Looking to recruit high quality staff but not succeeding?

Despite the looming shadow of Brexit, many UK organisations are still recruiting – albeit on a temporary rather than permanent basis.  Many industry sectors are reporting that it is still difficult to find the right candidates with the right skills and experience, despite the fact that many people are out there searching for new roles right now; myself included.

Is it a matter of the right skills not being out there in the job hunting population or is something else at play?  Here are a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean….

A friend, J, is looking for a new role and career change.  Knowing this he is prepared to take entry level role with the right organisation as long as it gives him what he’s looking for.  J likes being outside, getting up early and working autonomously – he thinks that being a Postman is just the new career for him.  Then he tries to apply for a role with Royal Mail….. To cut a long and painful story short, J’s “candidate experience” is a very negative one.

Why, you may ask?  This should give you a flavour and is not unique to the Royal Mail:

Applications have to be made via an online recruitment portal, which requires you to register, fill in your personal details and to complete an online assessment.  Easier said than done…. J is fairly computer literate and his brother is an “expert” – they try and fail several times to register a basic application.  There is no phone number, email address or help option for him or other applicants to help them with this labyrinthine application process.

If J wasn’t so keen he would give up now. Other suitable applicants may not have the “IT savvy” or the perseverance, so Royal Mail is losing out on a potentially large candidate pool. (how IT savvy do you need to be a Postman anyway?)

  • Where there are multiple vacancies, perhaps with a minor change such as working hours / days or work base, J has to apply separately for each. Each time he applies for a role he has to do the exactly same online assessment again and again.  Frustrating, a waste of his and the Royal Mail’s time (and money?) and it undermines the validity of the assessment. (practise makes perfect – so repeating the test and getting the feedback means you can easily boost your scores).
  • J finally manages to get an application registered and waits to hear. And waits…. And waits. The closing date has been and gone, and despite being told to check his “portal” for progress / an update, there is none.  There is no phone number or email address for him to chase this up so he has to decide whether he waits any longer.  He’s been invited to attend another interview for a different role – so perhaps he’ll just go with that one instead.

I can echo similar experiences to J’s and can add to the what not to do list further:

  • I have a non-standard address and post code – the computer says “no” to allowing me to progress my application. Now what – make one up? (easier said than done)
  • The salary and the exact work location are a mystery. How do I know if the role is paying enough for my needs and am I able / willing to work in that location? (client confidentiality is not an excuse!)  Should I bother to apply?
  • Do I really want to spend hours filling in a very detailed online application form when the majority of this information is on my CV? Can’t I just upload my CV and add in the missing bits?  Also – I can’t save my application part way through – it’s all in one go or nothing.  I don’t have 2 uninterrupted hours available so perhaps I won’t bother….
  • The recruitment portal promises to save my details for next time, should I apply for other roles with the organisation. It doesn’t….  I have to start again if I want to make another application  – do I want to go through that pain again?

So in summary, many of the issues that are putting people off seem to be due to overly automated process with no “human touch”.  Theoretically going for an automated, standardised recruitment portal should make recruitment slicker, cheaper and easier for your organisation – but what about for the candidates?  The initial impression they get from your recruitment system can be extremely negative and it means you have lost them before you even know about them. Employee branding, good PR, your employer reputation and your brand recognition / values aren’t going to change that.

Is it time for a rethink and change to your recruitment approach? We can help……..


Company mergers – creating one big, happy family?


mergeIn my HR “life” back in the UK, I often found myself providing advice on managing change, whether it be restructuring, TUPE transfers or subtler cultural change.  I now find myself on the other side of things, as Happy Holidays and one of their former competitors, Smiley Holidays, have both been acquired by a large French company.  While these purchases took place a while ago now, it is interesting to see how the changes have now started to trickle down to the staff (me!).

So, can these changes create one new, contented holiday company / family?  At the moment, the views of myself and colleagues are mixed – we’re not entirely convinced that things will be better, or even as good.  What could be done to change our minds and to keep us engaged and motivated?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

With any changes or takeovers there are always rumours about what will and won’t happen.  Clear, regular communication is key if you are to stop the rumour mill and keep staff feeling engaged, rather than worried for their jobs.  A monthly newsletter is better than nothing but it doesn’t really do all it needs to.  How about using social media and other forms of communication too?  – Especially if staff are based in multiple locations or work different shift patterns.  Certainly face-to-face updates and briefings tend to be the most popular method with staff themselves, so can this be done in any shape or form? (Skype, Facetime, podcasts etc)

  • It’s not all about structures…..

