We wish you a merry Christmas Party


Group of beautiful young people in Santa hats throwing colorful confetti and looking happy

It’s the biggest event of the year. It’s a chance to eat, drink and be merry. Or it’s an awkward aspect of office life that has to be endured. However you view it, the office Christmas party is a highlight on many workplace’s social calendar. But, from an HR point of view, it’s a Christmas cocktail of pent up emotion, alcohol and dancing that can unleash a whole sleigh full of issues.

Here are a few guidelines to help ensure your Christmas party is more Ho Ho Ho and less OMG.

  1. Make it worthwhile. There’s nothing more lacklustre than a half-hearted Christmas party. Standing around the photocopier with a mini sausage roll and a plastic cup of cheap wine is not going to make staff feel appreciated. If you’re going to have a party, make it a good one. It’s the perfect opportunity to demonstrate why your company is a great place to work.
  1. Keep an eye on alcohol consumption. You can’t expect people to let their hair down and get into the party spirit without at least a glass or two of something chilled and bubbly, but if the alcohol is allowed to flow too freely, things can soon get out of hand. Limit the number of free drinks and provide plenty of food and entertainment so people have more to do than simply get sozzled.
  1. Restrain romance. Staff parties provide the perfect environment for the previous year’s flirting to go a step further – which is usually a step too far. The festive spirit and the absence of wives, husbands and partners, can cause embarrassing repercussions when you’re all back at work. Sometimes it can be more serious and lead to harassment issues. It’s a good idea, therefore, to remind everyone of the company’s policy on workplace relationships before the party is underway.
  1. Restrict social media. Many people these days feel that, if they can’t film it and share it online, it’s not worth doing. However, when it involves a work function, inappropriate photos can damage the reputation of the company and the individuals involved. Clarify beforehand that smartphones and social media are off-limits for the duration of the party – which will have the added benefit of encouraging people to loosen up without fear of public humiliation.
  1. Make sure everyone’s invited. Consider everybody when planning the Christmas party. Some may not drink, others may not celebrate Christmas, and there will be those that are out of the office on holiday or maternity leave. Make it a party for everyone and they’ll all feel appreciated and part of the celebrations.

While no one wants to be a party pooper, the office Christmas party is a work activity and you are responsible for your employee’s welfare. So, bear in mind these festive top tips, then put on your party hat and hit the dance floor!



Build your business on solid values


Values provide the foundation on which your business is built. They are fundamental to who you are and what you do. They are the deep-rooted, unchanging principles that will give your business the strength and stability to grow and succeed in the future. To put it simply: if you haven’t got a strong set of values, you haven’t got a chance.

So, what actually are values and how can they help your business?

Values provide focus

A values-driven culture gives all employees a clear purpose. Instead of individuals being motivated by short-term personal objectives, values provide an organisational ethos around which all employees can rally. Personal goals become aligned with organisational goals and any challenges that occur are overcome by a steadfast determination to uphold the company’s values.

Much more than superficial statements cobbled together to fill a page in the company brochure, true values capture the essence of what makes a company special and help shape its future progress.

A strongly held value such as ‘Innovative’, for example, can mean the difference between a short-lived mobile phone manufacturer, such as Nokia, and a perpetual ideas powerhouse, such as Apple. Although Nokia briefly led the mobile phone market, they soon stagnated, while Apple were hungry to innovate.

A clear set of values engage workers in the big picture, increasing individual job satisfaction and performance, and preventing the apathy and cynicism that occurs in companies without such guiding principles.

Values define behaviour

When every employee understands exactly what is important in a business, they are not simply doing a job, they are part of an all-embracing ethos. So if, for example, one of your company’s values is that you are ‘Compassionate: communicating with others politely and considerately’, and one of your staff is ignoring others’ opinions and failing to communicate, then they are not being compassionate.

This removes the personal hostility from any kind of reprimand. By saying “you are not being compassionate in the way you communicate with others and compassion is an important value in our business,” you are implementing company values rather than making a personal attack.

Values enhance recruitment

When hiring new employees, talent is, of course, important – but not as much as you may think. Technical expertise can be learnt, but the personality of the candidate is something that can’t be changed. A new recruit may come with a long list of qualifications and a shed load of experience, but if they don’t fit in with the rest of the team, their impact on the workplace may well be negative.

Values help you hire better. If, for example, ‘Cooperation’ is one of your core values, you can seek out candidates that have this attribute, such as by asking them to “Describe a situation where cooperation resulted in the successful outcome of a project.”

