Policies & Procedures

Handling Discrimination Investigations

Meet Ali, an ambitious HR manager in a perfectly ordinary organisation. They are admired by colleagues for their dedication to diversity and inclusivity and are eager to advance their career to a senior level. But like many HR professionals at some point during their career, Ali is navigating the complex landscape of discrimination claims. This article follows Ali’s journey in dealing with a race discrimination claim and the steps taken to ensure a fair, thorough investigation.

One day, Ali receives a complaint alleging racial discrimination within the company. The claimant, a valued employee named David, feels he’s been passed over for promotions due to his race. Ali knows the gravity of these claims and understands that they must be handled delicately and efficiently.

Realising the need for subjectivity in this process, Ali decides to bring in a professional external investigator to ensure a fair and unbiased investigation.

Engaging an external investigator offers multiple benefits. Firstly, it demonstrates the company’s commitment to establishing the facts and addressing the issue impartially. Secondly, it offers reassurance for all involved that the investigation is being conducted by a professional who is experienced in dealing with such matters and understands the nuances of the Equality Act 2010. Lastly, an external investigator can make recommendations to prevent similar situations in the future, reinforcing the company’s dedication to a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Ali also understands the importance of timely action. Race discrimination employment tribunal claims must be made within six months less one day from when the alleged discrimination occurred.

In the 2021/2022 period, there were 200 discrimination cases in which compensation was awarded, with the maximum award reaching a staggering £228,117 in a race discrimination case​. These figures highlight the potential financial implications of a successful claim.

Over the course of the investigation, Ali keeps David informed about the process and assures him of the company’s commitment to a fair investigation.

When the investigation concludes, Ali implements the investigator’s recommendations and takes proactive steps to further foster an inclusive workplace. This includes organising diversity and inclusion training sessions, reinforcing the company’s anti-discrimination policies, and taking steps to ensure transparent, merit-based promotion practices.

Ali’s story provides a practical, relatable guide for HR leaders like you, demonstrating the benefits of external investigations. By understanding these aspects, you too can navigate such challenges with confidence and contribute to building a fair and inclusive workplace.

Policies & Procedures

Making Workplaces Shine: Practical Steps to Boost Inclusion and Engagement

We all know that a welcoming and inclusive workplace can make a massive difference in employees’ happiness and the overall success of an organisation. So, how can we practically apply this knowledge to help employees thrive? Let’s dive into real-world examples and explore how staff surveys, coaching, mentoring, and training can create positive change in the workplace.

Inclusive Cultures: Getting Real with Staff Surveys and Policies

Imagine this: Sarah, a talented team member, feels left out because her ideas aren’t heard during meetings. To effectively create an inclusive culture, improving your understanding of the current state of employee engagement and EDI within the organisation is paramount. Conducting staff surveys can help identify situations like Sarah’s, as well as assessing employee engagement and inclusion across the organisation. Surveys offer a window into employees’ experiences, revealing areas that need improvement and providing an opportunity to identify gaps and challenges.

Organisations can use these insights to implement targeted strategies and supportive policies to foster inclusivity. For example, a policy that encourages open communication and values diverse perspectives can make employees like Sarah feel more comfortable voicing their ideas, fostering innovation and promoting a sense of belonging. When organisations create policies that value individual differences and promote a sense of belonging, employees feel more connected and are likely to contribute more effectively to the organisation’s success.

By combining staff surveys with the implementation of inclusive policies, organisations can create an environment where employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, ultimately enhancing engagement and driving success.

Coaching and Performance Management: Boosting Employee Growth with e-Learning

Picture Tom, a dedicated employee who lacks confidence in his leadership skills. Coaching is an invaluable tool that can help employees like Tom set clear goals, build confidence, and develop transferable skills, ultimately improving their job satisfaction and engagement. By providing employees with the right guidance and resources, coaching can lead to long-lasting benefits both for individuals and the organisation.

Incorporating e-learning into coaching and performance management initiatives offers flexibility and accessibility, allowing employees to learn at their own pace and revisit materials as needed. This tailored approach enables employees like Tom to engage with content more effectively, leading to better understanding, retention, and ultimately helping them reach their full potential.

