Make the change from British Summer Time work for you

Picture your ideal working hours and try to introduce them

The Working Hours clock from BVD Design

Because the clocks change in the UK in October, I work my winter “split shift” system.

Using the Clock changes to your advantage

If, like me, you find the darker evenings and the end of British Summer Time (BST) take away your leisure or exercise time (in my case, cycling) in the winter, think about how to split up your working day.

The concept of split shift working

The concept is simple and used in many workplaces – do your day’s work in several chunks, rather than one go (e.g. 9 to 5). Many people could start earlier, take a few hours out mid-morning or mid-afternoon then return work later, providing they plan it.

What about missing calls or customers?

A business cannot flourish unless it satisfies customers. So people need to make plans for dealing with enquiries etc. But remember, this arrangement could actually extend the time a business is available to customers if colleagues take different breaks, or answering systems are used sensibly. There are always times when people are unavailable due to meetings etc, so why not plan them to your advantage?

Run your own business?

If you are your own boss, it can be tempting to keep the traditional routine of ‘office hours’ and more. In winter you can find that sports, gardening or just a walk outside to unwind can get ignored.

So consider taking a break of several hours in daylight then return to running your business as it starts to get dark. The extra focus when you return means that you can still get things done by a reasonable time, and you will not have missed out on stress-reducing down-time and leisure activities – you probably work late anyway!


The concept of split shifts or different working hours may suit many employees, so before making any decisions, have a discussion about the whole concept of working hours. As long as everyone is in agreement, most arrangements are possible.

Go on – take a few minutes to consider how you could keep your daylight activities when the daylight hours are shorter! Some timetables can’t be changed, but many can with a bit of thought.

Contact me if you want explore how to make time work for you.

How to Pay for an Apprentice

Cash Fund to get an Apprentice is Extended

For those who missed the announcement after the New Year break, a cash payment of £1,500 to get an apprentice is extended to the end of 2013.

This quick guide will explain how to benefit from an apprentice. By the end of the page you will appreciate where they save time, and then make you money.

How to Pay for an Apprentice

All you need to do is earn more each month than the apprentice costs you.

Currently these are the principles of apprenticeships:

  • they are your employees*, drawing a regular wage
  • you commit to improving their skills on the job
  • they undergo some formal training, for example at a college, usually at your cost
  • your business gets more work done, so in time the apprentice should earn you more than they cost

Whilst skilled employees and subcontractors need briefing on the task and expected standards, apprentices also need some demonstration or instruction. The key is to build up a mixture of simple tasks that save money by supporting skilled workers, and others where the apprentice takes time to learn but soon becomes competent.

Consider the straightforward jobs that hoover up skilled workers’ time, and resist the desire to get your money back every single day!

* Some schemes do the employment administration, but you still commit to providing work and experience for a regular fee.

Myths about Apprentices

  1. They cost money. True – you have to pay the wages and training costs. But, like any other employee, they will only cost you money overall if you don’t make good use of their skills
  2. They leave when they are trained. Again, like any employee, your apprentice will be loyal to you if you are worth staying with. Employees don’t leave when they are happy and valued
  3. They are a liability and slow the work down. For the first few days, possibly. As with any person you employ or subcontract, you should line up tasks which are within their skills. Training someone takes time initially but soon they become more independent. Frankly, if you can’t delegate you do not yet have the skill to grow your business, but you can learn to gain from an apprentice
  4. Apprentices are slave labour. True – if you only give them basic tasks in order to be ‘useful’ from day 1. But you will be saving a few pounds per day rather than profiting from a skilled employee. And of course myth 2 will kick in – why should they stay with you?

What now?

You grow a business by getting more income, not saving costs.

Firstly decide what manpower you need (whatever the skill level) to help you do more business.

Secondly, calculate what type of manpower will work best for you (e.g. recruiting, sub-contracting, apprenticeship).

Contact me to discuss expansion and assess your options. My job is to help you make business decisions, not sell you an apprentice.

