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Key Employment Law Changes For SMEs To Watch Out For This Autumn

It’s that time of year…. As a business owner, it can often feel like there’s constantly a new piece of legislation on the horizon that you need to make sure that you’re compliant with. There’s no denying that it can sometimes be tricky and confusing, but the first step is to ensure that you know exactly what’s coming. This means that you can plan your next steps, and make any necessary changes so everything in your business is above board.

Let’s take a look at what you need to be aware of as we make our way into the final quarter…

  • Increased National Minimum Wage for certain age groups

From 1st October 2016, the National Minimum Wage for those under 25 but at least 21 will rise to £6.95 per hour. For workers who are at least 18 but under 21, the new rate will be £5.55. If you employ staff who are under 18 but no longer of compulsory school age, then you’ll have to pay a minimum of £4 per hour. Similarly, the apprenticeship rate will be increased to £3.40 per hour.

Staff aged 25 and above are unaffected by these changes, and the National Living Wage remains at £7.20 per hour.

The bottom line here is that if you employ younger members of staff, you need to make sure that you’re paying them what they’re legally entitled to.

  • Workplaces employing illegal foreign workers could be closed down

Employers who have neglected their duty to stamp out illegal working here in the UK could find that access to their premises is prevented for up to 48 hours. This could potentially be extended to 12 months, if a further order is made.

Though there’s no confirmed date for when this will come into force, it’s thought that it will be sooner rather than later.

If you’re concerned that you may have missed out important checks during your recruitment processes, now’s the time to take action and ensure that you have everything in order.

  • Sunday shop workers will have extended employment rights

Plans to allow local authorities to extend trading hours on Sundays were recently halted, but through the Enterprise Act 2016, the government will be giving shop workers greater rights when working on the Sabbath. These will include the right to object to working more than their usual hours on Sundays, and for those working in larger shops, a reduction in the notice period for opting out of Sunday working.

Again, the commencement date of this is is yet to be announced, though it makes sense for those in the retail industry to start making plans as soon as possible.

  • And one for the radar…. Gender pay gap reporting

Although it won’t impact small businesses, you should be aware of the knock on efect htat gender pay gap reportng is liekly to have as pay gaps become more visible. Employers with 250 or more employees will be required top ublish details of their gender pay gap and gender bonus gap on a yearly basis. It’s thought that the first reports will need to be published by April 2018, so we’ll be on the edge of our seats for that one…..

Navigating changes to employment law can be tricky, though it’s vitally important that you take the time to ensure that you’re fulfilling your responsibilities. Would you like to speak to an experienced professional about making sure that your policies and practices are compliant?

If so, get in touch today at or by calling 0203 627 7048 to arrange an initial, no-obligation consultation. We’ll pinpoint any potential issues that are at play in your workplace, and give you practical advice around what you need to do next.

TheHRhub: The ultimate HR support for startups and SMEs.

Photocredit: Flickr Meia Weinstock

Create An Employee Handbook That Doesn’t Send Your Team To Sleep

Call them what you will – Employee Handbook, Staff Manual, Operating Procedure, Playbook  – for many companies, they are one of the most common ways of setting the standards for what you expect in your workplace and are given to employees to read when they first start. Often they include things such as how you get paid, what to do in a fire, what happens if the company doesn’t think you are not doing your job etc. Or just a general collection of all the policies ever written in the business that someone thinks you might need at some point. Maybe.

I’ve written and read hundreds in my time. And not many I would want to do so more than once (and therefore haven’t!). The reason being that most are relentlessly dull. Written by many for the sole purpose of having one there to bring out and dust down to prove in a case of disciplinary/ grievance/ policy breach/ tribunal that you had a policy on whatever in question. They are in this case seen as the last line of defence. The ‘Goalie’ of your employment practices.

But the odds of you needing them for such a purpose are slim. And even if you do so, no amount of “we had a policy on that” will guarantee you a free pass if it is clearly at odds with how you’re actually operating as a business.

A handbook is an great way of communicating your culture, as well as one which sets expectations for your team and which helps them feel at home as well as understand what to do if they go off sick. So why not spend all that time putting creating a handbook which people will actually read. Which reflects your culture and practices. Which is actually useful to managers and employees alike? You are much more likely to ensure that expectations are set (often in a lot of important areas that need to be made clear) and that all of your team read and understand your handbook if you make sure that it is engaging, relevant and real. If it actually reflects the culture of your business and the practices which take place.

