by Richard Cuff
22nd Oct 2018
Most people start a business on their own or with minimal staff: often people they know on a personal basis. Most people run their fledgling business in a friendly, informal manner i.e. paperwork and company rules are kept to a minimum, contracts are rarely used and relationships with staff are more akin to a friendship. This, undoubtedly, has some advantages, for example the company has a family atmosphere and the staff can feel involved, trusted and cared for. If you are lucky enough to employ staff that are conscientious, hard-working, honest, reliable and responsible then this arrangement will probably be perfectly adequate. Staff that always behave like this are extremely hard to find and to uncover one is lucky, more than one: highly improbable.
Sometimes, however, conscientious, hard-working, honest, reliable, responsible staff can become less so due to various factors such as loss of enthusiasm for the work, personal problems, personality clashes with managers/ workmates. Perhaps they wanted to book a holiday in your busy period and you had to deny it. Small matters such as this can sour a relationship and once soured it is very easily ruined entirely without some careful intervention.
John has started his own business, offering Painting and Decorating services. After a short while he becomes quite busy and cannot cope with demand. He mentions this to his friend, Steve, who is currently unhappy in his own job. “Why don’t you come and work for me”? John says to Steve. Steve only has experience with DIY but feels confident that he can cope with most decorating jobs. Steve says “Okay, that would be great”. Steve then hands in his notice to his current employer of 6 years, serves that notice and then starts working full-time for John. John has known Steve for years and they are good friends. He won’t need any paperwork or agreements as Steve would never cause him a problem. A few months later, things are going well for John. He is now able to complete jobs quicker and therefore take on more work, thanks to Steve’s help. Steve cannot do everything that John can and the quality of his work is not as good as John’s but it’s still perfectly decent. John enjoys having company while working and he pays Steve a reasonable wage. Some time after this, the work seems to dry up a little and there is not enough work to fill Steve’s hours. John says that he will only need Steve for about 4 days a week until the work picks up again. Steve says that he can’t live on the reduced wage that this would give him. John says that he can’t afford to pay him if the work is not there. Steve is really unhappy at this and says that he will need to look for another job if John cannot guarantee him the hours which he has been regularly working. John feels that Steve is being ungrateful for the work that he has provided for him over the previous few months/ years. Steve feels that he has been misled. He left a job that guaranteed him a certain wage each month and now he will struggle to pay his bills. Steve continues to work for John during the downturn but their relationship is not as happy as it used to be. Conversations are often strained and Steve often likes to mention his financial difficulties to John. Steve then calls in ill. John assumes that Steve is unwell. The next day Steve does not call and John calls him to ask where he is. Steve says that he is still unwell. John asks Steve to let him know each day when he will not be at work. A week or two later Steve receives his pay for the month. He is paid a lot less than his usual (already reduced hours) pay and he asks why this is. John advises Steve that this is due to him being off work, ill. Steve asks why he has not received any sick pay. John then tells Steve that he does not pay sick pay. Of course, Steve is likely to be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay(SSP) but John doesn’t know this. Steve then researches sick pay and discovers that he should be entitled to SSP. Steve feels that John is being dishonest and that he is deliberately not paying him what he is entitled to. Steve lets John know that he should have been paid SSP, by law. John feels embarrassed that he did not know this but also slightly aggrieved that his staff member, and friend, is claiming pay when he has not gained any work from him. Steve’s work from thereon is of a lower standard, he frequently takes sickness and he is often late to work. This relationship is now in danger of turning from sour to complete distrust. John wishes that he had never employed Steve and thinks of ways to get rid of him.
