible Working, you are more likely to recruit and retain an engaged workforce.

Recruitment Advertising

13 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Discrimination, Recruitment   

Two things have happened this week which have made me think about the wording of recruitment adverts:

1)    A contact of mine advertised for a young, dynamic person – thus opening themselves up to an age discrimination claim, as an older person may arguably be more dynamic than a young person.

2)    The Army has launched their latest ‘your army needs you’ recruitment drive, thinking outside the box, but upsetting a lot of their target audience in the process with terms such as ‘snowflakes’, ‘phone zombies’ and the ‘me me me millennials’.

Recruitment advertising is a skill. The images you use, the wording you use and the messages you convey about the recruiting employer are all essential ingredients in a well-baked cake.

The aim of the advert is to attract the best possible candidate so that the employer has the ‘pick of the crop’. It is in effect a marketing exercise in which the target message, the correct media and the message all need to be carefully thought through.

The first piece of recruitment advertising I did was in 1996 while working for Dixons Stores Group (DSG). The assignment was to recruit approximately 100 trainee managers for the 4 company brands. The trainees were to be school leavers (18/19 years old) and graduates (21 – 23) year olds. While the discrimination laws in ’96 aren’t what they are today, we still had a target audience and where we advertised and how we advertised played a vital role in getting the right people to apply.

Working with a recruitment advertising agency, I went on to build an entire recruitment campaign aimed at our target market using the words and images depicting ‘shocking’ – DSG was an electrical retailer after all. We exhibited at graduate fairs across the country and advertised in schools careers magazines.

The outcome was that we had hundreds of applications and the positions were all filled with bright, eager, engaged trainees who had a defined career path ahead of them.

What was even nicer for me personally, was that we were nominated for a recruitment advertising award. There is unbeknownst to me, a whole industry built on recruitment advertising. The army uses such agencies to develop and run their campaigns, but these are generally price prohibitive for micro, small or even medium-sized businesses.


So how has recruitment advertising changed over the years?

Well, the rise of the internet has massively changed the industry with so many online portals. The increased use of social media has als o meant that smaller businesses can get their message out there much more easily. But, this has consequences as well.

There is now even more competition and more noise, so recruitment advertising has to be more specific and laser focussed and less scattergun. The messages need to be crystal clear to attract the right people. The media chosen for your advertising needs to carefully selected to give you the widest possible exposure for the least cost – there are still a lot of people who will just take your money!!!

The second consequence is the number of people applying for roles has significantly increased. More people have quicker and easier access to job adverts. They set up searches, they apply automatically without even properly looking at the roles and they may not have either the skills or experience needed, but a job title fits or a location fits, so their CV is submitted. This has huge implications for the selection process (but that is a whole different blog).

When advertising, you need to think like a marketer: Market, Message, Media!

1)    Who do you want to attract? What skills and personality traits will they need to be successful in your company and in the role?

2)    What will make the right people pay attention and submit their application

3)    Where are your target applicants hanging out? Online and offline.

Recruiters need to be aware that before you can select the right employee, you need the right applicants to apply.






10 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Bullying, Discrimination, Vegan   

We were having one of our regular in-house training sessions on Wednesday and got into a discussion about bullying and harassment in the workplace. Whether as a result of the #metoo campaign or not, we are seeing a significant increase in accusations and employers are having to spend more and more time investigating claims, obtaining evidence and potentially bringing disciplinary action.

As with many of our training sessions, we explore a number of what-if scenarios and this week we got onto the topic of Veganuary. For those of you who don’t know, this is a drive to encourage people to try Veganism in the month of January. There are many reasons why people will or won’t become Vegan and these are usually personal, but what happens when those beliefs start to impact the workplace?

What happens if the pizzas you order on Friday are not suitable for Vegans or the chocolates you bring in to share, or the sandwiches for that lunch meeting? If you continue to exclude Vegans from the food options are you discriminating against them? Could they feel bullied or victimised or excluded by your behaviour, especially if you (or someone in the team) knowingly repeats the behaviour.

