How to Handle Conflict at Work

Conflicts will always arise at the workplace. Irrespective of how much we hate it, it is a universal truth that there is no organization in the world which is free of conflict.

It may be a small matter that can be easily resolved, or it may be a major conflict that threatens the existence of the business entity. This does not mean that the organization has to be in a chaotic state at all times. Conflict can be the beginning of interesting relations at work. The managers have to be meticulous in dealing with it. They must do so in a manner that is fair to all and the means used to arrive at a solution must be void of bias or prejudice.

workplace conflict
Image by a2gemma

Here are a few tips that are useful in minimizing and handling work related warfare.

1. Define what is acceptable

This is the first step in avoiding unnecessary rivalry. Ensure that all employees understand the kind of behavior that is expected of them. Clearly define a framework that highlights code of ethics. Let them know what will not be tolerated. In the same light ensure that everyone’s job description is crystal clear to avoid situations where there is conflict arising from ambiguity in roles. This framework should be used whenever there is a conflict, and the employees have to be aware of its existence. The policies which have been set up have to be utilized as the basis for conflict resolution.

2. Deal with conflict as soon as it arises

Tugs of war at the workplace should not be ignored for too long. Ignoring such clashes will only give them time to flare up. It may spread like bushfire, and before you know it, it is all over the organization. This particular reason necessitates prompt confrontation of the conflict before it goes out of control. Do not let it escalate to a level where you cannot effectively deal with it. Do not bury your head in the sand. A few conflicts will calm down naturally, but most conflicts do not die down without some sort of intervention.

3. Listen to all parties and then act

It is only fair that both parties are accorded an audience before action is taken. Sometimes it is not necessary to do so, especially when it is quite obvious that one party is on the wrong. However, it is only right that both sides of the dispute are heard so as to arrive at a conclusion that is free and fair. Listen to what each party has to say before taking any serious action. Ascertain the facts and then act accordingly.

4. Request a third party to intervene

Whenever there is a conflict, it is important to ask an impartial third party to mediate. This is particularly important when you have made attempts to resolve the conflict without any significant progress. A third party will bring in some fresh ideas and give the parties concerned a notion that someone has listened to them, which is a crucial step towards healing.

5. Aim at finding a lasting solution

The idea behind conflict resolution is to come up with a lasting solution. You have to be solution oriented. As much as you acknowledge the problem, you have to suggest possible solutions which will bring the dispute to an end once and for all. This will help the parties to open up as they give their opinions about the suggested solutions, which should improve the situation.

6. Keep emotions away from the process

The greatest mistake people make is to let their emotions interfere with their decisions. The same applies while solving conflicts. Emotions will only aggravate a bad situation. Try to remain sober and to think as straight as possible. Ensure that emotions are kept off the bay so that they do not interfere with the process.

About the Author: Suzan Morley has over 10 years of HR experience.

3 Easy Ways to Organise your Workspace

If you work from home, whether self-employed or owning your own business, or simply in need of a space to perform office work like bills etc., separating your workspace from where you relax is essential to being able to carry out what you need to, when you need to. Ideally you don’t want to turn your home into the same place you associate with tedious work, or you’ll feel like you can never properly relax. On the other hand, you may not be able to get anything done, if psychologically you know you’re at home. If you own a business, this can be a major problem if  financially, you have something at stake and need to work.

Below are three simple tips you may want to consider when organising your workspace to be more efficient:

1. Think ‘Work’

If you’re aware that you’re home, then you’ll be tempted to relax and not work as hard as you would do if in a public office environment. The process of commuting to an office and then being in public essentially, means one is psychologically more prepared to get on with what you need to do. If you’re self-employed and work alone then you also don’t have anyone to answer to other than yourself, so you don’t really have the same authority to push you. Put any distractions like a television or games console in another room, or at least out of sight. Ideally, you would have a different room to work in which you wouldn’t enter much outside of working, like an actual study. This is not always possible when spacing is an issue. You also don’t want these things to infiltrate your workspace, so ensure your desk isn’t cluttered or a place where things that not work-related are just left, like magazines or books. 