By combining the power of coaching with the convenience of e-learning, organisations can create a supportive and effective environment for employees to grow and excel in their roles, contributing to the overall success of the organisation.

Mentoring: Empowering Employees through Connection

Consider Lucy, a new recruit who feels overwhelmed and isolated in her role. Mentoring relationships can be a game-changer for employees like Lucy by increasing self-confidence, enhancing communication skills, and providing opportunities to learn from experienced colleagues. By learning from the guidance and insights of a mentor, mentees can enhance their career trajectories and positively influence the organisation’s overall performance.

With the support of a mentor, Lucy can develop a professional network, gain valuable insights, and feel more connected to her workplace. This connection ultimately boosts her performance and contributes to the organisation’s success.

There are also benefits to the mentor. They get to hear a new perspective on the organisation and its operations that many senior leaders aren’t exposed to, especially in more hierarchical organisations. And they’ll often get the opportunity to learn huge amounts about a person with very different life experiences and goals than themselves.

By incorporating mentoring into the workplace, organisations can foster growth, enhance communication, and create a supportive environment where employees feel connected, engaged, and empowered to excel in their roles.

Training: Crafting Inclusive Leaders and Streamlining Recruitment

Inclusive leadership training is essential for addressing issues caused by managers unintentionally creating barriers for diverse employees. By training leaders to be more aware of and responsive to different perspectives, they can create an environment where everyone feels valued and supported.

Imagine a new employee, Priya, who is unsure about her workplace’s commitment to diversity. An induction program that includes EDI training can help communicate the organisation’s values and demonstrate that all employees are embraced and respected, fostering a sense of belonging from the outset.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Focus Groups, and Listening Groups can offer employees like Priya a platform to share experiences, express concerns, and contribute to the organisation’s strategies. These groups can also provide employees with a supportive environment for professional growth and collaboration. Like mentoring arrangements, they are an effective way to break through organisational hierarchies and deliver ‘unfiltered’ feedback on the organisation.

Meanwhile, recruitment training for line managers is another essential component of promoting an inclusive culture. Equipping hiring managers with tools to make unbiased decisions ensures that the workforce is more representative and inclusive, reflecting the organisation’s commitment to EDI.

Choosing the right training method is also crucial. While e-learning can be effective for sharing information, virtual or face-to-face (F2F) training will often be better suited for case studies and experiential learning. Combining these approaches ensures a comprehensive and engaging learning experience, allowing employees to thrive in a supportive and diverse workplace.

Creating a thriving, inclusive workplace is a worthy goal for all employers. But reaching that goal involves multiple activities, strategies and policies. achievable through staff surveys, supportive policies, coaching, mentoring, and targeted training. But by putting all these things into action it’s proven that organisations can enhance employee engagement and performance, leading to a more diverse and successful environment.

Policies & Procedures

Hybrid Working in 2023

Hybrid working has become a buzzword for many HR professionals in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also become a hot topic for employers as they try to find a balance between employees’ desires for flexibility and the need to maintain productivity, collaboration and creativity in a workplace setting. However, the move to widespread hybrid working has not been easy, and employers are still grappling with several challenges that need to be addressed to make the transition a success.

Back to the office: This is one of the biggest challenges faced by employers. While some employers are dictating one, two or three days per week in the office, others are mandating a fixed number of days, with Disney even going as far as to mandate a 4-day week. While some employees may welcome the flexibility, others may be less enthusiastic, as they value the structure and social interaction that comes with being in an office environment. Employers need to find ways to balance these competing needs to ensure that all employees are happy and productive.

Many young people may also feel that changes to working patterns and the rise of remote work is a fair trade off for the sacrifices made during the pandemic. Or it may simply be that the pandemic accelerated changes that were already in progress. After all, most external meetings remain virtual. 

Productivity: The government has claimed that home working is leading to a loss of productivity, which is a concern for many employers. However, the research on this issue is mixed, with some studies suggesting that remote working can lead to increased productivity, while others suggest the opposite. A study I commissioned pre-pandemic found that productivity towards remote working can be highly dependent on personality type, and as such the way a worker is managed is likely to be at the root of performance issues. ‘Accidental managers’ have been causing problems for HR since time immemorial, and our organisational failures to properly equip line managers for in-person management, let alone remote management, are likely to be at least as big a contributor to productivity issues as the remote employee.

