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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

A "Novel" Look At HR

There are 3 or 4 recurring people-centric issues that are front and centre of the things that many businesses are dealing with today – The Great Resignation (or Big Quit as it can be known in the UK), The Battle for Talent, Engaging Communication and Remote/Hybrid working. But are these really new issues. Have they only come about in the last two years because of the effects of the Pandemic?

With the exception of The Great Resignation, I’d say “not”. And maybe you could argue that that has always been in the background, but people have been given more time to think. And if they’ve always been there, why are we still talking about them?

In episode 37 of The Sticky From The Inside Podcast, Andy Goram, host and founder of the employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy, Bizjuicer, speaks to Emma Harvey, from Candid HR, who's written a novel, not a manual, to look at the issues businesses, and in particular, HR professionals, face and how to deal with them. The characters and funny stories in the book that Emma shares in this episode, are all based on her real-life experiences.

Below is a full transcript of the conversation, but you can also listen to the episode here.

A lady and a man on a podcast talking about employee engagement, business culture and HR issues
Emma Harvey (left) and Andy Goram (right) take a "novel" look at recurring HR issues

00:00:01 Andy Goram

Hi! Andy here, with a quick message ahead of this episode. After two years of avoiding COVID, it finally caught up with me just ahead of recording this episode, so I hope the quality of my voice doesn't detract from your enjoyment of the episode. But the show must go on, so let's crack on!

Intro Music

00:00:29 Andy Goram

Hello, and welcome to sticky from the inside, the Employee Engagement Podcast that looks at how to build stickier, competition-smashing, consistently successful organisations from the inside out.

I'm your host, Andy Goram and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tonnes more success for everyone.

This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses. The sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others, because they love what you do and why you do it.

So, if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

00:01:29 Andy Goram

Speaking to people over the last few years about engagement, culture, leadership and all those related topics has been an education and a privilege. It's very easy though to end up talking about the same things constantly. Well today we're going to try and look at some familiar things from a slightly different angle, or at least we'll get our attempt to.

There are three or four recurring people-centric issues that are front and centre for things that many businesses are dealing with today. Stuff like the Great Resignation, or as the Brits sometimes call it, “The Big Quit”, the battle for talent, engaging communication and the whole topic of remote and hybrid working. But are these new things? Have they only come about in the last two years because of the effects of the pandemic? With the exception of the Great Resignation, I'd say not. And maybe you could argue that that has always been in the background, but people have been given a bit more time to think of late. And if they've always been there, why are we still talking about them? And actually, what has the pandemic changed? Maybe it's become just a bit like old wallpaper and we haven't taken as much notice of it probably. Maybe we need to reframe the issues, or at least find other ways of drawing attention to provoke some more awareness and some different actions. Maybe the pandemic has changed the way we need to approach these things.

Well, my guest today is Emma Harvey, who's the MD of Candid HR. Now as a seasoned HR professional and board member, she is all too familiar with the people issues affecting engagement and culture in businesses today. But recently Emma has tried to bring a greater attention to these things by writing a book, but not just another self-help, instructional guide; but a novel. A story that brings to life the issues faced in businesses everyday with fictionalised characters. Now having a novel look at it gives us a chance to look at the issues of the past and an opportunity to think about how we might tackle them today, in the hope that they trigger some form of better understanding and provide an insight into the solutions that actually work, and go on to sustainably improve the working environment.

At least that's the idea for today, so let's give it a go. Welcome to the show, Emma.

00:04:04 Emma Harvey

Thank you, Andy. Thanks for having me.

00:04:06 Andy Goram

It's wonderful to have you here, mate. I think I'm right in saying you're my first novelist.

00:04:11 Emma Harvey

Oh, I'm honoured. Thank you.

00:04:12 Andy Goram

Yeah, I've had book authors, but they've all been the kind of business handbook, type books. Not a novel, and so this is going to be, I think, an interesting look. Before we get into talking around all the issues that that people and businesses are facing today, tell us a little bit about you and about Candid HR to start with.

00:04:35 Emma Harvey

Sure, well I started Candid HR in July 2018. So, I had a good 18 months before the world went pear-shaped and mad, in business. And prior to that I've had 20 years of HR experience working for global corporates such as Johnson & Johnson, Wincanton Logistics, RR Donnelley, Tesco. You know, quite large, robust, unionised environments, packed full of interesting characters and challenges along the way.

