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Top tips to motivate employees

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The success or failure of a business depends on the people it hires. And whilst employees are the biggest asset, they are often the biggest expenditure.

Making sure staff are happy and engaged can often be a challenge – especially on a Friday afternoon!

Therefore, we’ve compiled some top tips to help you keep your staff motivated and energised:

1. Ensure staff take regular breaks

In today’s busy world, it can be difficult to get a moment to sit down and relax.

Some people feel like they have to constantly work – or have so much work that they can’t take a break. But short, regular breaks can keep people performing at a consistent level.

Working all day without breaks, or while ill, can be a symptom of presenteeism. This can be detrimental to team morale and employee engagement in the longer-term.

2. Take a mental break too

Free apps such as Smiling Mind are ideal for when staff are taking ten minutes to rest and recharge. They are perfect for short, scheduled breaks, and let them return to work ready to face the challenges of the day.

Mental relaxation and rest periods are just as important as physical breaks, especially in office and white-collar environments.

3. Organise a lunchtime workout

Everyone can do with a little more exercise, and research has suggested that even a moderate amount of cardio activity can boost staff productivity for up to two hours afterwards.

Fitbit fitness trackers encourage users to take 250 steps an hour, as leading a sedentary lifestyle puts staff at much greater risk of a stroke or heart attack.

A recent news story claimed almost half of adults fail to manage even one brisk 10-minute walk a month!

4. Employee rewards and perks

Rewarding your employees can take many forms, including:

  • A peer recognition scheme.
  • An annual awards show with quirky categories.
  • A box of chocolates as a small token of your appreciation.

Employee perks can also go a long way. For example, your business could look into offering vouchers for travel and leisure or food and drink or even discounted memberships at the local gym.

Your local HR Dept adviser will be able to give you advice on the best way to implement and administer a benefits package that’s suitable for your business and budget.

5. Team socials

Social time and rewards from the organisation are an important part of building a motivated team that want to support each other – as well as the goals of the business.

But make sure everyone can participate! Traditional ‘drinks after work’ can exclude those with childcare responsibilities or those that can’t drink for religious reasons.

So, mix up your activities to suit all staff, days and times. Give your employees plenty of notice, so they can attend and make childcare arrangements ahead of time.

How we can help

Your local HR Dept can advise you on how to get the most out of your staff, alongside making sure they’re healthy and happy. After all, they are the key to driving your business forward.

Tips for encouraging good mental health in your business

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With several high profile celebrity deaths, male suicide has been brought to our national attention.

It might have been easy to dismiss as only applicable to rock-star type lives, if it was not for the alarming statistic that suicide is the biggest killer of Aussie men aged between 15 – 44.  So the reality is that this type of tragedy could affect you or one of your team.

One in five Australians suffer with mental health problems

Another frightening statistic is that one in five of Australians now suffers from some form of mental health problem. And as business owners, that can include us. So rather like in airline safety talks when you are told to fix the mask to your own face before helping others, it is important that you take care of your health and wellbeing.

Take care of yourself

Running a business can be stressful. If your moods are becoming more irritable, you have difficulty sleeping or you find yourself withdrawing, it is time to get help before you become ill.

Supporting good mental health for your staff

Assuming you are keeping an eye on yourself, how can you help your staff? Providing an environment where the mental health and wellbeing of your staff is paramount is definitely more than providing a box of fruit each week.

There’s a lot of negative reaction to mental illness: from those frightened of it to those who are suffering from feelings of shame. They wrongly feel they are weak and should be able to keep their stiff upper lip firmly in place. So a really positive approach you can take is to encourage open conversations. Let staff know you will support them during difficult times. Now, what other practical steps can you take? Here are five more tips for managing mental health in the workplace:

Five more tips for managing mental health in the workplace

  1. We know that stress can be positive as well as negative, but keep an eye on workloads to make sure they remain manageable.
  2. Make sure staff take holidays and have a sensible amount of free time.
  3. With smart phones, the temptation to check emails and social media can invade home life. So this should be discouraged.
  4. Look out for signs that people are struggling. These could range from sudden changes in performance to increased absence, or even panic attacks.
  5. Form links with local support organisations so you know where to access information.

