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Why are Christmas Parties Important?

It is one of those things we do annually because it is expected. Employers are expected to arrange them and to a lesser extent employees are expected to turn out for them. The level of awkwardness involved in the entire process comes down to whether a good working environment exists. If one does then it is the perfect opportunity to bond and relax away from work, an occasion where you can truly get to know your colleagues. If not then some people will be measuring what they drink and observing the proceedings while others will be getting hammered and saying more than they would ideally of wanted to.

So is your work place a happy place? Can you go out and let your hair down without worrying what your manager thinks or feeling isolated from your work colleagues. The best places to work have the best Christmas dos. ABC Accounting Services is no exception so when we all went out on Friday night we let our hair down, had a good laugh and told each other how brill we all are. That’s what you are meant to do. Here is what to look for in a Christmas party that means you have nailed it!

1. Laughter

There should be an abundance of laughter at other people, at each other and at yourselves. Not malicious though of course!

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2. Alcohol

Not an essential element for most people it does help step over that threshold out of work and into play mode.

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3. Photo Opportunities

It is a great opportunity to get lots of material for social media if everyone is willing and you can have a right laugh at some of the shots taken on the night, especially on the following morning.

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4. Frivolous fun

You are serious all day long everyday. Let your guard down and show people that you can have a giggle and be silly if you want to. Being able to chill and act daft is actually a huge stress buster.

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5. Exceptional or exceptionally bad entertainment

It doesn’t really matter if the entertainment is bad because you can laugh at them. It is nicer if you are laughing with them but both options are workable.

6. Going Out Clothes

For those who work in suits and dresses all day it is an excellent opportunity to get glammed up and strut your stuff on the social scene. You never know what people look like until they let their hair down and dress to impress!

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7. Chatting and dancing

When you are not laughing and taking pictures people should be talking and entertaining each other. There should be mingling and dancing and lots of banter.

8.Selfie

It wouldn’t really be a Christmas do without a selfie – would it? The perfect moment for Belinda, Shell and Dana popped up as they were leaving the loo! Just done your make-up ladies?

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The whole point is to wander off the beaten track and see where it lands you. Admittedly you do not want to puke on your boss or call them anything they may realise you mean. But, for those working in a positive and content working environment there is no risk of that because they respect their boss (es) and are old enough to know their drinking limits. Go out there and embrace the opportunity to have a laugh with people you spend a hell of a lot of time with. It’s Christmas – be merry and have fun!

We did!

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When Social Media United a Community

When one of ABC Accounting Services employees dog went missing a chain of events took place that amazed everyone involved to this day. I would probably go as far to say that they bring a tear the eye of everyone who felt the anguish the dog’s owners went through while their little westipoo was out in the dark on its own.

Ollie went missing on Friday 20th Dec 2013 so as we approach the anniversary of that date we felt a post about the power of social media, festive and community spirit and dogged determination was appropriate.

Dana, who works for ABC is Ollie (the dogs) owner. Her partner was involved in car accident on the dual carriageway just up from Corringham Road Industrial Estate (Where ABC is located) on the 20th Dec. Belinda, the boss of ABC, went to the scene to check that everyone was OK…I will let Dana tell the rest of the story in her own words!

“Belinda shot back to the office where she posted it all over Facebook / Twitter etc.

At about 9pm when I came back from hospital there were so many people out looking for the dog it was crazy… people were climbing in ditches, through muddy fields looking for him. Even strangers were asking me if I’d seen Ollie the black westipoo.

Saturday we all went out searching again. There had been a sighting of him on a farm just off of dual carriageway, we had clients searching with us… we were all up to our knees in mud searching this farm.

Belinda’s Facebook post had reached so many people that a page was even set up (by someone I don’t know) “Help find missing westipoo Ollie” which is now called “Lost & found pets in and around Gainsborough” and is still used for other missing animals to this day.

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We posted on Facebook that we had someone from the Dog lost charity meeting us on the Sunday & were going to do a search through 3 different routes. At 9.30am on Sunday morning we met at the layby near Lincs Otter… I can’t tell you how many people were there – all I can tell you is I looked up and burst into tears as I was so overwhelmed by how many people were there – a lot of them strangers to me.

We finally found him at lunch time on the Sunday after he had been missing for one day and a half and two nights. Those were the longest nights of my life thinking of him out there all on his own. He trotted up like there was nothing wrong with him. He stuffed his face with bacon, sausages & treats that all the searchers had brought to entice him out of his hiding place. Everybody else around me was in floods of tears but I was stood there smiling and not crying! I had probably spent all the tears and I finally had my boy back.

