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We'll post here on topics and issues related to the world of work. Don't forget to check back regularly to find out what's new!



  • ► How to increase your self-awareness? - October 2014

    Self-awareness is the capacity to direct attention toward the self and it begins with the assumption that at any given time, our attention may be focused on either ourselves or the environment, but not both.

    Developing self-awareness takes conscious effort, but luckily there are some tools and techniques that can be used to help.

    1 - The Johari Window

    The Johari Window is a tool developed in the 1950's by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. It is designed to increase awareness of yourself and others in a work situation.

    2 - Keep a reflective learning log

    A log or diary is a good way to force you to reflect on your actions. It could be a simple diary of daily events or it could be a record of critical events (such as giving an important presentation)

    3 - Continually seek feedback

    We use feedback all the time when we are learning new knowledge or skills but rarely seek feedback on our behaviour. Yet seeing ourselves as others see us is extremely important in developing self-awareness. You can ask questions such as "How do you think I handled that situation?" and "What sort of impression did I make then?"

    4 - Learn to manage your emotions

    Emotional self-awareness is not easy. We rarely plan to be emotional and our emotions often take us by surprise. It is therefore something we have to practice until it becomes natural to us. The three steps are recognising emotions, understanding emotions and controlling emotions.

    5 - Reflective learning

    This is a personal and private activity designed to put you in touch with the creative sides of your brain. The steps area follows:

    • Get a pad of unlined paper and two pens (different colours), and then go somewhere quite with no distractions
    • With your dominant hand (for most people the right), use one pen to write down a question that you have about your life
    • With your non-dominant hand, use the other pen and let the answer flow onto the paper.
  • ► Yes, but does it make sense? - May 2014

    Over the last twenty years employee communications has grown enormously as a business discipline. But in all that time one thing hasn’t changed. If you are responsible for your organisation’s employee communications your most useful tool is still the same as it’s always been – the ‘sense check’.

    The ‘sense check’ is often underrated and yet applying it carefully and consistently, can save you and your organisation a great deal of time and trouble. It’s amazing how many initiatives stall once the communication team become involved.  Flaws in reasoning, proposed execution or timing are quickly exposed when scrutinised by the person advising on communication who has successfully applied the ‘sense check’.

    But what is the ‘sense check’ and what does it take to successfully apply it? Put simply, it means that the first thing you should do when faced with a communication request is to take a step back and apply a simple, common sense approach – ask yourself ‘does this make sense to me?’  Here are some questions to ask yourself to find out if it does indeed make sense:

    • Does the overall proposal/change/announcement make sense to you? Do you have any concerns? If so, now is the time to speak up.
    • Have all the necessary decisions been taken and implications thought through? Don’t be pushed into communicating something that you know won’t stand up to scrutiny. Remember – it’s not your responsibility to take the decisions needed, only to communicate those decisions. 
    • Is the message consistent? Does it contradict other messages or announcements? Is it consistent with your organisation’s vision and values?
    • Is the timing right? Do you know of anything else which is happening that could impact this communication?
    • Are those who will be charged with delivering the communication the right people for the job? Do they understand and accept how the implications of the communication will affect them personally? Are they fully informed and briefed? Do they know how to handle questions from their staff that they can’t answer? Do they need training?
    • Is it clear how the news/changes covered by the communication will affect the recipients? Does the communication address the questions people are likely to ask? Does it say why and when something is happening and not just what is happening? Does it spell out the implications for all those affected?
    • Is there an opportunity for people to give feedback, ask questions and check their understanding?
    • Are the proposed communication methods the right ones? Will a variety of communication channels and methods be used?
    • Are the communication plans and briefing documents written in a clear and simple style that can be easily understood and absorbed by the people affected in language that they can understand? If not, change them.
    • Have you eliminated jargon or acronyms? The same goes for ‘management speak’.
    • Who will review and sign off your communication? Can you contact them when you need to?  Do they have the necessary authority or do you need to take it higher up the chain?
  • ► Why storytelling is one of the best ways to get your message across - May 2014

    “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ― Philip Pullman, author.

    Ok, so maybe Philip Pullman is biased, exaggerating or both, but there’s no doubt that storytelling is an important tool in the corporate communicator’s repertoire and that mastering the art of great storytelling can help you engage better with your employees.

    Why? Well, as an ancient method of communication, storytelling is embedded deep in the human psyche. Humans have evolved to take notice of stories: legends, myths and traditions have connected us to universal truths for thousands of years and ensured the very survival of the human race.  Today’s audiences are likely to have been raised by parents who fired their imaginations through the telling of bedtime stories. It’s no wonder then that when a speaker uses storytelling to get their message across we are pre-programmed to listen.

