Are they really sick?

19 Aug
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

I am going to have a moan. I don’t often have a moan, but please excuse this one – it is a complaint I know many employers share.

Now I do accept that people get sick. And I do accept there are times when an employee is better out of the office resting than in the office spreading their germs, but I have a plea for all doctors…….

Next time a patient comes to you and asks to be signed off sick due to stress, the answer in most cases has to be “no”.  In 95% of cases, these patients are running away from difficult situations, difficult conversations and a normal workload and a diagnosis of stress is only delaying dealing with problems at work.

I do accept that clinical depression is different, but bursting into tears in the doctor’s surgery does not mean someone is clinically depressed. It means they are tired, they are probably not talking to their manager about problems and in my experience they have not done anything to help themselves and have let the pressure build up a little too much. Being off work does not allow the problem(s) to be dealt with, it doesn’t enable an employer to put any help in place and it doesn’t allow the employee to learn and adopt any coping techniques.

Ask any employee in any workplace if they are stressed and the likely answer is “yes”. For many, stress is a good thing, something to thrive on, something to keep you driven, motivated, engaged and achieving. However, for some, stress needs to be managed a little more carefully, workloads reduced, hours reduced or training provided. If an employee is signed off sick, an employer’s hands are tied. They don’t want to put more stress on the employee by contacting them while they are ill, but they need them back at work. Employers have a duty of care, but employees do need to ask for help in a constructive and calm way. Walking out on the job, running from responsibilities and avoiding the inevitable are not the way to solve any problems in life and getting a doctor to sign you off sick is doing all of these things.

So my plea: Firstly to employees – help is usually available, you just need to ask for it; to employers – value your staff, respect their personal capacity and capability levels and provide assistance and flexibility as required (balanced with the needs of your business); and finally to the doctors – next time a patients presents themselves and asks for a sick note for stress, anxiety and depression, please think twice, understand the causes and the remedies – counselling may be appropriate, but the employee should come back to work, maintain their normal routines and get additional help from their employer. Doctors can make recommendations on the new fit note, but very few do! Encourage patients to talk with their employer, especially when they cite work as the cause of the stress – I promise you will be doing them the greatest service of all!

Feeling The Heat

17 Jul
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Absence, Blog, Business Continuity, employee rights, employent law, Health and Safety   |  1 Comments

With temperatures soaring and no sign of an end to these wonderful hot days of summer, employees and employers are both feeling the strain. For absolute clarification …… there is no legal maximum working temperature and to this point, a group of MPs now want to introduce a maximum working temperature of 30 degrees (lowered to 27 degrees for strenuous jobs). 

So how practical is such a proposal and what would its impact be on businesses?

There are some employees who are constantly working in high temperatures regardless of the weather outside. Chefs, metal workers and miners all work in hot environments and although there are health and safety precautions in place, the work still needs to be done.

So what about an office worker or a retailer assistant, could they be sent home when it reaches 30 degrees? What would happen to businesses? With a law that sent people home when the temperature rose, businesses would not be able to operate and would face closure. Is that practical for ice cream shops, beach side cafes and outdoor entertainment facilities such as theme parks and zoos who would all do there best business on hot sunny days? It certainly isn’t practical to have a law for some businesses and not for others perhaps based on location or products.

Employees in hot countries such as Spain and Italy work in the heat on a regular basis and although concepts such as siestas and long lazy lunches are a familiar tradition, these are increasingly being phased out in multinational companies where they need to work with the rest of the world.

Air-Conditioning as standard also makes the heat more bearable in some countries, but there are many workers who would not be able to benefit from such facilities and they would be expensive to install and run for small companies in the UK.

What can employers do to reduce the impact of the heat?

There are several cost effect steps employers can take to tackle short term heat problems (and being the UK, this will be short term):

  • Where possible, relax the dress code. Clearly communicate what is acceptable and what is not.
  • Ensure that blinds are drawn to keep out the sun as much as possible (also make sure there is no glare on monitors)
  • Once the sun has moved to another side of the building, open windows and keep interior office doors open to help the flow of air around the building
  • Ensure there is cold water available for staff, either in a fridge or in a water cooler if the tap water is not cold enough. Staff should also be encouraged to bring in their own supplies.
  • Encourage regular breaks and perhaps increase the number of breaks or the length of breaks
  • Enable staff to move around  a little more if they are usually sat in one place
  • Consider earlier starts or later evenings with longer breaks so that people aren’t travelling in the rush hour and working in the heat of mid day (how very Mediterranean)
  • Purchase some fans to increase air flow

Employees must take practical steps to ensure their safety.