The answer is potentially, yes!

As an employer, you have a duty of care to all your staff and need to ensure that all staff feel included and catered for, in this case quite literally.

While doing some research around Veganuary, we also came across PeTA’s guidelines for non-offensive phrases. You are now encouraged to watch your language as well as what you serve to vegans (and I assume vegetarians). You are no longer ‘bringing home the bacon’, but ‘bringing home the bagels’, you are no longer ‘killing two birds with one stone’ but ‘feeding two birds with one scone’. You get the idea. If you want more animal-friendly idioms, they can be found here.

While we may jest at these attempts to protect animals, as employers we must be aware that people with certain beliefs can easily become the victims of thoughtlessness, bullying and lack of understanding. As the employer, your beliefs are not relevant, it is the perception of the employee which must be considered. “Political correctness gone mad” my father would say, but the reality of today’s workplace is that people want to be respected for their diverse views and whether it is Veganism or anything else, as the employer, you and your staff must respect other people’s views and failure to do so may well lead to allegations, grievances, disciplinaries and ultimately, potentially, employment tribunals.

Having a clear, legally compliant policy is essential (often a code of conduct) and ensuring that all staff are adequately trained is a vitally important element of creating a respectful, productive and successful workplace.

Christmas Party – Remember It For The Right Reasons

30 Nov
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Christmas, Employees, Health and Safety   

It is the last day of November. For many, this is payday, for others it is invoicing day and for some…. It is the official start of the festive season.

Over the years we have seen some pretty fantastic Christmas parties. We have also seen some lovely intimate low key affairs where the team come together and celebrate the past year and its successes.

While you are not operating a school, all employers have a legal responsibility and duty of care towards their staff and that is not just Monday – Friday 9 – 5, but includes work functions such as the Christmas party. While you may not want to organise the ‘personal’ life of your employees and may believe that they are all grown up enough to look after themselves, if an accident or incident happens and the employer has not taken due care, the employer can become liable. Ensure that you have considered and talked about all of the relevant issues with your staff before the party and they know what they are responsible for and what failure to comply might mean.

Here are some top tips for making sure your work Christmas party is one to remember rather than one you wish to forget:

  1. Make sure everyone is invited and made to feel welcome
    • remember not everyone celebrates Christmas, so how can you make it more inclusive?
  2. Think carefully about whether partners are invited and if so, who pays for them?
  3. Be mindful about your venue
    • Is it easy to get to / return from on public transport?
    • Can people stay over if they chose to?
    • Is there ample parking for those who prefer to drive?
    • If your team is widely spread, is it accessible to everyone and will expenses be paid to those who don’t live locally who wish to attend?
  4. Menu planning – LONG gone are the days where everyone will sit down to eat a traditional Christmas Dinner
    • Make sure you understand what your staff can and can not eat, from both a dietary and religious perspective.
    • Is there a vegetarian/vegan option?
    • Is there a free from option?
    • Are the Canapes clearly marked
    • Are the caterers and their staff carefully briefed – nut allergies are life-threatening and the impact of a careless caterer is not to be underestimated.
  5. Alcohol planning – I am not going to try to tell you that your event needs to be alcohol-free as that would just be Humbug at this time of year! However, there are some considerations
    • What is a reasonable amount of alcohol per person?
    • Who is paying for it?
    • Are people allowed to buy more for themselves once the ‘paid for’ bar has been used
    • Is anyone going to stop people drinking if and when they think they have had too much
  6. How are people getting home?
    • Are cabs booked in advance to take people home or is a local cab company on standby with sufficient cars?
    • Is a coach being arranged to drop people at a central point and if so, what happens from there?
    • Will someone be responsible for ensuring that no one is driving either their own or a company vehicle while under the influence of alcohol
  7. Are staff (and management) expected at work the next day – not every party can be on a Friday night and not every business is shut at the weekend
    • This is a case of one rule for all. No discrimination based on length of service or seniority in the business. If your business is open the next day, your staff need to be there in a fit state to work just like on any other day
      • If staff do not turn up – what is the impact?
      • If staff turn up too tired or unwell – what is the impact?
    • Will you allow people to book the ‘day after the night before’ off as a holiday and what is the impact on your business?
      • Will normal holiday booking procedures apply?
    • Managing the fallout – while we sincerely hope there is no fall out from your work Christmas party, many years of experience tells us otherwise. So what do you need to consider in managing the fallout?
      • Treating everyone equally and fairly
      • Following and complying with your own policies and procedures
      • Health and safety implications for employees, clients and other third parties
      • Financial damage
      • Reputational damage