2. Personalisation

If you had an a cubicle at work, you would be allowed to personalise your workspace somewhat even if there were some restrictions, so don’t think that you need to recreate a sterile office in your home to get into that mindset to work; after all, you’ll probably have to sit in that space for many hours, everyday, so it needs to fit you and be a place you can be happy in, even if you have to work. Add personal photos of family to your desk, though don’t go too overboard as this can clutter and distract. Additionally, something which can inspire or motivate you but doesn’t look too boring or dull can help, such as a fish tank or a painting/print of a majestic landscape, can help (preferably something which doesn’t take up too much space). Some find that said motivational posters remind them too much of being in a stiff office environment so perhaps stay away from those; plus they’re quite generic and you should make the most of being able to work from home. Everyone gets those moments of stress or when they just need to breathe a bit and think, so invest in something quality for those moments. Again, the most important thing is that you can work, so don’t clutter your desk with too many things that can distract you.

workspace

3. Health and Safety

To give you some perspective, you may want to think back to some of the health & safety considerations from a previous office (or other workplace) you have worked in. Keeping drinks without lids on an alternative side table would avoid spillages on paper, or worse electric equipment, which would need replacing and can result in lost work. Speaking of, make sure the fan for any computers is not obstructed so it doesn’t overheat and create similar computer problems. Consider yourself but also anyone who may come into contact with your workspace. Make sure things can’t be pulled off the desk by children or pets in the vicinity, like loose papers or books. Additional bookcases, shelves or cabinets will mean you don’t have stacks of books, documents or folders taking up space on your desk, which could fall over and cause more chaos. In fact, the positive of having a separate room to work in, means that not only do you separate it from your leisure psychologically, but anything valuable in there, like computers or records are secure from intruders and can be locked away; if you have kids or pets who like to wander in, they will be prevented from doing so.

Paul has worked in a variety of office environments. He currently works in digital marketing, and is in the process of putting together his own home-office, which has required consulting various sources on how to put together the best workspace at home.

Holiday Ruckus: Five Things to Watch out for in the Workplace During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is full of endless cheer and celebration. So many individuals wait in eager anticipation and excitement for Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve to roll around. With all the seasonal joy, delicious food, and countless parties, the holiday season may seem like it’s all fun and games, but for many small-business owners this season can cause quite a few complications in the workplace.

Small-business owners don’t intend to come off like Mr. Scrooge during the holiday season; if anything, they are trying their best to remain upbeat and positive throughout the fall and winter months. After watching my parents run their small landscaping business through the years, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to run a company around Thanksgiving and Christmas. In case you haven’t realized, the holidays are peeking their heads around the corner; for those of you who are running a small business, there are five things in particular you need to start preparing for now.

holiday ruckus

Employee Vacations

Inevitably, many of your employees are going to want to take a few vacation days during the holidays. Therefore, it’s wise to tell everybody to submit their time-off requests as soon as possible. The main thing you want to avoid is having everyone from a specific department like accounting and human resources all gone at the same time. The best way to avoid something like this is to have members from each team or department meet with each other and designate which days they intend to take off. By doing this, you’ll avoid having too many people gone from the workplace at the same time.

Bonuses

Holiday bonuses are a tricky thing to handle. People often expect them during the holidays, and unfortunately, not all small businesses are able to hand them out. If you are not going to be handing out holiday bonuses, go ahead and make it known well in advance. Although some employees may be let down, the last thing you want to do is have them getting angry or upset right before the holidays. If you do intend to hand out bonuses, then it’s wise for you to contemplate when you’re going to hand them out. If you want to incorporate an element of surprise, you can wait until just before Christmas to hand them out, but if you want people to use them for holiday shopping, perhaps you could hand them out just before Thanksgiving.

Different Religious Views

Many of us make the assumption that anyone and everyone celebrates Thanksgiving and Christmas. In case you’ve forgotten, we live in a diverse country where not everybody celebrates these traditional holidays. In order to avoid any sort of unintended conflict in the office, it’s a good idea to ask everyone to submit anonymous comments on how they would like to handle celebrating holidays in the office. To handle something this, you could hand out an anonymous questionnaire asking people things like if they would like to have holiday parties; which holidays they would like celebrate; if there are certain foods they can’t eat; if there are certain holiday rituals they are uncomfortable with; etc. By making the holiday season comfortable for everyone, you’ll avoid most unintentional animosity and tension in the office.

