Monthly Archives: December 2013

Major injuries in the workplace reduced

Reading Time: 2 Minutes 30 Seconds

Provisional figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released in October 2013 showed a significant drop in the number of employees killed or seriously injured at work in the past year. An 11% drop in major injuries was reported compared with 2011/12 and the number of people killed at work fell to 148 in 2012/13 from 171 in the previous year. All of which shows an improving trend. But does it tell us the full story?

The study found that 19,707 major injuries – such as amputations, fractures and burns –were reported in 2012/13 compared with 22,094 in 2011/12. This is the lowest amount of work-related injuries since records began in 1995. According to the HSE Chair Judith Hackitt, these improved figures can be attributed to the commitment from Britain’s workplaces on improving safety for their employees.

 

In spite of this good news, major and minor incidences and accidents are still happening too frequently. With an estimated three million working days lost due to injuries at work and slips and trips making up more than half of all reported major injuries, how do we correct ‘unsafe’ behaviour?

We all know that health and safety in the workplace is paramount, especially in industries where the potential dangers are high, such as the utilities or transport sector, but it is still a challenge for companies to get it right. A cross-industry report from industry analyst firm IDC entitled “Counting the Cost of Employee Misunderstanding” revealed that one in four employees do not understand certain aspects of their job role and major knowledge gaps remain unaddressed in many organisations. This is in spite of investment in training.

In many instances human behaviour is a contributory factor to the injuries and employees misunderstanding their roles or making critical mistakes at work can not only result in injuries, absenteeism but in some cases millions of pounds worth of damages in terms of litigation and in the worst case scenario, loss of life.

 

In industries where health and safety is a big concern, providing employees with situational judgement assessments that correlate understanding and confidence can help to prevent injury and even death, caused by human error and importantly, evidence fitness to practice and compliance.

We work with many leading rail companies both in the UK and internationally to ensure their staff are competent and safe when performing their roles. All rail companies today are required to have formal competence management systems in place to maintain and assess the competence of operators carrying out safety critical work.

For Network Rail for example, we have introduced a formal competency management system to assess the competence of over 10,500 operators responsible for safety critical work and to ensure front line workforces are monitored and assessed as well as national delivery and graduate staff.

 

Britain’s workplaces could be far safer places if more companies revaluated their training and assessment programmes to improve the competence and confidence of their employees.

With regular situational judgement assessments that map employee competence, confidence, engagement and behaviour companies find out what their staff truly know, how they work and the decisions they are likely to make on the job. This knowledge could be the key to preventing errors and misunderstanding that could lead to incidences and injuries.

There is a need to develop a long-term Safety Culture Strategy, recognising that most accidents are caused by unsafe acts, and that influencing staff behaviour and attitudes is the way to reduce accidents further.

 

Hiring and managing seasonal workers

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Christmas is the key trading period of the year and to cope with the increased demand, many businesses, including restaurants and retailers, recruit thousands of seasonal workers.

Online retailer Amazon UK has hired 15,000 people; M&S is taking on 12,000 seasonal workers, Argos 10,000 and John Lewis an extra 2,000 staff.

 

While this is a great opportunity for people to find extra work and can lead to a permanent contract, it can prove a real challenge for any organisation to ensure temporary workers are up to the job and to mitigate possible risks that might occur if the correct procedures and processes are not followed.

Commercial pressures sometimes dictate this time of year and corners are cut, particularly if an organisation doesn’t invest in adequate training for temporary staff because they will only be employed for a limited period.

Like permanent employees, seasonal workers need to be exceptional. Christmas represents a huge opportunity and it is potentially the only time a customer visits a store.

 

All new recruits must have the right attitude and the potential to learn quickly, hitting the ground running and ensuring standards are not compromised.

One of the risks for organisations is the failure to invest in processes to support new recruits, including carrying out assessments in the recruitment phase to check they have the right skills for the role, as well as training in all aspects of the role. Neglecting these areas can have serious repercussions.

Mistakes can compromise health and safety standards, lead to poor customer services and even damage a company’s reputation or brand. The Health and Safety Executive’s latest report into Workplace Injuries stated that 646,000 workers had an accident at work in 2012/13. Slips and trips were the most common cause, accounting for three in every 10 injury reports.

 

Handling was the most frequent cause of an injury that lasted more than a week. Around three million working days were lost due to handling injuries and slips and trips. Last month, a BBC Panorama investigation into Amazon found that working conditions in its warehouses could be putting workers at risk of “mental and physical illness”.

Workers were shown performing long shifts without a break, under pressure to complete orders within set timescales and walking miles, up to 11 miles every night, to fulfil orders.

The programme highlighted how standards can be compromised for the sake of commercial pressure at this time of year. HR managers need to ensure that their recruitment processes for temporary workers are as robust as they would be for a permanent employee and it should include assessments to understand a person’s knowledge and competence to get the job done well.

 

Seasonal workers also need to understand the organisational culture quickly, including what ‘exceptional service’ really looks like.

A recent poll of 5,712 UK shoppers from mystery shopping company Retail Eyes highlighted the importance of good customer service. It found that 92% of shoppers had left an establishment before making a purchase following poor service, so it is essential to get it right.

Once a candidate has been recruited and gone through a suitable training programme to ensure they are up to speed with company policies and procedures, it is recommended that fully trained permanent employees are on hand to lead by example, share knowledge and coach the new recruits. These people should be highly competent and confident about all aspects of their job and able to ensure the best possible customer experience.

