Staffordshire Business School – Research update

Staffordshire Business School aspires to be a leader in making a real impact on business and society through research and innovation. Our team have successfully delivered many industry/business and government funded research projects and have extensive experience of leading large team projects including local, UK, EU and internationally funded projects. Many of our team members combine rich industry and practitioner experience with academic rigour in conducting world-leading research in the areas of entrepreneurship and innovation, digital transformation, environmental health etc. Here are some of the exciting research projects that researchers at Business School have been doing:


Austerity, Welfare and Work: Exploring Politics, Geographies and Inequalities

In his new book, Prof David Etherington provides bold and fresh perspectives on the link between welfare policy and employment relations as he assesses their fundamental impact on social inequalities. Drawing on international and national case studies, the book reviews developments, including rising job insecurity, low pay and geographical inequalities.

Environmental health inequalities resource package

Prof Jon Fairburn is the lead author of a recent World Health Organization publication. The publication is aimed at local, regional and national policy makers hoping to improve environmental health especially for deprived and other groups. Jon has been collaborating with WHO for over 10 years on this subject.

Covid-19 and Smart Cities – What’s Changed? Getting ahead of the Game

Prof Fang Zhao and her team have been conducting research and analysis of a range of changing scenarios of smart cities in post-Covid-19 and pinpoint the opportunities and challenges for businesses, city councils and universities. Their research focuses on strategies, tactics and digital transformation.

The Impact of COVID-19 on BAME Owned Businesses in the UK

The project led by Dr Tolulope Olarewaju is investigating the specific challenges that BAME business owners faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, the strategies that they used to keep their businesses afloat, and how they engaged with financial and regional support. The project is funded by the British Academy.

People, Place and Global Order: Foundations of a Networked Political Economy

This book co-authored by Dr Andrew Taylor explores how the convergence of technology and globalisation is shifting value creation out of products and processes and into digital networks and, in the process, leaving many people behind. He is looking into examples and models of how people and place may flourish within global networks. 

Leadership typology reveals how smart city leaders prefer to tackle inequality

The research of Associate Professor Alyson Nicholds sheds light on how leaders, operating in different organisations, roles and sectors prefer to tackle inequality differently. Her latest writing draws on organisational concepts of leadership and philosophy to show the benefits this type of understanding can reap for society.

Entrepreneurs in Residence

Business School has recently appointed Entrepreneurs in Residence providing students and staff with hands-on experience in conducting research to spot business opportunities, conduct market analysis and better understand consumer behaviour, leading to business venture creation.

For more information and collaboration and partnership, please contact Prof Fang Zhao – Associate Dean Research and Enterprise at fang.zhao@staffs.ac.uk.

It’s time to be yourself

Angela Lawrence, Associate Dean, Staffordshire Business School


As the summer draws to a close and we pack away our well-worn flip flops, it’s good to reflect on the long, warm days that we have enjoyed outdoors, before the shorter days of Autumn set in. I recently spent some time browsing through photographs taken this year, to remind myself of the best of 2020. I came across two pictures that led me to ponder on how each one of us approaches life so differently.

Both pictures taken on the same day, within the same 10 minutes. Both taken at the same location. Both my grandsons, yet both with such different approaches to life. One a risk-taker who throws himself headfirst into everything, giving 100% and constantly on the lookout for the next challenge. The other a thinker, a complicated little soul who weighs the options up very carefully before making any decision and even then, approaches life cautiously, sometimes with some anxiety and trepidation. Can you tell which is which?

What this means for me is that I have learned to speak to them differently, to explore different activities that each may enjoy, to play different games with them and read them different stories before tucking them up into bed at night. I accept that they are very different and embrace and enjoy their unique personalities. I celebrate their individuality, encouraging them to be true to themselves and to live their life the way that they, and only they want to.

Don’t be a sheep

We are all unique, all different – let’s face it we are all made up of different DNA! As I welcome new students to the university this week for the start of their journey as independent learners, I’m at pains to remind them of this. I have spent many years welcoming freshers, excited to be beginning a new chapter in their life. Amongst the information and advice that I share to prepare them for the student journey ahead, is the video of a social experiment that I call Don’t be a Sheep.

