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Embracing Change

Making changes can be hard. How often have you briskly told yourself that you’re going to make changes in your personal life? How often have you caught yourself slipping? And those are the changes we want to make...

Introducing change into the workplace can be a real challenge, even when we want to make fairly minor changes. It’s often said that people don’t like change and it’s true of most people. Research shows that people have a very marked preference for things that have been around longer. The longer it’s been there, the more positively it appears to be viewed... In one study, students preferred a course requirement described as the status quo rather that a new version (irrespective of whether the new version meant more or less coursework). In another case, people who were told that acupuncture had been in existence for 2,000 years expressed more favourable attitudes toward it than those who were told it existed for 250 years.

There are many cases where this preference is rational. If a product or way of doing things has stood the test of time, it may well be better than the alternatives. But not always. The need to introduce change means that we not only have to convince others that the new way will work, we also have to address their assumption (usually unconscious) that what's been around longer works better.

I read a short article recently which discussed business risks and why businesses who don’t identify and deal with the risks are far more likely to fail. Implicit was the need to identify and deal with the need for change. We come across businesses who simply do not want to change, usually saying the way of working is the way things have always been done. They do say if it’s not broken then don’t fix it, but you need to test that regularly.

Recently we have come across a number of sets of terms of employment which while compliant legally were weak. When a “screamer” employee came on the scene and the client called us in to deal with him, it meant we had less scope to manage him robustly. We got there by dint of tactical management. For a bit more info on the awful Tom (name changed to protect the guilty of course) you’ll need to read this week’s free HR tip.

If there’s one thing you should change and update regularly it’s your terms of employment. It’s not just about compliance, it’s about making the wheels of your organisation go round smoothly. We update our retained clients terms annually. As a ready reckoner, don’t let it go more than three years maximum without an update.

I know change is a pain, but once we have explained why documents need updating and process need amending business owners quickly come round to agreeing that things need to change. No business owner wants to be caught out in a tribunal because he denied an employee a statutory right because he wasn’t aware of the changes to the law. This usually involves updating terms and conditions, employee handbook and any separate policies. When this has been done and agreed it is time to get the employees to agree to the changes too.

We say that when it comes to introducing change employees like to stick together. If one agrees to something, the other will follow, then another, so it’s best to start the process with your pragmatic employees who “get” what you’re trying to so first. If they read and accept them, there’s a high probability that most of the rest will too. Those who refuse are then in a minority and can be tackled separately.

Get all of your employees together and explain to everyone why changes have taken place. Often the changes have already happened and the updated terms reflect that and they’re just being brought into line with that.

Give a copy of the updated documents to each employee. Tell him to take it away and spend some time reading it through. If he is happy he can sign the document and give it back to you. If he has any queries you can then schedule a meeting to discuss matters.

While a few employees usually have queries about the updated documents, it is usually clarity on the wording of a clause or to check understanding. Once this has been explained the employee is usually happy to sign the document. You may find that more than one employee has the same query if there has been a chance for employees to discuss.

The issue normally comes with one employee. He is the one who crosses his arms and says ‘I’m not signing that!’, often for no reason that he can or will express. Sit down with this employee and ask him to take you through why he will not sign the document. By going through it with him you will be able to see what in particular he does not agree with. Often the sticking point will be one thing, for example the radius on a restrictive covenant, making sick pay discretionary or adding a deductions clause. None of these things are unreasonable to have but if you know what the problem is it gives room for discussion and perhaps negotiation.

Generally speaking this will do the job. If not, there are a number of ways of getting agreement. If the change is essential and you have exhausted all other avenues, it can be fair to dismiss for some other substantial reason (SOSR) and offer to reengage on the new terms. It is the action of last resort because of the risk of unfair dismissal claims, but it is an option. Make sure you follow a fair procedure and have properly evidenced reasoning if you take this route.

Join us on our Introduction to Employment Law workshop on 15/16 September. Book on or before August 28th for a 20% discount.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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