We like to do things informally

News on 21 August 2019

We don’t keep records – we like to be friendly and approachable

When you’re working as a HR consultant, hearing your smaller clients say something along these lines isn’t uncommon.

We totally understand that as a small business, you get to know your staff really well. You know their kids’ names, pets’ names, what they are doing on the weekend, what their favourite sandwich is, and loads more. But just because you know these things, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep records.

We like the informal approach

Don’t we all! But what happens when Collin had pushed his luck too far and you want to deal with this formally? The first thing any HR person will ask you for is your records and notes. If you don’t have any, then it looks like there is no problem.

Whether you run your business like it’s a family, or a little group of friends, dealing with things “formally” doesn’t mean that you need to change your style. You can still talk to your employees in the same relaxed way that you’ve always done. We’re not telling you to get the 3-piece suit out, polish your shoes, and talk like you’re on Downton Abbey.

How do I deal with things in an informal formally (or is it formally informal?) way?

Good question! Well, if you think that having a conversation with your employee about their behaviour, performance, or attendance is the best way to proceed, then do that. You don’t always need to follow the formal processes to get the same outcome.

But, when you do have these conversations, make a note of what was highlighted by you and what their response was. That way, if you’ve dealt with something like lateness twice and you now want to look at taking formal action, your HR advisor knows that you’ve spoken to the employee about it, made them aware of what the process is, and what action will be taken if they don’t improve.

War and peace

It really doesn’t have to be War and Peace. It can be a very brief note of the discussion. It also doesn’t have to be word for word. Just include all of the facts (and not your personal opinion). So, if Colin has been late again and you’ve had a chat with him, your file note could look something like this:

Date: 18th July 2019

Nature of note: Discussion with Colin about lateness

Present: Colin (employee) and Suzie (manager)

I asked Colin if there was any reason that he’d been late for work again. Colin said that he’d overslept and apologised. I reminded Colin of the conversation we had in March 2019 about him making sure he was on time for work. I asked Colin if he was aware of what to do if he was going to be late for work and he confirmed that he knew he should ring me. I explained to Colin that any further instances of lateness in the next 3 months could result in disciplinary action being taken. Colin agreed to make sure that he double checked his alarm going forwards to avoid being late for work again.

See, I told you it wasn’t that bad

It doesn’t take that long at all to put something like that in your employees file, and by doing this, it could save you time and effort in the long run. Also, you’ve shown that you have highlighted what the problem is, checked whether there’s anything going on that you should be aware of, informed the employee of what will happen if things don’t improve, and gotten them to confirm they understand things.

We love the fact that you can be informal with your employees and that you get to know them so well. But, always remember that they are your employees and not your friends. Or even if they are a friend outside of work, when you’re in work, it’s a different relationship – they can’t get away with as much as they could in the pub on a Friday night.

Where should I keep the notes?

It may not be the best idea to keep the notes on a scrap bit of paper in your top drawer, in the notebook you always carry around with you (and frequently leave on other people’s desks), or take them home for your 5 year old to do his best impression of Picasso on them.

Remember that notes of conversations you’ve had with your employees are covered by data protection rules (the General Data Protection Regulations), so keep them safe.

If you have an internal HR team, then give the notes to them – they love paperwork! Or, if your HR is anything like us, then we love things to be paperless (we’re tree huggers at heart), so they may ask you to email them or save them on your online HR system. But if you don’t have a HR team, don’t worry. As long as the notes are kept somewhere that the rest of the employees can’t see them, that’s fine. So, if you keep paper employee files in a lockable filing cabinet, put the notes in there. If you have folders on your computer (that only you and other management people can access), you could save them there.