00:05:05 Andy Goram

Today, what do you do with businesses that you look after? What sort of things are you coping with?

00:05:09 Emma Harvey

Yeah, so today I'm sort of trying to apply what I learned over those years at corporate level to the SME world. So, SME businesses who don't necessarily have an in-house HR function, but they know they want to do the right things, in the right way. And we try and bring that experience to those businesses. And we try and explain it as the life cycle of the employee.

So, if you think about recruitment to exit and everything that might happen in between, HR should be in the middle of that, having a positive touchpoint every step of the way.

00:05:40 Andy Goram

The employee experience is the hot topic at the moment, isn't it? So, I mean it sits very snuggly within there.

So, look, I'm interested in the book and how it relates to these recurring issues that everybody’s dealing with today albeit in a slightly different landscape. So, the book is titled, “Have you got a minute?” Now where's that title come from, and where did the inspiration come for writing a novel?

00:06:04 Emma Harvey

So, the inspiration for writing the novel came from over 20 years of hilarious, well, I think hilarious stories in the workplace and the crazy stuff that HR have to deal with behind the scenes that people don't necessarily always get to see or understand. And and there is a plethora of information out there and this book is just a joy. It's a veritable feast of experiences and characters, that are obviously fictional, mostly for legal reasons, but a lot of it's based on real life experience. And yeah, “Have you got a minute?” is the phrase that nobody wants to hear, from HR. But it's also the phrase that HR people use when they have to deliver difficult news.

00:06:50 Andy Goram

I can feel the shivers running down my spine now, realising where that title has come from and the number of times, I've had those corridor meetings with an HR person saying, “Andy, have you got a minute?” And it was never a good conversation that was following. Just for legal reasons I have to say, these weren't necessary about my behaviour, or things that I had done incorrectly, but certainly issues that we had to address as a business.

It sounds like a silly question, based on what you just said, but why a novel and not just a kind of another handbook on how to do HR?

00:07:27 Emma Harvey

Yeah, and don't get me wrong, there are very practical examples and tips for people on how to handle certain HR situations that come up in the workplace, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity to talk about some of the wonderful characters that I've worked with in real life, but bring them almost to life again in a fictional setting. The humour that I've seen along the way. The warmth. The feeling of being part of a big, sometimes dysfunctional, but family, in a workplace, it was too good an opportunity, I think, not to try and bring to life, via a novel. And hopefully it's, you know, my intention was for it to be a very warm book. It's not meant to be a critical book. Sometimes HR people are accused of being aloof and not really in touch and sitting in an ivory tower. I want the book to show that you know good HR people are very much hands on. Very much ground up. Supporting businesses from the ground up and the people that work within it. And I just felt I would have more license and more freedom to write, if it was a fictional novel, rather than a how to guide.

00:08:36 Andy Goram

And from what you talk about less legal issues following the stories that you may well tell on today's episode.

00:08:43 Emma Harvey

Hopefully! Names have been changed to protect the guilty. It is a work of fiction, definitely.

00:08:52 Andy Goram

And so that message behind the book, is it really there to show the caring, compassionate side of HR? Or is it to bring attention to the issues and the sustainable solutions to putting some of these things right? Or a combination? You tell me.

00:09:09 Emma Harvey

It's a combination, actually. So you know HR first and foremost were employed by businesses to deliver on objectives, and it's a much more strategic role now than it possibly was 20 years ago, where this book’s set. But that said, at the bottom of this, at the heart of it, whether it's managers, directors, VP's, CEOs wanting to deliver things and having crazy ways and ideas of how to do it, or whether it's people on the ground, doing crazy stuff, HR has to manage all of that. And you know, there's a very real example that I talk about, when I speak about the book. And one of my roles was to strategise multi-million pound, multi-million dollar restructures across Europe. And I'd be sat in meetings with Americans till 9:00 o'clock at night, figuring this stuff out, going spreadsheet-silly. Spreadsheet-drunk after it, and I walk out of my office and there'd be 2 ladies from the night shift, having had an argument over throwing something in a bin, and they’d involved their Union Rep, and I’d just have to switch from one to the other, like that. And that's the reality. And this book is trying to express all of the different experiences that HR people have and the way that we handle them and deliver it.