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The story on Facebook was seen by people at BBC Lincolnshire and Lincolnshire Echo. On Monday 23rd Dec the famous Ollie came to the ABC offices to be interviewed (well I was) and pictured by Lincolnshire Echo! The write up went in the Boxing day issue.

BBC Lincolnshire did a telephone interview that was aired & they also did a website write up on the local page which had that many hits it bumped up to the national page! All because of Facebook & Community Xmas spirit. I don’t think that story will ever fail to make me smile and cry the odd tear of joy at what was the perfect ending to a very traumatic experience.

ABC and Belinda are very social media savvy and without that quick thinking and perseverance I honestly don’t know what the outcome could have been. So to everyone that helped on the day, for everyone that shared the posts and kept the story viral, for the supportive team at ABC, my loving and quite possibly invincible family, my man, and the festive spirit that mobilised a large part of Gainsborough Town – Thank you – from the bottom of my heart. You were all truly amazing and Ollie thanks you from the bottom of his little heart too!

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Top Business Takeaways from the Autumn Statement

George Osborne delivered the Autumn statement today and besides comparing Ed Miliband to Wallace or Gromit (I choose to forget the details) he also managed to deliver some adult subject matter too!

Here is our roundup of the key business takeaways. Enjoy!

Just click the link to go to our PDF summary: TOP TAKEAWAYS OF THE AUTUMN STATEMENT. (1)

Or, browse the images below:

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Are Your Employees Happy at Work?

It is the time of year for high morale in many work places, possibly with the exception of retail where employees face working over the holiday season. There is a certain joy in the air because time off work, celebration and the giving and receiving of presents approaches. This is quickly followed by the anti-climax and sadness felt at the return to work in the New Year.

The question is do employers do enough the year through to keep their employees happy or are they that stressed and overworked themselves that they forget to appreciate the team they have? It is a tough balance marrying targets and expectations with appreciation and recognition. Far too many get it wrong and phrases like these are banded around – particularly at middle management levels where they receive stress from both sides:

‘They should be grateful to have a job’

‘When I was doing their job it was twice as hard as it is now’

‘If they don’t like it – get another job’

But, the solution is far simpler than most imagine and just takes a few acts of kindness and appreciation. A happy workforce is far more productive and far more likely to go out of their way to surprise you by putting in above and beyond what is expected of them!

Firstly, forget about raises and big bonuses, there are much simpler and cheaper alternatives to keep your employees happy. If you are serious about business then you have to be serious about thinking creatively to keep hold of happy employees. Here are a few ideas you can try:

Offer room for them to grow into

When employees hit a wall they quickly become disillusioned with their work. If they continue to come to a job that does not inspire, stretch or excite them they are unlikely to be happy. Employees need to see an opportunity for advancement. Ideally, that opportunity will be seen as attainable so they have a real chance to progress their talents, be promoted or learn a new skill. These are all positive, happiness boosting targets to have.

Providing training opportunities and career mentoring also show your employees that you care about whether they feel fulfilled at work. They feel valued and supported which are often rare qualities to have in your job in an increasingly competitive and sales driven world.

Offer solid training

Initial training as employees enter their new role can be essential for future success and happiness in that role. Empowering them on day one so that they feel like a capable member of the team, rather than the person who is dreading the possibility of making a mistake and displeasing their new employer, can be immensely important.

Strong orientation and training on entry is far more likely to encourage engagement between employees.

Offer small bonuses

Bonuses do not have to be big to make a powerful impact. If an employee knows you are going out of your way to offer them a bonus they will feel valued. Bonuses increase loyalty because they confirm to the employee that their role is valued and at base that you are aware they exist and are working hard at their job.

Avoiding offering bonuses just because you cannot give them something substantial is making an assumption that most employees would not fit into to. No bonus sends the message that they are not noted and that you are not prepared to reward hard work. Choosing to reward your employees will only draw out their best performances and increase their loyalty.

Offer autonomy

Autonomy is a huge plus because it tells employees that they are trusted to do their job. This is one of the key elements of a happy worker. It is also the distinction between a talented employee and one that may be in the wrong role or in need of structured training. Handing autonomy to an employee makes them more productive because they do not have to keep having their work checked and approved. You will also see creativity and intuition bubble to the surface as they approach tasks in their own way.