Is working remotely good for both employees and the organisation?: Employees have a good case to make for remote working, as many have been doing their jobs remotely during the pandemic. Many see little reason to return to the office, especially if they can do their job just as effectively from home. However, employers need to consider the impact of remote working on their culture, productivity and collaboration. Employers should also consider the needs of their employees and find ways to accommodate their preferences, whether through a hybrid working arrangement or by offering flexible work arrangements.

Work/Life Balance: Being forced to return to the office for even two or three days per week can be as costly as commuting into places like London full-time. Employees may feel that the benefits of remote working, such as reduced commuting costs and increased flexibility, outweigh the benefits of being in the office. Employers should consider the impact of commuting on their employees’ wellbeing and consider flexible work arrangements, such as flexible hours or remote working, to alleviate the burden of commuting.

The challenges: Another challenge employers face is providing opportunities for employees to socialise, create, and innovate. In an office environment, employees can bounce ideas off each other, collaborate on projects and build relationships. However, in a hybrid working environment, employees may feel isolated and disconnected, which can hinder creativity and innovation. Employers need to find ways to foster collaboration and interaction, whether through regular in-person meetings or virtual team-building activities.

Health and safety: Many employees may not have an appropriate workspace at home. Risk assessments are often overlooked, leading to back pain, eyestrain and other physical ailments. To mitigate these risks, employers must provide guidelines on ergonomics and workstation setups for home offices/workspaces. Employers can also offer flexible work environments, such as allowing employees to work in a shared workspace, which can be beneficial for employees who do not have the necessary equipment or workspace at home.

Workplace benefits: Restaurants, gyms, health incentives and other in-office benefits are largely redundant in a hybrid working environment. However, employers must find ways to compensate for the lack of these benefits by offering other perks, such as flexible working hours or additional paid time off. Employers should also look at ways to support employees’ mental health, such as offering access to counselling services or mental health days.

The Gender Pay Gap: Finally, there are claims that hybrid working is bad for the gender pay gap, decreases women’s chances of promotion and that it increases gender biases. I feel this is counter intuitive. One of the greatest contributors to the gender pay gap is the absence of flexible work for mothers – the gender pay gap is actually inverted in favour of young women before motherhood. Being able to work in a hybrid fashion delivers the flexibility that young parents (both mothers and fathers) need to continue their careers.

Policies & Procedures

Hybrid Working – July 2022

I hope you didn’t spend too much on your home office. The corporate fightback against working from home is in full swing, led by corporate landlords, Elon Musk, and weirdly, the Daily Telegraph, who have an entire section of their website dedicated to telling readers how lazy homeworkers are responsible for the UK’s current ills.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Elon Musk is making headlines with his infamous memo, indicating that working from home is fine, once forty hours have been completed in the office. For a man who’s still trying to get the self-driving part of his self-driving cars to work, this may be a big mistake. Artificial intelligence experts are in short supply, even in Silicon Valley, and it appears they quite enjoy home working.

Apple recently went into full reverse ferret on their mandatory return to the office after their director of machine learning, Ian Goodfellow, resigned in protest at the policy. Goodfellow was unsurprisingly and immediately snapped up by Google, and before enterprising Google recruiters had a chance to do too much damage to Apple’s disaffected AI team the iPhone maker hit pause on the policy, although grumblings (and rumours of anonymous letters to executives) persist.

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Laziness or Exhaustion

Of course, there are disadvantages to homeworking. We’ve probably not gathered enough evidence yet to see if it does indeed prevent younger workers learning from more experienced colleagues. We also know that it doesn’t suit everyone; some research I previously commissioned found that different personality types faced very different challenges when it came to hybrid working.

There’s also the economic challenge. We’re going through a rapid shift in where people spend their days and their money. Businesses reliant on ‘office’ traffic, especially in the hospitality sector, but also retail, have lost footfall. The economies of scale that allow them to operate in densely occupied spaces simply can’t be supported in the ‘dormitory’ towns and villages where people now spend their days.

