1960s TV – How to Manage Younger Staff

By Ian Pearson, Employment Consultant

Last night I went to see yet another big screen remake of a small screen classic – ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’, originally a 1960 and 70’s TV series starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. For those of you old enough to remember the original, U.N.C.L.E. was a secret international counter espionage and law-enforcement agency. What is less well known was that you were able to join U.N.C.L.E. (for a small fee) and I was one of those men (or boy).

For a couple of shillings you could apply for a badge and membership card, choosing which department to join. The list was impressive; Counter-Espionage and Infiltration, Camouflage and Deception, Security and Protection. I went for Admin and Filing and still have the card to prove it! Well, you always need to find documents at a moment’s notice.

Of course there was a female version of the group – The Woman from A.U.N.T.I.E. This had departments such as Media and Communication and was populated by metrosexual BBC employees.

Looking back on my choice of department I can see that I wanted to be safe and secure, a bit like those Trekkies at Star Trek conventions who, instead of dressing up as Captain Kirk or Mr Spock, choose Third Yeoman Class in a plain blue top. Having said they were playing it safe, these were the most likely characters to by vaporised when transported to an alien planet.

So what has this got to do with employment law or management?

Choosing Admin and Filing may have been safe, but what it didn’t do was in any way stretch my abilities (even at the age of seven) and should I have stayed in Admin and Filing things may have been very different.

Now, scroll forward ten years or so and I started my first job at BP in London. And what department did I join? Office Management Department (OMD)! Sort of Admin and Filing without the guns.

However, what I did have at BP were very good managers who spotted that perhaps I should aspire to greater things than filing and encouraged me to expand my horizons. BP supported my studies and I became a solicitor. I have to thank the deputy head of legal department for being enthusiastic about his employees (he was a former Gurkha officer and used to pushing staff beyond their comfort zones) and I never regretted the move.

A good manager is worth his or her weight in gold. These mangers don’t have to be ‘best mates’ with their staff, don’t have to micro-manage work or adhere to the regimented HR culture that sets an employee along a certain career path. In fact most of the managers I have enjoyed working for have been intelligent mavericks within their organisations. They have also been quite ruthless and suffer fools not gladly!

Some have been natural managers, but of the two who I rate most highly, both had learned their management skills – one through the army the other by understanding the teaching of the then management gurus; Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich) and Kenneth Blanchard (The One Minute Manager) and their ilk. So, there may be hope for us all!

So, as a manger look at your workforce, identify who may go on to great things and encourage them.

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The Greek Fisherman – A Cautionary Tale

ID-100149180By Ian Pearson, Employment Consultant

With the Greek economy in the headlines again this week, I was reminded of a story told to me by my old university friend, Andreas, living in Athens and suffering because of the financial woes in Greece…

A small fishing boat docked in a tiny Greek village with a few fish in a basket. A tourist (from one of the richer European countries) watched with interest and asked the fisherman how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long,” answered the Fisherman.

“Then, why don’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the Tourist.

The Fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family and to give him a small profit.

The Tourist asked, But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings I go into the town to see my friends, dance a little, drink a bit, and sing a few songs. I have a full life.” Said the Fisherman.

The Tourist interrupted, “I am a businessman and have a degree from the Sorbonne and a MBA from the LSE and I can help you. You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch to a wholesaler and with the revenue you can buy a bigger boat”.

“What do I do then” asked the Fisherman?

“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.  Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant” answered the Businessman.

“What do I do then” asked the Fisherman?

“You can then leave this little village and move to Athens or perhaps a sophisticated European capital! You could then float (no pun intended) your enterprise on the stock market.”

“How long would that take?” asked the Fisherman.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the Businessman.

“And then what happens then?” asked the Fisherman.

“That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the Businessman, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can sell it and your shares and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the Fisherman.

“This is the best bit” says the Businessman, “After that you’ll be able to retire to a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your grandchildren, take a siesta with your wife, catch a few fish and in the evenings go into the town to see your friends, dance a little, drink a bit, and sing a few songs …”

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2015 Budget – How Landlords will be Affected

By Ian Pearson, Amicus Commercial

As a private landlord, as well as an employment lawyer for Amicus, I watched George Osborne’s budget on Wednesday with some trepidation.ID-10018360

Whilst many landlords may not be in a top tax bracket, the changes in tax relief for buy-to-let mortgage interest will have far reaching effects not only for individual landlords, but for those renting and may also impact upon the amount of housing stock available to rent.

At the moment landlords can claim tax relief on their mortgage interest payments (as opposed to capital repayments) at the full rate of their tax band. This means that higher earners can claim up to 45% tax relief.

Over the next five years this benefit will be reduced and by 2020 only tax relief at the basic rate (currently 20%) will be allowed.

