Bob’s Business Tips

Mental Illness in the Workplace

How to Support Employees through Mental Health Challenges

Employees who experience mental health conditions need not leave their jobs. Many simple changes can be made to the work environment to facilitate continued employment.

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The World Health Organisation estimates that as many as 200-300 people of every 1,000 workers are likely to experience a mental health problem.

In many countries, workplace health and safety legislation provides that employers have a duty to care and to not cause or deepen psychological injuries of workers. Penalties for not abiding by this legislation include fines, as well as opening up the potential for the employer to be sued for damages through the civil court system.

There are two ways to view employees who experience mental health issues – one is the standard “loss of productivity, sick leave taker, can’t be trusted to get anything right, probably abusing drugs or alcohol” and the other is “this person is still the same but experiencing some challenging personal issues which, with our help, can get through and can still be a very valued and worthwhile member of the team.”

The better way for your workplace to view employees with mental health issues is from the second of the two viewpoints. With assistance from an employer, a person experiencing mental health challenges can remain a valued and productive employee. Being able to stay at work will assist the employee on their journey of recovery as well ensure that their unique talents and skills are not lost to the employer for good.

Employee Assistance Plans

If your workplace has an employee assistance plan in place, ensure that any employees who may be experiencing tough times are aware that they can obtain free or low cost confidential counselling from a reputable provider. For some employees, external counselling may be all that is required to overcome their problems.

Leave/Flexible Work Schedule

Another option for supporting employees experiencing mental health issues is to offer time off or a flexible work schedule. More flexibility in the hours that an employee is expected to work enables the employee to deal with stress, provided that there is a resultant decrease in the amount of work that is to be produced. If you ask an employee to fit 5 days’ work into 3 days, you will exacerbate the employee’s stress levels.

Additional Assistance

Additional assistance, in either a temporary or casual mode, may assist an employee to manage their workload throughout their journey to recovery without there being any impact on the productivity of the employee’s department or team.

See the Person Not the Diagnosis

It is always important to remember that even when experiencing mental health concerns, your employee remains a person first and foremost, not simply their diagnosis. Remember to be supportive and empathic in relation to your employee’s condition, not absent or sympathetic.

Experiencing a mental health condition does not mean that an employee can no longer perform their job. In fact in many cases, remaining in fulfilling employment is an important step on the road to recovery. Simple changes to the work environment, as listed above, may assist your employee stay at work and, if expanded company wide, can have the effect of decreasing stress for all employees.

Strategies to Overcome International Outsourcing Challenges

Outsourcing some of an entity’s processes internationally may offer the firm with a wide range of benefits but only when the process is effectively managed.

One outcome of increased globalization has been a trend to outsource processes such as information systems to low wage countries. When effectively managed such outsourcing benefits the firm in many ways.

In one study conducted in Spanish universities main benefits from outsourcing included reduced staff and technology costs and increased flexibility of the outsourced services department. Outsourcing was also noted to avoid the ordinary problems associated with in-house performance of such services thus salvaging time to focus on other strategic issues.

By outsourcing to specialized providers the company also stands to gain additional benefits. Specialized providers for instance may offer high quality solutions that the company cannot manage with the resources it controls.

As advanced in the study, effective outsourcing could also aid in the entity’s access to emerging technologies thus reducing the risk of technological obsolescence. Such benefits have popularised the outsourcing phenomenon in both service and manufacturing entities.

Outsourcing to international destinations may however be affected by a diverse range of factors. The Spanish universities based study has identified some of these challenges. Since outsourcing may be accompanied by employee lay-offs loss of important talent necessary for teamwork could affect the entity’s performance.

Lay-offs may also institute conflicts with home country labour unions on perception of exporting jobs that could have been filled nationally thus attract numerous costs. Outsourcing may further compromise the privacy and security of company records and customer data.

Over dependence on the provider may also bear additional challenges. As noted in the study inefficiencies of the provider and non compliance with the contract may stall the functions of the outsourcer hence affect efficiency.