Most people tend to think of “change” as being about restructuring, but that isn’t always the case.  Yes, it can make sense to join up some teams and to make some efficiencies and savings while doing so, however, this shouldn’t be the knee jerk reaction.  If you are keen to keep current brand identities then you need to keep some differences in place, which means not merging and restructuring everything.  Be clear on what structures will change, why and when, so allowing other, not directly affected teams / departments to stop worrying about what might happen to them. (at least for now)  At least they can focus on their roles properly again and not be distracted or worried about what may lie ahead.

  • Timing is everything

Make sure you understand what the businesses do when and why.  Are there any critical or very busy times when it would be unwise to change things?  For example for Happy Holidays, changing all of the company mobile phones over to a new network provider with new phone numbers perhaps should have been done outside of the holiday season!  There would have been no customers in resort trying to call old numbers or not knowing about new numbers, and would have avoided a number of problems, upsets and complaints.

  • Who are we again?  What do we do?

Staff do identify with the organisation they work for and can often be surprisingly loyal to it.  Staff will feel that they have their “psychological contract” in place with their employer, as well as their actual employment contract.  Any change can potentially challenge the trust between employer and employee, and potentially sever the “psychological contract”.

It’s really important that staff can see and understand what the future holds and what will be changing. They can then choose whether they want to be part of this or not, and act accordingly.  This can include seemingly obvious things such as – are we still planning to deliver the same product(s) or service(s) to the same customer(s)?  Will we keep the same company values (eg. “green” or “ethical” commitments)?  Will I still wear the same uniform?  Will I still work in the same place?  Will I be working the same hours?  Things like this can really make a difference to someone deciding whether they will stay and go through the changes, or leave now to avoid them.

Even though this is about the two holiday companies I hope that the suggestions will be helpful for your business too.  If anyone from Happy Holidays is reading this, you know where I am and I’m more than willing to make this change a positive one!


Brexit – Dommage or Damage?

Like many people, I’m still slightly in shock about the outcome of the EU referendum on 23 June 2016, when the majority of the British public voted for the UK to leave the European Union.  Perhaps because I’m currently and living in working in Europe, it feels a more serious reality than if I was living back in the UK.

Now the dust has settled a bit on the surprising result (yes, even those campaigning and voting for “Leave” were surprised that they had actually won), it is time to start thinking what the actual implications of the UK leaving the EU will actually mean in practise.  Lots has already been written on this, both here in this blog and across the media as a whole, but let me share with you a European perspective.

“Nothing will happen for at least two years…..”

Things are already happening…….

For UK workers currently posted in Europe and paid in sterling, rather than Euros, their actual salary has already decreased by 15% and counting.  If you employ “posted” workers you will need to think how you can help your staff to still feel that they are earning a reasonable, fair salary now that their money is not going as far.  You will also need to be mindful of how the exchange impacts on the minimum wage of the country they are working in and whether you are still legally complying with it.  (for example in France the minimum hourly rate is currently 9.53 Euros, which is now equivalent to around £8.20 per hour rather than around £7.33 pre-Referendum.)

The tourism industry is already feeling the impact, with potential UK holiday makers deciding maybe they won’t holiday in Europe this year after all.  The area I am working in France is already feeling and noticing this dip in potential income and bookings.  For countries like Spain or Greece where tourist numbers are even higher and their economy is also more reliant on tourism income this could be really serious.

Going forward there is also the question of whether UK citizens will be able to work easily in Europe, or whether they will need to apply for work permits.  Again, for the tourist industry and other industries that employ semi-skilled, short term staff on the local minimum wage, will it be worth their while to even employ or post UK workers to Europe anymore?

Things could also happen more quickly than in two years if some EU politicians have their way, so don’t assume that we definitely have two years grace.

Does Europe care that the UK plans to leave the EU?

In a word, “yes”!