The video never fails to make students smile and laugh. It depicts a young lady behaving the way that others around her do, just because she feels that she must. My advice to students is to be true to themselves and not to feel intimidated or pressurised by anyone else’s behaviour. I’m acutely aware that in today’s society there is a great deal of pressure from the media and social media, to be someone or something that you are not. Many have written about the phenomenon of social comparison and the ensuing mental health related issues and lack of self-esteem. 

Generation Z

Generation Z in particular seems to be challenged by continual obstacles in the path of individuality. This uber-connected cohort has spent a lifetime inundated with messages telling them how they should look, how they should behave and whom they should aspire to. The 2020 documentary film The Social Dilemma has gone further to heighten fears around the controlling influences of social media and the divide deepens between those who readily fall under the influence of social pressure and those who have the strength to follow their true self.

Something for everyone

The first few weeks at university provide an opportunity for students to get to know their housemates, their lecturers, their surroundings and their studies. Whoever you are and however you like to approach life, there will be something for you. A full range of societies to join and different teaching methods to accommodate different learning preferences – diversity is recognised and embraced in a way that many have never before experienced.

This is one of the reasons why I love working in higher education so much. I love to see confidence build, personalities develop, independence grow and life ambitions accomplished.

Live your own life

Steve Jobs famously told us “your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”. I fly the flag for being yourself but I appreciate that not everyone has the confidence to do so. The beauty of university life is that support is always available for those who struggle with mental health issues or anxiety. We know that some find this new environment harder to adjust to than others. Don’t be afraid to reach out and be reassured that you are absolutely not alone in feeling this way.

I hope that my grandsons will continue to follow their own individual, unique paths through life – that people will accept them for who they are and that they will be confident to do things their own unique way. My message to students beginning their university journey is live your own life and follow your own path – you don’t have to look that way, you don’t have to dress that way, you don’t have to behave that way, you are unique, you are yourself and that’s okay! Be kind to yourself and be kind to others.


At Staffordshire Business School, we understand that business evolves with time and technology, so we are constantly adapting our learning strategies and courses to give you the best chance to get ahead of the competition when you graduate.

For 2021, we have developed four brand-new courses that follow contemporary themes such as sustainability, entrepreneurship and digital marketing:

BA (Hons) Finance and Business Enterprise
BA (Hons) Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship
BA (Hons) Business Management and Sustainability
BA (Hons) Digital and Social Media Marketing

Thinking Bigger: Advice for Small Giants

Dr Andrew Taylor, Senior Lecturer, staffordshire business school


During disruptive times small scale can be a key advantage.  The management writer Mintzberg (1989) describes most small companies as either simple structures or adhocracies.  My research (Taylor 2013, 2019) indicates that in both cases innovation is central to their mission and survival.  The strength and the weakness of simple structures is that they are driven by one or two key individuals.  This both makes decision-making fast and flexible.  Adhocracies are project based, mission driven places, with little respect for traditional idea’s of good management practice, where inefficiencies are the price of high growth.  There is often a tendency, in both cases, as they grow, to define becoming professional as having more formal and robust processes.  The trouble is that as they seek order and stability, innovation and commitment often crashes as  resent a perceived loss of purpose or human commitment. 

During disruptive times it is often better to leverage the flexibility and commitment of peoples in smaller scale organisations to adapt, rather than seek to optimise.  Small companies, like speedboats, are fast and nimble compared to the large oil tankers of corporate business,.  Asking what are the right things, rather than how do I do things right Argyris (1991) is easier where best practices are less defined bureaucratically.

Small companies can most effectively do this through identifying their core competencies (Prahalad & Hamel 1990) .  Core competencies are the source of how you create value – those things that you do for your customers better than your competitors.  They:

  1. Provide access to a wide variety of markets
  2. Should make a significant contribution to the perceived customer benefits of the end product
  3. Should be difficult for competitors to imitate.