Without values to guide your decision making, you could end up with a well-qualified candidate that refuses to work with the rest of the team and spends their coffee break criticising fellow employees.

Values get under the skin of your organisation to identify what you are really about. A company that ‘lives’ its values attracts employees, and customers, that share those values.


Working from home- How we make it work

Woman On Laptop Running Business From Home Office

There are many benefits for employers and employees to embrace this particular form of flexible working. The main benefit is the psychological contract an employee has with their employer is improved. At HR Rockstars we all work remotely from home and we manage our Work Life Balance ourselves. The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) carried out an employee survey and found that workers on flexible contracts tend to be more emotionally engaged, more satisfied with their work, more likely to speak positively about their organisation and less likely to quit. We’ve seen potential talent discouraged from joining organisations on the basis they don’t offer working from home opportunities. We understand why. We all know life is uncertain and situations change. We move to different parts of the country or even the World and it’s not always the job that leads us there. We may fall in love, we may be drawn to different locations for the purpose of getting our children into preferred schools, and we may have sudden or planned caring responsibilities. Having the opportunity to continue to develop and grow within an organisation and have the flexibility of working from home to enjoy what we define ‘life’ to be when we talk about ‘Work Life Balance’ is a the diamond employee benefit.

At HR Rockstars we have made working from home work. It’s not for everyone but you soon realise if you have the discipline to work at home successfully early on. We would like to share the ways in which we make it work.

How to make working from home, work

Go “to work”

Our HR Rockstars all work from home but they all go to work in the morning- (they go sit at their desks at home). We have a clear space to work from, we have our own desks (not the kitchen table) and for us this is important, as our frame of mind is that we are at work. Our advice is to create a space that is for work only. It’s important that it is yours and you can leave work out on your desk and go back to it in the morning. If you can have a separate office great, or even better, a garden office where you literally have to leave the house to go to work. Our HR Rockstars have branded note pads, desk tops, and we have desk treats at various points in the year (NEOM candles are our most recent treat). This makes us feel more connected and part of the team and more part of HR Rockstars.

Get dressed for work

What we wear has an impact on how we feel. We have no dress code when working from home; however, we do all choose to dress for work.   It puts us in the right frame of mind and we are more productive. We have daily hangouts with our colleagues and clients so it’s important that we are dressed appropriately (at least from the waist up!)

Have a structured day

Plan your week in advance and structure your work around specific goals. We all know exactly what we are working towards, we tell each other and we assign tasks and deadlines to each other. We are completely transparent with our diaries and are able to share the load when things get tough. Having structure to our day is really important especially when working from home as, other household responsibilities creep in. We all start work at 9am but we are all free to take time out too. We walk our dogs, do the shopping, pick up dry cleaning or do anything else that will help us enjoy the weekends more with our friends and families.   We do tend to work later in the day but it is our choice to do so and we structure our days around our tasks.

Forget the 9-5!

There is a fear amongst employers that employees working from home tend to skive because they can’t be seen. This can happen of course, but it can also happen in the office environment too. In fact, it happens a lot. Just because someone comes to work at 7:30am and leaves at 6:30pm doesn’t necessarily mean they are working hard, in fact one could question their lack of time management and time spent on Facebook! We assess on work performance not number of hours spent at our desks. We see huge value in being able to spend time in the sun on the rare occasion it comes out in England as long as we can stay on top of our targets. The team manage their time themselves and there is appreciation for this.

Communicate – a lot!

Communication is key, have regular hangouts and communicate with your team. The remote worker is at greater risk of feeling isolated and lonely- be aware of this and get to know your team on a personal level. Arrange regular face-to-face meetings when you can. Be a great manager and invest time in to showing you really care.

We all check in and hangout in the morning and check out if we need to leave our desks. We have our work phones on us throughout the day so if we are walking the dog, doing or doing the weekly shop we can still take a call.

Make sure everyone is included.  

For those employees working from home it is important that they do not miss out on important meetings and discussions. Schedule your team meetings around them. Use technology so that they can be present in those meetings if they are not able to attend in person. We use Skype, Google hangout and Facetime for 121 meetings.

Use productivity apps

We love Teamworks (a project management tool and communication tool) and some of us use specific Pomodoro Timers so we work in bursts of 25 minutes with a 5 minute break so our attention is focussed on the task at hand, it doesn’t work for everyone but give it a try! I can be easily distracted and I find I’ve wasted 45 minutes window-shopping on line. So, when I need to write a lengthy report or investigation outcome, I use “WriteRoom” which lives up to it’s promise of “distraction free writing” by paring my screen down to one function: writing.


