Ten Ways To Manage A European Workforce

Here is the content of a Management Today Article I contributed recently that I hope will be of interest.

Managing a European Workforce
Managing a European Workforce
The term “not so united states of Europe” has never been more applicable when it comes to doing business across the continent. There are many challenges when managing employees across Europe. With sixteen languages and sixteen different cultures in the European Union alone, collective bargaining and inconsistent application of working time rules, careful preparation will pay dividends. Here’s what to look out for.

Do your homework
Invest time in really understanding the country-specific laws relating to employees, their working time rights and employment practices. Don’t rely on your local people to tell you all the necessary facts – they often don’t know and inconsistent practices may therefore have evolved over the years in every organisation. The Federation of European Employers website is a great source of country-specific information.

Build a cross-country team
Don’t try to manage a European-wide management solution in isolation. You’ll need a cross-functional team from each of the countries involved – local buy-in at an early stage is critical to the success of a project.

Engage with the Works Councils
Don’t underestimate the power of the works councils in some countries – collective agreements cover more than 80% of the workforce in some countries. Bring them on board early in the process.

There isn’t one set of rules
The European Working Time Directive is one set of working time rules for Europe – right? Wrong

Even something that sounds like a standard set of rules isn’t even close. In the UK, weekly hours may exceed 48 as long as this average is maintained over a 17 week reference period; in Portugal, weekly hours can be increased to 60 in some circumstances; and in Finland, the 8 hour daily limit doesn’t include overtime. Don’t assume there’s a one-size-fits-all set of rules – there isn’t.

Language is crucial
If you’re heading down the route of a single workforce management solution, bear in mind that the majority of your employees will need to interact with it. Unlike some business systems where the head office staff are expected to get by with English language instructions, a workforce management system touches every individual and will need to be fully translated and fully operational in the native language – make sure this is possible before you select a supplier.

Take small steps
Don’t be tempted to try and roll out a solution to multiple countries in one big bang approach. Take one country and then narrow it to a small number of sites first. Understand the challenges, refine the solution and then move on.

Know where to start
Some European countries have very rigid, non-negotiable employment practices and as such they are very difficult to get your head round. Sometimes, it’s better to concentrate first on the countries with fewer challenges – the 80/20 rule will mean that 80% of the challenges will come from 20% of the countries.

Sunday working – be mindful of local laws
In the UK we relaxed Sunday working rules some years ago. However it’s not the same across Europe, for instance in Germany where working on Sundays and public holidays is generally prohibited. However, the German law on working hours provides for several exceptions in which working on a Sunday is permitted – with prior approval by governmental authorities in some circumstances.

Uncover complex contractual arrangements such as annual hours
Increasingly popular across Europe are pseudo salary schemes for hourly paid employees such as annualised hours agreements designed to avoid the complexity of calculating overtime whilst accommodating a varying demand for labour driven by the demands of the business. Ensure you uncover the detail of these and that any system deployed can handle the complexity.

Communicate, communicate, communicate
If you do consider a workforce management solution, you will still need to remember to adapt your management style to every country you wish to deploy to. Communication throughout the project is key to its success and this should be done by local champions. Why as a business are we undertaking this? What benefits are there to the employees and the business? Done correctly, you can get higher productivity from your team and spend less money by complying with local legislation and collective bargaining agreements.

I would be happy to hear more about your experiences so feel free to comment

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10 Ways to Cut Costs Without Cutting Jobs

Job CutsBusinesses of all shapes and sizes are feeling the pressure to do more with less. When looking to see how operations can be streamlined and budgets tightened, losing people is seen as the logical solution for many. Before taking this step, it’s worth asking a few questions about how well the workforce is being utilised and how many people the business really needs to operate efficiently and profitably. Understaffing has an impact on service delivery, productivity, sales and ultimately the bottom line; on the other hand, overstaffing is wasteful and expensive.

So how do you get the balance right?

1. Talk to other teams
Effective staff planning can’t be done by one department in isolation. To understand current and future business demands, you will need to consider a cross-function team to include HR, Sales, Operations and Finance.

2. Keep your staff informed
Remember nothing is more de-motivating than too much or too little work to do. Communicate to everybody why getting the balance right is important to the business. It will improve employee engagement.

3. Focus your business
No matter which industry you work in, understanding your business driver/s is key to getting staffing levels correct. Every business is different, and taking the time to understand where your company’s focus should be will benefit your employees and strengthen your bottom line.

4. Spread the word
Make sure your employees are on the same page. Keeping staff aligned with the corporate strategy is essential to ensure that employees are not just working hard; they are all working towards the same goals.

5. Measure the workload
Get an accurate picture of how long tasks take to perform. Understand how long it takes to load a truck, clean a hotel room, deal with a customer or assemble a boiler – without this knowledge, you’ll never be able to accurately align staff with demand.

6. Talk to your staff
Take time to review and capture their skills, availability, preferences and certifications. Then create profiles using this information. You’ll need these profiles to deploy the appropriate staff to meet the needs of your business.

7. Consider a workforce management system to optimise staff schedules
It will take more than pen and paper or a complex spreadsheet. With so many variables affecting staffing, only a sophisticated workforce management system will allow you to accommodate all the constraints and variables; legislation, time-worked, breaks, employee preferences, skills and certifications, balanced with the demand from the business.

8. Invest in the right technology
Mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets mean staff can quickly update their availability. Allow staff to request holiday, swap shifts, and update availability and preferences.

9. Execute flawlessly
It doesn’t stop once you’ve created the perfect schedule. It will become out of date as soon as someone calls in sick or a car breaks down. Reacting quickly will make all the difference.

10. Reflect and refine
Once you’ve worked out a good method of matching staff to demand, you will see a significant reduction in overall staff costs and an improvement in customer service, productivity and employee morale. But don’t stop there. Take time to maintain employees’ skills and certifications and use the process to highlight opportunities for staff development and training. Continuous improvement is the name of the game.

Find out where you are on the workforce management maturity curve.

This was an article that was published in Management Today a while ago that I thought would be of interest to you. Let me have your thoughts and comments.

Does Absence make the Heart Grow Fonder?

Whilst over in Las Vegas at KronosWorks 2012, one of the things top of my exciting agenda was meetings with the press and analysts who were there to gain an insight into how Kronos provides our customers with such value and competitive advantage. I had the pleasure of showing Lizzy Anderson, section editor of Management Today, around the conference and was subsequently delighted that Lizzy agreed to publish my top ten tips for dealing with Absence in Management Today.

Absence is a key issue that customers often ask us to help with and it certainly doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, it actually costs real money, creates a lot of pressure on other members of the workforce as well as significantly, and negatively, affecting both productivity and employee engagement. Patterns of behaviour like extending the weekends with sick days, arriving late or leaving early and taking long breaks cannot be easily monitored or tracked manually and are often ignored by busy managers This makes it very difficult to manage absence across the workforce consistently. 

My top 10 tips that can help organisations manage their absence can be found in Management Today here.