Detox if you want to

My timeline tells me that there is an increasing interest in the so-called ‘digital detox’.

I don’t get it.

As well as working in HR, I am also a qualified personal trainer.  In that world, we often see reference to detoxing.  In the physical context, detoxing as it is often portrayed, is unnecessary.  A cynic might even say it is a manufactured concept designed to sell products.  And there are a lot of products.

Generally speaking, our bodies do not any need help to ‘detox’.  They are fully capable of managing the process for themselves.  It is the function of the liver.

That is not to say you can’t help it along with way with a healthy diet and drinking habits.

Detoxing in the fitness and diet space is usually about the denial of something that we perceive to be bad for us.  Giving up alcohol or a particular food stuff.  Cleansing our bodies and diets on the assumption that this will improve our health.  When it comes to the plethora of supporting products, there is little evidence, beyond the anecdotal, that they actually do.

Detoxing is always popular after Christmas.  After a period of indulgence, we try to undo the excesses of the season with a quick fix, as the ‘new year, new you’ marketing juggernaut swings into action.

When it comes to health, what we really need more than a detox is consistent good habits and balance.  Something that applies to the digital world too.

I saw an article recently advocating a detox retreat.  A holiday without access to technology.  No wifi, no devices.

But for most of us, giving up technology means turning off our lives – as well as the benefits it brings us.  Over an average couple of days, I will use technology to do my banking, shop for groceries, listen to music, catch up with the news, watch tv and chat to my friends.

There is nothing wrong with this, for me.  Just like with diet and health, it is all about common sense and where necessary, moderation.  It doesn’t need to be about turning everything off or giving something up entirely, but finding balance in all things – for the long term.

In the same way that you do not need to buy detox socks to draw impurities from your body through your feet (yes really) you don’t need to pay for a retreat or rush to extremes.

Just look at your habits.  Reflect.  For health, or for technology.  If they are not helping you, make some small changes for the better.  This is what makes those changes sustainable.  Most diets and health regimes fail, often because the change is too much, too soon, or doesn’t work with our everyday lives over the long term.  Turning off the tech for a while may help with us to reflect on our habits, but it also isn’t sustainable in our world today.

And if being constantly connected works for you, then don’t feel under pressure to change.  Do what works for you, in all things.

Time for a menopause policy?

I’m doing some policy work at the moment.

A little while ago the question arose…. Should we have a policy on the menopause at work?

My immediate response, fuelled by a general dislike of having a policy for everything, was…. no. Why would we need one?

And then I educated myself a little bit more.

It’s an area that is getting increasing focus from government, trade unions and organisations. You can find a recent publication here.

Here is what I now know.

Women are working later in life than they did in the past.

If we take the typical age that women experience the menopause, over 4m could be working through this life transition in the UK.

For some women, the symptoms can be severe and debilitating. There’s various research, but around 10-15% of women experience very severe symptoms.

Symptoms vary – but many can impact upon work either practically or in terms of confidence.

At the same time, for many women, it’s hard to talk about their menopause in the workplace – especially to male, younger managers.

Some women find coping strategies. Others opt to hide their symptoms.

Women are concerned about how they will be perceived if they talk about it. Some research points to discrimination and inappropriate comments and banter (otherwise known has harassment) about the menopause.

More research pointed to the increased likelihood of negative reactions in male dominated environments – making women even less likely to speak out.

We’ve seen the matter of the menopause in the employment tribunal too. The leading case involves a women being dismissed for performance, which she alleged was as a result of her menopause and associated health conditions.  The dismissing (male) manager made no attempt to verify this with Occupation Health, and instead based his decision on the (non severe) menopause experiences of his wife and HR advisor……. I’ll just leave that there.

On my commute today I saw a poll on Twitter, asking if women should get ‘menopause leave’. The evidence is clear that menopause is an experience that differs significantly from woman to woman.  So a one stop shop piece of legislation or ‘right to request time off’ isn’t the answer.

Small changes are sometimes all that is needed. If you provide uniform, making sure it’s made of natural fibres, or providing more than normal so that women can change at work.  Small adjustments to working hours or breaks for women who are experiencing sleep problems or fatigue.  Ventilation, fans and access to cold drinking water or changing facilities.

Above all, like with most people stuff, it is about dialogue.  Creating the conditions where conversations are safe, people feel like they can raise the difficult stuff and reach out for the support that they really need.

I’m still in the ‘no’ camp on a policy. But a little more awareness, guidance and support where it is needed?  Very definitely yes.

Carewash

I am a big believer in employee wellbeing.

But there’s wellbeing, and there’s wellbeing.

A spectrum. At once end there’s a statement on the corporate website saying that the health and wellbeing of employees is very important to us. Etc.  At the other end, a wellbeing strategy, integrated into the whole of the people agenda.

It’s the occasional bit of free fruit versus employee benefits that enable health.

Managing absence versus supporting attendance.

Too often, what passes as employee wellbeing is just carewash.

Statements without substance.

Token gestures.