Create the perfect office environment

This is an obvious one but unsurprisingly employees are happiest when they like their working environment. Little things like keeping meetings short and to the point, playing background music and allowing flexible breaks can make all the difference. So too can personalised work spaces (screen savers, a picture or poster on their desk, a coloured chair) and comfortable chairs, desk heights and decent broadband!

Make sure you have a communicative work space where employees are not frightened to come forward with questions and comments. Workers will feel far happier at work if they think their opinion matters and their issues can be aired without judgement.

Allow employees to work from home from time to time

If this is possible it can be a big bonus for you and your employees. The ability to work from home can cut down sick leave and once again reinforces the fact that you trust and respect your employees. Working from home is a huge incentive because it is perceived as a massive treat. Extending the ability to employees to request this will guarantee high productivity levels whether they are in the office or at home. Because you have extended these values to them they will respect you and the company ethos in return.

Allow workers to focus on their jobs

Workers cannot give their all if they keep being pulled off a job and spend their day responding to what you feel is a priority. They will manage their workload in a way that suits them so respect them enough to fit into their schedule. There will always be important tasks that come up and you are guaranteed your employees full attention if you do not bombard them daily. Constant interruption can be a hugely demoralising factor because you are constantly telling them that their schedule is less important than yours. Their jobs are not as important as the ones you come to them with.

Try and restrict pointless emails and instead compile one that ums up everything you need to tell them. This is far more managed and less time consuming for the recipient. Employees will be tons happier if they can focus on what they deem is important because that is empowering and also where creativity and talent can come into its own!

Extend workers balance in their lives

The work life and home life balance can become an incredibly grey area. If you offer your employees clarity and operate with full transparency they will respect you for it. Give employees the ability to switch off from their work when they leave the building. Allow dentist and doctor appointments without hassle. Ask them for overtime and explain why it is crucial because a blanket ‘I want you all in – no excuses’ just frustrates and belittles them.

If you are fair they will work hard when you need a little extra from them. When life gets in the way allow them some personal time and they will be eternally grateful for your compassion. There is always a line but a touch of humanity has a place in every business.

Give a break for Facebook and other activities

The social media pull is great in the 21st century. Make sure you allow workers short breaks to check their phones, browse their Facebook pages and be sociable. If you permit breaks to happen naturally throughout the day they will never feel he need to smuggle their phones into toilets, text out of a drawer or hide their Facebook tab on their desktop. Think of the time they could burn trying to have a quick glance of their feed as people keep walking past. Far easier just to permit short breaks and bring the national obsession into the open!

Conclusion

It doesn’t take a lot to show you care. Showing you care makes employees happy because it doesn’t take them long to start doubting their efforts. Employees should feel valued and appreciated. Yes, they could change jobs if they are not happy but do you really want one of your legacies to be a high turnover of staff? How you and your business is perceived and maybe even goes down in history will have a lot to do with what your workers say about you.

A successful business is full of motivated and happy employees. As they grow bigger and bigger employees further down the chain of command tend to get less and less satisfaction in their roles. Make your employees happy because it will feel good, they will show you what true loyalty can look like, and they may even surprise you with their hidden talents and tenacity because you stopped to notice them and acknowledge their needs.

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50% of Women May Choose Career over Children

This is an increasingly relevant debate because women continue to make in-roads into a once very masculine world of work. They are forging successful and extremely relevant careers across a broad spectrum of professions including medicine, management, accounting, PR, sales, and as entrepreneurs of course! Those are just a few industries where women are an integral part of the working landscape. But what happens to their careers when they choose to have children?

It is a quandary that gives many women sleepless nights – but why?

In October 2014 Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) conducted a survey of 2,000 women – half with children and half without – to learn how they felt about motherhood in relation to their career.Their findings were that 67% of women are concerned by the impact that having and raising children can have on their careers. (Source) Half said they would certainly consider remaining childless as a result of this concern.

They summarised their other findings in this very informative infographic:

Infographic on women's careers and pregnancy

Source: AAT

If this is something that is affecting you then take a look at the support you will receive if you decide to balance career with children. It is not an easy task but it is certainly possible and many women successfully balance parenthood with an illustrious career. There is no right or wrong answer for raising a child but if 50% are worried about losing a secure job then it helps to have all the facts.

Here is what you will need to know about tax credits, vouchers, maternity and paternity leave.