    Stories tap into our imagination, engaging us through our emotions, providing order and structure and enabling our brains to make sense of what we’re hearing. Stories provide the context that allows us to take on board the messages that they contain.

    As a manager, storytelling can really help you connect with your audience and allow them to see the human being behind the corporate façade. Once you have that connection, you have their attention and it’s likely they will be much more receptive to what you have to say.  Audiences can become highly absorbed by good stories and are more likely to be changed by them.

    So, how can you use stories to improve your employee communications? Here are just a few ideas.

    You can use stories to:

    • Talk about you as a person in order to build trust (this is  particularly useful when working with a new team)
    • Explain the bigger picture to get across a big idea or new vision
    • Give examples to provide proof that what you are proposing will work
    • Simplify complex messages and concepts
    • Motivate and inspire people to change their behaviour
    • Address an audience’s unspoken concerns to show that you understand where they are coming from and can identify with what is worrying them.

    Storytelling is an important communication tool that can help you inform, persuade and change behaviour. And best of all for your audience, it’s a form of communication where there is no need to use PowerPoint!

    Blog written by Jill Harris

  • ► Tips for effective employee communications - May 2014

    In our previous blog we spoke about the importance of effective employee communication to the success of your business and the fact that poor communication often lies at the root of problems within organisations.

    With so much at stake, it can be tempting at times to bury your head in the sand and resolve to communicate less rather than more. But clear, consistent and regular communication can make a big difference to your business. And the good news is that just three things are needed to make your communications a success - thorough planning, careful execution and a large measure of common sense.

    Here are some tips to help you get your employee communications right:

    Be open and honest

    An obvious one, but if your communications aren’t open and honest then your employees will quickly realise that they and you can’t be trusted. As a result, gossip and rumour are likely to fill the credibility gap.

    Consider your audience

    You may have your own reasons for making changes and while it’s good to communicate these it’s also important to consider your employees’ likely first thought - – “what’s in it for me?”

    Good communicators have the ability to put themselves in the shoes of others and to see how the world looks from other peoples’ perspectives. Are you using language they will understand and respond to? Do you know what their concerns are likely to be? What questions will they want answers to? How are they likely to react?

    Avoid jargon and pitch your communications to the level of understanding of the people you are communicating to.

    Know what you want to achieve

    Be crystal clear on the purpose of your communication. Are you merely informing people; passing on some good news or do you want them to take action? At the outset you need to be clear on what you are trying to communicate and what your goals are.

    Have a consistent message

    Don’t confuse your employees by sending mixed or unclear messages: your credibility will quickly suffer. The resulting confusion and knowledge gaps will rapidly lead to the reappearance of your old enemies – gossip and rumour.

    Explain why

    It’s not enough to tell employees what is going to happen and how – they will want and need to know why.

    Identify the best mechanisms to use and when

    The tools you choose to use will not be the same for all communications nor for all employees. Consider locations, shift patterns, time zones and how you will communicate with those who are absent from the workplace, for example, those on holiday, sick leave or maternity leave.

    Are your managers clearly briefed?

    Consider how you will prepare your managers : will this be done face to face or electronically? Do they have a comprehensive brief to ensure consistency of message? Do they know how to handle questions they don’t know the answers to? Do they all have the necessary skills to communicate effectively or do you need to organise training for them?

    Put feedback opportunities in place

    Make sure you put mechanisms in place for people to give feedback or ask further questions. Whether you do this face to face or use the myriad of electronic communications available today, make sure that your system works properly; that those who want a response get one and that all feedback is captured and evaluated.

    Know how you will evaluate the success of your communication

    Having the ability to evaluate the success or otherwise of your communication is essential for addressing problems and for future improvement.

    Blog written by Jill Harris

  • ► Why effective employee communication is so important - April 2014

    “There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow…It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it…”

    - Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric

    It is a truth universally acknowledged by business leaders that good communications lie at the heart of successful organisations. Likewise, poor communication can usually be found at, or very near to, the root of almost all issues and problems.  