The people I have spoken to recently about Brexit, including those working in local government, the hospitality industry and the tourist industry seem to fall in to two camps.  Those who say it is “dommage” – a shame – and those who think it will be really damaging to Europe, its economy and stability.  Even those who fall in to the “it’s a shame” corner think that things will be worse for the UK, and indirectly, for them too.

While it would be nice to think that nothing much will change and that we have time to get used to the idea of being “out” of Europe, I honestly think that the reality will be different.  As the old saying goes “be careful what you wish for…..” – it will be interesting to see whether leaving Europe is a dream come true or a nightmare.  Watch this space…..



So, what has Europe ever done for us…?

Karen has returned to France for the summer and here is her first blog of the season… Thoughts of how she felt before the referendum. It’s still a hot topic and will be for some time…

It’s a strange time to be back living and working in France, with the EU referendum result.  Up until last week it was always a given that, as a citizen of a fellow European Union country, that I am welcome and able to live and work here on equal terms.  How will that change after 23 June 2016?

I am not alone as a UK citizen living and working in another EU country.  In Spain alone there are over 1 million UK citizens doing something similar, many of whom have retired there.  For many people this ability to live and work in another country may not be of interest and not something that you ever see yourself doing.  But there are other working life benefits that have come from being part of the EU, some of which may feel more relevant to you.

So what am I referring to?  Let me give you a few examples………….

  • Paid paternity leave, and now shared parental leave (which is paid, rather than unpaid). Both partners / parents can now have time off to spend with their new born or adopted child, not just the mother.
  • The right not to be discriminated against because you are a parent (expectant mother, a maternity leave returner, a working parent etc).
  • Guaranteed paid holiday of at least 30 days per year (including bank holidays). Depending on your age, you may remember the days when there was no such thing or certainly a lot less paid holiday.
  • The right to be part of a trade union, should you want to be.
  • Your employer has to provide you with a safe working environment, with the personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep you safe and allow you regular rest breaks.

There are lots more examples I could cite that we take for granted, and that any good employer would do anyway to keep their employees motivated, healthy and safe, without “Europe telling them to”.

Don’t necessarily believe that all employment legislation that comes out of Europe is “bureaucratic” or Europe “interfering”.  A lot of what current UK workers, not just employees, take for granted happened thanks to Europe.

Perhaps this is something to ponder as the holiday season approaches, when you may be enjoying some paid time off in the Mediterranean sun somewhere (without the need to get an entry visa) …..

Retaining your flexible / seasonal workforce… things to consider

snoopy-charlie-brown-end-of-summerIt is the end of the season now for ‘Happy Holidays’ and most of us are on our way back home for the winter.  Some of us are already thinking about next year though.  You may remember that one of my first postings was about leaving a role from an employee’s point of view.  To bring things full circle, I was considering some pointers for organisations like ‘Happy Holidays’ who are keen to retain their flexible workforce even though there is a break of a few months before work starts again.

Flexible working is becoming more widespread and can be beneficial for both organisations and individuals; after all not everyone wants to work full time, all of the time.  If you have some talented / skilled staff and want to retain them even when work isn’t available what can you do?  Some suggestions could include the following:

  • Does the person know that you would like them to work for you again in the future?  Be explicit about this and make sure that they know that you value their skills and expertise.  Be clear that you would like to offer them work again when it is available.
  • Have an honest, open conversation about the gap in the work and how it affects for you both.  Are you both ok with the gap?  Does the person want to work for you again when the work resumes? (Be clear about both or your expectations.)
  • Are there any other work options coming up?  They may not be the same but they could have tranferrable skills you could use.
  • Assuming the answer is yes, agree how you will keep in touch during the gap.  Keeping in touch means they still feel part of things and will increase the prospects of them returning to you later.  It could be as simple as email newsletters, other corporate updates or even a Christmas card.
  • Do you want them to do any training / skills updating / CPD (continuous professional development) during the gap?  Is this obligatory or just preferable?  (if it’s obligatory are you going to pay them to do it?)
  • Do you want to offer any retainer payments or welcome back payments as an incentive for their return?  Or are there any other benefits you could offer as an incentive to them to return?
  • If they can’t return to work for you, can they recommend you to other colleagues with similar skills and experience who you might want to offer work to?  (this could be another incentive such as a ‘recommend a friend’ scheme.)