The changes may be an attempt by the Government to boost home ownership and the number of first time buyers, but perhaps the £6.3 million that the scheme now costs was a deciding factor?

Renting property has become a way of boosting income and saving for a pension for many people, especially with low interest rates, pension scandals and stock market volatility. Many of these nouveau landlords borrow to finance their property purchase.

However, with it becoming harder and harder to get onto the property ladder, many people have no choice but to rent and if landlords lose interest relief it is likely they will increase rent to off-set any shortfall in income.

The new rules may also put off some would be landlords from buying property. This could lead to a shortfall in supply of rented homes. However, on the plus side, if landlords aren’t buying, this may release more stock for other buyers and may even push property prices down a bit.

In other areas of the rental market, things have been given a boost with property owners who rent out a room, either to holiday makers, weekday business guests or lodgers, being able to earn up to £7,500 tax free per year (from April 2016).

Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, it pays to know where you stand and our property team here at Amicus can help and advise you on the legal intricacies of renting and letting.

Contact Caroline Bennett (01278 664060) or Barbara White (01935 426047) for more information.

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Two very different types of workplace stress

By Ian Pearson, Employment Consultant

Ten years ago I was standing in my kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee when I heard the first news of the 7th July bombings in London.


Having lived and worked in London for 20 years, I had lots of friends still there, one of which was in charge of managing a little piece of the London transport network. I gave him a quick call to make sure he was okay.

“Yes” he was fine. “Yes” he had been on the tube earlier that morning and “Yes” he had been in close proximity to of one of the blasts. He then rang off and got on with helping to coordinate his bit of the transport network.

I later found out that he was part of the disaster recovery process and he had spent many a Sunday morning rehearsing these sort of scenarios at abandoned underground stations . This is why I had been able to talk to him on his mobile after the government had turned off all the mobile signals.

Fast forward to this week.

I received a call from a potential new client*. This individual worked for a large and well known financial company. The company had decided that their corporate emphasis needed to change and the roles of certain individuals within a particular division were not really needed. Therefore the company had embarked on a process of ’managing out’ key members of staff.

Individuals were given poor reviews, when previously they had been graded excellent, work and responsibilities had been taken away and lives had been made unbearable. This resulted in the individual calling me going off sick with workplace stress, as had their boss.

Here we have two examples of stress in the workplace. My mate in London was under unimaginable stress dealing with a nightmare scenario. The second is a person who finds they are unable to cope with day to day issues in the workplace caused by poor management practice.

Now, the purpose of this blog is not to laud my London friend and to trivialise the financial employee. No, the purpose of this blog is to identify that stress comes in many forms.

In the London disaster my friend had been trained to deal with a particular type of situation and given responsibility to do practically anything to save lives. No doubt he made mistakes and in retrospect could have done things differently. However, he used the stress he was under positively.

This weeks’ call involved a different type of stress. The individual was unable to do anything about their situation, the pressure had been going on for months and there was no management support. This stress was debilitating and making the individual ill.

I get at least one call a week from someone off with workplace stress. On the whole, there is no legal remedy for this. There is, however, a management solution and getting the employer to understand how they are making their workforce ill is the first step towards getting a resolution to the issue.

I know that some of my readers specialise in this area and I look forward to their comments on this subject. (Use ‘Leave a Comment’ link or ‘Leave a Reply’ box below).

* Please note the facts and circumstances have been changed to protect client confidentiality.

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The Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults

By Rachel Oaten,  Amicuslaw  01935 426047

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 which came into effect in October 2007 brought about significant changes as to how one person is able to manage the affairs of another and, in short, we went from the substantially simpler system of Enduring Powers of Attorney (EPA) to the much more complex Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA).ID-100286443

The fundamental difference between the old style and the new is that registration at the Office of the Public Guardian is required before an LPA can be used regardless of mental capacity, a requirement that ought to improve the protection for the elderly and mentally infirm.

However, as practitioners, the change in the rules has only served to highlight the extent of potential physical, mental or financial abuse being suffered amongst the most vulnerable in our community, and rarely by strangers but far more often at the hands of those whom it was thought could be trusted the most.

We all have an influence on people throughout our lives and sometimes we can impose our wishes and beliefs on others even though it is not our place to do so.

As a Later Life Advisor it is part of my job to notice when clients might be at risk from abuse of any nature and act on that concern accordingly.   Safeguarding cases for elderly clients are rare in my experience but in a recent case I was involved in, an elderly couple were being encouraged to make Lasting Powers of Attorney in order to give someone else control of their financial affairs including, potentially, the power to sell their home.

Conflicting reports from various members of the family suggested that there was already financial abuse within the family including the misappropriation of money.  Indeed, the clients had already made a decision themselves about a potential property move which they had chosen to decline at this stage but they were not being listened to.