It’s essential you keep an open mind if a member of staff says they have been diagnosed with a mental illness and are now on medication. In this case you may need to look at what reasonable adjustments can be made. And remember The HR Dept is always there to provide help and support.

Culture clashes at work and how to avoid them

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A French employee at a restaurant in Canada filed a complaint with British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal against his former employer. He claimed the dismissal was due to his French culture being perceived as ‘rude and aggressive’.

What can we do to embrace and use cultural variety to our advantage? And do so whilst minimising cultural clashes and misunderstanding in the workplace? Of course, bad or unacceptable behaviour must not be excused as part of someone’s culture. It’s a fine balance but there is much that employers can do!

Hiring to fail?

Looking at another restaurant, let’s consider the much loved Fawlty Towers. Manuel’s eager efforts to communicate to customers were unsuccessful, much to the amusement of the audience.

However, the joke here is not necessarily Manuel’s bad English skills. It’s more that any employer would want to allow their employee in a customer facing role without the appropriate training, or ensuring that they can communicate effectively. You don’t want to set your employees up to fail by hiring them for a job that doesn’t suit. Or by not providing the necessary training and support.

Tips for managing cultural differences in the workplace

But how, as an employer, can you train your employees to embrace cultural differences to enhance the team and your customers’ experiences?

Firstly, have your own company values and cultures. These should include expectations around behaviour styles, customer service and team engagement. That way you have a shared culture whereby individual cultural differences could add value. But equally, it is very clear how your business expects your employees to behave.

Now, you can’t change someone’s cultural identity but you can ask for certain standards of conduct to be met. Embracing differences could even boost your business performance. Un-diverse workplaces can harbour group-think and struggle to diversify their customer base.

It is important to be sensitive to differences in habits, traditions and values. A willingness to expand your cultural awareness and focusing on the unique strengths of your employees can be beneficial for your business. It can bring in new ideas and allow new avenues to be explored.

Having a team who speak many languages may help you secure that all important overseas client. And having a diverse team who are comfortable with different languages and backgrounds can really help with understanding your diverse customer base. Being culturally diverse can give you the competitive edge!

Make sure you stand up to discrimination and try to foster a culture of understanding in the workplace. Lazy stereotypes about people’s culture could end up in a tribunal! Celebrating and being aware of different cultural or religious days can really help to promote diversity in the workplace.

Need help with managing cultural diversity at work?

Having said all this, there really is no place for rudeness in the workplace, whether it is deemed part of a culture or not!

So why not take the time today to get in touch with The HR Dept? We can discuss how your business can embrace cultural differences and diversity in the workplace.

Ramadan: What employers need to know

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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on lunar cycles. It is a sacred period for Muslims during which they abstain from pleasures (including food), pray and come together as families to celebrate.

The impact of Ramadan spreads far and wide, this will include many workplaces. So with employees feeling the effects of fasting, and requiring increased time and space for prayer, how should employers handle this?

Be ahead of the game before Ramadan

As an employer, the best action you can take is to talk to any of your staff who might be affected before Ramadan starts, and agree how best to accommodate their needs. While you don’t have a legal obligation to grant requests, there are several ways you could still fall foul of the requirements to avoid discrimination on religious grounds; so be mindful of this.

Also, be aware that some staff members who would otherwise participate in the fast may not do so for very personal reasons. These could include a health condition, medication or a female staff member during her menstrual cycle. So tread with caution around these conversations.

The main Ramadan requests you may face are for flexible working hours, a prayer room (or time off to go and pray), staggered breaks and annual leave. The key, in most cases is to act reasonably, and not deny a request without good justification.

Managing Muslims fasting during Ramadan

Depending on the moon, fasting will begin on the 15 or 16 May in 2018, and lasts for one lunar month. Practising Muslims will fast between dawn and sunset each day. As summer is almost upon us, that can mean up to 18 hours without being able to eat or drink (or, if applicable, smoke).

For many fasters, this will lead to lethargy as the day progresses and quite possibly irritability. Most of us have experienced feeling ‘hangry’ for far less!