It’s this rapid change that has led to the emerging PR campaign of ‘lazy’ references to homeworking. Pre-pandemic we saw productivity sit at an immovable constant, defying any attempt to improve it, regardless of how much time we spent in offices. Lord Sugar, of ‘well, that’s not a lawful reason for dismissal’ fame, likes to use the ‘L word’ regularly on Twitter and newspaper articles, although his opposition to home working is surely unrelated to AMSprop Estates’ many investments in prime city centre offices.

A similarly simple explanation explains the Telegraph’s editorial stance. The Telegraph owning Barclay Brothers have invested heavily in the London hotel market, and falling demand for commercial property coupled with decreased need for business stays can’t be good for business. And no doubt people no longer needing to drive to work has a substantial impact on the plans of the world’s most valuable car manufacturer.

Because actually, the evidence suggests otherwise. Commuting is exhausting, and means workers start work fatigued. Reduced commuting supports healthier lifestyles as workers are able to trade commuting time for healthier activities – and yes, getting enough sleep is a healthy activity. I can only presume that ‘laziness’ is inversely measured by exhaustion.

Hybrid Opportunities

Too often the clamour over working from home seems to be ‘yes for me, but not for thee’. Take the recent headline “We’re paying the price for the cult of idleness” – yes the Telegraph, and yes about people having the temerity to want alternative working patterns. The author writes a number of regular columns and has published over half a dozen books and musicals; it’s unlikely they do this alongside colleagues in an office.

There’s already an inherent classism around hybrid working, which will take time to resolve. It’s absolutely easier to work from a dedicated office than the kitchen counter or a dressing table, and I’m sure that no one would deny that this has an impact on efficiency.

There’s a definite opportunity for casual co-working spaces to proliferate where people reside, rather than where organisations are based, but this will take time. WeWork’s well known struggles have dampened the appetite for investment in this area, but both councils (as part of the levelling up funding) and local business groups such as chambers of commerce could provide an anchor for local schemes.

This would also nurture networking and mentorships with the people that hybrid workers work alongside, rather than just their colleagues. For employers who prefer to live in their ideal world rather than the real one, this raises big red flags around talent being poached, organisational secrets being leaked and employees not being fully devoted to their employer. But only if they’re unaware of existing concepts like ‘the recruitment industry’, ‘LinkedIn’ and ‘work-life balance’.

The benefits to this could be huge. Community projects would be revitalised by local talent networks, as well as a more diverse volunteer base. Like local politics, many projects and volunteer groups are usually dominated by the time-rich; usually retirees. My own local council recently moved its meetings from 7pm to 2pm, as it was more convenient for the majority of (non-working, non-child-caring) councillors. Removing the commute opens opportunities for younger and more diverse groups to become more involved.

Taking action

So what can you do?


Consult with employees. Everyone needs different levels of support and finding out what works shouldn’t just be a job for line managers. Having several different ‘default’ working patterns, with the flexibility to adjust each to the employee’s and employer’s needs, allows HR to maintain structure and policy whilst supporting hybrid working arrangements.


Identify opportunities for collaboration. This could involve arranging local (optional) meetups for employees living close to one another or co-working days. These sessions drive creativity and innovation and are a great way to break down organisational silos and build relationships.


Gather evidence. If or when a CEO may want to change working patterns, they will be asking HR to assess the impact. We’re at an excellent point to be gathering evidence on how well (or not) working patterns are working. As Apple found, highly valuable employees may feel particularly strongly about the issue and being able to give a fully informed evaluation will be important.

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Policies & Procedures

HR’s role in a crisis – April 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shocked us all. It’s returned the world to a state many of us hoped never to see again, and with stakes many others have never experienced.

It’s an important reminder for us HR professionals to always expect the unexpected. Very few organisations, even those operating in multiple countries, will have plans for dealing with invasions.

However, I’ve always been proud of our profession’s ability to adapt. We’re asked to develop long term strategies, only to be the last to find out about major organisational pivots. It’s this resilience to change which makes HR the obvious choice to manage crisis situations.

This should be a prompt to reassess risks. Despite long-term conflicts in the Middle East, we saw Ukraine as a stable country. Are there similar blind spots in other jurisdictions? Other places where conventional wisdom suggests that something is impossible?

