Should we amend email etiquette?
Whilst the steep rise in usage of digital connectivity platforms such as Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams has increased tenfold as the coronavirus pandemic forced the workforce into home offices, the most convenient way to do business online for many is still via that professional mainstay – the email.
Newly released data has suggested that email usage is rising each year, and will continue to do so until at least 2023. Each working day, accounts are accessed by 3.9billion active users, whilst the global marketing budget spent on email advertising rose to 43% in 2019.
Mastering the fine art of email etiquette is important. Coronavirus has changed the way we work and inevitably, this has an effect on how we choose to communicate. So, how should email etiquette change at this time?We are advised to ensure that email communication contains more empathy –don’t ignore the effect the pandemic may be having on those reading the email. This might include messages such as: “’Hope you’re well.’ ’Hope this email finds you healthy.’ ‘Hope you and your family are healthy and safe during these uncertain and unprecedented times’.
For some this may seem to be a little too intrusive – but it is important to find an empathetic balance.
Alcohol sales and consumption rising steadily throughout Lockdown
Brits are drinking more alcohol than they used to, research has found. The poll found that 36% of furloughed workers have increased their alcohol consumption since the UK went into lockdown, with 26% of home workers increasing, compared to a nationwide average of 24%.
The coronavirus outbreak is creating “significant changes” to employees’ lives, and many people no longer have their usual work routines. This adds pressure to employers to make sure that line managers are trained to support their team member’s wellbeing during lockdown.
Having regular catch-ups with staff, asking open-ended questions to genuinely enquire about an individual’s wellbeing is essential, as is signposting to available support such as employee assistance programmes and information on healthy lifestyles.
Merging cultures is key when businesses merge
Mergers often fail to deliver the intended benefits – often because the two businesses simply cannot merge people cultures. Some disadvantages reported following mergers include job satisfaction decreases, declining collaboration and trust between colleagues and an increase in conflict, stress and employee turnover.
Recent research suggests that looking at the employee elements as the main approach to change is one of the best ways to ensure the merging of cultures. Failing to focus on the human side of change will very often undermine even the best laid plans.
Planning for a merger means looking at both organisations in the following context:
- Respect the past – don’t write off processes that “work”
- Create opportunities for staff to talk to each other, and to leaders, to help them make sense of the changes
- Focus on the how and the what
- Ensure employees feel valued and heard
- Manage employee engagement
- Monitor and maintain morale and commitment at each stage of the merger
Actively gathering feedback and insight from those living through change will provide valuable feedback and allow plans to be adapted to suit continuing engagement.
When office traditions are perceived to be harassment
In late 2019, a complaint of age-related harassment was considered by the Employment Tribunal in Munro v Sampson Coward LLP. The employer, a law firm, had a practice within the firm of marking birthdays with birthday cards from colleagues.
The birthday card, which the tribunal concluded as being ‘an act of kindness’, was received quite differently in this case. The claimant received the card and related comments from her colleagues as distressing and heinous actions. She reportedly left the office early, too upset by the events to be able to concentrate.
The claimant applied to the tribunal to refer to her age as ‘X’ so as to save her from a further violation of her dignity. The tribunal refused. The tribunal accepted that the claimant was genuinely upset by the age-related comments, but found that it was unreasonable to have known that the comments would have had that effect; an element necessary for a claim to be successful.
The legal test for harassment is as follows: ‘A person harasses another if they engage in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating the other’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person’.
The claims in this case therefore failed – but it might make us consider, what other well-meant and routine, workplace occurrences might an employer risk harassment and discrimination allegations?
Here are a few:
Nicknames-which are related to ethnicity or age
Comments– calling a young receptionist immature or childish could be perceived to be age-related harassment;
Online behaviour– messaging a colleague on social media might be perceived as sexual harassment depending on the frequency and nature of the content
Criticising someone’s spelling who suffers with dyslexiacould be disability -related discrimination
Circulating jokes-with homophobic or sexual content
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced guidance for employers. They state that ‘no workplace is immune to harassment, and a lack of reported cases does not mean that people have not experienced it’. Employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent their workers from harassment and remember, individual workers can be personally liable for acts of harassment as well.
The message to employers though is clear; investigate and address concerns raised with sincerity and impartiality, having consideration for the context.
Consider introducing a mentoring programme to build strong relationships at work
Investing time into mentorship within a business has been known to help boost performance, productivity and innovation and a recent study has found that retention rates are higher for both mentees (22% more) and mentors (20% more) in comparison to employees who did not participate in a mentoring programme, while 25% of employees who enrolled in a mentoring programme had a salary-grade change.
Millennials are also eager to embrace mentoring – 79% of Millennials see mentoring as crucial to their career success. With statistics indicating that this generation makes up the majority of the workforce, it is essential for employers to tap into mentorship in order to maintain their staff and retain new talent. Mentoring is a great way to encourage self-discovery and to help employees gain a broader perspective and outlook. It can be particularly useful when someone is transitioning into a new role, developing a new skill or competency and exploring or planning careers.
Mentoring can help to build stronger relationships with employees, which can lead to higher productivity and better morale and can be implemented in an informal way so it can easily be managed remotely if necessary.
As mentees look up to their mentors and likely hope to follow in their steps, calling on members of key leadership staff can make an immeasurable difference to any mentorship programme and develop strong working relationships across the organisation.
Consider employees’ commute as part of return to work meeting
Businesses have been urged to consider how their employees commute to work when deciding to reopen workplaces, as images emerge of workers packed on to tubes and buses in the South.