Be sensitive to this. If you can, avoid scheduling team meetings, training sessions or tasks which require high levels of concentration in the afternoon. And while you wouldn’t ban team lunches or block someone bringing in a box of Krispy Kremes for their birthday, again, a bit of sensitivity wouldn’t go amiss.

Permitting staggered breaks including unusual lunchtimes may be helpful here, and you should allow these as a long as they do not adversely impact your business. Failure to do so without a good reason could be construed as religious discrimination.

Eid and annual leave

To mark the end of Ramadan and of the fasting, there is a three-day religious festival called Eid al-Fitr. You may well receive holiday requests from Muslim employees during the last 10 days of Ramadan and during Eid.

These should be dealt with in line with your normal holiday policy. However, with good planning, it may be both desirable and possible to prioritise holiday requests from Muslim staff at this time. You do still have a business to run though, and business needs may ultimately determine the outcome.

Talk to The HR Dept

Generally, there are strong long-term benefits of being accommodating to staff who have specific needs, such as Muslims during Ramadan and Eid. Productivity may take a hit in the short term, but do consider the long term benefits of good relations with employees. If you need any help with Ramadan requests, give us a call.


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You started your business or got the job running it because you are really good at what you do. You have a passion for a product or a service, and you thrive from growth and success.

You know you don’t have the skills for the legal bit, so you hire a solicitor to make sure your commercial contracts are robust. You also recognise that when it comes to filing year-end accounts and tax advice you probably need an expert, and therefore will have an accountant on hand.

So why, oh why, do business owners think that they can DIY employment law and HR?

Household DIY has become something of a national pastime, and a public holiday would not be complete without a trip to a hardware store. But it is not always advisable to tackle every job yourself!

If you are lucky, you might save time and money taking on certain tasks like painting or putting up shelves. But there are also jobs where it would definitely work out cheaper in the long run to call in the experts. The same is true of HR in your business.

The biggest HR DIY mistakes

The biggest HR DIY error we see in SMEs is with the employment contract. This is the most important legal arrangement between you and your employee and it is designed to protect you both. An employment contract is an agreement between an employer and employee that sets out the terms and conditions of employment. It can be written or verbal. Your employment contract cannot provide less than the legal minimum set out in the National Employment Standards or the industry awards or registered agreements that may apply.

Although it is not legal requirement to have an employment contract it is definitely best practice.

Free downloads and templates are just not going to be suitable for your specific business. They will no doubt have key clauses missing that would otherwise protect you. Employment contracts that are borrowed often give unaffordable benefits or totally inappropriate restrictions or clauses that are not applicable to your staff. Downloaded or borrowed legal documents may also be out of date. How do you trust the source?
So, we are going to set out the contract DIY mistakes you are opening yourself up to. We implore you to call in the experts to save you time and money in the long run!

Common HR DIY contract mistakes

1. Wrong employment status

The first big mistake is the nature of the employment itself: Independent contractor, fixed-term, employee – part-time or full-time or casual. Employers often decide to engage people on the wrong type of contract, opening themselves up to future Fair Work claims. It’s really complex as recent high-profile cases such as Uber show. Get expert advice on the status of your staff to save you time, money and a headache later.

2. Not taking Awards or Industrial Instruments into account.

Employment contracts cannot be drafted to completely avoid enterprise agreements or modern awards applicable to employment. Even if your company is paying well above minimum wage you cannot ignore Awards or Industrial Instruments. You can however draft an employment agreement that lessens the administrative burden while still ensuring compliance.

3. Extra (and costly) liabilities

Borrowing contracts from other companies, or cutting and pasting a contract you were employed on in a previous life, can lead to unintended or extreme generosity!

We frequently come across contracts that are wholly unsuitable for an SME that give executive level benefits packages (which would be fine if done with intent and the business can afford it). These then leave businesses wide open to huge costs they didn’t really need or want!

Contracts borrowed from other companies may provide for more notice periods for termination then the minimum standards therefore you may need to pay out more if you terminate that employee than legally required.