Individual, one off wellbeing events can make a difference.  They can send a signal, or start a journey.

A half day of health checks at a place I once worked led to an employee being diagnosed with a previously unknown and potentially life threatening medical condition. (Thank you Andy Romero-Birkbeck).

Of course, not everyone has the budget or resource to do wellbeing well. In which case, a little something is always better than nothing at all.

So do what you can – but only if you mean it.

Employees can spot empty gestures from a great distance.

For wellbeing to really make a difference the case for it needs to be widely understood and accepted. It needs a strategy.  It needs to be integrated in everything that you do.

Consider how, in the public sector, we assess the impact of policies, procedures, changes and initiatives on equality and diversity. If we want to make wellbeing make a difference, for it to be taken seriously and made a priority, then a similar approach is required.

Considering formally and with structure, what would add to wellbeing and what would detract from it. How any negative impacts can be mitigated.  That work stuff that you do – how does it impact upon the physical and mental health of the people that work for you? And then what can you do about it?

If you are serious about it, of course.

Because you are spending more time telling people you do wellbeing than you spend actually doing wellbeing, then you don’t really mean it.  If you have a wellbeing programme because everyone else has one, or if you are doing wellbeing because it is good for your employer brand, then maybe this isn’t genuine wellbeing at all.

Maybe what you have got instead, is carewash.

The most important right of all?

Employment rights have been much in the news of late. The Taylor Report into good work makes a number of recommendations.  I won’t cover them here as finer minds than mine have already done so.

When the law changes for any reason, people like me have to make the necessary changes to HR policies.

But as I have said many times before, when we have to revert to employment law, when we have to find a company policy on the intranet to determine what to do in any particular set of circumstances, sometimes we are half way to losing something important.

Losing our ability to see someone as the individual that they are.

The opportunity to consider the unique context.

The need for common sense, always.

Even the entire argument.

When we defer our decisions to documents, we run the risk of losing our ability to be compassionate, to apply a little tolerance, to treat people as humans and not resources.

The one right we should all have at work, is to be our imperfect human self.

And a simple, human conversation, is our most significant opportunity to change any work situation for the better.

All the policy that is fit to print

I am spending a whole lot of time at the moment writing people policy. It’s one of the main areas of focus for my interim work.

On people policies, I so often hear the same complaint:

The policy doesn’t work.

Of course sometimes this means something else. I don’t like this policy.  Enforcing this policy isn’t my job. I don’t want to have this conversation.

 

Here is what I know about people policy:

You can write whatever you like .

You can agree approaches with your trade unions or employee forums.

You can establish a tone of voice and a format. You can make the language inclusive.

You can place responsibilities wherever you wish.

You can produce accompanying guidance notes and toolkits and flowcharts.

You can introduce all of the above with great internal communication and mandatory training.

You can consider the impact on equality and diversity.

You can follow all of the best practice.

 

But so what?

Documents don’t change stuff. People do.

 

Policies can fall down in the drafting. Documents written in the abstract, following what is the so-called best approach rather than what is right for the context. Only in my experience, that’s rarely the issue.  When companies tell me that they have a problem with their policies, often isn’t the policy itself that is the problem, it is the application – and the lack of consequences.

The problem is not in the drafting but the doing.

If your absence policy says return to work interviews are compulsory but no one does them, is the policy wrong or the manager who doesn’t bother?

If probation reviews are seen as vital, but you don’t actually monitor completion and the only time they take place is when someone is underperforming, where does the fault lie?

Are there any consequences for ignoring the policy? Does anyone care?

I will always favour people doing people stuff because it is the right thing not the told to do it by HR thing. I don’t want HR to be about compliance.

But…..

Policies are targeted at employees.  What they can do and what they can’t.  Sanctions. Responsibilities. Requirements.

The question arises…..

Who manages the managers?

You can have all of the policies that are fit to print, but what matters is that documents come alive. That they make the transition from paper to real life action.

HR can listen, draft, consult, support, guide, teach.

But ultimately it’s the people manager that make this stuff happen, in the every day.  And if they are not, the response shouldn’t be to change the policy or produce more checklists, flowcharts and scripts.

Its about skills – and accountability.

Social media and conflict in the workplace

Today I am at Manchester Metropolitan University, sitting on a panel to talk about social media and its impact on employee relations, and specifically on conflict at work.

The panel is mostly academic types, and I am there to provide the practitioner viewpoint. I seem to be one of the only tweeters, so I guess I might be providing the advocate viewpoint too.

So in advance, I am collecting my thoughts on the topic.

Whilst there are other theoretical positions, I think most people will agree on a practical level, conflict at work is inevitable. Frankly, so is social media.  Whilst there are plenty of individuals who aren’t interested in it, and many organisations still yet to catch on, in a world where there are 2billion people on one network, we can be assured it isn’t going away.

