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Improving vital "soft skills" in the modern workplace

Seminars: Paul Loftus

Industrial psychologist Paul Loftus intends to impart valuable knowledge and training for company secretaries and administrative assistants when he brings three seminars to Bermuda in September aimed at helping companies improve important "soft skills" within their organisations.

Absenteeism, professional development and interpersonal skills are the subject matter of the seminars the Montreal-based management development consultant has lined up for his visit to the Island.

The internationally-known speaker has been providing the latest information and teachings on improving organisations and employee performance since the early 1980s, and he has been coming to Bermuda for the past 15 years.

He is looking at the role of administrative assistants, formerly known as secretaries, and how they interact within companies.

"The training of secretaries and administrative assistants has been quite neglected. They have technical skills, such as doing Internet research, ordering supplies, preparing powerpoint presentations," explained Mr. Loftus.

"I teach personal development management skills, which are becoming more important."

One of his three planned seminars in Bermuda looks at how to reduce absenteeism.

He said: "There is a relationship between tardiness and (staff) turnover. People start upsetting themselves and leaving. If nothing is done about absenteeism the behaviour is effectively 'reinforced' by the organisation and the person will keep doing it.

"It can also be protest behaviour indicating that something is not right, perhaps poor supervision or there is sexual harrassment at work. There are hidden causes of absenteeism. People say they are sick and take one day off, but in 70 percent of cases it is not true."

In his seminar, Mr. Loftus looks at solutions. One of these is counselling and finding ways a company's culture can reinforce positive behaviour rather than only punish negative behaviour.

"Give people recognition for good attendance. Let them know that they are appreciated," he said.

"Yes, there will be problem people and they can be dealt with either positively or negatively. But we have to be aware that we can actually be rewarding a behaviour we are trying to discourage."

A person who is deliberately absent is rewarding themselves by doing something more enjoyable than work, at the same time they are still being paid for the day(s) they are off work.

Solutions include forcing an employee who is calling in to report they will be absent to speak directly to their line manager rather than leave a message with someone else. Employees can be required to see a company doctor to verify a sickness, and they can face loss of pay for absenteeism.

Positive moves a company may use include the use of a degree of flexi-time so that staff who, for instance, may be feeling hungover from a night out can take a few extra hours off in the morning to recover and then work their contracted hours later. A company might also offer incentives to those who maintain a good work record, such as giving membership to a health club.

Another "soft skill" Mr. Loftus intends to look at with his seminars is professional development. One aspect of this is the difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness at work.

"People use the word aggressiveness too loosely. A person can be assertive towards there work - they are assertive with respect of other people's rights as well as their own rights.

"You can also have passive people who do not stand up for their rights and end up dissatisfied. If a person has low self-esteem they are likely to be passive and can eventually suffer illness."

The happy medium between aggressiveness and passiveness is assertiveness, said Mr. Loftus.

His third seminar looks at interpersonal skills, those "soft skills" that are increasingly important for administrative assistants when it comes to conflict resolution.

"We are told that conflict is a no-no, but infact it is fact of life. We have to learn how to deal with it, and there are five different ways. There is competing (forcing our own way), there is collaborating, there is compromise (where we may not be happy and neither is the other person), there is avoiding and there is accommodating where everything is simply smoothed over," explains Mr. Loftus.

He adds: "Although there are appropriate times when each of these can be used, collaborating is the only real solution as that is where we try to come up with a creative solution."

Mr. Loftus intends to present his three seminars in Bermuda in mid-September. To find out more or to book a place contact the Bermuda Employers' Council on 295-5070. Mr. Loftus' web site is at www.paulloftus.com