4. Missing minimum conditions

Employees are protected by National Employment Standards with or without an employment contract. Employees are also protected by any applicable registered agreements. You cannot provide for less than the minimum conditions under the law and workers cannot contract out of the rights they have under employment laws.

One DIY contract botch job we came across recently was drawn up in-house at a company and didn’t meet the minimum wage. Totally illegal!

5. Over the top restrictions

Time and time again we see inappropriate and unnecessary non-compete clauses placed on the whole staff body. This is because a contract has been borrowed from another company for a different role, and then applied to a whole staff team. We have seen a cleaner being bound by a non-compete that prevented them from going and working in finance and tax for 12 months after leaving employment! In addition, if you put these in everyone’s contracts, it could make them all completely unenforceable!

6. Out of date clauses

The law is not static and new regulations are routinely changed of employment law. If your contract is more than 12 months old, some of it provisions may not be valid any longer under current regulations. Regular review of contracts and updating of agreements is essential.

7. Making the staff handbook or employment policies contractual

Big mistake! This is totally unnecessary and can leave you wide open to breach of contract claims. You are essentially making all your company polices contractual. So if and when you want to change them you have contractual negotiations to do with staff! SMEs need the flexibility to add and change their business policies as needed.

How to get a fit-for-purpose employment contract

Every business needs a robust employment contract that is bespoke to them, fit for purpose, is legal and up to date and protects them against any eventuality. You are simply not going to get this from a template download or a DIY job. So please, for the sake of your business’s bottom line and your stress levels, get the professionals in before you need to shout “Help! HR DIY SOS”.

Cold and flu may be coming to an office near you!

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When Australia was hit by the worst flu outbreak on record in 2017, many companies were not prepared for the impact. Business operations were severely disrupted due to the high number of employees suffering with flu or looking after family members who had fallen ill.

Now that the cold and flu season is upon us again, there are some practical steps and advice you can give to staff before illness hits your workforce.

Sick leave entitlement

Let’s not get this one wrong. Sick leave is covered by the Fair Work Act 2009. The statutory entitlement is 10 days per year (accrued throughout the year). It is not payable on termination and you can ask for medical evidence if you think someone is throwing a sickie. Some staff may try to take advantage of the cold and flu season to bag that extra day off!

Encourage your staff to get the flu jab

Allowing staff a little time off for doctor’s appointments to get a jab is a small price to pay for stopping the virus in its tracks. Encouraging and motivating your staff to get the flu vaccine helps to promote a healthy and productive workforce and prevent large-scale business disruption.

Germ spreaders

Let’s be honest, we don’t want sick people trooping their germs through the office and infecting everyone else. This is a real workplace health and safety issue, not only for the rest of the team but for the individual themselves. They will probably take longer to recover and be less productive too. Send them home!

Have a good supply of hand wipes

Think how many germs there are on mobile phones and microwaves. Keyboards and door handles can be just as bad too, so good hygiene is essential. Ideally we would all avoid crowded places, but for most people that’s impractical. Regular washing of hands or using hand wipes can help.

Take real flu seriously

We have all joked about man flu, but how can you tell if it’s a bad cold or the real flu?

Colds tend to come on gradually, but flu symptoms have a sudden onset. Therefore staff suddenly experiencing a headache, temperature, sore throat or coughing need to go home and stay there.

We’ve previously blogged about when you might think someone is chucking a sickie, but how can you help those who are genuinely ill? Booking in a “return to work” meeting when they’re back is often beneficial. Try to make sure the work is not stacking up in their absence by encouraging the team to plug the gaps and deal with issues that arise.

Keep a box of tissues handy

The old saying “coughs and sneezes spread diseases” still holds true. Providing tissues for people to sneeze into rather than spreading their germs far and wide is a good idea – but make sure they bin them!

A sickness policy is essential

Whether it’s man flu or a broken leg, make sure there’s a policy and procedure for reporting and recording absence – and that all your staff know about it! Also make sure that they know when evidence will be required if they take a sick day.

If no policy or procedure is in place, or you would like a free review of your existing one, call your local HR Dept.