Social media has fundamentally and irrevocably shifted the way we communicate – at work and at home. The ever increasing blurring of home life and work life sees a spill over of technology and social media into every corner of our lives.  Social media is a place in which conflict can arise or present itself.  In many ways, it is merely the medium, not the cause.  But this spill over has the potential to move it out of the workplace.  Conflict doesn’t end at 5pm when we can connect so easily with colleagues in a virtual space.

The expectations of employees are changing as a result of technology. As consumers, we are used to ordering goods to arrive on the same day, tweeting a brand to share our dissatisfaction, having information at our fingertips via the devices in our pockets.  Why wouldn’t we want this at work too?

Consider typical methods of conflict resolution. A lengthy grievance procedure.  Multiple meetings.  Letters and policy.  Who has got time for that?  I read a paper recently on innovation in conflict management.  This so-called innovation involved rolling out internal mediation.  Hardly my definition of innovation.  I trained as a mediator a decade ago, and it was old school then.

These days, our employees are much more likely to post a bad review on Glassdoor or share their frustrations on Facebook. And here is where social media changes workplace conflict in another way – what used to be contained within a letter in the HR office or to a few friends down the pub, can be seen by the many – and lasts longer too.

For the social media generation (which spans age related stereotypes) are we likely to see them raise a formal grievance, or just tweet about it instead?

There are plenty of people queuing up to tell you about the risks social media can bring to your workplace. Companies still fighting the inevitable and blocking sites on the corporate network.  But when we consider the risks, we must also acknowledge the significant rewards too.

My view is that just maybe, social media, instead of being a place for conflict, could just be your best employee relations opportunity.

Social media is about conversation. Transparency.  Community.  Interaction. It is about building trust.  Availability of information.

And so is good employee relations.

If I go back to the theory for a moment, trust is at the heart of a good employee relations culture. When there is trust, there is less of a requirement for formal, traditional mechanisms.

The theory also tells us about the importance of employee voice. For many writing about employee relations, this means formal structures for employee representation.  Personally, I’d rather find my CEO on Twitter and engage with him or her there than raise an issue through the inevitable bureaucracy of trade union consultation.

In many organisations that I have worked in, there has been a gap. A gap of communication and information.  A gap in visible leadership.  A gap where meaningful voice can be spoken and heard.   A gap in trust.

Social media has the potential to fill some of these gaps. If we take the time, if we invest in it.

Although social media has been around for a while now, in many ways, in the workplace it is still an unfolding dynamic. For organisations it is still new space.

But for those places who want what the employee engagement lobby promises but doesn’t always deliver, maybe social media the place to start.

What HR can learn from going to the cinema

This is one of those ‘lessons you can learn from’ posts. I don’t write them very often, but I had such a pleasant customer experience recently, it got me thinking.

I love going to watch a film at the cinema. But it’s something though that I rarely do, as I don’t enjoy the experience that surrounds it.  Usually, there is queuing involved.  To buy tickets, to pick up pre-paid tickets, for the toilets, for popcorn, and then to get into the actual screening.  Then there is the bit that bugs me most of all.  The adverts.  I am a stickler for punctuality.  If I go to see a film that is starting at 7.30, I’d like it to actually do so.  But the time a film is supposed to begin is usually the start of multiple adverts, suggestions to go out and buy more junk food, and trailers for films of an entirely different genre that I don’t want to see.  The actual film probably begins a good 30 minutes after that.

I’m starting to moan. I’m sorry about that.

This weekend I went to a small, local, private cinema. There was no queue.  Just a wave of your phone with the tickets on it.  There was also no queue for the sweets – and you didn’t have to take a mortgage out to buy them.  Best of all was that the film began….. on time.  There were just a couple of trailers for similar films. And… there was an intermission.  Where someone came out and sold ice-cream.  If that wasn’t enough, individual bottles of Proscecco to drink during the screening.

I didn’t love the film all that much. I might, in fact, have had a small nap during it.

But I did love the experience.

First of all, it felt personal. They clearly understand what their customers want and value, they deliver it.  In the march of progress they had held on to the special touches, like the intermission and the ice cream seller.  The staff were friendly – and didn’t appear to have targets to upsell you a larger popcorn.

There wasn’t the range of sweet stuff you get in a big screen cinema. No fancy reclining seats. And no hot food either (because there’s nothing like sitting next to the guy with the highly odorous hot dog).

In much the same way that we have seen consumers begin to value once again the small, independent and local retailers over huge out of town supermarkets, what we want as customers and as employees has changed over time.

On one hand, we want speed and immediacy. Quick responses on Twitter. Products at our doors in ever decreasing time frames.  But at the same time we want something personal.  We don’t want to feel like a cog in a machine.  Processed.

When it comes to people stuff, big isn’t necessarily better. One size only fits one.  Targets, as we know, have unintended consequences. What is valued, is highly variable for different people. For all I love technology, it is possible to lose the human touch along the way.  We don’t have to automate the heck out of everything.

While fast and fancy is good, we don’t necessarily want to trade experience and feeling for it.

Less, can most definitely be more.

 

There’s probably also a HR lesson in the price of pic n mix…. but I’m still working on that.