Holiday Food

The holidays are packed full of delicious, fattening foods. Although our taste buds can’t get enough of them, our waistlines can. It is fun to bring in caloric sweets to the office every once in a while, but going overboard isn’t good for anyone. Make sure to talk to your office staff and emphasize that although it is a kind gesture to bring in sweet and salty treats, it’s important to know where to draw the line. You don’t want people feeling as if they have to indulge in unhealthy food simply because somebody brought it into the office “for everybody.” The last thing you want is rundown or exhausted simply because they are divulging too much in seasonal sweets.

Low Productivity

Along with all the holiday cheer comes one tough malady: low productivity. Many employees are so filled with excitement and anticipation during the weeks leading up to Christmas that their productivity goes down tremendously. Though it might be difficult to motivate people during the last few days before Christmas vacation, make sure to host a few employee meetings and have everyone go over what their working on during the low-productivity days. If you see a problem with certain departments or employees, pull them aside and kindly remind them that even though it’s the holiday season, they are still at work and they must live up to what is expected of them. As long as you remind everyone that they are not yet on Christmas break, you should be able to get everyone back on track quickly.

The holidays are supposed to be a fun, cheerful time of year, yet small-business owners must consider a number of conflicts that are likely to come up during the holidays. If you haven’t done so already, start thinking about how you’ll handle low productivity, employee vacations, holiday foods, different religious views, and bonuses during the upcoming holiday season.

About the Author: Alvina Lopez has freelanced about education throughout her career. As technology and education converge, Alvina hopes to guide her readers as they search for online college programs that have the potential to jumpstart their careers and change their lives. She welcomes feedback at alvina.lopez@gmail.com.

Top tips for minimising business disruption during the Olympics

With today signifying the real impact of commuters and Olympic goers, an estimated 35,000 commuters a day will see their journey home disrupted during the Games as the transport network juggles the needs of ordinary Londoners and Olympic spectators.

Despite smooth operations so far one of the biggest obstacles facing employers and commuters is business disruption as the city faces its first major test of combining weekday commuter traffic with a full day of Olympic events.

london olympics 2012
Image by Alexander Kachkaev / Flickr

Around 5.5 million visitors are expected every day and gridlock can inevitably be expected throughout the UK’s roads, rail networks, rail networks and waterways, potentially impacting supply chains throughout the country.

Preparing well in advance should help to minimise the impact of the weeks of disruption this summer and prevent this stressful time from damaging the customer relationships you may have spent years developing. In fact, as with most business risks, there is potential to turn the Games into an opportunity.

If you are seen by your customers to be taking the initiative and planning in advance to minimise the impact on their business, it could strengthen your relationship with them. With the Olympic and Paralympic Games only just arrived it’s not too late to put in place a 5-point remote working strategy:

  1. Be creative – Launch a pilot programme in your organisation. Start with one or two departments or a set period of weeks (the Olympics could be an ideal time) and monitor results against set targets.
  2.  Develop criteria – Get a good remote working policy in place. Generally, the adoption of remote working involves building the minimum appropriate infrastructure – hosted solutions, or financial software such as IRIS Exchequer installed and hosted in secure scalable data centres. Tools could include remote control applications, collaboration software and video conferencing software. It may be easier to reach team members via the web than walk around the office.
  3. Technology – Ensure that you choose a hosted service that includes the on-going management of the servers, software and data including the provision of backup services, installation of security patches and various levels of technical expertise and support.
  4.  Communication – create a schedule for regular communication. Use instant messaging and video chatting for spontaneous conversations to ensure that staff don’t miss out on ‘the real world’.
  5. Metrics – It’s well known that when staff work from home they are happier, free from office distractions and often more productive. However what about staff that need supervision? Rather than monitoring hours worked per day, set production targets or goals to be completed.

The Olympics could be used as a springboard towards a much more widespread four-day office week with either staff working from home, doing compressed hours, or going part-time. A move that not only will help employers cut costs and ease the strain on commuter rail and roads (and ultimately the tax payer who funds their repair) but to help ease the pain of tough economic times. Perhaps then we will finally discover that remote working really can be a win-win.