Paws for thought

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The benefits of allowing staff to bring their pets to work is well documented and proven. As long as no one is allergic to them and the pets (usually dogs, but not always) are safe and well behaved, everyone gains. It could even be a deciding factor in staff retention — after all, who wouldn’t want their best friend sat next to them at work?

One area that’s often overlooked, is how do these pets get to work?  Great if the employee lives a walkable distance from the office, but what about those travelling from further afield? And what happens during the day if their owners need to travel to appointments, particularly in company vehicles?

Clunk, click every trip?

On a sunny day we have probably all smiled at the cute dog with its head stuck out of the car window enjoying the breeze, but no one would dream of driving with an unsecured child — because it’s dangerous and illegal. In a recent study by a leading low-cost car insurance provider, more than 1,000 motorists across Australia were asked if they secure their pets when travelling in a motor vehicle. In each Australian state, less than half of those questioned said they do.

It’s easy to forget that a pet moving around the vehicle or barking, can be a huge distraction. And if the driver breaks suddenly, they would be hurled like a missile and possibly seriously injured.

Protect yourself and your pets

For each state in Australia the road rules for travelling with pets differs. Carelessly driving with a pet on your lap or an unrestrained pet could lead to a range of penalties and fines for unsafe driving.  But perhaps even worse, if you’re involved in an accident which has been caused by a pet, this could invalidate your insurance.

So the company “bring your pet to work” policy needs to go further than looking at the office, the types of pets allowed (we might be tempted to pull a sickie if we had to share our work space with a snake!) and team agreement — it should also extend to travel. If you need help putting this into practice, do call The HR Dept. As well as preventing people problems, we also prevent pet problems!


What’s the real cost of hiring an HR contractor?

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Written by Tegan Rose, HR Dept Ringwood

Your people represent a huge proportion of your business expenses. How much of your hard-earned revenue is spent on paying the people who work for you? And how much do you value the work they do? What if they’re not performing at their best? Or aren’t turning up for work when they’re supposed to? Or just not fitting into the team and culture of your business? What does this do to your bottom line?

You could be spending lots of your hard-earned money paying people who aren’t really contributing to the businesses success or revenue. Worse still, what if something goes wrong? Despite your best efforts to resolve things nicely, you find yourself fronting up to the Fair Work Commission for your employment sins. There’s a whole load of dollars, some collateral damage and your precious company reputation walking out the door right there.

That’s expensive.  It’s frustrating and it could lead to your dreams for your business heading south.

What if you could prevent this from happening? What if you could have a kind of insurance policy to protect you from the pitfalls and frustrations that can come along with employing people? Spending some of your money on the ‘people’ stuff –  the structure, systems, processes and practices to prevent these problems suddenly seems a little more palatable, even sensible.

That’s where HR Dept comes in. That’s where we can help out. Make those payroll dollars work for you, get your people performing at their best, enjoying what they do and working alongside you in pursuit of that dream. But just like any well-oiled machine that’s being regularly serviced and upgraded, your people need attention too. You need to invest in them, and in return their efforts will lead to the success you’re after, and result in those dreams becoming your reality. You can’t afford not to.

What business owners can learn from Australia’s cheating cricketers.

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So much has already been written about the ball-tampering scandal that has hit Cricket Australia. But what could business owners learn from this?

Expectations of staff should be set from the top that projects and tasks will be completed on-time, and to a high level to meet your company goals. But what if there was a perception from the team that these targets should be met no matter what? That the ends justify the means.

The ruinous impact of ruthless competitiveness

In sport, psychologists talk about the ruinous impact of ruthless competitiveness, whereby winning matters above all else. This is exactly what took hold in the Australian cricket team, where the desire to gain a competitive advantage against South Africa led to the hatching of the unethical plan. The final version of events will be confirmed in time, but it appears the ball tampering tactics were devised by the leadership team of captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner, and that they influenced a junior player to carry them out.

It all unravelled and the three individuals concerned have been severely punished as well as facing the wrath of the wider public. There has been a sense of national shame with many, many questions asked about how this was considered an acceptable way of winning.

Setting the right expectations within businesses

Let’s look at this from a business perspective. The owner and senior managers set the expectations, and the managers work with their teams to meet them. If the culture and values are not right and the expectations are unachievable, businesses are risking bad behaviour taking seed. The same is true if there are extreme penalties for not meeting expectations.