What is your exit strategy? Are there employees who need to be expatriated, and what is the policy for local employees? In Ukraine we’ve seen conscription announced for all men aged between 18 and 60, as well as many civilians volunteering for service. If your employees were to walk out of work to pick up a rifle, how would you deal with that?

Many organisations simply won’t be able to leave a conflict zone. Many facilities can’t simply be turned off and left. If the worst were to happen, what happens to the employees that are needed to stay? And how confident can you be as an organisation that they will?


The Russia/Ukraine conflict is widely seen in the media and society through the lens of Ukraine Good, Russia Bad. This has tipped over into anti-Russian sentiment which could mean employees needing additional support. Whilst most organisations will have established diversity and inclusion programmes, our interventions are typically focused at groups who have always needed support. Organisations will need to act quickly to ensure people whose backgrounds are associated with a conflict are able to access support they may not have needed before.

Whilst politicians were careful from the outset to refer to ‘Putin’s war’ to avoid blaming soldiers, the emergence of war crimes on social media will doubtless make this line less sustainable.

The narrative in the west and the anglosphere has been firmly positioned behind Ukraine. But it’s important to realise that a huge number of countries in the Global South are following a different narrative in support of Russia. Remember that these countries, and nationals of these countries in the west, may hold very different views than the prevailing one, derived from different sources. Bear in mind the old adage that in conflict, especially one being shared live on social media, truth is always the first casualty.

There are also implications for organisations with operations in Russia. Many multi-nationals are withdrawing services from Russia, so what does this mean for their employees at offices and facilities in the country? If sanctions on financial transfers are invoked, can employees in Russia still be paid? If not, what support can you provide?


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HR’s response will be part of a wider organisational reaction. Many, if not all, parts of the organisation will be enacting protocols and planning next moves. For this reason, it’s crucial that the organisation’s response is being coordinated centrally. Force Majeure events are by their very nature fast moving. The information coming from the scene is sporadic, often contradictory, and rarely accurate.

HR’s cross-organisation role makes it best placed to coordinate the response to a crisis. Human life is always the most important thing, so having the most people focused part of the organisation in charge helps maintain that priority. Most other departmental responses are less time critical. None-the-less, we should identify key partners.

Finance is an obvious one. How do we release the funds required to secure transport? And how do we get it to employees on the ground?

Legal is also essential. The boycott of Russia has meant many multinational firms, including McDonalds and Ikea, have seen their stores taken over by copycat brands. These brands have been allowed to register trademarks that clearly infringe those of the original, Western brands. This partisan application of the law raises a clear problem for HR, as it suggests the law will not protect a foreign organisation. Suddenly you have no protection against overseas employees doing anything at all, from data abuse, corporate espionage, or exposure of interests. 

Finally, the CEO. It’s important during crisis planning to set escalation procedures. At what point does the CEO have to personally authorise an action, and how far can a department proceed along a planned sequence of actions before business as usual becomes an emergency?


So what can you do?


Wargaming. For the past twenty years war has been something that happened far away to other people. The invasion of Ukraine is somewhat closer to home, and a reminder that not only is the world less safe than before, but for the majority of the world, it was never safe to begin with.

It would be a valuable insight to explore the likely consequences for your organisation of different scenarios. Some organisations may have high exposure to reserve service obligations (especially those with ex-military recruitment programmes) whilst others may be demographically exposed due to a young workforce.


Update social media policies. As I mentioned earlier, in war, truth is the first casualty, and your employees are likely to be discussing conflicts on social media. Is an employee who denies that one side is committing war crimes, or claims that the war is fake, in breach of a policy? They may be bringing their organisation into disrepute, but will any disciplinary action hold up to an employment tribunal?


Identify digital weaknesses. Cyber warfare has the potential to knock HR systems offline – what are your contingencies if rota software or payroll is down for a prolonged period? How long would it take to enact offline processes? Focus on the bare essentials of what employees need and make sure you’re always able to deliver.


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Policies & Procedures

The New Covid Rules

With the removal of all legal restrictions in England, employers are having to tear up the rule book from the past two years and start again.