Knowing these allows you to ask yourselves how they could, using what Gavetti (2011) calls associative thinking, be transferred into new, more distant, marketplaces. Managers are good at identifying opportunities that are cognitively close to their business, but need to learn to recognise similar underlying patterns in distant markets and make the cognitive leap.

Organisations, that we are familiar with, successfully doing this include Fuji-Film, Honda, Danone, Dyson and Virgin.

Source – https://creativepool.com/magazine/inspiration/brand-stretch.3072

Often leaders of small companies familiar with doing this as anyway as a matter of survival.  Learning to use such knowledge to leverage the strength of organisation and its people, in a joined-up way, can, however, both transform the effectiveness and legitimise existing practices, such that small companies can harness their scale and people to flourish.


References

Argyris C. (1991), ‘Teaching Smart People to Learn’, Harvard Business Review, May – June.

Gavetti, G. (2011), ‘The New Psychology of Strategic Leadership’, Harvard Business Review, July -Aug.

Mintzberg, H. (1989), Mintzberg on Management: Inside Our Strange World of Organizations, New York, The Free Press.

Prahalad, C. K.  & Hamel, G. (1990), ‘The Core Competence of the Corporation’, Harvard Business Review, May-June.

Taylor, A. & Krouwel W. (2013), Taking Care of Business: Innovation, Ethics & Sustainability, Cluj-Napoca (Romania), Risoprint.

Taylor A. & Bronstone A. (2019), People, Place & Global Order: Foundations of a Networked Political Economy. London, Routledge.

From Leisure to Retail: Lessons in Leisure

Carol Southall, Senior Lecturer, Staffordshire Business School


If current shopping trips offer any food for thought, beyond that is “not just any food”, it is that retail has much to learn from the leisure industry in terms of how to treat their customers. Beset with the accessibility issues raised by Covid-19, retailers with a physical high street or retail park/shopping mall presence are having to rethink how they do business. The ‘new normal’ is a commonly used phrase and yet, to date, the ‘new normal’ has, in so many ways, been anything but new, and anything but normal.

Two of the key areas in which there are clearly lessons to learn, are those involving queuing, so much a part of life in the UK even before Covid-19, and provision of toilet facilities. Recent news has highlighted scores of people rushing to shops on their reopening, and the ensuing lengthy queues to access those shops. Additionally, there has been negative press around the lack of available toilet facilities in public space, with councils being urged to reopen any closed public toilets. The Government’s drive to reopen the hospitality industry will further reinforce the need for public access to toilets.

Most of us know how to queue, we understand the need to do so, even if we don’t always like it. Queuing in fact is a stereotypical British institution, much like eating fish and chips and discussing the weather, it’s what people do. Given this high level of queue awareness, we might be forgiven in thinking that the organisation of a queue system is almost embedded within our psyche, and yet the variety of queue systems on any given retail park, at any given retail outlet, anywhere in the UK, is astonishing. On a recent visit to a well-known retail park, there were at least 20 different queues, all snaking in different directions, for different stores. Some made good use of barriers, some offered marked walkways to which they anticipated their shoppers would adhere. Some required people to queue past the store exit, meaning that shoppers had to walk straight past people, within a metre, as they left the store. Some had security, some didn’t. The variety was endless. What was quickly apparent however, was that queue etiquette was unilaterally present in them all. We accept whatever queue we’re placed in and wait, not always patiently, to progress along the line.

Image source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-53044826

The British have taken shopping tourism to a whole new level. Days spent at retail outlets are considered as a leisure pursuit in their own right. Overnight stays near shopping malls often combine retail ‘therapy’ with dining out, a visit to a cinema, and opportunities for a range of additional leisure pursuits, including bowling, skiing, swimming, indoor mini-golf, and a host of other leisure activities aligned to family fun. Whilst lockdown has prevented such activity in recent months, anybody venturing out to a retail park or shopping mall could be forgiven in thinking that nothing has changed. Except it has, as the queues and lack of toilet facilities show.