About the author: Paul Sparkes is Product Director at IRIS Exchequer, a mid-market business and finance management solution that has received a number of awards over the years. Awards success includes winning ‘Financial Software Provider of the Year’ in the Real Finance/CBI FDs’ Excellence Awards 2012, 2011, 2008, 2006 and 2005.

IRIS Exchequer was named the ‘Best rated accounting product catering for businesses in the medium range’ in an authoritative survey by the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales), the industry body which also accredits IRIS Exchequer.

Dealing with Bullying in the Workplace: Advice for employers

For a small business, bullying in the workplace can have a deep impact. It can lead to decreased productivity, lowered morale, increased absences and potentially to expensive and lengthy employment tribunals. Added to that the emotional effects of bulling on the victim, and the fact that one office bully can affect the working environment even for those he or she does not target, and it makes for a very unpleasant situation.

workplace bully

Image by imagerymajestic

As a small business owner, and employer, you are responsible for the welfare of your employees under the Health and Safety Act 1974, so you need to know the signs of bullying in the workplace and put a stop to it before it escalates.

What is bullying?

In its guide for employers on dealing with workplace bullying, ACAS, the UK’s employment relations service, defines bullying as

“offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.”

Workplace bullying may not be the name-calling and taunts of the schoolyard, but it can have just as much impact on the victim, often more, as it is much more subtle. Workplace bullying can be:

  • humiliation
  • exclusion
  • intimidation
  • harassment
  • sabotage of work or promotion prospects
  • constantly singling someone out for blame or criticism

In the workplace that can translate to some of the following signs, which as an employer, you should look out for:

  • withholding information or giving incorrect information
  • undermining a co-worker
  • refusing to delegate tasks
  • spreading malicious rumours

The problem with workplace bullying is that what may be considered bullying by one employee might be considered office banter or just firm management by another. Then there is the fact that the victim may not be willing to speak up, for fear of being thought of as weak, or a “snitch”. And added to that, other employees may not be willing to speak out for fear of calling the bully’s attention to themselves.

This is why it is important to make clear to your employees the behaviours which will not be tolerated.

What can employers do?

As an employer, you need to have a clear policy in place that makes it clear that bullying should not be tolerated, with a set of rules and consequences, and a formal complaints procedure. It is in your best interests to have a supportive environment within your company, not one where the victim feels that they have nobody to turn to. And they may in turn lose respect for you for not addressing the problem.

You should also encourage your employees to look out for any signs of bullying. And make sure you yourself set a good example in your behaviour towards others

If a complaint of bullying is made, it should be investigated and followed up promptly. Gather the evidence and review it thoroughly before deciding how to proceed. An informal  talk may be all that is needed, but in some cases, disciplinary action will need to be taken.

Start by calling the employee into your office, and talk through your concerns, outlining each reported incident. Give the employee a chance to tell his or her side of the story, but make it clear that his or her behaviour will not be tolerated. It may be that this is the end of the issue.

However, if attempting to resolve the situation informally does not work, then you may have no choice but to start disciplinary action against the bullying employee. You should make sure you follow procedures carefully and ensure that both victim and accused are treated fairly. Possible punishments for bulling may be a written warning, suspension or even dismissal, but before deciding on your course of action, review the facts again. For example, if the bully has accepted his or her actions were wrong, then a written warning may be enough.

For more information, contact ACAS on 08457 47 47 47

Author Bio: Altmore Business Law are a commercial law firm in the East Midlands, providing solicitors in Nottingham, Leicester, Grantham and across the region. They work with both SMEs and large companies, and provide advice and guidance on a broad range of matters.

Eight Ways to Stay Productive When You Work from Home

Regardless of what you do, if you work from home, the name of the game is productivity. If you telecommute, your boss is likely to be watching you like a hawk. Did he make the right decision when he let you work from home? If you freelance, your clients don’t care about your hourly rate? Did that fifty dollar project really take me three days to complete?

Yes, if you work at home, productivity matters. It pays your bills, it keeps you out of the office and it allows you to have a social life. Therefore if you work from home and you notice that your productivity levels are not as high as they could be, chances are you are suffering. And if you’re telecommuting, chances are you are about to get fired. Before the hammer drops, here are eight highly effective tips for getting more done in less time when you call your office home.

work at home

Image by Thomas van de Weerd / Flickr

Don’t Become a Recluse

Work from home jobs don’t necessarily require you to literally work at home. Most can be performed effectively at a local café or a quiet bar. Getting out of the house on a daily basis is essential if you want to stay sane, let alone productive. If you find that you get more done when working in your home office, focus on going out in the evenings. Isolation and productivity never go hand in hand.