00:10:24 Andy Goram

And the timing of the book, in terms of where you set it. So, you say it’s set sort of 20 years ago, and today we're going to talk about issues that we're facing today. And from what you see, and what you've worked on, you know, are we right to say that a lot of the issues people are facing today, are the same? And then if so, do we need to take a different approach to them? And how does the book relate to what you might have done 20 years ago to actually, what we need to do today?

00:10:53 Emma Harvey

So, I think it's important to remember in times of crisis, especially, that most things are cyclical. So right now, for example, we seem to have a candidate-driven recruitment market. Well, it was the same 25 years ago, in inner-city Manchester, when we couldn't hire people for love nor money, because when employment was at an all-time low. So there were definitely common themes and the book addresses what we did then, and a lot of what we did then would still be relevant now.

00:11:21 Andy Goram


00:11:23 Emma Harvey

So, I think, you know, there’s takeaways for people. It's not just a novel about crazy characters. There are some, you know, very tangible and helpful examples in the book. We've got a whole chapter that is dedicated to recruitment, for example. We've got a whole chapter dedicated to people having sex in a warehouse. Because that happens. People do do that stuff at work.

00:11:43 Andy Goram

A whole chapter on sex in the warehouse, marvellous!

00:11:45 Emma Harvey

Sex at work, yeah. Sex at work. And the amount of times I've had to deal, you know, manage the fallout of that, in more ways than one. This stuff still happens, but there themes then that are still relevant now.

I think the game changer’s been the pandemic obviously, and how technology is moved on since then, to enable more flexible hybrid working. But not every sector has that, you know. I'm sure we'll cover that because if you're running a manufacturing plant, you can't go and do that from your bedroom. If you're running a retail high shop, you can't necessarily go do that from your bedroom, so.

00:12:23 Andy Goram

Yeah, there's a real danger, isn't there? That everything gets sort of like COVID-washed with this stuff and everything’s about remote and hybrid working. But that doesn't cover the whole population. The whole working population for sure, so we can dig into that. So look, let's pick up on some of these key themes. OK, so I mean, we talked at the front about attracting and retaining good people. So, a whole thing of out of recruitment, certainly at the front of that, how does the book cover the recruitment? Is there a particular story that you want to sort of share, that would set the scene?

00:12:57 Emma Harvey

Well, the book is set in the Northwest in 1997. And some of the challenges we had then, like I said, you know, unemployment at an all-time low. Very difficult to recruit people. We’re on industrial estates where people would literally go down the road for 10p an hour more. That was a constant, constant cycle. So even then we had to be creative about what we were offering as a business and create a compelling reason why people would want to join us and stay with us. So back then, it was all about offering NVQs. Vocational qualifications for people. You know, signing them up in, you know, warehousing and distribution. It was brilliant Level 2, Level 3. We had ILM (The Institute of Leadership & Management) that type of thing. We were very creative in where we recruited. And this was pre-internet. So pre paid-job-boards, and we wrote adverts in different languages, based on the locations of the distribution. We had buses to pick people up and bring them to work and take them home after shifts. You know, we did all sorts back then. And now, those innovative ideas are still out there, but they've possibly moved on a little bit in terms of technology.

00:14:16 Andy Goram

And what's the big issue that you see that businesses, in the main, are facing around recruitment today?

00:14:23 Emma Harvey

So, I think there's a bit of a double whammy. So, The Big Quit or The Great Resignation, is real. You know, without a doubt, I think, I read 1 poll recently by Microsoft. Where you know there was a global poll of 30,000 workers, and 41% were thinking of changing professions or quitting.

00:14:41 Andy Goram

Do you think these are new thoughts for people, that they're having, and do you see it covering a full spectrum of job roles? It's not just big execs who've decided,

“You know what? I'm going to go and live on my yacht rather than do work now

It's affecting everybody, right?