    Clear, open and honest communications with employees are needed for many reasons; some of the most important are to:

    • Promote understanding - your people need to know what is expected of them and crucially why they do what they do. Understanding how their work impacts their team, department and organisation allows employees to connect what they do to the overall success of your business.  Those who have the information to be able to do this tend to be more positive and satisfied in their work
    • Inform – employees like and need to know what’s going on in their organisation. And don’t forget that there’s no point in spending a lot of time and money on a new marketing or PR campaign unless you help guarantee the best results by making sure your staff are fully briefed and engaged
    • Communicate change – any change, particularly the kind which has a negative impact, deserves careful and sensitive communication.  The way change is communicated will determine how it is perceived and understood and how easily employees adapt
    • Celebrate success – sharing good news about your organisation is a great opportunity to boost morale and recognise those who made the success possible

    Get it right and your employee communications can improve your organisation’s performance (ie, your bottom line); boost employee satisfaction, performance and retention; increase morale and job satisfaction; and build trust in your organisation and leadership team. It’s true that this takes time and effort, but the most important ingredient for effective communication is a large dose of common sense – it certainly isn’t rocket science.

    The chances are that if you’re already a manager you probably have a lot of what it takes to be a good communicator.  Put yourself in your employees’ shoes. What do they want to know and what do they need to know? No-one wants rumour and gossip to fill the gap where good communications should be. Far better to devote time and energy to getting your message and method right so you can sit back and watch your business reap the rewards.

    To help you improve your employee communications, the Flexijobs’ blog will focus for the next few weeks on offering you hints and tips.

    Blog written by Jill Harris

  • ► Timesaving tips - April 2014

    There are lots of things you can acquire more of, but time isn’t one of them. Twenty four hours in a day - that’s it.  Or is it?

    Well, obviously you can’t create more time, but you can claw back an hour in your day simply by being more efficient and working smarter not harder.

    Here are some ideas on how to do it:

    1. Close down your email. Yes we know that old advice to only check your emails twice a day isn’t realistic, but turning your email off while you’re working on something else makes absolute sense. Resisting temptation to check your mail can be really tricky, but it can take a long time to get your concentration back after a sneak peek at your inbox.  

    If closing your email down altogether seems too much, then at least turn off the alerts that let you know you have new messages. And while we’re on the subject, the same goes for your mobile and social media too! If you find the latter just too difficult to resist, try using website blocking tools.

    2. Delegate. Anything that can be delegated should be delegated. Concentrating on the important stuff that can only be done by you will free up more of your precious time. Enough said.

    3. Group tasks together. Focussing on similar tasks improves your level of efficiency, saving you time in the long run. Doing paperwork, making phone calls or running errands in blocks means your brain won’t waste time shifting gear and you’ll be using your brain and your time more efficiently. Not sure how to group tasks? Make a list of everything you do during a typical working day and then look for similarities and group them together. Notice how much time you save when you work through your schedule this way.

    4. Make meetings work for you. Unproductive meetings can swallow huge amounts of your time and if you need to travel to attend – yikes, that can be costly. See our post "How to hold effective meetings" for hints on how to make sure your meetings are more productive and a better use of your time.

    5. Discourage human interruptions. Like email, work colleague interruptions can play havoc with your schedule. But as most of our offices are open plan, putting a physical barrier such as a door between you and a chatty co-worker isn’t an option. Instead you could try using a sign that you’re busy and don’t want to be disturbed. One of the FlexiJobs team stumbled on this idea when they started using a headset for making phone calls. They kept the headset on even when they weren’t making a call as they found it blocked out some of the noise in their office. An unexpected bonus was that people assumed they was on a call even when they weren’t and they were therefore much less likely to be disturbed – result!

  • ► How to hold effective meetings - April 2014

    They’re often seen as the bane of corporate life or a necessary evil of running a business, but why do meetings get such a bad press?

    Maybe it’s because we’ve all sat through ones that don’t seem to have a purpose or a meaningful agenda; meetings that leave us confused, frustrated and with a feeling that we’ve wasted our time.

    But it really doesn’t have to be like this.

    Here are some ideas on how to turn your meetings from tedious morale and time robbers into efficient and productive tools for success:

    1. Decide if a meeting is really needed

    This is perhaps the biggest time-saver of all – do you actually need a meeting in the first place? If you only have information to disseminate, why not use email or a webinar instead? Do you need to communicate with only a small group of people? Would a phone call work just as well?

    If you decide a meeting is needed, why not think about whether or not everyone has to be in the same location. Time spent travelling to meetings is often a huge waste. Could a conference or teleconference call work instead?

    2. Understand why you’re holding the meeting and what it will cover

    Being clear about your objectives for the meeting serves two purposes. Firstly, it establishes what you want to get out of the meeting and makes it much easier to produce an agenda that will deliver the results you want. Secondly, knowing what you want to achieve will make it simpler to evaluate the success of the meeting afterwards.