I don’t mean to scare you, and many employers believe it will never happen to them, but it

can and it does. With over 25 years in HR and Management and as head of an HR practice for over 11 years, I never cease to be amazed by what I see and hear, especially around Christmas. I think I have seen it all and then something else happens and as HR, we often end up trying to pick up the pieces and keep our clients (the Businesses) out of trouble, helping them to make their workplace a better place to be.

As with all aspects of business life, Proper Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance. Plan your Christmas party, get advice if you need it but have an amazing festive celebration that ALL your staff remember for the RIGHT reasons which keeps them engaged in 2019.

Engaging Millennials

25 Oct
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   

According to the HR trade magazine HRD Connect, the issue of millennials in the workforce has yet again managed to make headlines.

It appears there is a disconnect between the general workforce and millennials; constantly leaving many wondering how to ensure that this new generation are fully engaged within a workplace.

According to a survey conducted by Deloitte this year, more than 10,000 millennials across 26 countries give organisations a ’cause for concern’.

Why is this, you ask?

Deloitte’s studies tell us that there has been a negative shift in millennials’ perceptions of businesses. Over half of the millennials that were surveyed feel as though businesses do not behave ethically and that business leaders are not committed to helping improve society. There seems to be a mismatch between what millennials believe businesses should be responsible for and what business leaders’ actual priorities are.

How can we keep millennials loyal and productive in the workplace?

It appears “diversity and flexibility are key to loyalty”.

But how do we keep millennials loyal considering almost half (43%) of the millennials surveyed envision leaving their jobs within two years?

Financial rewards, workplace culture and diversity encourage loyalty and productivity from millennials. However, business leaders may have a harder time satisfying Gen Z, as they express even less loyalty, with 61% saying they would leave within two years if given the choice.

Deloitte also let it be known that millennials and Gen z do not feel as if they adequately prepared for Industry 4.0.  For those reading this, unsure of what Industry 4.0 is, it is an industrial revolution which is transforming economies, jobs and society itself. “Many physical and digital technologies are combining through analytics, artificial intelligence, cognitive technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) to create digital enterprises that are both interconnected and capable of more informed decision-making.” Necessary precautions need to be put in place to ensure the newer generations are given the preparation needed, to enable them to thrive in Industry 4.0.

Are you going to give your young staff the preparation they desire?


Written by: Shakeila Morrison, Business Development Manager, DOHR

World Mental Health Day 2018

10 Oct
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   

One in four people are affected by mental health in UK each year and 1 in 6 people report experiencing either anxiety or depression. This can have a detrimental impact on employees and running of a business, so it is important to be able to recognise poor mental health in a workplace. According to The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, “less than one in three organisations (32%) train line managers to support their direct reports with poor mental health.” This is not a significant enough number of organisations, considering poor mental health is increasing and is the “primary cause of long-term sickness absence … for more than 22% of UK organisations”. A survey was carried out of over 44,000 employees and less than half of those employees (42%), felt as though their manager would be able to spot whether they were struggling with poor mental health.

As managers, we know this can be a huge responsibility and you’re probably wondering how I do even approach this?

Thankfully, CIPD & Mind have designed a free guide that will help educate managers on managing mental health. Giving them the resources and tools needed to “effectively and confidently” support those who suffer with mental health at work. The ability to offer support in the early stages, can have a tremendously positive impact on the employee but managers must be trained not only to spot the signs but to provide the appropriate and intervention.