Figure Out How to Tackle Procrastination

Procrastination seriously harms productivity and problems with productivity can spell death for any work at home career. There are a lot of techniques that can be employed to fight productivity and what works for you is something that you are going to have to find out on your own.

For me personally, I have found that the most suitable weapon against procrastination is to devote a single hour each day to doing the tasks that I hate. Those tasks still take a while to complete, but they always eventually get done. Procrastination is more than capable of leaving tasks uncompleted forever if you let it.

Limit Your Time

If you’re paid per deliverable rather than per hour, your goal is always going to be to get the most done in the shortest amount of time possible. An important part of doing so is limiting the amount of time that you allow yourself to complete your tasks.

If you give yourself the entire day to do something, chances are it’s going to take the entire day. Whereas if you limit yourself to only spending four hours, you are far more likely to fit that task into that timeframe.

List Your Tasks

When you work from home, you don’t have a boss scheduling your day and this is certainly a good thing. Unfortunately however, unless you take on his role, your productivity is going to seriously suffer. Sitting down in the morning with no real plan is a recipe for both procrastination and missed deadlines.

You should start each day by listing the tasks that you hope to complete. They should be ordered according to their importance and completed according to their order. And any tasks not on your list should be avoided entirely. Provided you follow this simple system, you will get your most important tasks completed every day. You also won’t waste time on those that are unimportant.

Work Where You Work Best

If you think that you are going to get a lot done while sitting on your couch with your feet up, think again. High levels of productivity require that you sit up straight and that you are not surrounded by distractions. A home office can fit the bill perfectly but some people find that they get more done outside of their home.

You should experiment with working in different environments and you should establish where you are at your best. Regardless of whether it’s a café, a bar or your aforementioned home office, the important thing is that you establish where works for you.

Disconnect (or Pretend)

Most people that work from home do so with the aid of a computer and an internet connection. An internet connected computer however is home to all manner of distractions and you might be surprised by just how many hours you can kill telling your Facebook friends how great it is to work from home.

If you have the discipline to avoid the recreational side of the internet then by all means do so. But if like most, you’re a bit of a social media addict, you might find that you can get a lot more done if you only connect to the internet when your work actually requires it. Out of all the tips in this article, this is probably the easiest to apply. It also happens to be one of the most effective.

Tell People You’re at Work

If you have friends, a partner or a young child, it’s important for you to let them know that when you are working from home, you actually are working. You can’t do housework, you can’t do babysitting and you can’t go to the pub at two in the afternoon. Just because you don’t have to be at your office by nine am, that does not mean that you don’t have deadlines.

Take Care of Yourself

Finally, take care of yourself. Many people take working from home as an excuse to take less showers, to stay up until four in the morning and to practically live on their couch. Showers keep you fresh, exercise keeps you energised and eight hours sleep keeps you in straight thoughts. When you work from home, there’s no boss to get angry at you for looking like a corpse. That responsibility is therefore left to you. Get some fresh air, dead people don’t work from home.

About the Author: Brian Wills is a freelance writer and blogger. Through his posts he talks about SEO and internet marketing and believes that alexa ranking service is the most reliable page ranking service for checking the credibility and popularity of websites.

Tips for Being Productive Outside the Office

If you have ever had a job working in an office, then you have probably heard plenty about productivity. Many bosses take great care about finding out how productive potential employees will be when looking to hire new staff, and productivity is often a big part of performance evaluations.

Productivity is simply a big part of having a job; however, productivity should extend outside the office. After all, going the extra mile is what separates the good employees and the excellent employees. But it can be difficult to be productive outside the office if you do not know how.

business productivity tips

Separate You Work and Social Life

One big part of being productive outside the office is separating your work and social life. One good way to help keep these two sides separate is to get a second phone line. This does not mean you need to carry two phones, since the SmartPhone app Line2 can work as a second phone line on a SmartPhone for business calls. Separating your phone lines can help you to seem more professional and productive.