    Having firm objectives in mind will also make it easier to decide who should be invited. And communicating your meeting objectives clearly to the participants will let them know why you want them to be there and what is expected of them.  And don’t forget to send out your agenda well in advance so that everyone arrives adequately prepared and with the necessary information.  And it’s a good idea to get each participant to prepare something for the meeting, however small, as this will increase their engagement in the meeting.

    A word of warning - don’t be tempted to leave compiling the agenda until the beginning of the meeting itself as this is risks seriously undermining your chances of success.

    3. Give your meeting the best chance to succeed

    On the day of the meeting itself it’s important to try to create a physical setting which will help you achieve your objectives. Arrange the meeting room so participants can face each other – around a table for small groups and in a U shaped for a larger gathering. Make sure you have the right equipment – especially if there are presentations - and double check that technology is working well before the meeting starts.

    When you open the meeting, take care to clearly state what you want to achieve by the end and establish the ground rules.

    During the meeting, it’s your job to make sure that the agenda is followed and the objectives are met. Have an action for each agenda item and a date by which it needs to be completed. And don’t forget to assign someone to take notes and record actions.

    Keep a close eye on time during the meeting – it’s up to you to decide whether or not to let discussions run over their allotted time. Encourage participation from everyone - especially if you notice someone holding back. After all, you’ve already spent time carefully considering who needs to be there in the first place.

    At the end of the meeting ask for opinions on how it went and suggestions for improving the next one.

    4. Follow up after the meeting

    Arrange for the minutes to be distributed to participants as soon as possible. These should summarise the outcome of the meeting and give details on action points with allocated responsibility and completion dates.

    Don’t forget - a little time spent on careful planning and thorough execution will mean your meetings achieve their purpose and use everyone’s time effectively and efficiently.

  • ► Help I can't delegate - March 2014

    Think no-one can do that task as well as you?  Don’t have time to explain a new project to a junior? Enjoy doing that bit of admin too much to let it go?

    Ok, ok I’m being a little harsh. But just because you know how to do everything, it doesn’t mean you should!

    Have you thought that by not delegating you could be harming your career prospects and squandering the chance to develop and grow your team? The truth is - effective delegation is crucial for your own productivity and vital for the development and success of your team.

    Failure to delegate means you’ll be swamped with the day to day stuff leaving little time for what you’re supposed to be doing – leading your team and achieving your objectives. It also means that you can’t fulfil your responsibility to develop your people by nurturing and growing their skills and talents.

    Fear of delegation is often rooted in the fear of losing control. But how can you overcome this anxiety and do it well?

    Before you begin each task, try asking yourself “do I really need to do this?” Is there someone who could do it just as well? There is? Great! You’ve freed up space to dedicate to other more important things.

    Do you think you don’t have time to explain to someone else what needs to be done? Well they may not have all the skills and knowledge to undertake a task or take on a new project, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you think you don’t have time to teach them. Time invested now can reap many benefits going forward. Once you’ve delegated a task to a member of your team (and trained and instructed them properly) you can delegate again and again, saving yourself a great deal of time in the long run.

    If you’re a little nervous, try noticing what your individual team members are good at and delegate tasks that play to their strengths. Grow your team by helping them develop the talents they already have. Delegating will give them confidence and show them that you trust them and value their input.

    Choose the right person – and don’t be afraid to stretch them. But avoid delegating to someone who is nowhere near ready or able to complete the task as doing this can damage their confidence and their trust in you.

    Once you have delegated a task or project don’t be tempted to micromanage, but do be available to provide encouragement and support. Don’t forget to check progress though. And don’t fall into the trap of only delegating the boring, mundane stuff and keeping all the exciting projects to yourself. This is probably one of the quickest ways to demotivate and demoralise your team.

    Go on, why not loosen up a bit and let go. You never know, you might find you actually enjoy it.

  • ► How to deal with demotivated employees - March 2014

    A demotivated employee can have a negative impact on your team and business. Their behaviour can lower morale and decrease productivity. So what can you do if you’re faced with an employee who is obviously demotivated, especially one who has previously been a high performer?

    Employees become demotivated for many reasons – some of them easily fixable, others less so.

    They could be dissatisfied with their role, the behaviour of other people in their team or department, or the problem may lie in their home life. Before you tackle your demotivated employee, it’s a good idea to look at yourself and the way that you’re managing the person in question. The quality of an employee’s relationship with their line manager is the most important factor in determining whether or not they are engaged in their work.  A study in the US in 2012 found that if an employee is dissatisfied with their immediate manager, there was an 80% chance that they were disengaged.

    Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that getting to the bottom of exactly what is causing the demotivation is critical. It’s only then that potential solutions can be explored.

    Arranging a meeting is a good place to start. But whatever you do, don’t rush into this unprepared. This situation calls for tact and diplomacy and above all preparation. Do you have the evidence that they are underperforming or demotivated?  Have you observed this yourself? Have you consider how they are likely to react and prepared your response? It’s a good idea to take advice from your HR department and discuss with them how you intend to conduct the meeting.

    At the meeting itself it’s important to show concern and empathy. It’s crucial to listen carefully to what the demotivated employee has to say. Focus on them as a person, not just their role. Resist the temptation to jump in if they mention an easily fixable problem - make sure you hear them out so that you really get to the bottom of what is bothering them. Ask probing questions to make sure that you tease out the root cause of the issues.  Paraphrase and reflect back to check that you have understood correctly what they are saying. If the problem lies at work, you will then have the best chance to support them in changing things for the better. If the problem is a home issue, you can help them by listening and perhaps signposting them to other people or organisations who can help them.

    When all issues have been aired and possible solutions and ways forward have been established, set up a further meeting to review progress. And don’t forget to offer praise, encouragement and feedback when you see your employee acting in a more positive way in their day to day work.

    Supporting your demotivated employee and working through solutions with them can take time and effort, but the positive effect you should see in the individual and the rest of your team will make it worthwhile.

  • ► Motivating employees in tough economic times - March 2014

    At last the sun is shining and the tender shoots of economic recovery are springing up along with the crocuses. But budgets are still tight and whether you’re a multinational or a small business owner, there’s probably no sign yet of being able to reward your employees with significant pay rises. So what can you do to make sure your people are motivated and on track? Does money have a part to play in this anyway?

    Well, opinion is divided on this subject. But what is clear is that money is not the only motivator and probably not one of the best ways to inspire your team.
    So what can you do to make sure your people are encouraged to do the best they can? The place to start is with yourself. Make sure you have what you need to keep motivated; otherwise you’ll struggle to motivate others. Pay attention to your own behaviour. Displaying a positive attitude and strong leadership skills will put you in a good position.  However, one of the key things to remember is that it’s actually very difficult to motivate someone else. Motivation is something that has to come from within. But you can work hard to create an environment in which your people can flourish and find their own motivation.

    Stress, uncertainty and financial pressures are sometimes unavoidable, but these negative influences can have a big impact on employee motivation, so try to minimise their effect as far as you can. Creating pleasant, comfortable and positive surroundings is crucial. An open and safe environment which encourages new ideas while permitting mistakes to be made can go a long way to encourage your employees to give their best.  Take time to notice when individuals are stressed or demotivated and offer support. Paying attention will also mean you’re more likely to spot potential problems and nip them in the bud before they begin to negatively impact your workplace. Adopting an open door policy and taking employee concerns seriously can also help foster a positive atmosphere.

    Strong, timely and effective two-way communication can mean that your people have the information they need to do their job and the means to get themselves heard. Take your employees’ feedback seriously and let them see that you make changes based on their feedback.  Show them why they are doing something and the positive contribution it makes towards achieving the goals of their team, department and organisation. Being shown the bigger picture and how they fit into it, by yourself or a senior executive, can also have a strong motivating effect on employees.

    Make sure you recognise and reward hard work and success. This doesn’t always have to involve spending money. Offering a simple ‘thank you’ straightaway can have a very positive impact. Being specific in your praise lets your employees know that you appreciate the effort they made and they get the message that you want them to continue.

    Empowering your people to make their own decisions – giving autonomy and responsibility – sends a powerful message that they are trusted to get on with the job. It’s also important to stretch your staff, but make sure they are given the right tools and plenty of support – overstretching can lead to them becoming demotivated.
    Involving your people in the decision making process, especially those decisions that impact them and their work, can also convey that they are valued, trusted and appreciated.

    Remember that no one thing is going to light everyone’s fire. Get to know your staff and tailor how you tackle motivation to an individual level. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that what motivates you will motivate your team. Likewise, don’t assume they definitely won’t be motivated by the same things as you.

    As the economy improves, demotivated employees are more likely to leave. But by acting now you can foster an environment and culture which encourages and inspires your employees so they are more likely to stay when the good times roll and contribute to the success of your organisation.

    Blog by Jill Harris