I cannot say that having a contract for Steve, showing him company policies and making his working conditions abundantly clear would have stopped all of these problems but I am certain that it would have made these events a lot less likely. If Steve was aware that John would only be able to offer work when it was available it would not have come as a shock. Perhaps a more advisable arrangement would have been to say to Steve that “Currently I have full time work available but, realistically, I can only guarantee an average of 25 hours per week. Is that okay for you?”. Steve then could have made an informed decision at the point of handing in his notice and, if this would not have been financially viable for him, he would have been able to politely decline the offer. If he accepted and then hours were eventually dropped, Steve could have little complaint that he was receiving less work. If John had contracted Steve to 25 hours per week, then Steve could have worked overtime (at an agreed rate which could be the normal pay rate) when there was work and still have been within his contracted hours once the downturn arrived. It is always necessary to consider the probability of a worse period of business when setting up contracts, agreements and policies. Likewise, if Steve was aware, before handing in his notice, that only SSP would be paid then there would be no nasty surprises for either party later on.
Another possibility would have been to put Steve on short-time working or even lay him off for a short period of time. If he had given Steve a contract that allowed for these without pay (although he will be probably liable to pay Guarantee pay (up to £140 per week)) then this may have overcome this, hopefully, short-term problem.
It is a sad fact that friendly relationships often turn sour once work/ money are involved but a fact nonetheless. Having the relevant paperwork before you need it may seem untrustworthy or extreme but, in my opinion, it’s the best way to keep the relationship as healthy as it was at the start.
Most business owners aren’t knowledgeable in Employment laws and most don’t seem to want to know but it really can make the difference between having a happy, productive workforce that are a credit to your business and the opposite. It takes real skill, or luck, to keep a company with unhappy staff in profit.
by Richard Cuff
19th Sep 2018
Are you a good driver? Would you say that you are better than average?
Ever heard the saying "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing"? Why is this? Surely having some knowledge is better than having no knowledge?
We all know someone that knows everything about everything. It might be you. Are these people aware that they 'know everything'? I don't know. I would suggest that there has never been a single person that genuinely knew everything about everything. So why are there people that seem to think this?
Have you ever started learning a new subject and, shortly after starting, thought "this is easy". It's normal to hold this belief. Then after some time you started to think "Actually, it's not that easy". Again, this is perfectly normal. In a subject which you have a great deal of knowledge, do you sometimes doubt your knowledge/ ability? Once again, this is normal. This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The graph, below, shows a rough approximation of how perceived ability relates to actual ability. It peaks very early, then drops dramatically and then gradually climbs back up toward the initial peak level after a great deal of increase in ability.
Imposter syndrome is the name for the phenomenon where competent people often see their ability as less than it actually is. Albert Einstein said that he was an "involuntary swindler" as he did not believe that his work was as good as others considered it to be. It is probably due to a few factors including the belief that, if we have a particular area of competence, we often believe that to be the norm and that others also have it. We rarely hear other people stating their own doubts or deficiencies but we are usually well aware of our own, especially if we are competent.
Professor Dunning stated
“the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task—and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task.”
Meaning that if you don't understand a subject very well then you won't know if you're wrong. In one study, students scoring no better than 10% of others rated themselves at being better than 67% of others.
This effect can cause problems in interviews as they may appear supremely confident when, in actual fact, they just think they know everything. In performance appraisals it can also cause trouble. You may see a staff member as incompetent but they may think that they are the opposite. Then you have to try to explain to them what the problem is. They will think it's you, by the way. This is why having measurable targets is so important. It's very hard to argue with statistics (although they may well) so it generally works out in your favour, if your targets are fair and truly measurable.
So what is the answer? Ask for feedback and don't be offended. You are welcome to question its validity but if you frequently hear it then it's probably true. Don't be scared to voice your own doubts and weaknesses, especially if you are in a position of power. Your staff/ students/ less senior colleagues will be comforted hearing it and it is likely to make them more willing to share theirs with you.
I always find it inspiring to think that the best and most successful in any profession always had obstacles to overcome. JK Rowling's Harry Potter books were rejected many times and the Beatles had to go to Hamburg.
Going back to the initial question "Are you a good driver?" The vast majority of people believe that they are better than average. Obviously, almost half of these people are wrong. The next question is "What do you consider to be a good driver?". I don't know if they asked that. Probably not.
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