It’s not always easy. And it does take a bit of time. But like any good marketing, if you want to ensure that your employee experience is as good as your customers, then it’s worth the investment. To help you out, here are my top ways to help start you off in creating a handbook which is engaging, relevant and readable for your audience of internal customers:

  1. Keep it short: if it’s as long as the bible it just won’t get read. Or if you can’t keep it short….
  2. Make sure you can navigate it easily: whether it’s a word document, google docs or online, structure it in a way which can include appropriate guidance/ hyperlinks to help people to the right places.
  3. Be less officious: avoid the Latin in your writing and stick to the Germanic. “The working day commences at 9.00am’? Is that how you would speak normally? Nope. Thought not.
  4. Avoid punitive language. You know the type. “The employee cannot/ should not/ will not etc” . It’s okay occasionally when you want to really ram something home, however anything more than a light sprinkle of this and your team will feel like they are instantly transported back to school…
  5. Use pictures or videos (or emoticons): no-one made a rule that you only have to have words in your handbook and like any other form of marketing, images are much more engaging than words most of the time🙋🙌🙀 Ok, Ok. So only if they’re relevant!
  6. Lend some humour: inserting inappropriate jokes inside the ‘what to do if you get sick’ paragraph might be a bit out of place and undermine what your message is, but done in the right way, any document which makes its reader smile is likely to stick
  7. Make it available: Don’t just print off a hard copy and chuck it in a drawer. Ensure you share on whichever online collaboration tools you use.
  8. Make it personal: it will be full of practices which apply to everyone, but don’t forget to speak to the reader. That means more ‘You’ and less ‘The employee’.
  9. Keep it live: Don’t forget to update it on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean that people need to re-sign it every year (a practice I personally don’t believe in – after all, most handbooks are non-contractual for very good reasons). But businesses evolve. So make sure your handbook does.
  10. Reinforce it: whatever is written down, make sure it is how you actually operate beyond the pages.

For more help and advice at every step of the employee journey (including creation of employee handbooks)  sign up to theHRhub – the ultimate online support service for SMEs. ser

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Photo Credit: j_lai – Toyko-09

HR Horrors: Managing The Underperformance Of A Longstanding Employee

When we think about underperformance we predominantly relate it to new or nearly new employees, when issues can be put down to recruiting the wrong person or mismanagement in those precious first few months . After all, the process of finding the right member of staff can be tricky, and there are many things that you need to do to ensure that you’re giving individuals everything they need to hit the ground running.

But what if you have a member of staff who has been with you for quite a while, someone who previously has always made a solid contribution, and you suddenly start to notice that their performance is slipping?

These circumstances present a unique set of challenges. And if you find yourself in this situation, it’s really important that you know exactly what to do to address the problems and get things back on the right track.

It’s essential that you don’t panic. Read on – we’re going to walk you through absolutely everything that you need to know:

Don’t Pretend That It’s Not Happening

If your member of staff has previously met their goals and made a strong contribution to the company, then you might think that the best approach is to just wait and see what happens. After all, doesn’t everyone go through patches when they’re feeling a little unmotivated?

Take this approach and you may well find that things fix themselves. But this is absolutely NOT the thing to do though if you’re serious about growing a strong and engaged workforce. The wider team will soon notice if you start treating certain individuals differently and you’ll run into problems sooner rather than later. Perception and trust are important. You need to act with integrity and in a timely manner.

Nobody wants to have difficult conversations, especially when it’s with valued members of staff who have been with the business for a long time. As a leader though, it’s your duty.

If you’re struggling to bite the bullet and take action on the situation, take a step back and think about things objectively. Emotions can overtake your common sense, and no one’s expecting you to be a machine. How is this person not meeting your standards exactly? What impact is this having on productivity, profits, and relations within the team? Often, you’ll quickly realise that you have no other option.

Get Together For An Informal Chat About The Situation

You don’t need to blow things out of proportion. The beauty of being proactive is that you can often nip problems in the bud and get things back on the right track without any hassle or fuss.

As a first port of call, arrange an informal meeting with the individual in question. Raise your concerns about the problems you’ve become aware of. Speak to them about what they feel is going wrong, and find out if there’s anything that you can do to support them.

There’s a whole host of issues that could be at play. Pinpointing precisely what is going wrong is the first step in getting things back on course. It could be the case that they’ve been working on the same projects for a very long time, and they’re struggling to stay engaged. They may have problems outside of the workplace that are having an impact on their performance.

Don’t jump to any assumptions before you’ve got all the information, and be sure to act on the details that you take away from the meeting. Almost all leaders and managers will say that they listen to their members of staff, but all too often, they’re just going through the motions. Make sure that you don’t make this mistake.

Put An Improvement Plan In Place

Once you’ve spoken with your employee and you’ve agreed that changes need to be made, it’s absolutely vital that you create a structured and detailed improvement plan. Simply telling the member of staff that they need to make changes is not enough. It’s ambiguous, it’s open to interpretation, and it’s not going to help anyone.

Instead, set objective goals for the individual to meet. Make sure that your employee agrees to them, and get them down in writing. From here, you can arrange to have follow-up discussions to assess the progress that is being made.

