Well doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun.

It was great to have Ian Benbow from Case-UK along with his colleagues, Kat Goodsell and Neil Fowler, join in our conversation which began with dealing with health challenges in the workplace. We expect to have Case-UK leading a skills session on the subject in the New Year, but more of that to follow.

Another new face to our conversation was Alison Jesty from Alexandra House Day Nursery, a charity-run operation based in Crownhill. Regular contributors Naomi Walsh (Real Ideas), Doaa Shayea (public speaker and campaigner), Karen Meadows (Pushed) and Carolyn Giles (City Bus) were all on board, as well as Frances Brennan who was representing the Plymouth Charter in one of her many guises.

With such a strong group, the conversation was immediately directed to what the real challenge was in a practical sense. Carolyn pointed out the need to maintain operational efficiency in spite of absenteeism caused by ill-health. How do you continue to run your business when your staff are unable to carry out their duties? We want to be accommodating, but is it always possible?

It was interesting to hear the view that some staff are perhaps demotivated to work and consider (anecdotally) sick pay as being a way to get a day off.

The group determined that there would always be challenges but overall there had to be an element of trust that across-the-board staff would not abuse the system. By trusting that staff will be genuine, most of them will be.

We got on to the perception of HR within an organisation. How can this department be seen more about the human, and less about the resources? Not every issue needs to be documented and recorded and scrutinised in the same way and by starting with an informal chat, it was the experience of some that a lot of concern and fear, not to mention bureaucracy, could be avoided. Carolyn took the view that by approaching challenges this way could help alleviate some of the stresses that occur. Moreover, if this is seen to be a reasonable way to enter a dialogue, more staff would be willing to share concerns rather than allowing them to fester.

Naomi took this point and offered a further example. That of the open sessions run by Real Ideas where staff can openly share and hear the feelings of colleagues in a consequence-free environment. Previously known as Blurt Sessions, they now operate under the banner of “Let’s talk about mental health”. In spite of the title which could imply a chance to shout and scream and cry, it is a space to share views and experiences about how a person is feeling at work. The idea is that by creating such a space, staff feel encouraged to access support themselves.

Taking such steps were intended to reduce the fear of what might happen when you speak to the “people” people of your company. It was also acknowledged however that theory and practice are different things, and it may take time before habits change, especially in larger organisations.

So much ground was covered in this conversation, but the final key point worth raising was from Doaa. Her lived experience was unique in the group being a woman of faith, who is also a wheelchair user. Her words served as a reminder that when we talk about reasonable adjustments in the workplace, we need to make sure we engage with anyone for whom an adjustment might be required. For her, a wheelchair is a permanent necessity that cannot be forgotten. This is not the case for someone in a business who does not have this lived experience. It is essential to ask, listen and act on the feedback received in order to have any credibility or value in the discussion.

Finally, Frances shared some information about the “30 Voices” work that is planned for the New Year. Thirty individuals who represent as broad a cross-section of our city’s population as possible, will speak about their experience of the workplace. Along with the toolkit and the ongoing hosting of these working lunches. This will be a key legacy of the work done in the name of the Charter towards a more inclusive approach to the people of our workforce.

We are taking a month off in December for everyone to have their own conversations among their own workplaces. That said we will be hosting a skills session on December 14th to support new or developing managers in developing good practice. To book , click here – Foundations in Effective Line Management, and for the next working lunch on January 11th, click  here.