Having trust and faith in your employees is really important aspect of this flexible working arrangement. However, you need to start with complete trust. Set out your expectations especially when it comes to communication and reporting of tasks and use the tools out there to support you with this. The majority of employees want to do a good job and feel appreciated. Encouraging your team to take control of their work life balance is empowering and they will do more than is expected if they feel appreciated.


Why we need diversity at board level

Asian Businesswoman Leading Meeting At Boardroom Table


Back in the old days, choosing board members was simple. The CEO would simply pull in like-minded people from his (and it usually was a he) existing network of trusted colleagues.

It seemed obvious at the time that it is better to have similar people sat around the board table than a disparate bunch that might disagree and bring in different viewpoints. However, there are significant downsides to this arrangement.

Today’s businesses are more complex than before, with diverse workforces and diverse customer-bases – and a homogeneous board is simply incompatible with this modern, multifaceted work environment. For a board to maximise the full potential of every element of a business, it must broaden its composition to become as diverse as its workforce and its customers.

A truly diverse board encompasses talent from a range of skills, beliefs and life experiences as well as different genders, ages and ethnicities. Of course, diversity for its own sake is of little value. Board members must also be competent and capable individuals with a commitment to the success of the business.

Five reasons why a diverse board is good for business

  1. If ‘know your customers’ is the first rule of business, having a board that reflects the composition of your target market is fundamental to gaining that essential insight.
  2. When little or no debate exists between board members, policy-making stagnates. Diversity, however, encourages healthy debate, fresh thinking and, ultimately, better decisions
  3. Business is a brutal game of survival of the fittest. It is not necessarily the biggest and strongest that survive, it is the most adaptable. A board comprising various types of people with different backgrounds gives a company the all-round attributes it needs to evolve and survive in an ever-changing commercial environment.
  4. A diverse board sets an example which other parts of the company can follow. Every aspect of a business can benefit from diversity. It helps build a more dynamic workplace and instils a culture of innovation throughout the organisation.
  5. Nowadays more than ever before, the reputation and ethical perception of a brand is crucial to its success. A diverse board, therefore, is something for a company to promote. It’s mere existence will bring about kudos and competitive advantage.

Unleash the benefits of diversity

While media interest in the composition of company boards is relatively recent, research has indicated for a long time that diverse boards are not only a moral obligation, they are an essential business enabler.

Boards comprising people with an appropriate mix of skills and backgrounds perform better than those lacking diversity. With a mix of different people on their board, companies will grow in different markets, find different solutions to familiar challenges and optimise the potential of different aspects of the workforce.

So, if the upper echelons of your business are looking decidedly samey, maybe it’s time to embrace diversity and for everybody to get on board!


More than just an HR Rockstar. Our MD Jo Lister shares her story about kidney donation and encourages staff members to join the organ donation register.

Jo Lister

More than just an HR Rockstar, Jo, our brilliant MD looks further than just HR policy and procedures when talking to clients.  Jo was able to donate her kidney to her sick mother in February this year and became acutely aware of the despair people live through when they, or a family member are waiting for a life saving organ.  Jo has shared her story and has encouraged the League Against Cruel Sports staff members and our other clients to consider creating an in house campaign to get people to consider joining the organ donation list.

“Engagement in the workplace goes far beyond reward and recognition, for me it is about compassion and empathy for others and the work that we do. When I was recovering from the operation, I had such heart felt messages from my clients and when I returned to work I was greeted with such warmth and compassion.  They really cared about me and what I had experienced.  The CEO, Eduardo at The League Against Cruel Sports asked me to be involved in an in house campaign to encourage staff members to join the organ donation register.  I was delighted to be involved.  This campaign has had a such an impact on me personally and I believe it has united people in the League.  We all feel that we have made a difference”   Jo Lister

Read more: www.guardian.co.uk


Appraising the appraisal: How to make feedback work for you

Shot of two young students going over some notes in a coffee shop


Appraisals are supposed to be a opportunity for both employer and employee to solve problems, improve performance and enhance job satisfaction. Yet too often, the annual appraisal can be seen as an ordeal to be endured, welcomed as enthusiastically as a summons to stand before a firing squad.

So, what can you do to make feedback a positive experience for all involved?

Serve up a sandwich of Praise-Criticism-Praise

A long-established approach to providing feedback is for the appraiser to criticise the appraisee – but to balance this out with heaps of praise so they won’t run out of the office in tears. The technique of furtively slipping in critical feedback between two thick slices of praise is known by the delightful sobriquet, The Sh*t Sandwich.