The leisure industries have much acquired knowledge to pass on to retail. From queue management, through experience design, to provision of necessary facilities. When asked on a radio interview what people really needed when they attend theme parks, the suggestion “a loo, a view and a brew” was proposed as fundamental to enjoyment of the experience offered by attractions. Having toilet facilities, something entertaining and visually stimulating to look at, and somewhere to eat and drink were suggested as necessities to a day spent visiting an attraction of any sort.

Rollercoaster Restaurant at Alton Towers.
Image source: https://twitter.com/altontowers/status/850770317299638272

When we go to a theme park, we understand that we will queue. The difference is that theme parks are designed with queuing systems in mind. Queue theory supports the argument that crowding and lengthy waiting times are major causes of visitor dissatisfaction. Enhancing the queue experience will encourage the customer to not only enjoy their shopping experience but will also increase the likelihood that they will revisit, which is particularly important if the high street is to stand any chance of a recovery, post Covid-19.

In the short-term putting more thought into the systems used to ensure shoppers are able to access retail outlets in more structured, better thought-out and even more entertaining way, will pay dividends, both in terms of visitor satisfaction and the ensuing profits. Added to this the installation of easily accessible, even temporary or portable public toilets, openly cleaned and sanitised at regular intervals, will help to ensure that the current economic recovery phase is facilitated and the transition to the ‘new normal’ made easier by this attention to detail, so integral to the leisure industry.

My Journey

Simon Hughes, BA (Hons) Business Management student


The journey began back in 2017, I decided to start studying the business management degree at Staffordshire University. I knew that this journey was going to include unexpected learning strategies and unknown situations. One of the main challenges was when I got the diagnosis of having dyslexia, I knew that there was something not right regarding my reading, writing and spelling. With having dyslexia, I knew that I would need extra support. The university study skills had helped by supporting me in how I needed to process the information and to give me a better understanding of how I retained the information. When I came to start my first assignment, I felt like this was a setback as I was unsure of if I had completed it correctly. When the results came out, I saw that I had passed, and it reassured me that I could pass my first year. I feel like I was able to do this as I had the support of my university lecturers Hazel Squire and Vicky Roberts, as well as my friends and my family. There were many times within that year where I was very close to giving up, this was due to how challenging I was finding it to believe in myself. However, after I had spoken to the lecturers and my family about how I was feeling, they gave me the support and said that I can do this, this gave me the boost to keep moving forward which resulted in completing the first year without having to resit any of the module subjects, this gave me a great relief.

Going in to the second year, I was feeling very anxious and apprehensive as I did not know if the year was going to be too much for me and if I was going to be able to meet the deadlines on time. The subjects were different from the ones I took in my first year in both semester one and semester two, however I was able to meet the deadlines on time. During the end of semester two I was diagnosed with a condition called PPPD (Persistent Postural-Perceptual Dizziness), this made it more difficult to focus on my assignment as I was not able to look at a computer screen for days on end due to it giving me migraines and dizziness. This condition made me feel like I could not get my assignments in on time which resulted in me nearly giving up. However, as the year progressed, I managed to hand in my assignments even though I do not know how. I had a push of support from my wife and my supportive lecturers Paul Dobson and Bharati Singh, just to name a few. They told me that I had come too far to give up now, this took place just before I had received my results for the second semester of the second year however I found out my hard work had paid off and that I had passed.

When going into my third and final year, the first semester was a challenge due to my migraines and not being able to concentrate for a long period of time, however I still had the support of all the lecturers. During the second semester, the world was hit with Covid 19, this meant that everyone had to engage in social distance learning which made it more difficult for me as I was not able to spend a lot of time looking at the computer screen. This situation was difficult as the rest of the year was uncertain, I did not know whether I would be able to make it to the end of my final year. Even though I was not able to see my lecturers face to face I was able to have a video meeting with them if I needed their support on the lectures or the assignments. They encouraged me to get through my assignments and to get them handed in so that I could fully complete the last year of my three-year degree.