As with all things health and safety, employees do have a duty to look after themselves at work and discuss any concerns with managers in a practical way. Not turning up for work due to the weather or its effects (dehydration, lack of sleep, too much sun) is not acceptable, and an organisation has the right to discipline staff it believes have not taken reasonable steps to be at work. Staff must:


  • Ensure that they take on sufficient water during the day
  • Dress appropriately for business and the temperature
  • Pre-book any time off during the summer, phoning in on the day is not acceptable
  • Ensure that any food they eat at BBQs is properly cooked!!!
  • Ensure that alcohol consumed out of work does not impact time at work in any way. As well as alcohol consumption increasing in the summer, the heat intensifies the impact it has on people.

Daily Commute

28 May
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

Been busy interviewing this week …… some candidates were local while others would have significant daily commutes.

This got me thinking, why are employees willing to travel so far to work? Are there fewer jobs available, or are people choosing to live out of London? If they are choosing to live further out, is it because property is cheaper, or is it a lifestyle decision? Is the cost of commuting off-set against cheaper housing outside of London and higher salaries within London?

Whatever the reasons, the reality is most people no longer live within walking distance of work, this has implications for both employers and employees.

What do commuting employees do during their journey? If by car, the time could be used for thinking, planning and organising. Hands-free technology means phone calls are possible, but must be done safely. Companies are increasingly worried about employees using phones in the car, even if hands-free. The risk of corporate manslaughter charges being brought against Company Directors if an employee on a business call has an accident is increasingly real. More of our clients are asking for policies which ban the use of phones while driving both personal and company cars.

So what about the train? Providing a seat is available, employees could catch up on reading, journals, legal documents, presentations etc., peace and quiet for drafting documents, checking emails and planning. Care must be taken and due respect given to privacy when working in a public space. Commuters have been known to leave laptops, top secret papers etc. on a train. Who is in the next seat, who do they work for and what value may your papers have to them! Phone calls on a train or public place may also expose your business to risk. Very often phone calls can be heard throughout the carriage and while stories of your fellow travellers social life may be amusing, someone could benefit from overhearing confidential company information. Working on the train may have its advantages, but care should be taken!

Employers, recruiting someone who lives two hours away need to consider the implications.  An advantage may be they work on their journey, but travelling four hours a day may result in exhaustion and no social life as long days take their toll. Employees may be less flexible about working late, two trains per hour may mean they do not want to stay and finish something vital.

There are children who only see their father or mother at weekends, gone by the time they wake up and asleep by the time they come home. Increasingly, this is not what families want, but many are prepared to accept it while securing jobs closer to home is increasingly difficult to do.

Mediocre Managers

08 Apr
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

Mediocre Managers – how much damage could they do?

If a Manager is mediocre, surely that’s better than completely useless? Let’s think about that……

What skills and attributes does a Manager need?

Looking at this from four points of view:
The Business
An Employee
The HR Department or Senior Management
The Customer

Google ‘Manager’ and the definitions and descriptions are endless, but some key ones include:

  • A leader first and foremost, someone people feel happy to follow
  • Ability to manage a team on a day to day basis
  • Excellent coaching and training skills
  • Knowledge of the business, products & systems
  • Good time management, ability to prioritise
  • Problem solver / decision maker
  • Approachability – door always open
  • Good communicator and listener
  • Empathetic – able to put themselves in the person’s shoes
  • Well presented, with good verbal and written skills

Quite a long list and by no means exhaustive, so what would happen if the person managing your team, speaking to your customers or managing you just doesn’t measure up?

This could lead to all sorts of problems. Employees may leave because they have been poorly treated or do not feel they have enough support. Backlogs may occur as work is not dealt with in a timely fashion, and wrong decisions may be made affecting your business. Customers may not get the first class service they pay for and buy less from you, or worse still stop using your company completely. Remember, bad news travels a whole lot faster than good!

And finally, your HR department or Senior Management may have a whole raft of problems to deal with including performance management,disciplinaries, grievances and dismissals. Prevention is better than cure!

Thinking about each key area in turn

The Business

Recruitment is key when looking for the right person. Really think about what you want the person to achieve in your business. Get your job description and advert right. When recruiting, plan out what you want to ask, key questions that are relevant to your business and take time to make a decision.

Once you have the person on board, draw up a performance plan, training plan and an agreed schedule of 121’s.  By catching a problem early, such as a poorly performing Manger, you can use timely and specific interventions and prevent long term damage to your business. Your training plan can address areas of weakness and development. Training can come in lots of different formats, from attending external courses, mentoring / shadowing, reading manuals and online information etc. Take advantage of whatever is out there to turn your Manager into the person who is going to shine!

Having a performance management plan in place will allow you to assess performance regularly and if there is an issue and the person just isn’t measuring up, will give you the evidence to take further action in the form of a disciplinary and even dismissal.