 

A common misconception is that seasonal workers don’t warrant the same commitment from organisations regarding training and assessment. This can be a huge commercial risk, both in terms of health and safety and brand reputation.

 

Temporary staff have a long-term impact

12 December 2013 | By Mary Clarke

Mary Clarke, chief executive of People Risk assessment firm Cognisco

Reading Time: 1 Minutes 30 Seconds

 

To cope with Christmas demand, many retailers recruit seasonal workers.  Amazon UK has hired 15,000; M&S is taking on 12,000 and John Lewis an extra 2,000 staff.

Managing this is challenging and the risks of recruiting temporary workers en masse should not be underestimated. Seasonal staff, like permanent employees, must be exceptional, particularly at Christmas, which could be the only time a customer visits the store so is the one opportunity to impress them.

Seasonal workers need to understand the organisational culture quickly, including what exceptional service looks like.

 

Highly competent permanent employees should be on hand to lead by example, share knowledge and coach new recruits. One of the risks is the failure to invest in processes including the assessment and training of staff, which can have serious repercussions – it can risk health and safety, alienate customers and damage brand reputation.

In November a BBC Panorama investigation found that working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses could be putting workers at risk of “mental and physical illness”. Workers were shown performing long shifts without a break, under pressure and walking miles to complete orders within set timescales. This shows how standards can be compromised under commercial pressures at this time of year.

A poll this month of 5,712 UK shoppers by Retail Eyes, a mystery shopping company, found 92% had left an establishment before making a purchase following poor service. This highlights the need to ensure seasonal workers are fully trained and competent.

 

A common misconception is that seasonal staff don’t warrant the same commitment regarding training and assessment. This can be a huge commercial mistake, both in terms of health and safety and brand reputation. Retailers that understand this will reap the benefits far beyond the festive season.

Managing ‘High Velocity Customers’ in an Omni-channel environment

Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Good customer service should be at the heart of every business, but in competitive industries such as financial services, utilities and retail it is critical that companies get it right.

A 2010 analyst report, “The Cost of Poor Customer Service: The Economic Impact of the Customer Experience”, from call centre software provider, Genyses, claims UK business loses £15.3 billion as a result of poor customer services, with each customer lost or abandoned costing £248. The report estimates that financial services firms lose £2.18 billion; utilities £1.98 billion and telecoms £1.91 billion every year due to poor customer service. However, it’s not all about lost profits; poor customer service can damage brand reputation, cause customer defection and in regulated industries, increase the risks of financial penalties.

ScottishPower was last month ordered to pay £8.5 million to customers following an investigation by Ofgem, the UK’s energy regulator, who found that misleading information was given to customers during face-to-face and telephone sales. Earlier this year British banks were told to set aside £16 billion to compensate customers who were mis-sold loan insurance.

 

These examples highlight the risks and consequences of having employees who provide customers with inaccurate information. With markets increasingly competitive, services commoditised, pricing tight and league tables constantly promoting attractive deals to tempt consumers to switch – holding onto customers has never been as challenging.

In the first four weeks of the new ‘bank 7-day switching service’ being launched, 89,000 customers switched their bank account, an increase of 11 per cent on the same period last year. With web comparison sites making it far easier for people to compare and switch companies or to compare products and services before they buy, good customer service is becoming the main key differentiator.

In today’s multi-channel environment customers demand excellence whether they are dealing with companies on the phone, face-to-face or through social media channels. Analyst Ovum calls these people ‘high velocity’ customers – 74% of them use three different channels to get their questioned answered – they are hard to please and easy to upset. High velocity customers want personalised, accurate, timely information delivered professionally always. If they don’t get it, they will switch without a backwards glance. Banks were traditionally less affected by customer infidelity; however, the introduction of the 7-day switch means the days of unwavering loyalty are over.

 

How can companies get it right?

The quality of customer service is often the only real and tangible differentiator for the customer but it must be maintained throughout every channel.  Call centre staff are the vanguards of customer relations – powerful in their ability to win and lose customers.  However, they have a tough job – working in a regulated, highly competitive market, where products, internal processes and regulations are complex, sophisticated and subject to continual change and where the impact of getting it wrong can carry a legal and financial penalty and brand reputational impact.

For the past 20 years we have been working with large blue chip companies operating in regulated industries like banking and utilities delivering employee assessments that highlight People Risks – risks stemming from human error or incompetence. In our experience, typically 30% of employees in any company misunderstand at least one key aspect of their role, in spite of the fact they have received training.

What seems to be overlooked in many of these companies is that organisational effectiveness lies not in how well processes are engineered but whether employees actually understand what they have been trained to do and if they have the confidence to do it in the right way, every time.

 

A common pitfall is that companies take a ‘sheep dip,’ approach to training – delivering training that is ‘one size fits all’, untargeted and ineffective. Many companies also fail to benchmark their staff or measure what people really understand versus what they think they understand and how their knowledge is actually applied at work.

Managers want to be confident that their employees are competent and providing customers with accurate information consistently.  In truth most are in the dark about how knowledgeable their employees are, how they behave at work and how they treat customers. They lack accurate information about any skills or knowledge gaps their employees may have so individuals are subsequently not given appropriate or targeted interventions that would improve their performance.

To meet the challenges of delivering consistently excellent customer service in an multi-channel environment, companies need to assess their employees to ensure they are delivering the right training, development, information and management processes that allow them to excel in their roles and keep customers happy and loyal.  The key to this is understanding not just how competent people are but how they use their knowledge and how they behave at work. With today’s high velocity customers getting ever more demanding, the companies that can get their customer service right will be the ultimate winners.