Motivated, talented staff are worth a lot – so even if your initial reaction to some of the points above is ‘no’, you might want to really weigh up the costs and advantages again and decide if you really can afford not to do some of these things after all.

So until next season……..  A bientot.

Sickness absence – what do your team mates think?

It’s almost the end of the season here in France. Talking to colleagues the other evening we all commented how fit and healthy we were feeling, despite having a busy few months. Looking at our team as a whole, it was interesting to see how healthy we really have been over the last 4 ½ months.

Now to put this into perspective, we are a team of 11 people, 45% of whom are aged over 40 years, with the two oldest people being in their mid 50s. Gender wise we split 45% male and 55% female. Typically if we were like the average UK workforce as a team we would have lost somewhere around 15 to 30 days through sickness absence over the season, depending what industry sector you choose to benchmark us against. Would you be surprised to hear that between all 11 of us, we have only lost 2 ½ days due to sickness absence?

Some of you will know doubt point out that there is bound to be some seasonal variation to consider, as after all we are in sunny France. That could be true but then the first two weeks of the season were cold and wet, but none of us took time off with colds / flu / respiratory infections.

So what do we put our low sickness rate down to? Having discussed it with colleagues, their views were:

• We are getting plenty of exercise, vitamin D and fresh air, so are generally keeping healthier than back in the UK.
• If someone is ill the rest of the team have to pick up the work. It makes you think twice before deciding that you are too sick to work that day.
• The work still needs doing, so a day’s sick today means extra work tomorrow – perhaps it’s not worth it?
• We only get statutory sick pay, so it’s not worth being sick – we might as well soldier on and do a bit of work rather than none at all.

Certainly a case in point is how others in the team respond to their colleagues being ill. Early in the season, one of the younger team members, L, took a day off with a terrible hangover. L didn’t tell his manager he was off work due to a hangover but everyone in the team knew the reason why. Without prompting various colleagues let L know how disappointed they were with him and how they weren’t prepared to pick up his work again if he made a habit of this. A rather shame faced L came back to work the next day and has not taken a day off sick since (despite a few other heavy drinking nights).

Perhaps something to think about the next time you identify that your sickness rates are higher than you would like them to be. Maybe your team can help, rather than it being a management issue?

Work or life? Is balance possible?

High season is upon us here at Happy Holidays in France. What was supposed to be a job whilst I take a career break in France, perfecting my French, is starting to feel very much as though it is taking over my life. Perhaps this isn’t helped by mobile phones and emails which mean my customers can reach me 24 hours a day with any query (some small and minor, some serious and urgent).work or life

Having done some very demanding roles in my time, work / life balance always seemed like the Holy Grail – something highly desirable to achieve, but usually just out of reach. Was it was actually about the roles / jobs I was doing that stopped me having a life apart from work, or was it is actually me – my ways of working, enthusiasm, determination to do a good job – that actually is the issue. Perhaps I like working long hours, often without a break, or feel that I have to?

A simple example – taking a lunch break. At one of my previous employers we actually had a ‘Take back your lunch break’ campaign to encourage people to take some time out during the working day. (Study after study shows it actually boosts productivity and is good for us.) We went so far as to offer incentives such as free head massages, live music and free food. A few people took advantage of what we offered and participated, but the majority didn’t. We asked those who didn’t take part why and had answers such as ‘I’m too busy. If I take time out I’ll get more behind.’ ’My manager never takes a lunch break and looks down on people in the team who do.’ (Did I take part too? I’m sad to report that I was also in the ‘too busy’ camp and didn’t.)

I told this story to a French colleague recently, who was outraged. ‘How can you not take a lunch break?’ she exclaimed. She and her colleagues who work at the resort always take at least an hour for lunch, sometimes an hour and a half, even on the busiest days. It is a key part of the French culture and the French work place that everyone takes their ‘l’heure de déjeuner’. The resort doesn’t suddenly grind to a halt, the work still gets done and they keep their sanity.

Perhaps something for me to think about the next time a text or phone call interrupts my lunch….. Maybe some balance is possible after all if I choose to make it so.


The right person for the job or the right job for the person?

