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Olympic sickness absence and how HR can avoid it

Usain Bolt credit Phil McElhinneyFrom the moment news broke that London would be hosting the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, concerns have been voiced in HR circles that ‘sickies’ or sickness absences will soar across businesses during the Games.

Unplanned sickness absence already costs UK businesses 16% of payroll, according to the Institute for Employment Studies, but this could see a worrying hike during July when athletes are thrilling the world with their sporting feats, and workers decide not to miss the action.

What kind of rise in sickness absence should HR managers expect and how can any impact on business be prevented? According to a report in the Telegraph last year, as many as 1 in 6 employees plan to phone in sick during the 2012 Olympics, while 15% of employees intend to take official annual leave, putting a strain on some enterprises.

Statistics such as these are leading HR departments to design ways to head off unplanned sickness absence, keep staff feeling happy and motivated, and even to use the Olympics as a means of bolstering employee engagement.

According to employment relations organisation Acas employers should ensure they plan ahead of the Games and consider more flexible working arrangements to minimise potential disruption. “It’s also important to manage staff expectations to ensure your business runs smoothly,” says an Acas spokesman. “Some members of staff may even get fed up with all the fuss, and any perceived favouritism shown to those with sporting interests.”

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Don’t let a tweet destroy your career progression

Twitter logosWith the job market and the economy currently languishing in the doldrums, it can be harder than ever to get your foot on to the HR career path, or move up the ladder to your next challenge. And to make matters even harder, employers now are using even more sophisticated techniques to carry out background checks on new applicants – including social-media checks.

Through a service pioneered by Social Intelligence Corp, a start-up in California, employers can now receive reports on their prospective next recruit that flag up their social-media usage and history. This means potentially that every ill-advised tweet, dodgy Facebook status or drunken photo can be retrieved and compiled into a fairly enlightening dossier for HR to peruse.

Of course, this isn’t entirely a surprise to job hunters, who have been hearing warnings of such searches for some years now. However, what many don’t realise is just how easy it is to access seemingly private social-media accounts and how permanent online updates are. And if it seems a little ‘Big Brother’, then sadly your concerns are irrelevant. As the Social Intelligence team point out, they aren’t detectives – they gather what’s already available, publicly, online. Increasingly it will become part of the HR department’s job to look into applicants’ online history, and social media activity, as a new stage of the recruitment process.

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Are performance reviews still relevant in 2012?

If you want to know how productive and effective your staff are, how they feel about their careers and what level of job satisfaction they have, then the tried-and-tested method is to conduct a performance review. Traditional thinking in the world of HR considers a regular performance review (at least once a year) the litmus test for all the above questions. But aren’t there drawbacks to performance reviews, limitations that render them much less effective in today’s working world? Working lives, management styles, etiquette, employment law and the reciprocal relationship between employer and employee have all changed in the last few decades. So where does that leave the performance review as a useful diagnostic tool?

Naturally, any employer has a right to know if their staff are performing well and in turn, employees have a right to career development and a level of satisfaction in their work. Many employers and employees dislike the performance-review process. They think it is confrontational and an exercise in making staff fearful about job security. They can feel like an unappreciated cog in a machine and employers are left open to grudges and negativity from staff.

Performance reviews which use forced ranking are particularly fraught with difficulties, especially as it pushes many aspects of employment and employees into constrained boxes. Furthermore, it only allows a certain percentage of employees into each category, whether that is ‘needs improvement’ or ‘exceeds expectations’. In the real world, it is rarely the case that forced ranking will provide an accurate reflection of reality. Worse, it is seen to create distrust among colleagues or encourage favouritism and it can demoralise a whole team. This is hardly the outcome anyone conducting a performance review would hope to achieve.

Other employers see performance reviews simply as a form-filling exercise or a chore to be endured once a year but never referred to again until the next year. Small wonder then that some employees do not feel they are useful or an accurate reflection of their work or their career prospects. If both sides are distrustful of the efficacy of the process, then in all likelihood a company will lose good but frustrated employees and retain underperforming ones who are only interested in treading water. It creates an atmosphere where people are more interested in personal job security, not the collective performance of the team or company as a whole.

Perhaps performance reviews, rather than being about ticking boxes and assigning people to categories or giving them a ranking, should be about feedback and creating a constructive plan for the year ahead, something for company and employee alike to work on. Measuring specific job-related tangibles, if possible in a particular work environment, is an obvious way to see improvement and is more precise than deciding whether or not an individual meets or exceeds expectations based on an arbitrary ranking system.

Forms with set questions on them will never apply to all roles or all individuals and the premise that no one can ever get full marks in a scoring mechanism because ‘there would be nothing left to aim for’ is outdated. If an employee is doing an outstanding job, then they should be recognised for it, not perpetually being seen to be ‘under achieving’ just because no one ever gets top marks. This is demoralising and the employee is left wondering whether they have done a good job or not. Rather than a yearly review, in the run up to which employees get nervous, a quick monthly feedback session (from both sides), lasting no more than five or ten minutes, will go further in making goals tangible and achievable and it is easier for an employee to see and document any changes that have been implemented over the twelve-month period.

Social Media In Recruitment Conference

Social Media In Recruitment ConferenceOn the 19th April 2012 at the Congress Centre in London the fourth Social Media in Recruitment Conference will take place.

The 2012 Conference is aimed at helping the following types of organisations get the most from using social media in recruitment:

· HR & Corporate Recruiting Departments
· Government & Public Sector Organisations
· Recruitment Agencies
· Recruitment Advertising Agencies
· Job Boards
· Recruitment Industry Suppliers
· Recruitment Technology Providers

For more information go to

Why HR needs good negotiation skills, and how you can build them

Why HR needs good negotiation skills, and how you can build themWhen the Government first announced that the public sector would have to make severe cuts, Richard Crouch, HR director of Somerset County Council, suggested that some HR teams would lack the necessary negotiation skills to deal with the changes.

Since then, Crouch has been forced to change his mind. He believes that, since the economic downturn started to bite, HR professionals now enter so many discussions about redundancies, pay and performance that they have had no choice but to hone their negotiation skills.

For the full story on how HR teams have improved their negotiating skills and tips on how to improve your own negotiating skills go to