The Dark Side of Personality Testing

A few years ago I attended a short course in coaching. The trainer was  a certified practitioner in Neuro Linguistic Programming and had included some of these techniques within the course. However, he imparted this knowledge with a warning – that these “powers” could potentially be used for evil. Continue reading “The Dark Side of Personality Testing”

Change Soapbox


When I was a kid, my Nanna used to try a make a new soap by squashing together all the tiny bits of individual bars that had become too small to use on their own. I once remember seeing an advert in one of those door to door sales catalogues for a “gadget” that claimed it took the effort out of this process and really made a new soap out of the old. It never worked. As soon as you tried to use it the component soaps would fall away from the whole into their previous forms. My Nan came from a time where such resources were precious. Nowadays, rather than waste the effort, we would just throw the soap away once it becomes unusable and open a new packet. Continue reading “Change Soapbox”

HR Wanderlust


This morning an email popped into my Inbox with the title, “Who Else Has Wanderlust?”. Fair dues to the marketers and the online activity monitoring software, it’s actually something I’ve been thinking about lately. It started with my Etsy obsession (which fits rather neatly with my shopping obsession), and the cute little necklace shown in the photo, which has been sitting in my favourite items ever since I opened my account a few years ago. Continue reading “HR Wanderlust”

Inspiration is a Two Way Street


These days it’s widely recognised that many of the enabling tools and techniques of Human Resources need to be two-way to have any chance of being effective. A top-down, dictatorial style is no longer working (if it ever did in the first place). Communication and engagement are things we do together with our people, not to them or at them. In an ideal world anyway. Yet one of the key concepts of the latest management theories, inspiration, works very differently. Continue reading “Inspiration is a Two Way Street”

Why Employees Really Fake Sickness


There’s something inately human that seeds doubt in our minds about whether people’s illnesses are genuine, especially when it comes to absence in the workplace. Maybe it’s the UK’s history of generous health benefits coupled with a selfish reluctance to cover other people’s backs, but unless someone’s displaying clearly observable severe symptoms there’s often suspicion. The Confederation of British Industry tells us that just over 20% of the workforce see paid sickness absence as an entitlement rather than an unfortunate emergency (CBI survey 2013). Whether this is supported by the same level of fraudulent activity, we’ll probably never know.

Absence levels increase with age. On the face of it this would indicate declining health as people get older. Yet contrary to this theory is the fact that absence falls after state pension age. This may be due to only the most dedicated workers remaining in employment when they could retire, but this is probably not the whole picture. Many of today’s pensioners will remember the UK prior to the introduction of the National Health Service, alongside a welfare system much tougher and sporadically provided than it is today. Only those who worked were entitled to minimal care by a doctor via unemployment and illness insurance which was fifty percent funded by employers. This excluded the majority of women and children, because they didn’t work. Medicines and care were both expensive and not as advanced as today. The very poor might receive some charitable assistance, or end up in a workhouse where they were deemed in need of reform. Illness was often the start of the slippery slope towards death and there was simply no incentive to fake it.

I’m not suggesting we return to those days in order to strike out the (hopefully) small minority. Non-genuine sickness is always going to be a difficult subject because it’s unfortunate for those who really are sick. Human Resources practitioners aren’t medically qualified and are forced to rely on those who are to help them get the answers they need to make tough decisions. Yet more than three quarters of GPs feel under pressure to issue sick notes (DWP survey). With the need for more practical answers I think it’s helpful to understand the root causes, and with that in mind I propose that the two main issues are upbringing, and culture.


My sickness absence history is very minimal and a large part of that is due to my parent’s attitude. While they never explicitly told me as much, I know for certain it was their philosophy that if you’re well enough to stand, you go to work as normal. The guilt I felt at my parent’s disappointment would still stop me in my tracks today.

There’s no denying that welfare affects people’s behaviour. This is demonstrated throughout the history of the welfare state and most recently by the decline in sickness absence alongside welfare reform. Putting aside the stressful effects of the recession, many employees under pressure of redundancy were no doubt just grateful to keep a job and the question of taking a sick day didn’t come into it. Yet underlying all this is people’s general attitude to work, absence and perhaps even honesty. While we can’t undo a person’s upbringing or unravel their complex personality traits, there’s one key element employers can impact upon. This brings me to my second cause.


Employee perks such as the “unlimited duvet days” being proffered by companies like Virgin and Netflix are enough to strike fear into the heart of even the most laissez faire manager. In theory they imagine deserted offices and employees pushing it as far as they can. In practice the pressures of performance targets and presenteeism likely mean that those employees take less leave than average. This is glossed over in a big PR employee trust exercise. Underlying this is the fact that if you prove yourself untrustworthy you can forget the privileges, along with your job.

It’s always going to be a difficult balance to strike between protecting the genuinely ill and weeding out those who are abusing the scheme. Like upbringing, culture is a very personal thing and it depends how organisations want to play it. There will always be an element of carrot and stick, of give and take. It’s not trust alone, but a complicated mix of inputs, outputs and management relationships. Employees who respect that culture will feel those emotions like guilt and wanting to avoid disappointment, and in the absence of workhouses and moral correction, I’m afraid that’s the only option we have left.

Image credit: from Time Out article “Fake a sick-day call”

Comprendez my colloquialism?


A few weeks ago I overheard some of the other mothers outside my daughter’s dance class talking about email etiquette. One of them originally hails from Spain and was explaining to the others how it’s extremely impolite in her country to send an email that addresses someone only by their first name, and is not preceded by some kind of greeting. She went on to say that if such an email ever graces her inbox she feels very offended. Continue reading “Comprendez my colloquialism?”

Too much “Resources”, not enough “Human”


There’s many great blogs and articles out there at the moment about change and real people. I thought I’d add my two pennies worth.

Why all the talk about change? Because it’s become so prolific that as a concept it’s hardly separable from life in general. And there’s been growing recognition that people are “real” and treating them as such actually gets the best out of them. Now if we could only marry these two concepts together it would be magical. Continue reading “Too much “Resources”, not enough “Human””