Anna Harris Stone, a Fetola mentor, explains the importance of getting HR right.
Small business owners often lament that they don’t have the time to deal with human resource issues while customers and production are waiting. However, when things go wrong with employees, remember that their employment contracts, your policies and/or your company procedures will be under the spotlight. You can then count on loads of time on negotiations, going to the CCMA hearings or other meetings while you try to get production back on track.
A multi-million rand company CEO once said to me that “a contract doesn’t regulate a relationship, a relationship regulates a relationship”. This is certainly true in good times, but in bad times, your contract with your employee will regulate the relationship. When you start a business this can all be overwhelming, so your starting point should be the Department of Labour website where you can familiarise yourself with your industry and ensure that your employees have contracts in place. This website has many sample contracts available.
2. Ask for advice
Secondly, make contact with your industry associations and build networks with these associations because it becomes easier to ask for advice when you know people personally. Please don’t be afraid to ask for advice – you are the expert in your field and no one expects you to be the labour expert as well!
3. Conditions of service
Once you have your employment contracts in place, get working on your conditions of service (all the policies that will stipulate standards at your workplace). With this in place, you will shorten your employment contracts as you can refer employees to your conditions of service. If you have already employed staff and then develop your policies afterwards it’s important to send each staff member a letter indicating that you have updated your policies. Let them know where they can access a copy if they need one. All companies need to display the summary of the basic conditions of the employment and the health and safety act which are available either at the department of labour or from your local stationery shop. These charts may change from time to time and connecting with a network, as mentioned above, will keep you abreast of these changes.
4. Lead by example
Now that I have discussed the legal aspects, I’d like to talk about your behaviour as a leader. What message does your behaviour send to your employees? Do you treat them all the same way? Do you tell your staff to be on time, but you are late daily? As the owner, you need to be conscious of your own behaviour because staff will do as you do, not as you say.
Furthermore, your practices will become your policy and it’s crucial that you are aware of this. For example, your contracts say that working hours are 8 am to 5 pm with a lunch break from 1 pm to 2 pm. However, if everyone starts work at 8:30 am and takes two-hour lunch breaks, this practice becomes your policy. If you don’t nip this behaviour in the bud, you will have difficulty to discipline anyone after they have become used to this behaviour.
5. Family and business
A final point that I’d like to leave you with is the thorny issue of whether you should employ your family in the business or not. Can you treat a family member like a normal employee and will they take offense if you discipline them? I had to supervise my uncle a few years ago and he had difficulty reporting to me as a female and as his niece. I constantly had to remind him that at work he had to behave in a certain way. The dilemma that this created for both of us made the situation sensitive so my recommendation is that you steer clear of sensitive issues as they tend to be emotionally draining.
Joining a new company is a challenge for staff who may not have worked before, which is why an employment contract, clear policies and procedures give them the boundaries they require to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship. Clear direction reduces uncertainties for new employees and allows them to become a productive and functioning member of your team.
Anna holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences, B.A Honours in Industrial Psychology and is currently studying for her M.A. in Industrial Psychology from the University of South Africa. She is also registered with HPCSA as a psychologist intern. Anna has extensive experience in consulting within the Human Resources arena, including facilitating Change Management.