The trouble with the Sh*t Sandwich is that, by burying critical comments within a protective cushion of praise, the recipient is liable to ignore the unpleasant ingredient and focus instead on the more agreeable substance that makes up the majority of the feedback.

So, while the intention of not upsetting people is good, if you’re not careful, rather than leaving employees with a taste of where they need to improve, they will be licking their lips with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Be specific with Situation-Behaviour-Impact

An alternative approach is to focus your comments on specific situations and behaviours, then outline the impact they have on others. This way, employees will understand precisely what the issue is, giving them the chance to reflect on their actions and consider where room for improvement exists.

The process goes something like this:

  1. Situation: Relate a specific incident that occurred, such as a presentation they delivered or an intervention they made in a meeting.
  1. Behaviour: Describe what the person did. Don’t make assumptions or subjective judgements, simply state what you observed.
  1. Impact: Express the effect this had on you and others, and on the organisation as a whole.

When communicating the impact of the person’s actions, try to start sentences with ‘I’ (such as ‘I felt…’ and ‘I thought…’). This way you are providing them with actual outcomes, whatever impression they have of what happened. Once they understand the true impact of the situation, give your employee time to think about it, then both of you can consider what steps to take to help them improve.

This evidence-based approach has proved far more effective, and palatable, than the clichéd sandwich format described earlier.

Tailor feedback to suit each employee

Even with a proven appraisal method like Situation-Behaviour-Impact (SBI), its success is largely dependent on the willingness of the recipient to take the feedback on board. This openness to constructive criticism can be maximised by the skilful delivery of the message, and this will depend on the type of person being appraised.

As a general rule, studies show that experts consider identifying a weakness as a positive step towards greater success. Novices, on the other hand, may be deterred by too much focus on their failings.

When delivered with careful forethought and empathy, an effective appraisal will be a catalyst for growth, both for the individual and for the organisation as a whole.


Gender and Pay

Little child girl plays superhero. Child on the background of sunset sky. Girl power concept

In the UK, we are generally a modest bunch of professionals and in my experience women more so than men. Kay Burley has recently discussed the topic of gender and pay and it got me thinking. Why are women still in a place of inequality, who is really to blame? I was trying to describe this topic to my step daughter, I told her, “women feel less able to ask for recognition for the good work they have done” and to make it easier for her to understand I said “it’s because we don’t like to show off”. She nodded. She understood. Because I tell her often “no one likes a show off”. She then asked a poignant question. “If we know girls aren’t allowed to show off, why do we still give more to the boys?” I thought this was brilliant, she had changed my words from ‘we don’t like’ to ‘we aren’t allowed’.

I cringe when I hear parents say to their children “stop showing off”. As a child I remember feeling totally humiliated that I had been rumbled. It’s no wonder that as an adult I find it difficult to broadcast my achievements. Throughout my life I had real and inner voices telling me not to brag about my achievements and triumphs but be graceful and humble so not to make anyone else feel inferior. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great life lesson but it doesn’t help us as professional women trying to progress in our careers. It seems that underplaying of achievements on a personal level is often replicated in the workplace.

It’s that time of year where performance is being discussed through appraisals and some of us have a bonus or pay review attached to this process. In my experience, women more so than men, underplay their achievements and I have had many infuriating conversations with women trying to convince them how good they actually are, knowing full well they know exactly how good they are. I try to encourage women that I meet to own and be proud of their achievements and remember they are working in a competitive arena. I believe that false modesty can be as infuriating as the ‘know it all’ is. Finding a balance is obviously the key but how do we do this? The first step is we have to acknowledge the workplace is competitive and frankly being a wallflower will not help your cause. You don’t have to be loud and garish to be noticed but you do need to communicate with confidence and ooze positivity. However, don’t let go of your feminine traits, I see it so often that women feel they have to change their personality and ignore their inherent qualities to succeed in the workplace. No. This is not helpful to us, it’s not helpful to our female colleagues, friends or our children. Pretending in this way in my view further perpetuates the divide between male and female professionals. A softer approach doesn’t mean a weak one. I talked to a Senior Executive recently and asked her how she manages her board of Directors in meetings when things get heated. She said she talks softly because people are physically drawn in to listen to her. Interesting, I wonder how she got to that place of authority and respect for them to do this. I believe women can succeed without sacrificing who they really are; they just need to have confidence in their abilities and showcase them in the right way. Successful people often have mentors throughout their careers. Some organisations run mentor schemes but you can go out and find one yourself. Choose someone you know, admire and respect. Approach them to see if they can offer you their time. Being approached to be a mentor is a huge compliment and most people will take this task very seriously. Your mentor can then encourage and guide you through various stages in your career by reflecting on theirs. When you’re faced with a difficult situation or you feel hard done by, ask them “what would you do?”