Muller-Heyndyk confirms that the new guide cautiously follows the government’s ‘Thriving at work’ employment review. It has stated that it can cost employers £17b – £26b a year, due to ‘presenteeism’.

I’m sure you wouldn’t want your staff severely unhappy and only present because they feel as though they have no choice.

Rachel Suff (senior employee relations adviser at CIPD) says that it is important managers are invested in their employee’s wellbeing, as they are the first port of call for their               employees. Managers may be reluctant to talk about mental health but staying silent can make the situation worse. It is important that managers do not shy aware from mental health. Ensuring that they are proactive in promoting good wellbeing at work.

The guide that has been put together by Mind & CIPD (Mental Health at Work Guide), will hopefully contribute to having positive impact on mental health in a workplace. Giving managers the confidence to effectively support their employees.

Written by: Shakeila Morrison, Business Development Manager, DOHR


Who you take advice from matters ……… A LOT!

25 Sep
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Business, employent law, Employment Tribunal, Performance Management   

Would you allow a GP to carry out brain surgery on you?
Would you want your accountant giving you a manicure?

The answer to both, I suspect, is NO!

So why do people listen to family and friends when they need advice on their staff?

The answer we are sometimes given is “because they have run a business”; but more often than not it is just because the employer was venting and family and friends were trying to be supportive.

Would you want a business coach mentoring you if they had already had three of their businesses go into liquidation?

Would you want a business coach guiding your growth from £100k – £3m if they have never run a business of more than £250k and have only ever sold a product when you offer a service?

Making sure you surround your business with the right people is essential for business success and hiring the wrong people or taking advice from people because it ‘feels’ right is an irresponsible risk to introduce into your business.

I am a member of a number of business-related Facebook Groups where members are incredibly supportive of each other. People pose all sorts of business questions and other group members provide useful, enlightened, inspirational and business-focussed advice. However, (there is often a however) I get quite concerned about the people advice that is often given. It is still being given in the right way i.e. from the desire to be supportive and helpful; but so many times it is legally wrong! It may feel right, it may feel like the moral thing to do, it may even be what the advice giver has done in the past…… but none of that makes the advice right.

There are always options and when giving employment law or HR advice (they are not quite the same thing), it is essential that you know 3 things:

  1. What the law says
  2. What your contracts of employment and/or employee handbook says
  3. What has already been said to / is understood by the employee

When people ask about underperforming staff and everyone says “get rid”, “fire today”, “show them the door”, what they do not understand is the following:

  • Does the employee have a contract of employment and if so, what does it say?
  • Is there a contractual disciplinary, grievance or termination policy within the business?
  • How long has the employee been there?
  • Does the employee have any protected features?
  • Are there any medical issues which are causing the poor performance?

The answers to these will all determine the options available to the business owner and the risks associated with each option.

The latest employment tribunal figures show the number of claims last quarter increased by 165% compared to the same quarter last year. In the last quarter, the largest AVERAGE awards were given for disability (£30,700) and the average award for unfair dismissal was £15,007.

As employees no longer need to pay to take a case to the employment tribunal and discrimination claims do not require 2 years service and these awards are uncapped, employers really do need to be aware of the implications of what they say and the decisions they make.

So, while family, friends and other business owners are happy and willing to provide advice, you do need to make sure that you are taking the right advice. It must be right for your business, right for you and right for your employee…. It is just not worth risking your business over.

Don’t commute and use your phone

05 Sep
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, HR Policy, Policies and Procedures, work life balance   

I do think that people now are more aware of how they use their phones while driving – it is illegal to do so – but how aware are people of how they use their phones on a public transport commute?

I had a lovely chat with Roberto Perrone on the BBC 3 Counties Drive Time Show last week discussing the findings of a study carried out by the University of the West of England for the Royal Geographic Society (BBC Report).

My first thought is about defining who we are talking about, because I am fairly sure we are not talking about all commuters. I suspect that the main focus is office workers and managers of other organisations. I don’t think retails staff or factory workers, nurses or emergency response workers will be checking their emails (but please correct me if I am wrong).