IMG_3695We’ve had a few changes in our team recently as people decide that the role of Holiday Representative isn’t really for them.  Speaking to them about why they have decided to resign from their role was quite enlightening….  If only they had known the reality of the role before heading out to France then their resignation mid-season could have been avoided.  What a missed opportunity for them and for ‘Happy Holidays’.

Often recruitment is seen very much as a one-sided process, with the employer taking the lead and deciding who they want to employ.  The fact is that the recruitment process is most successful when there is an honest, two-way conversation about what the role really is about and the skills / experience needed to do it successfully.  A ‘no surprises’ approach if you like.  People can then self-select if the role is for them and feel more engaged in the process.

As an employer are you brave enough to do this?  There may be things that you would rather not openly publicise or say about your organisation, but new employees will find them out eventually and may feel disappointed or mislead that you didn’t tell them earlier.  It doesn’t have to be presented as ‘bad news’ or as a negative thing about the organisation – it is just giving an honest, holistic view of things so your potential new recruit can make an informed decision.

You may well find that they return this openness and reveal more about themselves, which will help you make a better recruitment decision.  In the end, we’ve all had seemingly ‘ideal’ candidates who shine at interview, but never quite live up to this when they actually start doing the role.

Surely a grown up, two-way conversation about the reality of the role is best to save everyone wasting time, effort and money on recruiting someone who only stays a matter of weeks or months? Why not give it a try.

What’s your major motivation?

Motivation in practise – tips for the 21st century…

Thoughts from our French correspondent. Over to you Karen…

wine and sunIt’s been a busy few weeks getting ready for our first customers with a few ‘challenges’ thrown in to make life interesting. Having found myself cold, wet and very dirty late one afternoon, I questioned what it was that was keeping me motivated to carry on. I also spoke to colleagues to get their views on what motivated them (wine is a great motivator by the way…).

Motivating your staff is a key thing a manager needs to do – many books have been written on the subject and theories abound (Maslow’s hierarchy anyone?). However, I’d like to suggest that the things that have kept me and my colleagues motivated in trying times are actually quite straight forward…

  • The basics – something decent to eat and drink (with alcohol often featuring), somewhere warm to sleep / stay, somewhere to wash, clean clothes to wear, a working mobile phone (with credit / reception) and internet access. Interesting to note about connectivity (mobile phone or internet) is high up on the list now but obviously wasn’t a factor in Maslow’s day.
  • Enjoying what you do. My colleagues and I are doing our jobs because we really like them and want to make a go of them. It means that we willingly go the extra mile without being asked and often forget that we are actually working well over the French normal working week of 35 hours.
  • Being appreciated for what you do / have done. This can be as simple as a ‘thank you’, which goes a surprisingly long way.
  • Knowing that your manager supports you and appreciates your efforts. Thanks especially to my Area Manager who has gone above and beyond the call of duty for us and even cleaned our accommodation for the first night so we didn’t have to do it after a 7 hour drive!
  • Yes, despite recent research saying that the weather does not affect people’s mood or levels of depression, I disagree. The world is a better place when the sun shines.

So – I’m off to do my laundry, buy something tasty for dinner tonight and then it’s time for an aperitif in the sun while catching up on my emails.

A bientot.


Any questions… Sort your life out!

any questions?.001In the next part of Karen’s series she suggests some considerations for how you approach your career future… That said these questions can equally apply to your life… Get busy with them and see how happy you really are and whether you need a change in your life…

Over to Karen…
“If you are contemplating your job / career and the future, you might want to take stock and to ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Why do you work? – for money / financial necessity? Status? Personal fulfilment? To fill the time? To socialise? Because others expect or need you to?
  • What about the financial side of things? How much do you need to bring in to get by?
  • Are you content to ‘get by’ financially or do you want / need more than that? (would you choose to have a bit less money but more work / life balance, for example?)
  • What do you like about your job? What motivates to go in to work each day? (hopefully there is at least one thing here, if not that tells you a lot….)
  • What don’t you like about your job?
  • How would you feel if you were still doing the same job in one / three/ five years’ time?
  • What can you do to change your job / work to address the things you don’t like? (if you don’t try, you shouldn’t just moan about it…..)
  • If you can’t change things, what will you do?
  • What happens if you leave your current job? What else is out there for you to do?
  • What is your plan B if things don’t go as you hoped?

So what are your answers to the questions above? I now know what mine are….”