To further keep your work and social lives separated, avoid making many friendships that might interfere with your work. It is fine to have a colleague or two that you get a drink with after work sometimes, but it might be a problem if you find yourself invited to your employee’s daughter’s birthday party.

This is a matter of common sense and personal judgment, since all business relationships are different, but it’s generally not a good idea for business associates on different levels of “the food chain” to get too close. This not only can cause people to become suspicious if you or your friend gets a raise or paid vacation, but it can also lower your productivity dealing with the issues that can arise.

Working From Home

Another situation that can give people trouble is when they have to work from home or a hotel, such as finishing and sending in a report while on a business trip. It can be distracting and demotivating if you do not have to get ready or dressed to go into work, so many people find themselves becoming less productive in these situations.

The best thing to do is pretend you are at work. When you wake up, take a shower and get dressed. This gets you in a working mindset. Set a strict schedule and follow it, and avoid all distractions such as television and friends. Also, make a list of things to do every night for the next day. This will help you keep track of exactly what you need to do.

If there is one thing that impresses employers and future employers, it is an individual’s ability to be productive outside the office. It is often the deciding factor when an employer is deciding between applicants for an open position or when deciding who they need to lay off. Increasing your productivity outside the office is a great way to put yourself ahead of the competition.

About the Author: Jessy is a stay-at-home mom and business blogger.

The Best Ways of Incentivizing Your Staff

Making sure that your employees are happy is one way of ensuring that your business thrives and prospers. Happy employees are more productive and willing to work harder for you. Setting goals that are realistic, and that employees understand, is a crucial part of any incentive program. If you want to reward your employees financially, there are a few really good ways to do it.

Retirement Matching Contributions

Retirement matching contributions are one way of rewarding your employees for good performance. A retirement account match is when you contribute money towards your employees’ retirement plan. For qualified accounts, like 401(k) plans, you must match all employee accounts the same.

For example, if you offer an employee a $1 match for every $1 he contributes to his retirement fund, you must also offer the same $1 match to every employee. However, some accounts are considered “non-qualified” and you can offer a paid bonus to select employees. This is an ideal way to offer incentives to employees because you can be selective about who receives a bonus and who doesn’t. The bonus may be set up as a direct payment to the employee or you can pay it to a brokerage account where the employee has limited control over the funds.

Normally, an agreement is signed between you and the employee that stipulates what the bonus money may be used for. If you want to motivate your employees to stay with you for a long time, you can structure the agreement so that the employee has full trading authority over the funds but cannot remove them for a set number of years.

Non-Qualified Stock Options

A stock option is a right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a specific number of shares of stock for a predetermined price and for a predetermined amount of time. For example, a stock option may give you the right to purchase 1,000 shares of Microsoft for $10 per share for the next 3 months. Stock options that are given as a bonus allow an employee to benefit from the increase in the share price of your company if it is publicly traded.
The employee must pay income tax on the difference between the stock price and the strike price at the time the option is exercised.

Incentive Stock Options

Incentive stock options are more of a long-term investment. While non-qualified stock options benefit an employee if you’re going to issue an IPO and expect your stock to do well “out of the gate,” incentive stock options are meant to be more of a long-term investment. Typically, these stock options are held for more than a year from the date the option is exercised. The shares exercised by the options holder also must be held for more than two years from the date of issue of the stock option.

This gives incentive stock options a tax benefit in that they will always be taxed as a long-term capital gain – a tax rate that is lower than the income tax paid on non-qualified stock options.

Employee stock options can also be “restricted.” This means that even though the individual has the right to exercise the option, he may be restricted from doing so prior to a specific date or before a company has achieved a certain benchmark or milestone. This gives further incentive for employees to perform well so that the company’s share price increases.

In some cases, the employee does not have direct control over the share price of the company because she doesn’t have control over any aspect of production. Even still, stock options can help to energize your workforce and motivate everyone to work together so that the company does well.

About the Author: Guest post by Elizabeth Goldman, on behalf of Sunbird cfd Brokers and currency trading specialists. Home to the advanced MetaTrader platform (see the metatrader 4 user guide). All views and opinions belong to the writer and do not necessarily represent Sunbird FX.