The Employee

What do you do if your own line Manager is mediocre and not supporting you? Well, jumping ship may seem like a good idea if things have got really bad, but the only person who that will affect is you. So take action first.  If speaking to them is getting you no-where, then ask to speak to their line Manager, plan very carefully what you want to say, as you do not want to come across as whinging. Hopefully, that will instigate some changes.

The Customer

As a customer, what would you do if you were getting less than fantastic service from a person within a supplier? Well the obvious action is to complain, put your thoughts in writing, and be constructive about what has happened and why you are unhappy. Give the company the opportunity to respond and resolve. Ultimately, if you do not get a response you are happy with, vote with your feet.

HR or Senior Management

Finally, mediocrity can cause problems for HR and Senior Management of the Company too. If a Manager is not managing effectively, HR or a Senior Manager often has to pick up the pieces. Even something such as managing performance is time consuming, with more regular 121’s, Performance Improvement Plans and regular monitoring needed and if the situation is not resolved and a disciplinary or dismissal is needed, this will  be time consuming and sometimes  costly.

So a mediocre Manager really isn’t acceptable and can affect so many different areas of a business. Taking action quickly whatever your interaction can prevent / resolve things getting out of hand.

For more information on managing staff effectively and
putting policy into place please contact DOHR on 01923 504 100 or email

Work Experience

25 Feb
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

As a parent, I am keen for my child to get proper work experience within a corporate environment; as an employer I am keen that I hire suitably qualified staff who have real life work experience; but as an employer, can I provide the work experience that today’s youngsters need?


Knowing what employers value more is sometimes a difficult question, even for the employers themselves to answer. Do they want someone with an English degree or are they happy to take a 22 year old with 5 years work experience in an office environment?

At the end of the day, employers need to understand what skills and experience, knowledge and application a person would need to perform the job to the highest standards. There are plenty of teachers with a degree who have no idea how to interact effectively with young children, there are highly qualified doctors with no bedside manners at all and there are scientists with all the knowledge in the world, but no idea how to use their skill to help the world.

At the same time, there are businessmen who have no qualifications at all running some of the largest corporations in the world, there are healthcare assistants who bring light to the hearts of many and certainly have no formal training and there are nursery care assistants in whom we trust the care of our children who left school with only the minimal of qualifications, if we are lucky, yet they show a level of care and understanding that provides parents with security.

Being good at something is not just about studying the theory, it is knowing how to apply it and then practicing it again and again. There is a saying I have used for many many years: “Tell me and I will know, Show me and I will understand, involve me and I will remember” This applies to all aspects of life, but knowing how to behave in the workplace, how to turn up on time, dress appropriately, speak to people with respect and deliver on deadlines are all fundamental business skills that must not only be taught, but be practiced.

There are work experience schemes running in schools, collages and universities. If you are interested in finding out more about work experience, how to set up a scheme and what you would need to provide for a meaningful work experience ‘experience’, do not hesitate to get in touch.

Do I have to pay staff if they don’t come to work due to the snow?

18 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Absence, Annual Leave, Bad weather, Blog, pay, snow   |  No Comments

On days like today, when the snow is falling steadily and settling rapidly, we are often asked about withholding pay for absent staff.

Our first response is always “What does your contract say”? 

As a general rule, if staff are absent from work and it is not for pre arranged holiday, then as an employer, you are not required to pay for the missed day. If your contract indicates that you will, ‘for reasons beyond their control’ then you must!

In many cases, employers will work with employees to find the most appropriate compromise. Imagine a retail shop – you need to keep trading, so arranging to change the rosters so that people who can get to work do so and those who can’t, cover more shifts to make up the time once the snow has passed.

If you run an office based business, can employees work from home? A little forward planning might mean people taking laptops home when they wouldn’t normally and forwarding desk phones to mobiles, ‘just in case’.

If staff do make it into work and then their child’s school shuts, parents do have the right to unpaid time of to resolve family emergencies and a school closure would be considered to be just such an emergency.

One option that many employers explore is forcing staff to take the day as holiday. It is not possible to force holiday upon people with such short notice, however if an employee suggests it (rather than having the day unpaid) and you as the employer are comfortable with that approach, then there is no reason why the compromise can not be agreed.

So what then happens if the weather deteriorates during the day and you send your staff home, what are your obligations then? Well, if you close the office preventing staff from carrying out their duties, then you are not allowed to make any deduction from salary.

As an ideal, your contracts of employment or employee handbook, should document a policy and procedure relating to snow days.

As an employer, you have a legal obligation to ensure that your employees are working in a healthy and safe environment. Be mindful of field based staff and drivers. Don’t force them to work if it is not safe for them to do so, as you could end up with a corporate manslaughter case on your hands. Issue advice about bad weather driving and ensure they have emergency provisions in their vehicles. Be prepared to cover accommodation costs if your mobile staff get caught away from home stranded by the snow.

Page 10 of 19« First...89101112...Last »