Tax Credits

Many people presume wrongly that tax credits are for the unemployed. They are there to help with childcare for people who need to work. The Childcare Tax Credit is designed to help working parents cover some of the cost, so that they are better off at work rather than working just to cover childcare costs.

The money available can be extensive so it’s crucial to check if you’re eligible. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of families missing out. To hone the point further the average childcare tax credit payout is around £60 per week – that is over £3,000 a year.

The official name for the widely recognised Childcare Tax Credit is in fact Childcare Element of Working Tax Credit. There is one draw back – the entitlement system and eligibility criteria are extremely complex and vary depending on the number of kids you have. The following guide is a good starting point.

To qualify for childcare tax credit you must:

  •  Be a single parent working 16+ hours a week, or
  • Be in a couple both working 16+ hours a week

If these points apply to you then your total household income must be under £41,000 to qualify. If this is you then you should check your entitlement here: https://www.gov.uk/childcare-tax-credits/eligibility

There have been exceptions where those with household income above £41,000 have been eligible.

Childcare Vouchers

Chilcare vouchers are offered via employers and there are a lot of small and larger companies taking part in the scheme. They can save parents with children up to the age of 15 over £1,000 a year on childcare.

These vouchers help you pay for childcare out of your pre-tax and National Insurance income. Generally, employers work it on a salary sacrifice system which looks like the following (basic rate tax example):

You give up £1,000 of salary, worth £700ish in your pocket after tax. You get £1,000 of Childcare vouchers. This means you’re £300 better off per grand (Source)

Your normal salary resumes once you do not need the childcare benefit. Both parents (if basic rate tax payers or higher/top payers who joined the scheme before 5 Apr 2011) are allowed to get a maximum of £243 per month worth of vouchers.

“From 6 Apr 2011 new joiners paying higher or top rate tax had their allowance dropped so that all tax payers have roughly the same maximum tax gain. From April 2013 the limits are £28 a week for higher rate and £25 a week for top rate payers” (Source)

There is a new tax-free childcare scheme set to come in Autumn 2015 which will replace the existing programme. This scheme will be available to everyone who works more than eight hours a week and earns more than £2,420 a yearand pay for childcare. The new scheme will be open to the self-employed too.

There are huge benefits with the new programme – 20% of their yearly childcare costs (up to £10,000 per child) will be paid for by the Government.

BEWARE when you access childcare vouchers this can have an impact on your tax credit eligibility. What this means is:

“The more you pay in childcare, the more tax credit you’re eligible for, but any amount you pay in vouchers doesn’t count towards that. For example, if you pay £100 a week for childcare, but use £60 of vouchers, for tax credit purposes you’re only spending £40 a week on childcare, so it’s this figure you must enter on your Tax Credit claim form.” (Source)

Make sure you notify the tax credit office within a month of claiming childcare vouchers. You can be fined if these changes are not taken into account. Transparency is always the best policy for a smooth process.

To calculate your eligibility for childcare vouchers take a look at HMRC’s page: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/calcs/ccin.htm.

Maternity & Paternity

To qualify for Statutory Maternity Leave:

  • you’re an employee not a ‘worker’
  • you give your employer the correct notice

How long you’ve been with your employer, how many hours you work, or how much you get paid do not have a bearing on your eligibility provided you earn at least £111 a week.

To qualify for SMP you must:

  • give the correct notice
  • give proof you’re pregnant
  • have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks up to the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth
  • Work out your qualifying week using the maternity pay calculator.

You can’t get SMP if you go into police custody during your maternity pay period. It will only restart when you’re discharged.

To qualify for Statutory Paternity Pay you must be taking time off to look after the child and be:

  • the father
  • the husband or partner of the mother (or adopter)
  • the child’s adopter

For ordinary paternity pay you must:

  • be an employee
  • have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (known as the ‘qualifying week’)
  • give the correct notice

Additional Paternity pay requires the mother to have qualified for:

  • Statutory Maternity Leave or Pay
  • Maternity Allowance
  • Statutory Adoption Leave or Pay

They must have returned to work and no longer be getting any of the above.

As the father you must:

  • have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (known as the ‘qualifying week’)
  • still be employed by your employer the week (Saturday to Sunday) before your leave or pay starts
  • earn on average at least £111 a week (before tax)
  • confirm the start and end dates of your partner’s leave
  • confirm your partner has at least 2 weeks left of their maternity or adoption pay (Additional Statutory Paternity Pay only)
  • give the correct notice

You’ll only be able to take Additional Paternity Leave before 4 April 2015. You may be eligible for Shared Parental Leave and Pay if your baby is due on or after 5 April 2015. (Source)

Use GOV.UK to calculate your maternity and paternity here: https://www.gov.uk/maternity-paternity-calculator

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Are degrees a false economy?