Protecting the elderly and vulnerable is as important as protecting the young in our society.  Just because victims are elderly clients does not mean that it can be ignored and Local Authorities have Safeguarding Teams who, once informed of a problem, will meet to decide the potential level of risk to the clients and how that is best dealt with.

As well as the statutory duties attaching to Local Authorities, the Public Guardian has a duty to look after our affairs if we are mentally incapable of doing so ourselves.  In practice, the Public Guardian appoints trusted persons to assist those who are incapacitated.

If you suspect an adult is being abused either physically, mentally, financially or on any other way then you can report it to the Local Authority Help/Advice Line or speak to an experienced Later Life Advisor or elderly client advisor who can assist.

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Thoughts on Training Over a Lunchtime Pint

Last week I took a few days off to walk the Thames Path. The weather was fine and warm and on one of those days I stopped at an ancient coaching in for a lunchtime pint. As I had my faithful companion with me, Ozy the black Labrador, the pub would not allow us both in (not sure if it was him or me that was the problem), but we could sit on one of the two tables outside. These both had glasses on them and full ashtrays, so I decanted the debris from one table on to the other, tied Ozy to a chair and purchased a pint of foaming ale at eye-watering Oxfordshire prices together with a ‘grab-bag’ of cheese and onion crisps for Ozy and I to share.


And so we sat and watched the world go by. No one joined us, probably because the table next door had glasses stacked on it and two full ashtrays.

However, no less than three members of staff passed us regularly, travelling to and from the kitchen, occasionally taking the opportunity for a quick smoke or to chat, yet no one cleared the messy table.

This got me thinking. “Why are the staff not clearing up?”

The answer was obvious. No one had told them to do it. Either the contract didn’t stipulate it as a task or the bar manager didn’t instruct the young workers to go out and clear up and none of them were able to use their common sense or initiative. Perhaps the bar manager didn’t understand that a clean and tidy appearance was important to attract customers, or perhaps he didn’t care…

Now, I could turn this into a middle-class/middle-aged rant about the youth of today, but the issue is about communication. Either staff need to be told what to do or be sufficiently trained to use their initiative to undertake tasks pertinent to their roles. In the absence of either of these, staff should not be criticised.

Perhaps the best time to start is pre-recruitment. When thinking about employing someone, list down all the tasks that you would like them to undertake. This can be quite cathartic as it is probably the first time you have actually thought about the role and what it encompasses. Then transcribe this into a job specification. In turn this will help to draft the job advert and recruit the right person.

The job spec can then form part of the expected roles for the employee and appended to the contract. Any training needs will then be easy to identify and, hey presto, you have the perfect barman or maid, who will identify dirty glasses, collect them up, empty the ashtrays, wipe the table, straighten the chairs and attract more customers.

And Ozy’s only comment ? “60 gram grab-bags of crisps aren’t big enough for two!”

What do you think?

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Life is a Rollercoaster

By Ian Pearson, Employment Consultant, Amicus Commercial

A Sheffield firm of solicitors has apologised for an inappropriate tweet sent by a junior employee in the aftermath of the Alton Towers accident earlier in the week. The tweet read as follows: ID-10043262

‘Been injured in a roller coaster crash?! We’re experts in Personal Injury!! #Smiler #AltonTowers’

The tweet was meant to be tongue in cheek rather than a serious attempt at ambulance chasing, but raises a number of issues about the use of social media and how to control employees’ use of it. It also highlights how solicitors choose to market their services in the twenty-first century.

Certainly, the posting has brought the little Yorkshire firm publicity and after all; ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity’ so said Phineas T. Barnum, the 19th century American circus owner. Unfortunately succès de scandale has become an accepted method of self-promotion. Whether solicitors should be using it is another matter.

However, it is the ease at which any message, good or bad, can be published and this has to be a worry for any organisation and perhaps there needs to be some control over how this medium is used.

So here are my top tips on corporate tweets:

  • Decide who is allowed to tweet – should this be limited to just a few trusted employees or can anyone have access to the system
  • If the latter, then have a policy on what is acceptable (and what is not). Remember, it may be social media but it is still a shop window for your organisation
  • Avoid anything that may be defamatory – it may be fleeting, but the normal legal rules apply
  • Make sure the message is consistent, promotes the right culture and moves the company and brand forward
  • Have a gate-keeper. Even if tweeting is a bit of a free for all, perhaps have someone open-minded to check the content

This matter highlights how powerful social media can be, especially when things go wrong. Like any marketing tool, there needs to be a policy on its use and some thought needs to be given to the direction in which the organisation wants to go

This was just a silly prank – don’t let the same thing happen to you.

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