The main gist of the article was a question: Should time spent on emails during a commute be considered to be working time?

My next thought was: Does it matter?

Most office staff are not hourly paid and many do not receive overtime for getting their day job done. Therefore if they are spending an extra hour a day clearing emails on their phone, does it matter?

Choice and Control

I think in reality this comes down to whether the employee is required to check their emails or whether they chose to. If they are required to check and respond to their emails on a regular basis then this is different from someone choosing to manage their time, workload and home / work balance in this way.

If someone is required to check their emails, perhaps because they are on call, perhaps because they are waiting for time critical information, then in many cases their job description will reflect this and they should be remunerated accordingly.

If someone choses to leave the office at 5 and finish off their day on their commute home, thus enabling them to reach home at a reasonable time, then this is a personal choice which can be empowering and lead to greater efficiency. Some people only check emails two or three times a day to ensure that they are able to operate at optimum levels without interruptions and deliver what they plan to deliver within each day.


It is very rare that an employer will tell an employee they must work in the evenings or respond to emails 18 hours a day. It is far more likely that employees adopt these behaviours to enable them to cope with excessive volumes of emails, or to ensure that they are able to stay on top of their workload. Learning to take control of your inbox before it takes control of you is absolutely essential to ensure that you are able to deliver as required. However, there are times when the sheer volume of emails is just too much and the amount of work required from you is just not achievable even if you were to work 24 hours a day.

This is when an employee needs to have a tough conversation with the boss. This is not an emotional outburst, but a considered discussion around volume, expectations, standards deliverables and support.


I have lost count of the number of times I have overheard highly confidential conversations on a train. Although these are often between two people sat together, more often than not it is a phone conversation. Discussing the outcome of a meeting, the prospects of a deal or the firing of an employee. People not only need to be aware of the time spent on emails on a phone during a commute, but they also need to be very conscious of the content of their work related conversations in public places.

Management Responsibility

As an employer or manager, you have a duty of care to your staff. This means ensuring that they are not put under excessive stress at work, that the job is reasonable and achievable in the time available. While there may be an occasional need to work from home in the evenings responding to emails or clear down emails on a commute to work, this should not be the norm and if it is, the roles and responsibilities of the employee need to be discussed and possibly reviewed.

The Working Time Directive (WTD) states that employees should not be working more than an average of 48 hours a week. Does this include checking emails either by choice or if required to do so? If the employee has not opted out of the WTD, then it probably does, but choice and control will also play a role here.

Security and devices

Another issue in this debate is around security and data protection. Who owns the phone? Is it a personal phone or a work phone? What security is on the phone? If work emails are on a personal phone, perhaps with confidential information, who is responsible for the security of that data? It is now outside of company systems and security protocols what happens if the phone is lost or stolen?

Employer Control

As an employer, you have a choice. You determine the culture. You set the policies and procedures. Communication is essential for you, your staff and the business, and you need to decide whether you want your team working on their mobiles – personal or otherwise – out of hours, including on their commute.

World Cup fever hits your office

18 Jun
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   

It’s Monday the 18th of June 2018.

Now that date may not mean a lot to some of you, but for others, you’ve been marking off the days waiting until England takes their first match tonight in the 2018 World Cup. 

What’s that got to do with business?

Actually, quite a lot.

Tonight’s game is a 7 o’clock kick off. So it doesn’t really impact our work at all. However, you may have a few staff with hangovers tomorrow morning.

What I want to do here, is just give you a couple of tips for dealing with games while at work, and the morning after the night before.

The first thing to remember, is not everybody in your office is going to support England. So you need to be quite mindful of that, either because they just don’t support England, or they don’t think they’ve got a particularly good chance of winning, or because actually, they’re not English themselves, and they support a home team.

One of the things that as an employer, you need to do, is to make sure that nobody in your office is subject to any bullying or harassment because of the team that they support.

