How much influence does an employer have?

This week’s blog is again inspired by a radio interview I’ve given (5th September on BBC Three Counties Radio). The item was inspired by the news in The Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/ditch-the-plastic-cups-or-face-sack-staff-told-5jd07x3l5# that Sheffield based Intelligent Hand Dryers had banned single-use plastics from the office and anyone found with a banned item would risk being fired from the business on ‘a three strikes and you’re out’ basis.

I often get asked to provide the professional narrative on people related stories in the news and I also find that they are often quite repetitive in themes:

  • Document it
  • Communicate it
  • Train people in it
  • Follow your own policies and processes
  • Keep consistent so you don’t discriminate

But somehow this story, while the above all still held true, had a slightly different dimension to it: Company Culture.

How to make a quick impact on your company culture

In our last blog https://dohr.co.uk/do-you-need-to-worry-about-the-well-being-of-your-staff/ we also looked at Company Culture, but was focussed on the need to make changes from the top to embed a culture of wellbeing. In this week’s story, the Managing Director, Andrew Cameron had done just that.

Andrew was frustrated with the amount of waste being generated from excess paper, leaving lights on and purchasing food without environmentally friendly packaging. Andrew decided to implement a new policy which all employees are obliged to comply with.

My interviewer’s first question was: “Most of us are trying to save the planet, is this guy on the right track?” and my short answer was “yes!”

 

If someone believes in something and they practice what they preach and can convince others to join them, then they are able to make a difference, no matter how small that difference may be. What Mr Cameron has done here is created a culture in his business which will help him to not only make a difference to the environmental impact of his company, but to attract and retain the right people. People who believe in the same things as he does – it creates a much nicer workplace when you are not constantly fighting against the company culture or practices.

In terms of introducing such a policy, as long as an employer is not changing the basis of the contract of employment such as working hours, pay, sick leave or annual leave, then as a general rule, an employer can bring in a new policy.

Introduce it right

How a new policy is introduced will play a significant role in how well it is accepted by staff and whether it becomes embedded in the business, but as per the process outlined above, as long as it is introduced properly, then the business owner has the right to introduce policies he believes in.

On the face of it, the harshness of this policy comes in the ‘3 strikes and your out’ element. An employer can not see a crisp packet on the corner of someone’s desk or in their bin and issue the first strike!

The company’s normal disciplinary policy and procedures must apply. In short, the employee must be invited to a meeting, given the right to be accompanied, be given at least 48 hours notice and be presented with the evidence against them.

In the meeting, they must be able to defend themselves against the evidence i.e. because someone else threw the rubbish in their bin as they walked past, here is my receipt from my lunch, I bought in a packed lunch with no plastics etc.

The outcome of the meeting must be confirmed in writing and the employee needs to be given the right to appeal against the decision.

It is possible to issue a first written warning, a final written warning and then a dismissal i.e. 3 strikes and your out, based on following the above procedure.

 

Consistency is really important. An employer would risk a bullying, harassment or discrimination claim if one employee was picked up for a breach of rules on numerous occasions, but a blind eye was turned on other people’s breaches, perhaps because they were seen as too valuable to the business to lose.

In the case of IHD, the Managing Director made a couple of changes in the workplace which were also seen as positive and making it a bit easier for staff to move away from single use plastics. This included the free supply of fruit and home made cakes so that staff didn’t need to buy plastic wrapped snacks.

There are a number of challenges which will face the staff of IHD. The first is that they need to make a mindset shift. This will be easier for some than others. They need to be organised and bring food from home using reusable plastic food containers and lunch boxes. The positive impact of this is that people will be thinking about healthier options than crisps and chocolate bars. They may also change their habits at home to cut down on single use plastics and to recyle more.

The second challenge links lack of time and lack of choice. Where an employee isn’t able to prepare their lunch at home and still wants to purchase a sandwich, salad, crisps, chocolate bar or a drink, there is very little choice for packaging free food on the high street. Some supermarkets are trialling ‘bring your own’ (containers) for some products, but it is certainly not widely available at the present time and even products packed in cardboard often have clear plastic cellophane windows.

 

The reality for employees

So, what is the answer for the employees who want to keep their jobs, comply with company policies and don’t have the time or ability to bring lunch from home?

The first is eat-in at local coffee bars, restaurants etc. but this can get expensive and probably isn’t particularly healthy. The second is once you have purchased your non-compliant lunch, go find somewhere else to eat it and do not take it onto company premises. If you drive to work, this might be sitting in your car or otherwise on a nice warm day, on a park bench.

As I said in my radio interview, increasing number of employees are being picky about who they work for. This is often seen as graduates, but now also extends to more experienced members of the workforce. They want to work for great employers with good ethical track records. By introducing a policy such as ‘no single use plastics’, the employer is positioning themselves as an employer of choice, making recruitment and retention that bit easier, at a time when finding and keeping good quality staff is getting harder.

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