It’s important that the plan will help you to get things back on track, but don’t expect miracles overnight. Consistent, small changes are often more sustainable, and will be easier to manage.

Provide The Necessary Support

It’s not enough to agree to the necessary changes and then assume that everything will fall into place. You need to ensure that your employee has the support that they need. Of course, what this will look like in practical terms will depend on the individual and the specific circumstances in hand.

It may be the case that extra training is required. It’s worth noting though that going down the more formal route is not the only option, and there are many things that you can do within the workplace on a day-to-day basis that will ensure your staff feel supported.

For example, you could allocate mentors and coaches, arrange regular catch-up meetings, and invite plenty of feedback around what you could do to help staff to reach their goals. Again, listening is essential. Remember that your workers are individuals, with differing needs and preferences, and a one-size-fits-all approach will rarely create the results that you’re looking for. For more on this check out our article Learning On A Shoestring: How To Develop Your People Without Breaking The Bank.

Act In Accordance With Your Policies And Procedures

Your policies and procedures exist to uphold standards. They ensure that you act in accordance with the law, that your staff are treated fairly and equally, and that everyone is working towards wider goals and objectives. So make sure that you’re using them! 

Sometimes though, you can find that your policies are no longer fit for purpose. They may be outdated, or you may realise that you haven’t been implementing them in the way that you initially intended. You may find our article HR Policies: Everything SME Leaders Need To Know  a helpful read here. 

If you have concerns about how equipped you are to manage underperformance, then we can help. Get in touch today at or by calling 0203 627 7048 to arrange an initial, no-obligation consultation. We’ll pinpoint any potential issues that are at play in your workplace, and give you practical advice around what you need to do next.

TheHRhub: The ultimate HR support for startups and SMEs.

Photocredit: Flickr Spadge6868

How SME Leaders Should Be Communicating With Staff (no loudspeaker required…)

We’ve all been there – pulling our hair out because of our peers and colleagues and their apparent inability to communicate properly. Nowadays we have fewer opportunities and second chances to get our point across (there’s less time, people are increasingly distracted and on top of all that our words and actions can live in the digital world for an eternity) so it’s vital that as a business leader you get your communication right first time.

Don’t be the leader that everybody is moaning about because of your lack tangible instruction. There are some fast and easy wins when it comes to communication….

Here are our top 5 tips on how to communicate more effectively when you’re an SME leader:

Be Trustworthy: In a small business it’s imperative that you are or your employees won’t open up to you if they don’t feel that they can trust you. When people have a sense a leader is worthy of their trust they will invest time and take risks in ways they never would if their leader had a reputation built upon poor character or lack of integrity. Sounds simple? Yes, it can be.  While you can attempt to demand trust, it rarely works (and even if it does you won’t earn much respect). Trust is best created by earning it with the right acting, thinking, and decision making. Keep in mind people will forgive many things where trust exists, but will rarely forgive anything where trust is absent.

Get Personal: Stop using corporate communications as your only channel of speaking to your employees. Start to have conversations with them instead. If you are stuck in an office all day with your head buried in your laptop you are going to miss the opportunity to connect with your employees and here’s the thing – the more personal and engaging your conversation is the more effective it will be.

The majority of papers and guidance on this subject will advise you to stay at arm’s length when it comes to your employees but totally isolating yourself from your employees will leave you in the dark receiving a watered-down (or worse, exaggerated) version of the truth. If you don’t develop meaningful relationships with employees, you’ll never know what’s really on their minds until it’s too late to do anything about.

It’s a cliché but, having an “Open Door” policy where your employees feel comfortable bringing anything to your attention, at any time, can be immensely beneficial to you and your business, not to mention make you more approachable.  One of the biggest obstacles that employees face is how they can communicate with managers, Directors and CEO’s and as a result of this apprehension, many employees may choose to avoid bringing up important points and this could be blocking the flow of communication in your business.

Be Specific: I have never come across an individual who likes ambiguity and it’s unlikely that you have either.  Learn to communicate with clarity. Simple and concise is always better than complicated and confusing and your employees will thank you for the direct approach (even if sometimes they don’t like the message!). Time has never been a more precious commodity than it is today and it is critical that leaders learn how to cut to the – it’s also important to expect the same from others. Weed out the inconsequential information and relay the important parts of your message.

Shut-up And Listen To Your Employees!: As a leader you should know when to dial it up, dial it down, and dial it off.  Simply broadcasting your message or making announcements in the middle of the office will not have the same result as engaging in meaningful conversations. Remember that the greatest form of discourse takes place within a conversation, and not a lecture or a monologue, knowledge is gained by listening and engaging in meaningful conversation and not simply speaking at your employees. When speaking to your employees keep an open mind, good leaders takes their game to a whole new level when conversing with employees with opposing positions with the goal not of convincing them to change their minds, but with the goal of understanding what’s on their mind. Don’t be fearful of opposing views, try to have open dialogs with those who confront and challenge you. This in turn this will stretch you, and develop you and your business.

