Helen Jamison tells TJ about the importance of staff representatives.
With 2018 seeing many companies brought under the spotlight for ‘poisonous’ cultures many HR leaders are looking at how they can ensure they are aware of, and responsive to issues when they arise. One answer is the appointment of ‘staff representatives’ who, if really engaged, can act as conduits of communication between employees and leadership.
However, the appointment of staff reps can prove ineffective or even troublesome without the right training to ensure the group’s genuine engagement and effectiveness. Training the group is a task which shouldn’t be an afterthought but treated as a key business investment.
The first step in training staff reps
The role of staff rep is often very different to the members’ everyday tasks and responsibilities. Training is therefore essential to make sure that they not only understand their role, but that they feel empowered and confident in its importance.
Staff reps are not simply the equivalent of a staff ‘comment box’. They play a key role in formal business processes
The first step is therefore ensuring that the team understands both what employees and the company gains from staff consultation, why they are key to that process and what they personally can gain from being part of the representative team. For individuals this can include personal development, growth in confidence and exposure to, and influence on key business decisions.
As a start, an introductory training day should include:
- The role of consultative bodies and staff representation
- The benefits of consultation for both employer and employee
- What can staff representatives themselves gain from being part of a staff forum?
- What makes a good representative?
- Essential skills of a staff representative
- Active listening and effective questioning skills
- (Self) presentation skills
- The representative’s role (disciplinary and grievance meetings)
- Effective team working
While an introductory training day is essential, it is of course important that ongoing support is provided to maintain engagement with the programme.
Taking the next step
Staff reps are not simply the equivalent of a staff ‘comment box’. They play a key role in formal business processes, from redundancy consultation to TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981’) processes where a business transfers to another.
They are often involved with staff surveys, review of performance review documentation and more recently staff reps have been instrumental in helping staff deal with new demands around the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Given this, it is essential that staff reps are prepared, knowledgeable and confident to deal with the more complicated aspects of the role.
As such training can be essential, and needs assessed and dedicated training delivered on a consistent basis.
Building the team and maintaining momentum
It is inevitable that over time new reps need to be appointed to the group and it is essential they too are supported:
- Buddy them up with a more experienced staff rep member.
- Make sure that all new staff reps go through training (ideally formally) and a full induction via another staff member.
- Give them an opportunity to attend a formal meeting as a spectator – many people aren’t used to attending such meetings and can be unsure what to expect.
- Ensure that they have the opportunity to talk informally to someone prior to supporting an employee with a disciplinary or grievance – this can often be one of the most daunting aspects of the role.
- Consider coaching for any staff who are really struggling in their role or who need a little extra support. Reps often grow in confidence, so a helping hand in the early months can be beneficial for the representative and the company.
Over time there can be an issue when energy in the group begins to wane. This is where the appointed chairperson can help keep energy up and maintain interest, so they must be given the opportunity to lead on team iniativitives. For example, regular training/team building events, for example every 6-12 months.
Sometimes, unfortunately there may be one or two in the group whose lack of engagement negatively affects the rest of the committee. Speaking to them individually, can unveil opportunities for change, but sometimes they may simply not wish to engage and may need some persuasion to leave the group! Fail to act and your whole committee could become disengaged, meaning that any money or time you spend on it will be wasted.
A self-fulfilling prophecy
With any staff engagement programme you will only get out what you put in. Investing in training and ongoing support may seem like a big ask, but once established these programmes succeed mainly on their own momentum.
However, this drive is only achieved with the right foundations of genuine enthusiasm and quality training – and of course, a genuine desire to make your organisation a more open, human and conversation-led culture.
About the author
Helen Jamison, CEO at Jaluch HR & Training.