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Learn the HR essentials that all practices should have in place

Niki Winsor, HR consultant, explains how to set up simple HR policies that will resolve any queries, conflicts or concerns. Learn how to ensure your team understands its duties, responsibilities and rights.

28 July 2022

Without a dedicated HR department it can be difficult for a practice to handle day-to-day issues around staff. The team needs to understands its duties, responsibilities and rights.

There is advice available online. RIBA Business provide a step-by-step guide on employing your first member of staff. The UK government’s Get your business ready to employ staff is also a valuable guide. In addition, ACAS provide several documents and templates, including a recruitment checklist and an induction checklist.

Niki Winsor is an HR consultant at evolution HR. She explains how to set up simple HR policies to help anticipate any queries, conflicts or concerns.

Why the legal minimum isn't good enough

“HR is a strange beast,” observes Winsor. “Not least because there are plenty of things that are not required by law. But if you don’t implement them, it may have legal repercussions down the line.”

She gives an example. There is no law that businesses must provide equality, diversity, and inclusion training, for example. But if an employee were to take a business to an employment tribunal on grounds of discrimination the first thing the adjudicator will ask is what the business has in place to promote good EDI practice.

This is an important point. Practices should not make the mistake of simply regarding HR as a matter of ticking the ‘minimum legal requirement’ boxes. Best practice in this regard, Winsor suggests, would be to:

  • provide EDI training to all new starters
  • provide in-depth EDI training to all managers
  • set out EDI policy in a staff handbook
  • ensure EDI policy to clients on a practice’s website

Data protection is another example. “There's no law that says you have to train staff about data protection,” Winsor continues. “But if they accidentally breach the Data Protection Act or GDPR and you cannot demonstrate having provided the information to prevent it, then that could count against the employer.”

All of which points to the importance of the induction process.

Putting together a detailed staff handbook puts all the information that a team needs in one place, and ensures all staff understand the behaviour they should expect to experience.

Make sure your induction process is thorough

In addition to EDI and data protection training, an induction process should brief the employee on the company’s processes and systems. Staff should be briefed about the company’s expected standards and requirements. This also enables them to feel part of a team.

The required processes for sick leave and booking holiday should, obviously, be made clear. And wellbeing, Winsor points out, is thankfully now an increasingly commonplace part of induction processes.

“I more or less insist upon wellbeing featuring in an inductions with my clients,” Winsor states. “A practice’s induction process should make it clear that an employee should let them know if they are struggling. And that they will offer their support.”

Staff handbooks and induction presentations

Winsor writes staff handbooks for companies, which set out in detail all the policies that a company expects its team to adhere to. They are necessary in making clear an employee’s rights, perks, duties, and responsibilities.

But Winsor admits they may often go unread. So she has taken to complementing them with a condensed version: an induction presentation.

“Extract the salient points from those really important policies,” she advises, “and put them in a snappy presentation. This can be a crib sheet, as it were, for every team member.”

The presentation might have a wellbeing slide. It will highlight the company’s grievance policy, flagging up that this is something important that staff should take the time to read. By law, employers must set out a grievance procedure and share it in writing with all employees.

Winsor divulges that she receives far fewer queries from clients who have adopted this ‘induction basics’ approach. It does seem to work, prompting teams to read the more in-depth staff handbook.

Keep contracts up to date

Winsor often finds that practices may be relying on an outdated, mix-and-match of an induction pack.

“Perhaps they once had a lovely, comprehensive induction pack. But over the years, as different staff have tinkered with it and new staff have come in, certain parts will be out of date and others might have gone missing.”

The same is frequently true of employment contracts.

“Often, the contract has been inherited from a previous employer or sourced from the internet,” Winsor observes. “They're usually quite out of date. Employment law is constantly being updated. Quite quickly a contract can be unlawful or unfit for purpose.”

She points to a lack of restrictive covenants as a good example. If these are absent or badly written then they are unenforceable. Without particular restrictions in the contract, a leaver might poach a key client, or divulge confidential information.

Regular catch-ups are important

Key policies and procedures should be clarified at regular progress meetings. These are particularly important for new starters undergoing their six month probation – a period Winsor always recommends. But all staff should be given platforms to discuss their work throughout their time with a practice.

“My key phrase for good HR practice is ‘no surprises’,” she concludes. “Just keep people informed."

Thanks to Niki Winsor, HR Consultant, Evolution HR.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Business, clients and services.
As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Professional Features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as a RIBA Chartered Member.

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