Trade Unions have suggested that any decision about whether workers should return to work should factor in each individual’s commute and ability to arrive at work safely. Despite advice only to use public transport if absolutely necessary many people simply don’t have a car or a bike and rely on public transport to get to and from work.
Every employee should be provided opportunity to discuss any concerns about their commute with their manager as part of the return-to-work process, which should take place in advance of the day that individual is expected to return. Where employees must come into work, employers should consider allowing flexible working or stagger shift patterns to help them avoid rush hours.
Union Unite has also called for the introduction of maximum capacity rules on public transport, arguing that the current guidance lacked clarity, saying that if the Government is serious about ensuring that social distancing is maintained there must be strict rules on maximum capacity.
Female workers to be hit the hardest by Covid-19 disruption
Analysis carried out by Close the Gap in Scotland has revealed that women in lower-paid roles will be hit harder than men by Coronavirus, due to existing inequalities in the labour market.
The report highlights that occupational segregation, which is the distribution of men and women across and within different occupations, will drive women to a greater risk of unemployment, reduced working hours and furlough during and after the Coronavirus crisis.
Additionally, the report argues that high exposure roles to Coronavirus will be less likely to recover following the crisis. These roles include accommodation, food services and retail, which are all impacted based on consumer spending. Already however, the analysis found that a gender pay gap was present in all of these high exposure roles in Scotland, where women are being paid less than men. As women tend to manage the majority of childcare, many women are already struggling to balance childcare and home learning with the additional expectation to do their job from home.
Close the Gap has put forward recommendations to the Scottish Government due to fears that female poverty is likely to increase. Some of these recommendations include:
- Ensuring the gendered impact is a key consideration of policy making
- Addressing occupational segregation and the undervaluation of women’s work in adult social care and childcare
This report therefore demonstrates there is a clear need for effective strategies to be put in place by the Scottish Government, namely affordable and flexible childcare, to prevent women’s employment having a disproportionate impact following the Coronavirus crisis.
What are an employer’s responsibilities to employees when a business becomes insolvent?
If a business becomes insolvent, one of the biggest concerns is the welfare of staff. Although this situation will be stressful for everyone involved, even in insolvency there is still a chance that the business could be saved and many or all of the employees could keep their jobs.
It could be that the business can be successfully restructured and continue to trade. Alternatively, the business may be sold as a going concern, in which case, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) will safeguard jobs.
Even if the business cannot be saved or sold as a going concern, there are statutory provisions in place which can ensure that if the business is liquidated, employee claims for wage arrears and redundancy will be paid.
Employees will have the right to claim monies they are owed regardless of whether the company is wound up or it enters into a restructuring process.
Employees not made redundant within the first 14 days of a formal insolvency procedure like administration become preferential creditors of the company. That means, if they are made redundant at a later date, they have more chance of receiving the money they are owed from the sale of assets. A maximum of eight weeks’ wage arrears can be claimed, as well as holiday pay. These claims will usually be made through the insolvency practitioner.
If there’s not enough money in the pot to pay all employee claims then employees can use form RP1to make a claim from the National Insurance Fund. Claims can be made for:
- up to eight weeks of wage arrears
- up to six weeks of outstanding holiday pay
- pay in lieu of notice
- some unpaid pension contributions
- redundancy pay
- the right to claim redundancy pay
Employees who have worked under a contract of employment for a period of two years have a statutory right to claim redundancy pay. The same can be said for company directors. These redundancy payments are capped at a maximum of £538 per week and are based on:
- length of service
- weekly wage
Are you aware of the rights of your part-time employees?
The law is very clear that employers must offer equal opportunities for full and part-time staff – including training and career development, selection for promotion and career breaks. However, many employers resist the opportunity to split a full time vacancy into part time roles, or to consider part time working when it is requested via a Flexible Working request.
Benefits and salaries must be applied on a pro rata basis – ie part time staff must not be paid a lower hourly rate or receive fewer benefits than full time staff – they should be calculated on a “pro rata” basis with the exception that employers are not obliged to pay overtime rates until staff have worked over the normal hours of a full-time employee.
In order to avoid any claims of unfair treatment of part time staff, employers are advised to:
- Train managers to be prepared to discuss part time options with staff when they are requested – having a statutory flexible working policy in place will assist with this. Do not assume that a job can only be fulfilled on a full time basis!
- Consider the benefits part-time employees can bring such as higher morale, promoting diversity, staff retention, more loyalty, better performance
- Don’t assume a request for part-time working means the employee is less dedicated or work-orientated. Often part time staff will be more flexible and put in more than their contracted hours, simply because they are available to do so.
Want to reward staff without adding to payroll cost? Here’s how to do it
With businesses considering reward other than financial, we look at how to reward staff without having to increase salaries:
Additional holiday leave
An excellent way to thank or reward staff is to offer additional holiday entitlement in their future contractual entitlement. This can be seen as a major staff perk and is likely to retain valued employees seeking a work-life balance.
Examining Job Titles
There are various motivators in work, and some staff are motivated by status; thus looking at job titles and formalising structures can make people feel valued and important to their employer.
Offering training can be a great alternative to a pay rise – upskilling your workforce is crucial and in turn, your employee gets a number of new skills they might not have achieved without you.
Sometimes a staff social event is a great way to say thank you. Planning a future, safe event or get together can really help team working as well as making people feel valued.
Spruce up the Office
It has been shown that pleasant working environments aid productivity. A lick of paint and upgrading chairs doesn’t cost a fortune but helps engender pride in the workplace and might make the office feel different post Covid-19.
On-going Flexible Working
Think about how you can offer flexibility in working – whether it is looking at changing hours to accommodate school holidays, or allowing home working as a more general rule.