SME Agony Uncle; Bobby served up a spot of inspiration from tennis star Venus Williams


Each week broadcaster, entrepreneur and agony uncle Bobby Kerr joins The Hard Shoulder to answer all your employment-related questions.

Bobby served up a spot of inspiration from tennis star Venus Williams to get the juices flowing this week - a woman whose accomplishments on the court are mirrored by her successful business ventures.

Williams has built that success around having the confidence to follow through on what she believes is best for her business and never taking on more than she can handle.

She also points to the need to cultivate a positive work environment that nurtures confidence and creativity - something that seems sorely lacking at our first listener’s workplace.

Elaine in the north-west received a “somewhat abusive” email from her boss at 2am last Sunday night.

He complained about my attitude and the fact that I wasn't a team player. There were spelling mistakes in the email and I suspect he was drunk when he wrote it. Two weeks have gone by and there has been no mention of it. I am wondering should I confront him about it? Or does he even remember it?

Bobby’s take here is that Elaine’s boss has “done a very stupid thing” and if the mail is as abusive as she says - the evidence is right there in black and white.

“If I was Elaine, I would have that email looked at by somebody else,” says Bobby. “Maybe somebody who is not that close to the situation, somebody that she can talk to in confidence.”

“If she wants to take it further the choice is probably there.”

On the other hand however, she needs to decide whether she really wants to open up that can of worms if all appears to have all been forgotten.

“I don’t know the exact content of what is in the email," says Bobby. "But if it is serious enough in terms of its content, I would take it a stage further and I would deal with it.”

I was thinking of buying a food truck doing speciality foods for takeaway at farmers markets. Any thoughts on the pros and cons of such a business? - Mairead in Galway.

While opening up a new business with nobody to answer to has undoubted appeal, Bobby cautions that with long, unsocial hours, the food game is not for everybody.

Mairead will need to cultivate contacts and break down some doors to get herself into the better markets - but when she does she will have a business to call her own.

“I would say if it is a food truck, come up with something different,” says Bobby. “Come up with something innovative; come up with something that sets you apart from the guy beside you.”

The food business is also heavily regulated and Mairead can expect routine visits from Environmental Health Officers - and the Revenue.

“It is no longer the type of business that you might be doing on the side or as a nixer or on the weekends,” says Bobby. “It is a business and if you are in it, you need to be in it properly.”

Hi Bobby, I work in an accommodation centre and I currently work my full week over three 12-hour days. We are currently reviewing all our HR practices and I am worried about my break times.

The job requires a person to be here during meal times which essentially means I can’t leave. I eat my breakfast and lunch here on the job. Will my break times be deducted and my hours reduced? I am worried - Rachel.

The simple answer here is no.

“You have particular entitlements to breaks and meal breaks that are statutory,” says Bobby. “The fact that Rachel works her three 12-hour days is irrelevant really.”

All workers are legally entitled to a 15 minute break after four-and-a-half hour's work, with a 30 minute break after six hours.

“I think if it is a situation where an employer is not granting breaks, it won’t be long coming to the relevant authority because the employees will go there - and they will go there en masse - and they will rat him out,” says Bobby.

“Again like all the other things we live in a world now where this kind of thing is not tolerated.”

Dennis in Dublin, our next listener, sold a 20% stake in his business during the recession as he was struggling to raise the finance to expand.

The investor got a seat on the board as part of his investment and everything was fine for the first two years.

Now we are thriving as a business but myself and this non-executive director can’t agree on anything. We don’t have shareholders agreement and I feel his input is damaging the overall business that I still own 80% of. Any thoughts?

While this investor only owns 20% of the business - short of the 25% threshold - he is not in the strongest of positions, however Dennis still has to observe due process.

“Good fences make good neighbours,” says Bobby. “There really should have been a shareholders agreement in place because that legislates for various things.”

“If I was the 80% shareholder I would suggest putting one in now and it can be put in to his advantage.

“He can probably get rid of the 20% shareholder with relative ease I would have thought.”

The minority shareholder does still hold certain rights however and at the end of the day, “this is something that will have to be resolved by negotiation.”

You can listen back to all of Bobby’s employment advice from Tuesday’s The Hard Shoulder here:

If you have a business or SME related query you would like answered - you can get in touch with Bobby each week by simply sending a short mail to [email protected] 

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