Last week Wolverhampton Wanderers' home game against Liverpool was distinguished by a more interesting conflict off the pitch than on. Two Sky football commentators, spotting the assistant referee Sian Massey, announced that female football officials didn’t understand the rules and predicted Ms Massey would make mistakes during the match.
“Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her,” Richard Keys said of Ms Massey. Former Scotland striker Andy Gray replied: "Can you believe that? A female linesman. Women don't know the offside rule."
The tape of the off-air conversation reached a newspaper. In the event, Ms Massey correctly called a crucial borderline decision during the match, and the two commentators have been taken off the air. Andy Gray was subsequently fired.
Hearing these ignorant comments made my blood boil. Of course I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
What really makes me angry is that I’m fairly certain there is a large majority of likeable, normal guys out there whose response would be “What’s all the fuss about?” Several commentators have acknowledged that men’s football is rife with overt, casual sexism. And “sexism” could arguably be replaced with “racism” or “homophobia”.
These sorts of causally sexist/racist/homophobic comments are a great example of the sort of outdated behaviour the recently introduced Equality Act legislation has been put in place to stamp out from the workplace. If you allow your staff or customers on your premises free reign to voice similar opinions, you could face claims against you for discrimination.
So business owners who cannot see “what the problem is” should be worried. Allowing casually discriminatory behaviour to persist could lead them straight to an employment tribunal.
From next April, you can’t force your staff to retire so you may face some tricky decision-making. You will need to think about how staff structures, personnel planning and costs might change. Under the new law, workers will retire when they are ready to; enforced retirement will only be possible if it is objectively justified, which in most firms is unlikely. But, on the whole, the change might be good news for your firm.
If you were quietly planning to lose disappointing members of staff by retiring them, bad luck – time to try something else. Short of hoping they find another job or deciding they are ready to retire themselves, you should deal with the problem by instigating a performance review. If the worker really is underperforming, you may need to make reasonable adjustments to their working terms or conditions to improve matters, but if that doesn’t work either, you can start dismissal proceedings.
From next April, the key is to deal with any issues arising with older employers – for example, conduct, capability, or disability - as you already do with workers of any age. So make sure your performance management is strong – it will be an even more important business tool from next April.
Apart from issues with individuals, the new law means your workforce structures and HR management may need a tweak, if not a costs review. Don’t assume that an older workforce will cost more - the longer your workers stay with you and your firm’s contributory schemes, the more they contribute and the less they take out, so your pension funds may profit from the legal change.
However, employers' insurance and potential redundancy costs may rise thanks to employees working longer, while staff benefits must be continued to all those who stay on the books past 65, which may mean reducing benefits all round to manage the expense. Defined benefit pension schemes should be reviewed so they allow for flexible retirement. Sickness policies should also be reviewed as an older team may have different health issues - although you can’t treat age-related illnesses differently.
In terms of career progression in your firm, talk to your staff about their plans. Unless you’re targeting only the older staff, asking open questions about the future plans remains entirely legal and can provide you with the basis of workplace discussions that should help you organise the firm’s future, including training and succession, as well as showing employees you care about their goals.
Is the end of the DRA bad news for firms? No – while the press has made a big fuss, it will only affect a minority of firms. About two-thirds of the UK’s employers already operate without fixed retirement ages - and many of those with retirement ages already offer flexibility for workers to work longer. As for concerns about ancient workers “slowing up” the country’s firm’s with doddery ways, not much evidence exists – studies prove the opposite. For instance, older workers take less sick leave and time off than the young. And finally, the working population is getting older - a third of UK workers will be aged over 50 by 2020. The more appealing your firm is to older workers, the better choice you will have from the experienced and the conscientious in the workforce; which must count as an advantage.
The Default Retirement Age (DRA) will be phased out by law between 6 April and 1 October 2011. The main changes to business are as follows:
The heart of the term social media is the word 'social', suggesting that the online world is for interacting, communicating and sharing knowledge. The aim of having social media guidelines for your business is that they should mirror this mindset with the idea that employees should behave as they would do in the offline world — with inhibitions, decorum and common courtesy. This is especially so as it is still common for people to alter their online and offline personas. Many still use the internet as an outlet for airing their thoughts with little consideration of the severity and long term effects of their actions. This is not to say that employees cannot be trusted, instead they can be positively guided to utilise their talent and act in a way which protects their own and the company’s online reputation. Some do's and don’ts for setting up social media guidelines for your employees are listed below:
1. Do choose trust and empowerment.
Social media use can instill fear and angst in the minds of businesses. Most instantly assume employees cannot be trusted or will not act in the company's best interest. Nevertheless, they must learn that the paradigm shift is here to stay. Rather than fretting about the potential negatives they must realise its benefits. It is never a good idea to set stringent controls on social media in the workplace or via guidelines. Banning social media in the workplace or heavily restricting use could result in a backlash. Employees are potential social media representatives and to make social media work properly across the enterprise they must be empowered to leverage social media in support of the brand and its products. Therefore guidelines should protect and advise on social media, not control or restrict.
2. Don’t forget to cater for all platforms.
This includes blogs, forums, message boards, social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc), user generated content (ie YouTube, Flickr etc) and any other relevant channels. Create an individual framework for participation in various online communities. Covering all platforms avoids any confusion or loopholes, increases social media presence and identifies how social media channels overlap (ie status updates, uploading photos and friend/connection requests). Social media guidelines could include how to use each platform for business and personal use, how to utilise each platform’s functionality and suggestions on the most appropriate behaviour for each platform.
3. Do stress the importance of privacy and confidentiality.
It is essential to outline what information is regarded as private, confidential and sensitive, and which should never be disclosed in any circumstance. The next step is outlining how to behave when something is a grey area ie tweeting about a new client project — does the client want to be mentioned and is the project 100 per cent finished? Hold a team meeting at the beginning of each week to identify tweetable topics or assign a person as point of contact to give consent on disclosing potentially sensitive information. Privacy should also extend to client information, geolocation check-ins, other brands and competitors.
4. Don’t diminish personal responsibility.
It needs to be stressed that posting content online becomes permanently available thus you are accountable for your own reputation and digital footprint. Your online relationship changes and becomes even more essential as soon as you identify that you’re an employee of a firm or speak in any kind of professional capacity. Therefore, disclaimers should be encouraged to make it clear that you are an employee of a firm, but are interacting on behalf of yourself and not the company. It should be made clear that this doesn’t give a person a reason to be dishonest, rude or inappropriate. If someone would like to represent the company on a deeper, professional level there should be a point of contact or training offered to do so.
5. Do persuade employees to add value.
This leads onto thought leadership. Social media is about people, not logos. If employees want to communicate in a professional capacity then put suitable guidelines in place to cater for this. Guidelines for acting on behalf of the organisation should include:
By encouraging employees to demonstrate the depth and breadth of their expertise with information tailored to your clients’ needs, it can help position your company as a leader and trusted resource.
Overall, the ideal guidelines should protect the reputation of the company on all platforms, be in line with the company's vision and act as a best practice engagement strategy.