The best communicators are not only skilled at learning and gathering information while communicating, they are also adept at transferring ideas, inspiring action, and spreading their vision. The key is to approach each interaction with a servant’s heart. When you truly focus on contributing more than receiving you will have accomplished the goal.

Take Advantage of Social Media: It’s 2016 and time for all of us to realise there are some messages you can send on Twitter, others that should be sent via email, and then those that need a face to face conversation. The secret in any business is getting this right.

Using the right medium to send a message can make all the difference when it comes to how your message will be received. Social media is likely to have proven to be a powerful tool for you to communicate with your customers yet it may be overlooked when looking at your internal communications. Employees can like, comment, and share with one another interesting posts that may relate to you and your business and this provides them with a constant stream of updates and communication with little effort on your part.

Today, more and more people are using smartphones and tablets for everything. Mobile technologies aren’t going away, and since many modern employees find themselves outside of the office on a regular basis, embracing them when communicating with your employees is of the utmost importance.

If, after all of this, the communication gets messed up, don’t let it fester. Fix it. Of course there will times when no matter how hard you try, the communication with your employees will not go as planned but instead of ignoring the situation and potentially having it get worse try to do something about it. 

Always try to take a moment to put yourself in your employees shoes as it can positively impact your communications with them. Communication skills are the foundation of almost everything you do in your business and your ability to master effective communication will largely contribute to your success, not only at work but in life.

HR Stars: Great Examples Of Employee On Boarding

At this time of year thoughts often turn to recruiting fresh blood. But at the same time, we should also be thinking about how we will keep that new talent and best introduce them to the business.

Our article Your New Starter Checklist: Ensure Newbies Are Set Up For Success gives you some excellent tips . But if you’re wanting that wow factor look no further. Here is our list of the best employee on boarders in the market:


Pre-boarding – yes it’s a thing. It’s where you get the mundane and boring parts of the on-boarding process out of the way before your new starter’s first day. Newbies at  MasterCard are sent a comprehensive welcome email before they start which includes links to company videos and access to a website where they can “update their employment information, upload a photo for their badge, read about learning opportunities and complete paperwork for benefits enrolment, taxes and direct deposit”. Paperless on-boarding isn’t just something for the airport…..


A recent Quora discussion revealed that when it comes to your kit, Netflix gives engineers a choice of laptop and configuration before they start – clearly something that’s hugely important for developers. As well as comprehensive training and meetings with the leadership team early on, a particular highlight mentioned was that new starters were given significant responsibility as soon as they joined, so could make a real impact right from the very start.


For American online retailer Zappos, it’s all about culture. They run a detailed 5 week course for new starters all about their culture and values. After the 5 weeks, if they don’t like what they hear – they can leave with $2000 dollars in their back pocket and no hard feelings – but only 1% chose to do so.


Facebook have a “45 Minute Rule,” where a new starter should be working on something productive within 45 minutes of walking in the door. Developers and project managers attend their famous 6 week bootcamp – long enough says Facebook for both parties to see if there’s the right fit. Here, engineers get acquainted with Facebook’s codebase and get to work on real problems. The idea behind this is to help them get real, hands on experience whilst undergoing a cultural orientation – the Facebook way, described by the Mercury News as “one part employee orientation, one part software training program and one part fraternity/sorority rush.”

Fog Creek

Software company Fog Creek have found online work organisation tool Trello invaluable for getting new starters up to speed. Tasks for new recruits are assigned and tracked via the Trello work boards and because the boards are shared within the team, everyone knows where the new starter is up to and can step in to help if line managers/mentors are away.

If you’ve not had a eureka moment from the list above – perhaps look at some of the products and services you use within your own business for inspiration. We’ve recently started using graphic design tool Canva which helps complete design novices (like us!) create beautiful content in a matter of minutes. Canva takes you by the hand right from the beginning and doesn’t let go. It urges the user to learn the ropes with a step by step video guide, and imbed their learning with fun design examples. Your first experiences with company are really positive and your confidence is buoyed from the off. And help is always on hand – with timely and efficient email support from operatives who can log in and take a look and what your trying to do. Inspired by this, we’ve all hooked up to Convo – a separate communications stream from regular email making inter-team communications (and help for new starters) quicker and easier. We also have regular video conferencing with the team and suppliers – particularly important when a team is working remotely.

And finally, if you’ve got a new employee starting tomorrow take a tip from Birchbox, and place a flag on their desk that says “Say hi, I’m new” to urge the team to get to know their new colleague. Now, I think we could all manage that one….

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Photo Credit: Playing With The Stars by Pedro Vasquez Colmanares