Such a situation would be worsened where the outsourcing decision is irreversible or attracts high reversal costs. With such challenges into account, the costs/benefits arising from outsourcing could be vague. Outsourcing processes therefore need to be well managed to result into an overall gain for the entity.

How Firms can Overcome Outsourcing Challenges

Many challenges to outsourcing arise out of the outsourcer’s ineffective vetting of potential providers beforehand. Before hiring the provider aspects such as cultural distance and technological knowhow of different providers should be accessed.

Outsourcing services such as call centres to countries with wide cultural distance could for instance affect the quality of services delivered. Similarly lower technological advancements e.g. internet connectivity in offshore providers’ location may hamper service delivery.

Once the provider is chosen challenges relating to under-performance and opportunistic bargaining must be controlled. In a different study, to control for under-performance, having a performance monitoring and coordinating system in the outsourcer organization is recommended.

As a measure of performance customer feedback could prove an important tool. Contractual clauses that allow for termination in cases of under-performance may also prevent the entity from being bundled with a non-performing provider for the entire contract term.

Opportunistic bargaining on the other hand may result from over-dependence on a single provider. In such a case having a method to quantify the costs and benefits from outsourcing could help avoid acceptance of inflated provider service fees.

As noted in the latter study, agreeing on the cost evaluation process with the vendor could prevent fees inflation in subsequent engagement. With such controls, the company could then practically reap the theoretical benefits of outsourcing.

Why Put Business Information in a Database?

Using Access to Organize Data for Home Based Small Businesses

Business involves a lot of recordkeeping. Organizing data in Access is part of an effective record management system for a small home based business.

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Starting and successfully maintaining a small business involves a large amount of paperwork and the records build up quickly. There are so many things to keep organized. It can be overwhelming if an effective way to compile and retrieve data is not in place. Access is one of several types of relational database programs that can be used to organize and link records in a meaningful way.

Overhead Expense and Earning Records in Access

Creating a table in a database – for expenses and another for income creates a visual representation of a small organization’s inflows and outflows. Linking the total balance fields of the tables gives business owners a clear idea of where to focus their attention in order to make a business more profitable. For example, if more money is being spent on material than the product is bringing in, prices would either need to go up or costs would need to go down.

There are, however, reasons to be cautious about putting financial information in a database – unless the person setting up the table has a really strong understanding of how to use the program. It is important to make sure the people who have the ability to open the tables and fields are people who actually need to have the information.

Employee Records in Databases

Putting employee records in a database is useful because it creates a place to compile information. A record of hours, pay scales, and any benefits the employees are receiving can be placed in fields that can be quickly opened. The field of payouts to employees can be linked to the expenses field so information only has to entered into the database once.

Customer Information in Databases

Customer service can be enhanced by entering customer information into a table of the database. Contact information and data about products or services purchased make following up easy. Following up with customers is an effective way to open the door for repeat business and referrals. This kind of relationship building helps a small home based business grow more quickly than it would otherwise.

Supplier Information in a Database

Small businesses often end up with a long list of suppliers. Putting supplier information in a database creates a fast way to get ordering information. Instead of digging through a file cabinet or a stack of catalogs the information is ready with the click of a mouse.

Adding a field that tells when items were ordered and another that tells when the items are expected to arrive is a useful idea. If a customer calls looking for an item that is out of stock, they can be told when it expected to be delivered. This reduces the chance of the customer calling a competitor and it gives the business an extra chance to retain a customer.

A relational database is a useful tool for a small home based business. Business owners will find the information gathered in a database valuable and part of an effective operating strategy.

The Happy Employee: By Generation

Do Generational Issues Impact Happiness at Work?

It should be simple: Keep employees happy and they will stay. But what does that really mean in today’s world?

What defines a happy employee? In this economy, many would think it would just be having a job. Or is it having a job with a living wage and benefits? Perhaps it’s a job that provides fulfillment? Could it be feeling autonomous, or is it being directed by a supervisor. Knowing the answer may be crucial to employers as the recession ends, and that may mean understanding the wants and needs of the different generations.

