Broadspring Consulting

What Employers Need To Know – December 2016

This periodic summary of key cases and findings aims to help employers avoid repeating the mistakes of others. Today we review articles on the use of humour in employee handbooks and at work, and managing early any risk of employee behaviour problem.

Why humour And Instructions Don’t Mix

A lingerie company has recently gained some bad press seemingly because comments that could be deemed “cheek”y or “saucy” if spoken have been documented in an employee handbook.

The fact that staff are instructed to use phrases of a certain nature to customers has created offense, discomfort and a significant risk to the company according to one employment law firm.

To read the full article from SmartCompany, use this link

At the heart of the matter is the question of whether things are discriminatory or part of the culture? In my professional opinion something can be part of a culture AND discriminatory. In fact saying that something that is inappropriate or discriminatory is part of the culture probably makes the situation worse. This could be described as systemic and entrenched behaviour if it is embedded in a culture.

What lessons should employers take from this case?
1. Be aware that workplaces are governed by a variety of legislation covering responsibilities. This includes the Fair Work Act, Anti Discrimination legislation (with coverage varying from state to state – in Victoria appearance is a protected attribute), occupational health and safety to name a few and that the protections offered to employees often come from different sources

2. Effective customer service and a company culture is not created by scripted phrases alone. If you are seeking to create an informal and friendly culture, then some sample behaviours rather than a script will be more effective

3. Sexual banter has no place at work, especially not in an employee handbook.

4. Access to social media is within every pocket or handbag and disgruntled employees will search online for guidance and post concerns.
In this case a comment of “back it up” in response to complaints has been widely quoted. The comment may have been made in the sense of – we treat all complaints seriously yet need evidence to substantiate claims before we take disciplinary action.

What Warning Signs Exist For Employee Problem Behaviours

The article referenced later in this section comes hot on the heels of a conversation with a client regarding the warning signs that an employee may not be a good fit for a company.

Employees who quickly begin criticising processes, uniforms and established protocols might (not always) be showing signs that they are not a good fit for the company. In some cases staff are hired to improve processes, however when a new hire consistently challenges the status quo you need to ask if it is a signal that they are fundamentally unhappy with the choice they made to join the firm.

This article, also from SmartCompany is based on research across 1000 employees on the behaviour of cutting corners with a staggering 25% of those surveyed saying they cut corners. It is useful to distinguish between cutting corners for efficiency and taking shortcuts to avoid work.

It is interesting to note the conclusions drawn about the personality type of those who cut corners and the implications for their managers. Clearly if short cuts are made that have a negative effect on safety and quality then it is a major negative. However some people may ask how improvements can be made if nothing is ever changed.

The core for me is to observe how things are done and the key lessons would be:
1. If you want your employees to make improvements and be innovative, then you need to make sure that they communicate what they are doing and why at the time. This allows standards to be maintained without stifling creativity

2. Monitoring and auditing process and behaviours is essential to monitor what short cuts may be made before they become obvious after a problem, fault or injury.

The article can be found here

You Can Have Dress Code in Place

An article in the Australian Human Resources online magazine HRMonthly references a case in the UK where a company issued instructions to female customer facing staff listing a range of requirements.

The fact that an instruction was issued to women only makes this a discriminatory action – because gender is a protected attribute under the legislation.

You can read the article here

Dress codes have been challenging for many companies as it is important to maintain the brand and image of the company, and yet tackling issues such as personal hygiene and body odour can be very difficult.

A general dress code policy is often seen as a “safe” way of informing staff about expectations for standards of dress and hygiene, yet this UK example highlights some key lessons

1. A dress code is a standard that applies to employees in particular roles, regardless of their gender.
The content of the policy may be listed toi include issues that are relevant to one gender only, however this is becoming more and more risky.
Rather than stating that women should not wear “garish make up” the statement could be a general one relating to “no excessive make up”

2. A dress code can only be enforced when it is clearly and genuinely relevant. As society changes and norms move, company managers must be very diligent to make sure that the standards are actually those of the customer base and not just “the way we have always done things”
Consider tattoos which 25 years ago were not commonplace and reflect how many people you know wit tattoos.

3. Policies and codes need to be reviewed regularly and reviewed in depth to ensure their continued relevance and meaning
A policy that does not truly add value meets the definition of bureaucracy adn also places you and your firm at risk of discrimination.

An independent review can be helpful here as a fresh set of eyes may ask questions that you would not.
Employing staff does have its complexities, however this doe snot mean that you cannot do anything. It does mean that, like any business decision, your decisions and actions about managing staff need to be well thought out and effectively implemented.