Employers’ pension obligations – September 2012 update

Employer pension duties

September 2012 introduces new duties for employers regarding pensions. This summary (prepared by Active Solutions HR Consultants) gives you the basics so that you can consider what professional help you need.

UK Pensions Situation

As the UK population is living longer and the pension pot is becoming more stretched, the government is encouraging people to take more personal responsibility for saving. From September 2012 large employers are expected to automatically enrol certain employees into a pension scheme and make a contribution. Over the next few years all businesses will be required to comply with this change in law.

When the 2012 pension changes affect you

This depends on how many people you employed on 1st April 2012. Employers with fewer than 30 staff will be affected between September 2016 and April 2017; those with 62-89 staff 1st May 2014; and those with 62 to 89 staff will be affected on 1st July 2014. The Pensions Regulator will contact you between 6 and 12 months before the date your business will be affected.

What employer pension duties will be

You must:

  • Provide a qualifying pension scheme
  • automatically enrol all eligible employees
  • make a contribution
  • tell all eligible employees scheme details
  • register certain details of the scheme with the Pensions Regulator

You must NOT:

  • encourage staff to opt out
  • bias your recruitment so potential staff agree to opt out
  • treat workers unfairly or put them at a disadvantage because of automatic enrolment

Who this applies to (eligible workers)

Workers who:

  • Earn more than the minimum earnings threshold (currently £5,564)
  • Are aged between 22 and state pensions age and
  • Work in the UK

What contributions will be expected

Ultimately you will be expected to contribute at least 3% of their earnings and you can pay more if you wish. The worker will also be expected to contribute a total minimum contribution of 8%. Initially employer contributions will be 1%. The time scale for increases will be confirmed nearer the time.

If you already have a pension scheme

Your current pension scheme may already qualify. Find further details here

If your current scheme does not qualify then the advice of a financial adviser is recommended.

Useful links:

Active Solutions HR Consultants

The Pensions Advisory Service:

Financial Services Authority:

Department for Work and Pensions:

Dealing with failure

The word ‘failure’ can be very emotive, and in a business context can be quite debilitating. I was recently asked to do a short workshop of about 45 minutes on the subject of failure and thought that I would share it with you.

Aims of the ‘failure’ workshop

  • to explore what the word means to you
  • to discover your current strategy for failing
  • to leave with a modified strategy that may be more effective

The workshop runs in two sections – the ‘process’ part and the emotional / human part.

Take a minute and to yourself what the subject of failure triggers in your mind, and what failure means to you. Is it ever useful? Is it emotional? Is it alien as a concept? Our group came up with a board full of words, almost all related to emotion rather than pure fact or logic. The factual words we got were ‘outcome’ and ‘goals’.

Perhaps if we had to come up with an emotion-free definition of failure it may be:

‘something that results in an outcome that you did not want, and / or does not result in the outcome that you wanted.’

Setting good outcomes or goals

We discussed a number of formulae for setting good outcomes or goals and, without exploring each one in detail, wondered if we could emphasise two components and also add two more steps to most of the models.

It’s worth emphasising:

  • evidence – make sure that you know what success will look like to avoid a false perception of lack of success
  • control – be very aware of what you have control over before setting a definite goal. If there is something significant that you cannot control, it is unrealistic to expect success all of the time.

What we could add:

  • acceptable tolerances – they exist in engineering, so why do other business settings get encouraged to pin everything down to a specific value rather than an acceptable range?
  • potential side-effects or by-products. Often if an outcome is not achieved there is consolation in the form of lessons learned or other benefits. Why not consider there in advance so that their existence is seen more as  as benefit than spin for something going wrong?

The overall recommendation is to avoid being so specific in your original aims that success or failure balances on a knife edge. This reduces underlying stress and the burst of disappointment, which dissipates as the events fit into perspective.

Reflecting on how we would approach something which could go wrong, we noticed what a more flexible and realistic approach to setting goals could be like.

This ended the ‘process’ part of the workshop.

Emotional reaction to failure

We started the part of the workshop that deals with individual reactions by considering how we would coach a colleague or client through a setback or failure. With that in mind, we contrasted it with the way that we reflect on our own setbacks, and in general found that we offered others more understanding and tolerance than ourselves – even though we were not being insincere or condescending to them.