Employers have a duty of care to all employees. So, whether an employee should be allowed to work with Covid is a challenging question. If an employee is wanting and willing to work, and the employer sends them home, they aren’t taking sickness absence but are medically suspended. This means they’re entitled to full pay.

There’s also the phasing out of free testing to contend with. Unless the employer is paying for testing, it’s unlikely they will be able to mandate the employee to self-test. And whilst for some people Covid-19 is a serious and potentially deadly disease, for most of the working population it can be imperceptible from a cold.

This leaves the employer in a quandary. Whilst some employers will be able to switch to a hybrid working model where employees with mild illnesses work from home until well, there are plenty of roles where this is impossible. Many sectors, including retail and manufacturing, are run with the bare minimum of employees and have no slack in the system to enable routine medical suspensions for cold symptoms.

For these sectors, where presenteeism and zero-hours contracts are already common, it’s highly unlikely that line managers would encourage absenteeism for mild Covid symptoms, whether backed up by a positive test or not. In these circumstances you’re likely to see a clash between HR cautiousness and operational requirements.

Legislative Differences

There are certainly implications for cross-border work. Requirements to self-isolate remain in Wales and Scotland (self-isolation in Northern Ireland has always been a recommendation). What this means in practice is debatable, as enforcement and spot checks of quarantine ended long ago, but we would suggest that any employee with a positive test or who has symptoms which would require them to take a Covid test in Scotland or Wales shouldn’t be travelling across the border.

This confusion applies to travel. For example, Margaret Ferrier, the now independent Scottish MP accused of travelling from Glasgow to London with Covid symptoms, would now only have potentially committed an offence for a portion of her journey. It’s already been the case for several months that train passengers must put masks on when they pass Carlisle or Bristol, having travelled for hours unmasked – rules that showcase the futility of unilaterally imposing local restrictions.

But nonetheless, this means a catch-all cross-UK policy can’t be applied. And this does have implications for sickness and the principles of fairness. Employment law isn’t a devolved matter, so applies equally across the UK. This means sanctioning an employee for isolating with Covid in England would likely be unfair treatment if a comparator in Scotland isn’t also sanctioned for self-isolating. And of course, the Scottish or Welsh comparator is legally obliged to self-isolate, and so can’t be sanctioned by an employer.

Taking Action

So, what should employers do? Obviously, case law doesn’t exist, and for the likely short period (months rather than years) that self-isolation rules are divergent, the safest and fairest option is to allow employees in England to isolate for the same amount of time as the longest comparator in the devolved nations.

If employees can work from home (and of course, symptoms permitting), it may be worth offering this as an option, especially if the employee is receiving statutory sick pay. This relieves financial pressures whilst allowing employees to ‘do the right thing’.

Whilst employers have been able to mandate face coverings for employees through the pandemic, it may be harder to do so in the near future. Many of the mask rules have seemed counterintuitive throughout the pandemic, and employer rules will face increasing resistance with mandates having dropped almost everywhere else.

On the flip side to this is the employees who may want to continue wearing masks. It may seem strange for an employer to want to ban masks, but when you think about some of the dress standards enforced to this day, nothing should be a surprise. Currently Government guidance is that employees, visitors and customers may choose to wear a face covering in any setting – the emphasis is on ‘may choose to’, rather than ‘may choose not to’.

Finally, we should be aware that many people feel a very real anxiety about Covid. Whilst this may be disproportionate to their risk factors, it’s a very real response to the pandemic and is an example of how people move along the change curve at their own speed.

An employment tribunal has already found that a fear of catching and transmitting Covid isn’t a protected belief (in the imaginatively named X v Y 2021), but should this fear develop to a state of anxiety that impacts the employee’s mental health they may be covered under the protected characteristic of Disability.
However, in this case I suspect that demonstrating their anxiety is purely driven by fear of Covid would be challenging for the employee and could only be sustained by refusal to engage with medication or therapy-based treatments.

Helping employees proceed along the change curve will be key to the post-Covid transition and clear communications will help everyone understand expectations and planned actions.

We should also not forget that a new variant of Covid or an entirely new pathogen could quickly result in restrictions resuming. So don’t shred those signs quite yet!

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Policies & Procedures

The Culture Cycle – September 2021

Your organisational values determine the employees you attract and recruit.