00:14:57 Emma Harvey

It is. It is affecting everybody. And most sectors. Some are harder hit than others. But yes, to answer your question, I think I it is affecting every level, of every organisation. And you know, we... people literally sat back and re-evaluated what they want from life. And travelling to work for an hour and a half and traveling back, and not having any free time within that to do anything that helps them on the home front, is just not attractive to a lot of people now. I mean if you take, you know, certain sectors like hospitality, supply chain and even office-based roles, where employers have been unable or unwilling to offer flexible working, those who have just seen great levels of retention and attraction. But it's got to depend on the sector that you're in and it's not always that easy to do. So, we're trying to work with our clients to come up with different, more creative solutions if you're not able to offer hybrid working.

00:15:56 Andy Goram

So, what are the good guys doing out there, right now? How are they differentiating themselves?

00:16:01 Emma Harvey

You know we're seeing some crazy counter offers in terms of salary, so you know somebody is available on the market one minute, they’re not the next, 'cause their current employer have offered five, ten £15,000 more. And I’m sorry, that's not sustainable in the long run. And what we find when we're actually speaking to people about it is, “Well, yeah, of course, I'm going to take it for now, but it's not the reason I was looking in the first place. It wasn't about money, it's about other things.” So, assuming that salaries or hourly rates at least reflect market rates, and that candidates can actually do the job, then one thing we're finding that's quite successful is to talk about your company values in job adverts. So people shop around for jobs these days, in this candidate market, and particularly with younger candidates, I think they want to identify with those values and be proud of the business that they work for. If you can offer flexibility, then shout about it in your adverts. If you can't, then let’s also be very clear about what else is on offer. So things like career development and advancement opportunities. Career progression is huge for people, if they want it. Promoting from within, responsibility, the ability to move on and be mobile within your job is really good to talk about. Sorry, really effective in terms of recruitment strategy. And then you know some of our clients are looking at boomerangs. So boomerangs are people who've left a business, went to work elsewhere and could come back to you, to return to you with even more experience than when they left. Those candidates hit the ground running, 'cause they already know your business and your culture, and you stand more chance of attracting them back, if they've still got friends in the business who speak well of it.

00:17:40 Andy Goram

Well, I think that connection to a business comes through a people and the values match up, doesn't it?And just picking up on that value space, I think that's really interesting, I would say that, because I'm a big fan of values and a lot of the work that I do with clients is around discovering and setting and embedding values within a business. And I will always espouse that these are important things. But it's interesting to hear from an HR practitioner dealing with lots of businesses about just how important putting your distinguishable values out in the marketplace are in attracting and retaining the right people. So from your perspective, it's not just a whim, it's not just a nice to have. This is demonstrably getting hold of decent people for your business.

00:18:25 Emma Harvey

It is. Absolutely. And we track it. So, we make data-driven decision-making, so we track where we hire people from, how long they stay with the business, the cost of hire as well, and the cost of onboarding and training. And that enables us to make sustained improvements in the recruitment process and informs our decisions on how we do it next time.

00:18:48 Andy Goram

Emma, does it take longer, that process of recruitment, to sort of sift through people who then have some kind of affinity or alignment to those values, and that's what's drawn them in? Or is it there is no time difference, it's just you're just attracting a different person right from the start, but the knock-on effect here is better retention, right?

00:19:07 Emma Harvey

Exactly that. So, it might be a bit more time investment upfront, but it will save you time and money later. So, if we take away all that pain for our clients, 'cause we do that. And we do that through, you know, technology, by asking the right questions as people apply for jobs online. We ask it in interviews, we interrogate it. And by the time a client sees a candidate they've already, we've already done that alignment piece.

00:19:33 Andy Goram

And within the book, are there any kind of, stories or attitudes, or daft characters that you'd like to share, that sort of like, accentuate this kind of issue of making the right choices and doing the right things, to recruit the right people?

00:19:50 Emma Harvey

Yeah, there's lots actually. There’s lots where it's gone well, and some where it's gone, you know horribly wrong. Where that interrogation piece isn't there, and people have just started jobs where they're unable to do them. I mean, there's one unfortunate incident which is based on a real-life experience. It was it was a quiet lady, who used to work in an admin position behind the scenes, who wanted to work front of house on reception? So, she was given a trial in the job and unfortunately, she genuinely had a genuine diagnosis of Tourette's, which she hadn't shared with the business.

00:20:28 Andy Goram

Oh dear!