One of the most common emotions expressed was fear about what might happen, and we will probably follow-up with a workshop on this, because fear of the new or unknown can definitely rectrict business growth and personal development.

For now, the lesson was to treat ourselves at least as well as we do our colleagues to get a more useful reaction to setbacks.

The new strategy

Having gained an appreciation of some practical elements of our processes and some more helpful insights into our own reactions it was time to consider an amended way of approaching important tasks. The steps we considered follow – you can of course expand and fill in stages that you personally find useful:

  • set appropriate goals that you have control over and which make it clear what will have been achieved
    • add acceptable tolerances to some of the figures
    • add a ‘bail-out’ condition, i.e. if things are not working, when is it wise and acceptable to stop
    • be aware of any useful side-effects (including learning and improving) that add to the overall value of the experience
  • monitor your progress
  • review both planned and unplanned benefits and setbacks
  • reconsider your tolerances in the light of your experience – you can probably tighten them a little for next time


The concept of failure is such a personal that I can’t give a definitive guide in a manageable blog post or even a group workshop. However, here are some of the key points that people found useful:

  • with practise you can replace the word ‘failure’ with more useful ones or focus only on the learning points. This can be useful as long as you appreciate that for many people failure is a real word that triggers real emotions which need to be considered. The well-worn phrase ‘there is no failure, only feedback’ is valid only if it is sincere and acknowledges personal disappointment or frustrations
  • there is a scale between ‘success’ and ‘failure’, with many useful outcomes in between
  • setting useful goals is vital – both to know when you have achieved something and to be aware of what lies along the scale towards total success. Goals can include tolerances, acceptable lessons and the odd surprise
  • the concept of tolerance is not a cop-out. Sometimes second and third place are OK when they lead to first
  • business involves people and people have emotions. It takes skill and practice to work with both emotion and logic, and it is key to recognise which one is influencing the decision process at any one time

So, enjoy tweaking the way that you go about things in order to recognise how far towards the success line your actions are. Failure will still exist, but it may be a place that you are aware of rather than frightened of, and one which you rarely visit.

Are you failing yourself as a boss?

Tomorrow I’m leading a short session for a local group ( under the broad heading of failure. Far from making it a  downbeat session. we will be exploring:

  • how we apply the f-word differently to ourselves than those we may be with (sometimes more critical, sometimes more tolerant)
  • how we can prevent the real failures (e.g. when no lessons get learned)
  • how we can spot things early
  • how we can remember to apply good coaching skills to ourselves

Preparation? Well, between now and tomorrow morning you might like to bear in mind a recent event which looked like a failure but had a very silver lining.

I’ll write up how it went, and also produce a quick handout as well.

Will a bank holiday for the Royal wedding cost you more money?

Following on from last week’s announcement about Prince William and Kate, a few employers might be concerned about their obligations regarding a bank holiday, if one were announced.

I welcome views on this, because there is a mixture of both moral and business issues.

Employers and Bank Holidays

This is where the legal position should be clear. Employees are not automatically entitled to take off bank holidays with full pay – it depends what is in their contract. Employment law gives a right to a minimum amount of holiday, but does allow flexibility about when this is taken. So if you are an employer, you need to follow what is in the contract, what is normally done (‘custom and practice) and consider whether future contracts should have something different in them. It may be that the time off will be taken against annual holiday, or is unpaid.

As an employee the situation is just the same – you are bound by your contract and need to clarify things if an new bank holiday were announced, in case you assume that you can just not turn up that day.

Employer’s moral obligations

Whatever provisions are in your employee contracts, you need to consider how your employees might react to any decision that you make.

  • would they consider time off an undisputed right?
  • would there be co-operation if your business had to remain open?
  • would some who are less keen on royalty want to choose a different day off in principle?

and many other responses …

So, in order to react quickly to an announcement, check out your employment contracts. If you need to, contact ACAS (link for leaflet about holiday pay here) or your HR expert for their view. When you know your legal position, decide on your stance in line with your management style.