Your employees determine the culture in your workplace.

Your workplace culture determines your organisational values.


Some say that leaders determine organisational culture. I disagree; even in organisations with the most toxic leadership you can imagine, it’s HR that shapes organisational culture. It’s HR who have the position, the authority and the obligation to challenge where others don’t.

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Post pandemic working will bring forward big changes in organisational values and culture. David Solomon of Goldman Sachs was amongst the first to set their stall out.

“It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct” he said, referring to home working.  This is the CEO of an organisation whose junior bankers report ‘inhumane’ and ‘abusive’ working conditions including 105-hour weeks.

Of course, the Goldman Sachs leadership are entitled to build whatever culture they want. No-one’s suggesting they’ve done anything illegal; nobody would describe their junior bankers (whose year one salary is £79,000 before bonuses) as victims of modern slavery.

But the culture they’ve developed and the values they wear very publicly will attract a certain type of candidate. Highly driven, very able and almost certainly ruthless. All perfect qualities for an investment banker.

A quick look to history however shows that having a workforce entirely made up of aggressive, cut throat go-getters could be an issue for the banking sector. They create the sort of culture where Jérôme Kerviel was able to lose Société Générale €4.9 billion.

And this sort of problem isn’t solved by diversity initiatives either. The values – employee – culture cycle is cunningly impervious to such techniques. It’s completely possible to have a highly diverse (according to all the metrics) workforce who all hold the same values. Indeed, for a business like Goldman Sachs, they would neither attract nor recruit people without those values.


As you might be able to tell, I’ve got the utmost sympathy for those who forge a HR career in this sector. But returning to my initial argument, HR can and should still influence the organisation’s culture.

In our Goldman Sachs example, we already know the organisational values being set by the leadership (regardless of whether this is done formally or informally). There’s nothing HR can do about that in the short term. But these values exist because they’re what the leaders believe drive the best results for the business.

You can challenge these with comparators. Not only from the same sector (UBS have just announced they’re adopting a hybrid working approach to become a more attractive employer) but also in other sectors; in our example, the industry that has replaced finance as both the world’s most valuable and vilified: big tech.

Use these comparators to build your case. Your main opponent is fear of the unknown, so you’ll need evidence to convert leaders to your point of view. Even outspoken organisational leaders don’t reach their position by being dogmatic in their views – they achieve their position by being flexible and adapting to new evidence as it arises. 


It’s not just the bottom line that matters, even for Goldman Sachs. Solomon’s words are aimed at customers, reassuring them that his bankers will be working non-stop to grow their investments.

But one just has to look at this spring’s ill-fated launch of the Super League to see how organisation’s arrogance can severely damage a brand. And numbers alone aren’t the only consideration for customers. Reputational damage emerges very quickly merely by association, driven by social media. Examples include the Stop Funding Hate campaign, which demands advertisers don’t deal with certain media partners.

That means both doing the right thing, and recognising that the ‘right thing’ is subject to change.

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There are a few things you can start thinking about today


Pick your battles. Every sector and industry has specific challenges, and some cultures and values are deeply embedded. Whilst the idealist in you may want to ‘correct’ things, ‘the blob’ will always resist… and usually win.

There are three parts in the culture cycle. Recruitment of employees is the area where HR can project its influence and start to produce change.


Celebrate victories. Changing the culture and values of an organisation is a process that will probably be completed by someone else well into the future; the important thing is you’ve made a difference.

Employee surveys are great indicators of change. Set yourself graduated milestones to celebrate. After all, culture change is a marathon not a sprint and regularly hitting milestones gives both you and the wider business cause to celebrate and evidence of your impact.


Formal rules can be changed. It’s the informal, unwritten ones that are inflexible. It’s a challenge that occurs often with diversity and inclusion, a specialism which is primarily concerned with culture change.

This is a problem for HR, who aren’t embedded in teams or functions and can’t see that large chunks of the organisation are following a completely different set of procedures. Often this disparity doesn’t show up until it reaches an employment tribunal, where it’ll be written off as the actions of a rogue individual.

That’s not true. It’s simply that the individual hasn’t realised when they needed to switch to the official rules.

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