Now, it may seem really trivial, but if you’ve got somebody in your office that is from Tunisia, or whose parents are from Tunisia, and they’re playing England tonight, that can be a really difficult dynamic to deal with. As an employer, you have a duty of care towards all of your staff, and that does extend to making sure that they’re not bullied because of the football team that they support. Especially, when it comes to the World Cup. Because actually, what you can end up with, is a discrimination claim against you because of nationality or harassment because of someone’s nationality.

Lots of different things to think about. So the first thing to do is to talk to your staff.  While your encouraging everybody to get involved, to appreciate football – sport is an amazing opportunity to bring people together – they actually just need to be mindful of respect – respecting people regardless of where they’re from or what teams they follow.

So the next thing is whether or not you’re going to allow them to have TV’s on in the office. Now, some companies will say, if its an England game playing, we’ll have the TV on. If you want to watch it take your lunch break during the match, or go down to the local pub. But again, you need to be mindful of the fact that some people aren’t going to be supporting England, so you need to make provisions that apply to anybody regardless of the team that they support to enable people who want to watch the match to do so in a way that minimises the impact on the working day.

Stick to your rules, most companies have a rule where people aren’t allowed to attend work under the influence of drug and alcohol. That’s fine, and if people go to the pub to watch a game then they need to make sure that they come back to work sober. Because if they don’t, then you’re company disciplinary policy applies. You have an absolute right to enforce that, regardless of the reasons for people having gone out.

If you decide to bring pizza or drinks into the office to celebrate, then again, you just need to be mindful of the fact that not everybody drinks and not everybody is going to want to be following the football as there are some people who just don’t want to know. Again, don’t make those people feel marginalised because of the football match that’s on.

So what do you do if people just don’t turn up to work?

You need to follow your own company policies and procedures. If they’ve booked the day off, that’s great, but actually, you’re not obliged to give them the day off. So if you have a whole department of five people that request time off to watch the football, you have the absolute right to say no; and if people still take that time off, and you believe that it’s not due to a genuine sickness absence, then again, you’ve got the right with a back to work interview and an investigation process, to actually discipline for absence without permission.

If that’s the route you want to go down, my one bit of advice, is to be consistent, whatever you do, whatever you apply for one person, needs to be applied for everybody. So you can’t treat men differently to women, you can’t treat young different to old. You can’t treat Tunisian employees any differently to British employees, or the Dutch or the Germans in your office environment.

Whether England will get through to the quarter finals, the semifinals, or even the finals, (not going to say it, but I doubt that they will), but even if they do, World Cup Fever is only going to escalate over the next few weeks.

As an employer, you need to make sure that you are still able to run your business. That your business is running effectively, and that your staff know what they are and aren’t allowed to do. Consistency, communication, are absolutely key here.

Whatever the outcome, have an amazing 2018 World Cup.

Vital Statistics …. for your business

18 Jun
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, jobs, Recruitment, salary, war for talent, Workplace   

Last week there were some interesting stats announced by the ONS (Office for National Statistics):

  • The number of people in work increased
  • The number of unemployed people decreased
  • The number of people aged from 16 to 64 years not working and not seeking or available to work (economically inactive) also decreased
  • The employment rate was 75.6%, higher than for a year earlier (74.8%) and the joint highest since comparable records began in 1971

So what?

Well, it means that it is getting even harder to recruit and retain good quality staff.

What else?

  • Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings in real terms (adjusted for price inflation) increased by 0.4% excluding bonuses, and by 0.1% including bonuses, compared with a year earlier.


The shortage of job seekers is pushing up salaries, albeit not by very much – yet!


You need to ensure that you recruit and retain the right staff. Can you answer “yes” to these questions:

  1. Do you know what you are looking for?
  2. Do you know where to look?
  3. Do you know how to find the right type of people for your business?
  4. Are you attractive enough to encourage applications from the right sort of people?
  5. Can you sort the wheat from the chaff?
  6. Can you make a competitive and compelling offer?

Being able to answer “yes” to the above is essential if you are going to build and maintain a healthy, thriving business against a backdrop of increasing competition for a decreasing number of good quality, qualified, experienced individuals.

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