00:20:29 Emma Harvey

Which came out when she was under pressure from a Regional Director, who had called in or called her on the phone. And it just, it just blew. That was, that was a massive learning curve for all concerned at the time.

00:20:46 Andy Goram

Bless her!

00:20:48 Emma Harvey

Luckily, she had a great sense of humour. But she recognised that it was probably a good idea to tell us, before we put her on front of house, that she may be had this condition. But it's also incumbent upon us to ask.

00:21:01 Andy Goram

Yeah, it's not to say that she couldn't do that role, right?

00:21:04 Emma Harvey

Exactly, she could do the role.

00:21:05 Andy Goram

But understanding the parameters of it all, means you can take mitigating action, right? Or explain to people situations rather than it being, I guess a surprise or shock when it happened.

00:21:18 Emma Harvey

Yeah, exactly that.

00:21:21 Andy Goram

And that wouldn't have made her feel great, either, right? I'm sure.

00:21:22 Emma Harvey

No, it didn't vote, but we dealt with it, you know, very openly, very compassionately, very supportively. And she was so grateful, as were her family members that were there. You know the management team were great, and we dealt with it in the right way, and it was all OK in the end. You know 'cause, you know, that's what happens when you deal with things, well.

You know we've had others where candidates have come for roles and not told us that they have a prison sentence pending, you know. And they’re 3-4 months in and then suddenly they don't come to work on Monday morning, you’re like,

Did we do any back checks or anything like that?”

00:21:58 Andy Goram

Good grief!

I'm going on extended leave. Yeah. I didn’t tell you about that.”

00:22:02 Emma Harvey

Oh! The best thing about... and genuinely this did happen to me, in real-life. A guy disappeared. We did the usual follow up trying to check if he was OK. And the next thing, I got a letter on prison paper basically and he'd gone to prison and he said,

I’m not going to be around for a couple of years, but could you keep my job open. And please could you ask Fred on B shift to do the lottery for me while I'm away?

00:22:29 Andy Goram

Oh my God! There you go. That's real-life on a page.

00:22:33 Emma Harvey

That's real life. That's real life. But you don't, you know, it's really important in HR not to judge. Not to judge. So, I tell these stories with warmth and humour and hopefully, compassion, you know, for the people that are involved. But it's funny. It's funny to deal with. So amusing.

00:22:51 Andy Goram

So all these things come back to communication, right? I mean is it any wonder that communication remains probably the number one issue that businesses and people in businesses face, right? It's always on the list. Is it still on the list today, like some of the things and issues you have to deal with for businesses? Is communications still at the heart of these?

00:23:12 Emma Harvey

Yeah, very much so. Actually, we're in a workshop this week on that very thing for our clients. It's about hybrid working. This particular client had a model of hybrid. So, pre pandemic, everybody was in an office. It's quite a technical administrative function that this company performs. So the benefit of employees, and particularly new starters to the team, of overhearing more experienced conversations in the office, it's just gone. It's lost. So, you know, there's an immediate problem with communication and onboarding and knowledge sharing. So, we're working with them to try and overcome that and put things in place, so that those all-important experiences can still be shared, and best practice can still be shared, and that the experienced people are open to questions and don't feel like they're being put on. It was just about working through that, really, and coming up with something that was pragmatic.

The other thing that we're a big, big fan of with communication, is something called radical candor.

00:24:11 Andy Goram

I love radical candor. We love a bit of Kim Scott on this podcast.

00:24:15 Emma Harvey

Oh! I'd love to meet Kim Scott and bow down to her. But, you know, that ability to sort of challenge directly, whilst acting compassionately is something we encourage. So, if an issue arises regards communication or feedback, deal with it in real-time. If you are giving feedback, give examples. Prepare for that meeting. Do it respectfully. Make sure it's confidential. Make sure it's coming from a good place. There are no weaknesses, there are no failures, there are just opportunities for improvement. And you know, we do whole workshops on that, to hopefully encourage that constant culture of feedback, in which case good communication just becomes this is how we do things around here.

00:25:01 Andy Goram

You must have some lovely, I use the term “lovely”, probably incorrectly, stories around how people communicate well or badly in your book.

00:25:12 Emma Harvey

Yes! A lot.

00:25:13 Andy Goram

Any spring, any spring to mind that you want to share with us today?

