Empower your employees – and take heed of an advice | Olivia Solon

Faye Miller (A) and Vanessa Hilton (B) know a thing or two about the world of work. And they have clever ideas about what to do with their workplaces when things get tough. Faye doesn’t want to be “the butt of everyone’s jokes”. And Vanessa wants employees to feel valued, a task she describes as like teaching a class on the merits of being with their friends.

Read the Mail & General Trust reports on leading job cuts

But they also take a stern view on the way human resources and management operate in the workplace – from the pile of paperwork to an approach that leads some employers to justify layoffs as a cost-cutting exercise.

Stop looking for solutions in data collection – data-collection should be stopped

The mass culling, or whatever is popularly referred to as the “fire sale”, won’t go away until people stop asking for information about who needs to go and why. Anna Goodwin, Faye’s partner, encourages her to stop calculating figures. “There are only two reasons to get rid of staff,” she says: “You have outdated workforces, or people are costing you too much.” People simply aren’t allowed to make mistakes, come back to work late, or do other things the less able get away with. The consequences are severe.

“The authorities need to know,” Faye says. She wishes officials would “stop monitoring how much we spend on these things, and just let us run our own businesses.”

Focus on the value of people at your work

Trying to estimate what people and processes will bring in for the sake of the annual report is also counterproductive. “Checking everything – time, attendance, staff and processes – is just a stop-gap measure to make the numbers look good in the wash-up,” Anna says. Instead Faye and Vanessa want people to focus on the value of employees rather than the “cost-benefit analyses” that too often see best practices based on numbers rather than people, their personalities and ideas.

Replace marking progress with inclusion

“If you don’t measure how you’re doing,” Faye warns, “then you can’t recognise when you’re getting it right.”

Meet employees as people. Make them feel heard and liked

“Employees don’t matter if they are all just barking orders or wasting your time. There are no princesses or royalty at work,” says Faye. Instead, she advises companies to consider the outcome, context and need of the employees. “Let’s stop focussing on staff performance. They matter more for their connections to your other employees and your clients, than for their marks on a table.”

Finally, take a leaf out of Faye’s book and actually know who you’re dealing with. “What would a table-turner, a scientist, a busser, or a top executive look like?” she says. “Know what you’re up against and be prepared to face its wrath. You need the right people there at the right time to deliver the right customer, if ever you get one, you will become part of the team.”

Have a word with your boss

The trouble with HR managers is that they tend to find it difficult to turn off their phones and put down their keyboard. They see only the grimmest of scenarios. But this is a mistake. There is something wrong with the “me, me, me” mentality in the work environment. Faye and Vanessa believe leadership can exert a greater influence in the workplace if managers develop strong connections with their direct reports. She suggests having a monthly, two-hour meeting with everyone you see who matters to you – who is having a bad day, who you support, who you don’t.

Leaders must listen as well as talk. Share what you really think and see if any of your subordinates would “be capable of saying it”. Be gentle, but firm when it’s needed.

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