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Annie Hayes

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HR Practitioner’s Diary: The calm before the storm

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Sue helps out with a damsel in distress this week and hopes her ‘frogs’ will turn out to be a knight in shining armour and a dab hand on the golf course.


W/C 15 August 2005:
Not a shooting star in view last week, but lots of interesting things have been happening anyway. Autumn is most definitely on the way judging by today’s weather, someone even dared to mention Christmas this week – bah humbug!

Stepping out of the Tardis
I hooked up with an associate to visit a well established company based in Mansfield. We discussed employee benefits. It’s an interesting town which has a sense of being stuck in a time warp in some areas but they’re very friendly people.

The client has operated a staff pension scheme for some 27 years but has never reviewed it.

The lady we saw was very helpful, but was not a Trustee of the scheme, so she was unable to give any clear directive as to exactly what they were hoping to achieve. Whilst she described herself as the “HR Executive”, it was clear her scope of authority was very restricted.

When my associate made the appointment the client seemed very keen on the phone, but face to face we started to wonder why we were there! We were able to establish that they operated a Life Assurance scheme based on two times salary and also offered medical cover, but these schemes were restricted on the basis that you had to be a member of the pension scheme or that you had the status of a manager.

This is something I come across quite often, companies that don’t offer schemes on an equal basis. I’ve even encountered schemes that purposely exclude part-time staff! They may look after their senior team, but sadly forget to focus on their general staff.

I wonder how long companies will be able to operate in this way before someone has a successful discrimination claim, based on the fact that benefits should be available to all. Is it wise to operate on a ‘pick and mix’ basis, like a sweet counter, or should companies extend fairer policies? What do you think?

We gave the client a number of ideas as to how they may improve what they have on offer and will follow up to see if we can take them out of the dark ages.

I intend to do a lot of work with my associate with a view to implementing better or improved rewards and benefits in companies. The education process is to demonstrate how, for surprisingly low cost, you can improve loyalty and retention of staff considerably. My associate handles the administration of these schemes, so, if anything, they are relieving the headache and workload of the HR department.

Mine is the Kingdom…
I encountered a ‘scary’ story this week. A female HR Director (lets call her ‘Maggie’) of a very large company in the Midlands has seemingly built herself a ‘kingdom’.

The company has around 16,000 staff working throughout the UK operating in various areas including admin, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution. Maggie was approached by my associate with a view to discussing employee benefits only to be told that she did not need an independent financial adviser to act as intermediary and that she takes care of this herself!

Maggie considers herself more than capable of advising her staff regarding their financial planning in respect of their retirement, pension and investments! When asked if she had achieved levels one through to nine of the Certificate in Financial Planning, her response was fairly predictable – she had not! However, she rather arrogantly responded that it was not difficult to help people in this area. “A little knowledge is dangerous” springs to mind!

To see what qualifications are required to assist someone in their financial planning you might like to take a look at the following website – www.cii.co.uk/cii.aspx?p=235.

My associate did write to Maggie’s board of Directors to advise them of this inappropriate practice and the dangers therein to both the company and the staff. They did not reply to his letter!

It is beyond me how Maggie could even imagine herself capable to advise individuals in this very specialised area. Imagine if someone’s pension turns out to be a total flop based on Maggie’s advice – who’s head would it fall on for the misrepresentation? Interesting huh!

Let the experts take care of it and don’t even attempt to advise individuals, no matter how much they may push you.

I have worked with my associate for some 14+ years and they are brilliant at what they do and it doesn’t cost the company a penny as their commission comes from the provider in every instance. The advice they give to staff is free!

Mum’s the word
Confidentiality is a tricky area in certain circumstances. Let me give you a scenario:

Lynn had been an employee for four months when she came to see me seeking a ‘private’ word. She had discovered she was pregnant which, to her, was a personal disaster.

The father of the child was her ex-boyfriend, Lynn was only 18 years old and she did not want to go through with the pregnancy. She had made arrangements for a termination and needed to book annual leave to cover the three days she would need for the process and recovery. Lynn did not want her colleagues to discover the reason for her absence and also advised me that she had not told her parents. Only her best friend was aware besides me.

I reassured her that I would treat her request in the strictest confidence and told her that I was on hand if she needed to talk about it at any time – ’a trouble shared is a trouble halved.’

Lynn underwent the abortion and after two days recovery returned to work, her colleagues none the wiser. On her second day back Lynn developed severe lower abdominal pain. Thinking it was just the time of the time, one of her colleagues offered a paracetamol.

Sharing medication is something I don’t advocate and I discourage at every opportunity.

Lynn’s pain became chronic, her colleagues duly called me for some advice. Aware of the situation I was able to advise them to get her to hospital.

Lynn asked me to call her parents to let them know where she was, she was only 18 and naturally very scared. I pointed out to her that she would very probably need to tell her parents what she had really been through and she agreed. I was on hand at that time and her parents were naturally very concerned, upset, but totally supportive.

The doctor’s diagnosis was that she had an acute infection as a result of the termination which was causing chronic pain and inflammation. She was hospitalised for four days on an intense course of antibiotics.

Back at the office the staff only understood that she had an infection, oblivious to the actual cause. Lynn’s predicament remained confidential and after a weeks absence she returned to work and, with the help of her family, came to terms with her experience.
I was relieved that Lynn trusted me enough to confide her problems with me.
Knowing what she had gone through I was able to respond both urgently and appropriately.

This really is the ultimate scenario for an HR representative, trust staff that know that they can always turn to you and benefit from total confidentiality without judgement or interference.

We are there to offer simple support and empathy, we’re only human after all.

This makes me wonder just how many people keep their ‘next of kin’ details up to date.

On a lighter note, I’m looking forward to a golf tournament next week. It could be just me and 71 guys again – result!

Vital Stats:

For all of those ‘singletons’ out there:

  • Weight – 9st 9lbs (steady Eddie, best way to keep it off)

  • Chocolate – one chocolate muffin – a treat after another days tiling. I’ve got another 66 to go and the job’s finished – hurrah!

  • Wine – two glasses whilst putting my feet up after enjoying my muffin!

  • Cider – several as a result of hot weather, energetic walking and fun golf.

  • Boyfriends – two dates – both with Charles. First date was spent driving to Warwickshire and walking to a beauty spot with his children. The scenery was beautiful and the sun was beating down. The best retreat was to a lovely pub in the village of Hampton Lucy. Excellent food, good cider and fun company. The dove chick has been named Eddie, but he still can’t fly!
    Second date – Charles earned his supper. He fixed my rotary line, solved a problem with my new bath panel and supplied another half a dozen eggs. Have a feeling this is all leading to the basis of a good friendship, but not sensing any more than that – who knows!

  • Golf – very hot nine holes followed by much welcomed cider and potato wedges. Need to practice for my tournament next week.

  • Deep thoughts – How many frogs before I find my Prince?

Keep it simple everyone and enjoy your week ahead!

More diary entries:

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