It is what every student aspires to. They go through school with the single goal of gaining entry to college and then when at college their ambitions revolve around a University place. The academic path is a noble, somewhat traditional and prestigious path – but what will it amount to?

When students graduate they often enter a stark reality. They do not step foot into the promised land of jobs, realised dreams and natural vocations. Having slogged through three years of heavy theory, critical practical and…something that resembles a mental military camp they leave with an uncanny ability to question every single chain or thought and perspective in meticulous detail. But to what end? Are these skills actually transferable?

These are often passionately debated questions. Essentially, we are pitching vocational qualifications against degrees, more specifically against traditional degrees like English, History or Foreign Languages. There are perks to both paths but there is increasing evidence these days that the degree route is less respected and idly believed in than in past years.

A recent survey carried out on over 3500 parents, commissioned by the Edge Foundation and the City & Guilds Group revealed some sobering truths. It is easy to blame pressure on students to attend University on their parents but this is increasingly not the case. The survey found that:

“only 8% feel that studying for a history degree at university would make a graduate ‘very employable’ in the current job market.

Less than a quarter (22%) of parents said that an English degree would put a young person in the ‘very employable’ category, with a third (33%) saying the same about a foreign language degree.

In comparison, well over half (57%) of respondents rated a young person with a plumbing qualification or apprenticeship as being ‘very employable’ – higher than both a law degree (53%) and a science degree (52%).

Other vocational qualifications rated highly by parents for employability in the current job market include:  IT (51%), accountancy (44%), automotive engineering (44%) and construction (43%).” (Source)

So, are we entering a vocational qualification era? It feels like a positive move and a much needed shift in the landscape of our aspiring youth and their relationship with employment. The prospects provided by vocational qualifications easily match and sometimes even excel those associated with degrees.

Student undergoing a vocational qualification

There is an office full of accountants at ABC Accounting Services that would each recommend apprenticeships as the sure fire way of entering the profession of accounting. Vocational qualifications quickly submerge you in the atmosphere and environment of your career of choice. Within weeks trainees have a good idea of whether they have selected the right career for them and if they haven’t they may have to be patient before changing paths but they will not be saddled with excessive tuition fees.

Vocational qualifications are not cheap but they are far more realistic in the grand scale of things and you are working while you train so there is an opportunity to pay off fees while you study towards your end goals. This is far harder at University so at the age of 21 a student will leave with a minimum £27,000 student loan. It isn’t the most heart-warming venture to start your life in debt.

The survey also highlighted another interesting contradiction. Parents hope their children will achieve good GCSEs and A Levels because these are the ones that they know most about.

“There is a disconnect between what parents know about employability and what they feel is the best for their children in terms of academic achievement.” (Source)

There is still an odd pull on parents to champion the traditional route. Perhaps that is rooted in the pride of seeing your child gowned up and marching onto stage to accept their degree. There is something noble and prestigious in that still. The heritage of certain institutions holds a lot of sway and society still admires academics in a way that those who secure vocational qualifications will never know.

Students graduating

But why? There are thousands, tens of thousands, of academics who are taking any work they can get because they have not yet secured that job, found that lucky break, and realised the ambitions that took them to University in the first place. They are frustrated and lost in a world that promised them everything and delivered nothing in return, except debt and broken dreams.

Of course, this is not always the case but it is frequent enough to raise doubts. The vocational qualification delivers you straight into your job, there are exceptions, but that is pretty much the guarantee of apprenticeships. The plumbers, accountants, mechanics and IT technicians are the people we need daily. We rely on them. Some vocational qualifications receive the same gown and applause treatment these days but society is still catching up with the significance of that.

It may be time to ditch the façade and recognise where the real value of employment lies. There has to be a job available at the end of the course, whatever that may be. Picking the perfect profession is a cleverly marketed dream if there are no vacancies at this time, or at any time in the future!

Degrees are not false economy but some of the beliefs and dreams that encourage students onto them may well be. This is not an attack on creativity, impulsive decisions and freedom of expression – that is a student’s God given right! But, I would advise all parents and students to keep their eye on one thing as they follow their heart – where are the jobs?

Career path image and road sign

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