00:25:17 Emma Harvey

Well, well there are some. There are plenty, but I can't. They've all got foul language, to be honest.

00:25:24 Andy Goram

Well, you can maybe, self-bleep those out, if you wish, but...

00:25:28 Emma Harvey

JFDI comes up quite a lot, you know, that that old one.

00:25:32 Andy Goram

Yeah, I mean, I think that old image of,

Just get on with it. I'm the boss. I'll bark the orders...

I mean, I even, I say “I even”, I shouldn't be surprised, even watching The Apprentice, which I still watch through my fingers, right?

00:25:49 Emma Harvey

Me too.

00:25:50 Andy Goram

And to hear these young, up-and-coming Executives go,

Well, I am the boss and therefore it should be fine for me to bark orders.”

I find that quite disturbing that that's still an attitude that's out there, particularly in a younger generation.

00:26:07 Emma Harvey

I know. I know. But they've got no idea how they sound. That's why we watch it through our fingers, you know, because...

00:26:15 Andy Goram

So true, the self-awareness is in a different parallel universe, I think.

00:26:22 Emma Harvey

I could get into the whole topic on it, but I think millennials in general, get a bad press and it's not always fair. Not always fair at all, but there can be sometimes a bit of an entitlement culture. So, you know,

I'm 23. I've had two jobs. I want to be a director now, please.”

Well, you've got to earn your spurs to do that. But it's also incumbent upon businesses to offer those opportunities, and to train, and to mentor and to coach.

00:26:51 Andy Goram

I mean, I think the whole coaching approach to development has come on leaps and bounds, even in the last few years, with more and more people getting opportunity to be coached, right? And take a bit of self-reflection, a bit of self-awareness and understand a bit more about yourself and how you, well, how you can go on to positively use your strengths, but recognise when they can become weaknesses. And start to round off some of the edges that you might have in developing in new areas. In the past, that used to be the bastion of the execs, right? They were the only guys who got coaching, but everybody gets a bit of coaching now, you know? And I think that that's a really, really positive thing. Is that where you see the differentiation between, you know, clients who really kind of get communication, development and growth of their people, and those who were sort struggling? Is that one of the standout things?

00:27:46 Emma Harvey

It's definitely one of the standout things. I think a lot of people talk a good talk, but without actually making it work on the ground. So, I don't know, I suppose it's communication related, but there's a lot of funky workplaces now where you have table tennis meetings, and neon lights, and go out for beers and all that, and you can pull yourself a beer on site at 4:00 o'clock every day if you want one. And all of that good stuff. But behind the scenes people have got no idea what the direction of travel is. What the strategic objectives are. what they're working on, or why, or why it matters? And I just think you can have all those this fancy pants stuff as much as you like, but if you don't get the basics right, what is the point? People will become disengaged with that. They're not going to stay because you have a meeting over table-tennis.

00:28:30 Andy Goram

Well, they're not gonna stay for the right reasons, are they?. That's the thing isn't? You want it...

00:28:41 Emma Harvey

They'll stay 'cause they feel connected, and they want to do a good job and their values are aligned with those company values. But if they’re sort of flailing around, then they won't.

00:28:52 Andy Goram

Yeah, engagement without any kind of direction, is just fun. That's not really going to help drive the business forward. And at the end of the day, and I I say this honestly, engagement is an outcome of setting the right direction, of focusing on the people, but making sure that everybody understands their place in delivering the strategy. And we have to execute the strategy with people who are, you know, happy, productive, innovative, committed. Because if we don't have that, then sustainable results just don't happen, they’re just not there. I completely agree with you on that.

We have to sort of cover off, I know we've touched it a couple of times, but we have to cover off this remote and hybrid working. I just have this thing that there's a danger of this becoming kind of almost middle-management-washed, everywhere. Everybody is affected by remote and hybrid working. That's not, that's not the case. Not every job. Not every industry, not every business can even offer this sort of stuff. So, what is going on? What are you seeing on the sort of wider landscape?