For there to be any changes in the gender pay gap, we all have a part to play, we need to understand why women don’t ask for those pay rises. We need to acknowledge the differences in male and female inherent personalities and take this in to account when divvying up the pot of money, and we need to educate and support women in business with mentors. We will gain respect by being true to ourselves and honest with everyone else.


The National Minimum Wage


Salary word built with letter cubes

The national minimum wage (NMW) applies to all workers and is paid at different rates according to age.

Age Rate from 1st October 2015 Rate from 1st April 2016 Rate from 1st October 2016
Workers Aged 25 and over (NLW) n/a £7.20 an hour £7.20 an hour
Workers aged 21 and over £6.70 an hour £6.70 an hour £6.95 an hour
Development rate for workers aged 18-20 £5.30 an hour £5.30 an hour £5.55 an hour
Young workers rate for workers aged 16-17 £3.87 an hour £3.87 an hour £4.00 an hour
Apprentices under 19, or over 19 and in the first year of the apprenticeship £3.30 an hour £3.30 an hour £3.40 an hour

Employers paying output workers, including home workers, piece rates (payment according to the number of items produced or tasks completed) must either pay the minimum wage for every hour worked, or a ‘fair piece rate’ (currently set at 120 per cent of the NMW).

The minimum wage rates are reviewed annually and have been updated in October, but from 2017 they will be updated in April (see ‘Recent developments’ below).

Key points

  • All workers, except those who are genuinely self-employed, are entitled to receive the NMW/NLW
  • Gross pay is used to calculate whether an eligible worker has been paid the minimum wage
  • The NMW/NLW is calculated by including most financial awards or payments, but excluding allowances such as regional or on-call allowances, unsocial hours payments, tips and gratuities, or any benefits in kind, with the exception of accommodation up to a specified amount
  • Employers can average the hourly rate of pay over the pay period
  • Non-compliance can result in an enforcement notice requiring the employer to pay the difference between what was actually paid and what the worker should have received under the NMW legislation. Further non-compliance could result in the issue of a penalty notice and financial penalties.

Top 5 Tips for Bank Holidays as a small business:

Man Working Determine Workspace Lifestyle Concept

1. It’s not actually a legal requirement for you to give your employees time off on a Bank Holiday, so if you operate a business in the service industry it would be reasonable for you to expect that at least some of your staff will need to work.
2. For some businesses, Bank Holidays are actually the busiest days of the year so you might even need to consider having more employees on duty than you would normally have at the weekend.
3. Make sure the employment contracts you give to staff are very clear about your position on Bank Holidays within your firm. Anything that allows leeway or room for misinterpretation is only going to cause problems.
4. Always inform staff well in advance about what the plan is for upcoming Bank Holidays, as unexpected surprises will mean having to arrange childcare and changing plans. If you end up forcing staff to work who had already thought they would get the time off you’ll just damage morale and they won’t soon forget it.
5. Lastly, don’t work unless you really have to! The life of a small business owner is very hectic and often more stressful than a normal 9-to-5 job. Use the time with family or just go exploring – new experiences can often reinvigorate and inspire!

Tips for Company Social Media use

Cropped shot of a young man using a digital tablet

The widespread availability of social media means it is important to understand how to use it effectively and sensibly, both in the workplace and during personal use. We often get queries from employers and about the boundaries of social media, what constitutes misconduct and how to manage this.

  1. Having a social media policy is important now

A policy will set out the Company’s position on employees’ use of social networking websites and blogs, whether conducted on the Company’s media and in work time or their own private media in their own time.

  1. Provide Training

Having a policy isn’t enough. Like all policies and procedures, it’s important that employees have read and understood them. Running a training workshop will provide you with the comfort your people understand the boundaries whilst encouraging them to share online.

  1. Spell it out

Be clear what would constitute misconduct, e.g. “Do not publish anything on behalf of the Company that contains libellous, defamatory, bullying or harassing content. Give an example.

  1. Make it easy to understand and easy to adhere to.

Provide examples where you can. If they wish to publish any views when referencing the Company they must write:

“The views expressed on this website/blog are mine alone and do not reflect the views of my employer.”

  1. Be encouraging

Your policy aim should be to protect employees while using social media but also to empower them to contribute on line to support your Company objectives.