Un-diverse, small and closed-shop leadership teams can be subject to damaging group-think, whereby bad ideas go unchallenged. An unhealthy team culture may mean that team members feel they must be deferential to their manager’s instruction – even if they know it is wrong. What if one of your staff wanted to speak out or whistle-blow about unethical team practices or management expectations? Do you have the right policies and procedures in place and the culture to be able to deal with it?

Business owners should be wary of putting too much pressure on their team through unachievable targets or penalties that invite stretching of the rules or bad behaviour. It is worth pausing to consider whether all your team know and live by your values. Are you accessible so that even the most junior person within your organisation knows that they can report bad practice by managers without fear?

Expert help with management culture

Getting this culture right, along with the correct structural policies and procedures, can be a challenge for any business. But, as events from the world of cricket have shown, it is arguable that you can’t afford not to try.  Professional, external advice can be extremely helpful here, adding vital perspective. To discuss how we can help with this, speak to your local HR Dept adviser.

Why bullying needs to be banished from the workplace

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Workplace bullying can have a devastating impact on the individual and erode your organisation’s culture. It is a risk to health and safety because it may affect the mental and physical health of workers.

There is no place for bullying behaviour at work and organisations must take responsibility for stamping it out or face the consequences. With the current spotlight firmly on harassment in the workplace, this is a real risk area for business owners if not taken seriously.

The cost of bullying

It can be easy to think of bullying as a bit of ‘banter’ between colleagues. And that it’s not for the boss to break it up. But it can have a huge negative impact on individuals, the team and the organisation as a whole.

Bullying costs businesses $A32bn a year in lost productivity, turnover and disruption. In addition, it causes delays in projects, a hostile working environment and a drop in morale. Staff with lower engagement have approximately 12% more days off than those with higher engagement levels.

Despite anti-bullying policies being widespread, the problem is becoming worse, not better. In 1998, managers in 7% of workplaces reported grievances raised concerning bullying. This rose to 8% in 2004, and to 11% in 2011.

What is the impact?

A staff member who’s being bullied can dread coming in every morning. They can feel overwhelmed, less motivated, hopeless and depressed.

Bullying is never acceptable in the workplace. As well as the impact on individuals, it can cause issues such as:

  • Poor morale and employee relations
  • Loss of respect for managers and supervisors
  • Reduced performance and productivity
  • An increase in absenteeism
  • Higher staff turnover
  • Damage to your company’s reputation

Bullying and the law

Workplace bullying is considered a health and safety risk. Failure to try and prevent workplace bullying can result in a breach of work health and safety legislation. Failure to try and prevent workplace bullying can result in a breach of work health and safety legislation.

In some circumstances, an order to prevent or stop a worker being bullied can be made under the Fair Work Act 2009. The Australian Human Rights Commission can investigate complaints of bullying based on a person’s sex, disability, race, age, criminal record, trade union activity, political opinion, religion or social origin. There are far reaching implications for businesses who do not take action to prevent and tackle bullying at work.

Stamp it out

So what should you do? Have a policy in place. Make sure staff receive regular training on the anti-bullying policy so everyone knows and understands it. This should be supported by clear procedures for dealing with grievance and disciplinary matters in a handbook. This will ensure staff know what the consequences are and that it could be dismissal. It needs to be acted upon consistently, and your managers will need support in this.

Management action that is not carried out in a reasonable way may be considered bullying. But proper performance management, expectations that your employees meet their goals and that they shoulder their responsibilities is not bullying. Whilst we support employers in dealing with and standing up to real bullying in the workplace, we are a little fed up with the cries of bullying when poor performance is challenged.

Training managers on how to spot bullying and root it out can improve their management style. It can help them be the flag-bearer for challenging bullying and building a culture where it’s not tolerated.

Need a hand?

Bullying can be a very emotive issue. Sometimes it can be hard to work out where to start in changing a culture and challenging the behaviour. Get in touch with The HR Dept for a chat about how we can help you reduce bullying and staff turnover in your business.