00:29:58 Emma Harvey

Yeah, so it's definitely going on for office-based roles, you know, we're seeing city centres empty, which isn't necessarily a great thing. But people do want to work from home. However, if you're running a manufacturing plant, you can't do that from home. If you're running a retail shop, you can't do that from home. But there's a lot to do with what you can do in those sectors. So, you can start with the basics as a minimum. So, employees need to feel that they can come to managers and ask for things like time off, hospital appointments, emergency childcare, are flexible working. Any business can offer that and make sure that that's how it works in practice. It doesn't necessarily mean working from home, but it can mean flexible start and finish times, split shifts, or review of core hours.

But the key to success with any of this is communication and fostering that open culture. Where it's OK for these questions to be asked. And I read a great quote about this the other day actually, and no matter which sector you work in, it's really about humanising work. A lot of employees are asking how is this company, that I've given a lot to, looked after me, my wellbeing and happiness, during this crazy time that the world's been through? And if employers have been negligent in this respect, then, people will leave to go somewhere they feel valued. Whether that's an office role, or a shop floor, or anything in between.

00:31:19 Andy Goram

Yeah, listen I'm 100% in line with that comment. I worry when I hear people say,

Well look, people are just grateful to have a job.”

Because maybe that was true. And maybe, it's certainly true in the past, and maybe it's true of some people today, but I think the vast majority of people are now wanting something more. And I think being more human at work, without wanting to sound like a hippie commune or anything like that, I think it's just about having a duty of care as an employer, for the people you know, who work with you, right? The same as you would look after your friends and your family, you need to take this kind of outlook for the people that work for you. If you want a growing, sustainable business.

00:32:07 Emma Harvey

Yeah, exactly that. So you know like it, or not, the recruitment market has changed? Like it or not, it's more of a two-way process than it ever was. In fact, the balance is in favour of candidates. And they will shop for jobs, like we shop for food. They will look at what they want and what they don't want, and they'll make decisions, you know, based on that.

00:32:29 Andy Goram

I spoke to someone the other day, who was doing some interviews. And they were genuinely surprised when the candidate said to them,

Why should I work for you?”

They were kind of taken aback for a second and like, “Hang on! That's my question. I'm supposed to ask you, why would you want to work for us!” And to me, I was like, “You shouldn't be surprised. That’s the reality. That's a lovely little vignette of what it's like today.”

00:32:53 Emma Harvey

Yeah, exactly that, and I think the employers that recognise that will be successful, and the ones that don't will be left behind reputationally, credibility. People talk. Glassdoor reviews, you know, you name it. You want to be an employer of choice, I would suggest. And that starts for me with recruitment and putting the candidate journey at the fore of that process, rather than what we want from you. Or what can we offer you. What can we offer you to keep you and keep you engaged? It's the very first point of the employee lifecycle, recruitment. So right from the start we should be thinking about that candidate’s experience, which will become the employee experience and creating the right culture, should be a given.

00:33:42 Andy Goram

I think that's 100% correct, Emma. I mean, it shouldn't sound weird, you know? It shouldn't sound like a new a new thing. And I, I guess it isn't a new thing and that that leads me to think about your book again, in... You sort of said the book was written, you know, in the context of 20 years ago. And the landscape’s changed today. When you look at the book, and how you've written it, what are the biggest changes you think, in issues and approach back then to what we're facing today?

00:34:13 Emma Harvey

Well, I think the role of HR has just become a lot more strategic than it was. In 1997, I mean personnel used to be tea and sympathy. Paying people in brown envelopes and things like that, and it's not now. We've had to grow up as an industry. You know, we've got the CIPD now. The Chartered Institute, which we didn't have back then, as a mark of our strategic sort of experience and input. And I think the role of HR, like I said, is ultimately to help organisations achieve their objectives through people and a people agenda. And unless HR’s in those boardroom meetings, you know, sat being able to make a contribution from the top, then it will probably fail.

So I'm really, really happy to say that all of our clients that we work with, on a regular or partnership basis, recognise the value of that. We’ll still sit in, sit on leadership, team meetings with some of our clients and be in those decision-making forums, and that's brilliant. Because they see the value. Those that don't, unless you're a pure, sort of tech-based company, that doesn't rely on people at all, you will be left behind. And I think the role of HR has evolved. Businesses have evolved. Technologies have evolved. But at the at the crux of it, at the bottom of it, managing people well, is still really important.

00:35:45 Andy Goram

Yeah. And that has been the constant all the way through, right? When everything else is changing, nothing happens without the people, at the end of the day.