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The Generations at Work

For a Baby Boomer, defining a “good job” was fairly easy. Good pay, benefits including medical, vacation and retirement and an opportunity for advancement in the company were standard. In return, employees considered doing whatever was necessary to get the job done as a normal part of the work environment, even when that meant accepting 60 hour work weeks and putting job responsibilities before family ones.

When Gen X came along, however, changes came with them. Gen X looked at work much differently than the Baby Boomers who came before them. Rather than defining success by climbing the corporate ladder, members of Gen X defined it by how little of an impact the job had on their personal life. For this group to be happy, they need autonomy and freedom to set their own schedule and lead a life outside of work.

Now Gen Y enters the mix, with an entirely new definition of success. For a member of Gen Y to be happy at work, they must have access to the social networking and team lifestyle that defines them. Facebook, Twitter, My Space are all crucial to this generation, and depriving them of their 24/7 access is a sure fire way to create an rebellious and disillusioned employee.

Keeping Employees Happy

So why should employers care about keeping their employees happy? After all, this is the worst economy since the Great Depression. Isn’t simply having a job reason enough to be happy? Not necessarily. Even with the economic woes facing businesses today, there are still 77 million Baby Boomers getting ready to retire and simply not enough Gen X’ers or Gen Y’s to replace them.

This means that at some point in the not so far future employees will once again be able to choose where they want to work, rather than where they have to work and being happy will be what drives them. Employers who do not understand what creates a happy environment for members of each generation may find themselves losing out to those who do.

Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid

Production vs. People Focus – What’s Your Managerial Style?

Devised by Blake and Moulton in the 1960s, the Managerial Grid remains a strong indicator of the behaviours of a manager or potential manager.

During the course of an average working day or week, a manager has many opportunities to interact with staff and directly change the course of their work or the work of the organisation. The manager/staff interaction can result in productivity increases or decreases and changing levels of morale, which if morale is decreasing as a result of the manager’s style, can lead to increased staff turnover.

The Managerial Grid, devised by Blake and Moulton is a way to identify whether a manager has a high focus on people to the detriment of results or whether the manager focuses solely on results or is somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum. A Manager’s style can be classified as one of seven types in the Managerial Grid, specified as a score for “Concern for People” and a score for “Concern for Results.”

Controlling (9,1) Managerial Style

The Controlling Manager scores high on “Concern for Results” and low on “Concern for People.” These types of managers tend to be dominating and do not allow staff to offer suggestions or comments. They are it’s my way or the highway type managers.

Accommodating (1,9) Managerial Style

Accommodating managers score high on “Concern for People” and low on “Concern for Results” and seek harmony and focus on the positive.

Status Quo (5,5) Managerial Style

Status quo managers are middle of the road with the same scores on both “Concern for People” and “Concern for Results.” This managerial style is happy to endorse popular options but is not a risk taker and is open to ensuring that decisions are acceptable to the team.

Indifferent (1,1) Managerial Style

Indifferent managers care little for either people or results with low scores on both the “Concern for People” and the “Concern for Results” scales. These types of managers will exert the least amount of effort in order to meet work deadlines.

PAT (Paternalistic) Managerial Style

Paternalistic managers act like the head of the family, by determining pathways for staff and providing encouragement to those staff members who support their thinking. However paternalistic managers actively discourage any challenges to their way of doing things or suggestions that their answers may be wrong.

OPP (Opportunistic) Managerial Style

Opportunistic managers are out to get the best deal for themselves and will offer people sweeteners along the way in order to gain their support. Managers in this style can be chameleon-like and open to trying anything in order to gain an advantage.

Sound (9,9) Managerial Style

Scoring high on both the “Concern for People” and the “Concern for Results” scales are the Sound Managers. Valuing the concept of a team, sound managers work to deliver the required productivity results from committed staff. Sound managers focus on the interdependence of the relationship and focus on building trust, respect and commitment.

Each managerial style listed above has its own positives and negatives, however Blake and Mouton advocate that the Sound (9,9) style of management is the best way to manage. Sound (9,9) management moves beyond simply supervising staff and setting tasks but also develops the leadership skills of both manager and staff member.