00:35:52 Emma Harvey

No, no. Things have moved on tremendously. Laws have changed. We didn't have the Equality Act back then. We didn't have the Bribery Act. We didn't have modern slavery. We didn't have GDPR. So things have changed immensely, and it's up to HR to help other managers and directors in businesses to navigate those changes and make practical solutions on the ground.

00:36:18 Andy Goram

And not just box tick, either, Emma. Come back to the whole, coming from a good place perspective. I mean that should be, for me, a kind of theme that runs through everything, right? Come with good intentions and match it up to business desires and needs and strategies, and have a good strong support of your people, I don't think you can go far wrong.

00:36:40 Emma Harvey

No, if you do something, do it well. You know wellbeing is a bit of a, you know a buzzword, but actually it's super effective if it's done well. It's dire if it's done wrong. You know people come to us and say,

Well, we've got a wellbeing policy and we've done some mental health first aid training” and I'm like, “And?”

00:36:58 Andy Goram

We've had a hand massage day.

00:36:59 Emma Harvey

Yeah, it's not good enough. It's not good enough. So, you know it should cover financial, social, mental and physical wellbeing for a start. And it should be a constant program of events and initiatives to keep it alive and keep it real. So that's just one example. If you're going to do wellbeing, please do it well, and if not don't touch it.

00:37:21 Andy Goram

I think the don't touch it thing is the same for so many different things. Even on the values stuff you know? Don't spend the time, effort and if you use someone like me, money, to help you determine your values and your behaviours that the business needs, if you're not going to do anything with it or you’re not going to uphold them. Because it'll do more harm than good. And making a false promise on anything is never a good idea.

OK Emma, we've come to the part of the show I like to call Sticky Notes, which is where I ask you to consolidate all your insight and tips into three little post it notes of advice that people can take away in this case to help them perhaps take a fresh attitude to tackling these recurring issues we've discussed today. So what would your three sticky notes be?

00:38:10 Emma Harvey

So, I think number one would be, think about the value proposition that you offer as an employer. And that's really about your employee brand or the unique system of support, recognition and values that you can provide to employees, so they can achieve their highest potential at work. Think about that employer brand. That's number one.

Secondly, I think when it comes to recruitment, you've got to look at it as a lifecycle of an employee. So, recruitment starts with a compelling reason to join your business. It starts with the candidate journey that becomes the employee journey. And then onboarding, rather than “There's a desk, there's a phone.” What does good onboarding look like?

And the third one, I think, would be to look at retention. And there's lots to do, you know. Engagement surveys are still very popular and well utilised. It’s easier than ever now through apps. But I think one of the greatest questions we ask, when it comes to these surveys is, would you recommend this business as a great place to work. Yes, or no? It can be a simple measure like that. And another thing that we do is we do stay interviews. So, you have heard of exit interviews. It's kind of too late by then. People have checked out mentally and they've gone. But stay interviews are a really good opportunity to ask people why they stay and what do they say about the business. So, let's focus on that, on keeping them, rather than replacing them when they've checked out mentally.

00:39:33 Andy Goram

Lovely three very practical sticky notes there, that people can take away and use. I'm sure they'll find them very useful.

Emma, before I let you go and say thank you, good luck with the book. Where can people get hold of it?

00:39:46 Emma Harvey

So, it's on Amazon. It's available on Kindle. We're just in talks about producing an audible version, but it's, “Have you got a minute?” on Amazon. And Book 2 is in the pipeline.

00:39:57 Andy Goram

Oh well, we stay tuned for that one, my friend. Listen, thanks so much for sharing your insight and advice today. I really appreciate it and I hope to see you again soon.

00:40:06 Emma Harvey

Thank you, for having me. I really enjoyed it.

00:40:08 Andy Goram

Ok Emma, take care all the best.

00:40:11 Emma Harvey

You too. Bye!

00:40:12 Andy Goram

OK everyone that was Emma Harvey, from Candid HR, and if you'd like to find out a bit more about her and any of the topics that we've talked about today, please check out our show notes.

00:40:25 Andy Goram

That concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forwards.

If you have, please like, comment and subscribe. It really helps.

I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the sticky from the Inside podcast until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.

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