Click here for more information on Dyslexia and how we can support you at Staffordshire University

10 Top Tips for restaurants and takeaways to prepare for the new normal after the Covid-19 lockdown

Paul Dobson, Senior Lecturer, Staffordshire Business School


At Staffordshire Business School we support businesses as part of our courses and I’m aware that some takeaways are doing really well, especially as their customers do not want to go to the shops, queue up, be too close to other people, etc.  But we’ve been told to expect a recession, possible depression, plus we have Brexit and there are concerned about the environment, so the way ahead is going to be tough.  My last blog to help hotels and bed & breakfasts post lockdown received a lot of positive feedback but the restaurants and takeaways I support requested that I could do a blog for them so, I’ve written some top tips.

1. Reduce costs

Look throughout your organisation where you can reduce running costs, for example I’ve helped takeaways reduce their online ordering costs by over 50% by looking around for better and cheaper systems, enabling ordering direct and not through other platforms, Facebook now has a free online ordering system, other e-commerce systems including a website has substantially reduce their cost and are now just a small one-off price. See if you can reduce your supply costs for example: a local restaurant and takeaway to me has reduced their electricity costs by 15%.

2. Watch and learn what’s happening abroad and in retail

Keep an eye on what is happening with restaurants in countries ahead of the curve and how they are adapting.  Retail shops are opening but in a post-Covid-19 more spaced and structured way. There are some good learning points being shown but also what issues/blockages they have and how they’ve got over it.  Look at how the best are using their social media such as YouTube to raise their profile and showing how they’re safe.  Trust is becoming a key area of importance in many areas ahead of this pandemic curve, use your social media to help gain this trust.

Image source: Insider.com

3. Transition to online

If you haven’t already; go online properly.  Don’t rely on third-party platforms who take a percentage of your money and don’t think that a PDF document showing your menu is enough.  It’s going to get even more competitive.  There are some I’ve already seen that are burying their head in the sand…don’t do this or you could be one of those closing.

4. Do not suddenly re-appear post lockdown

There are great examples out there how restaurants and takeaways are continuing to market their restaurant on social media in areas that are important to customers, for example takeaways showing disinfecting their insulated food delivery bags, extensive cleaning in their kitchens, personal protection equipment, how they’re developing their customer protection and so on. Social media videos are working really well at the moment so you need to enhance your marketing.

5. Mobile is king

One of the takeaways I support has over 70% of their orders via smartphones.  It is no longer the case their customers look on their mobile and order via a laptop or computer, they do the whole lot on their mobile.  If your website isn’t mobile friendly, you can lose at least 53% of your online clients and your website needs to load in less than 3 seconds because around an additional 27% drop off if it’s too slow. Your website speed can be easily tested at http://testmysite.withgoogle.com/

6. Try and develop your entrepreneurial spirit

Look to develop other products and services.  Some restaurants I work with have:

  • setup subscription boxes where they include cooking instructions or paid membership sites with videos and food deliveries
  • some have developed frozen versions to be cooked at home
  • a pizza takeaway has developed a separate salad takeaway business
  • some have developed drop off points for their meals

I’m working with one restaurant to develop and sell aprons, baseball caps and t-shirts with their brand on. What can you do?

7. Learn from the best

Domino’s marketing is really good, they know my last order, they email me a prompt at the same day and time as my ordering time from the previous week offering me an easy click option to re-order plus they have what looks like great offers for my customer type (family with adult kids). They don’t make the best pizzas in my area, but they do a good prompt at the right time and make it very easy to order.  Other local takeaways know my details and order preferences as I’ve signed into their website giving my contact details…and yet they don’t prompt me.  I don’t even get emails or offers from most of them.  Have a look around at what others are doing and learn from the best. As a minimum you should be capturing your customer contact details and keeping in touch.

In addition, look to develop and improve your marketing in all areas not just online, the graphics, the text, the menus, what your offering, and so on.  Look for what the best organisations are doing, for example in the US and how can you adapt this to improve your marketing.

Image Source: Braze Magazine

8. Go paper and contact free

Your customers are concerned about hygiene and avoiding contact, use technology to be better and cheaper. Your customers should not have to touch a pen or receipts or have their card taken away to be put in a card machine.  Everything should be contact free.  They should be able to go totally contactless using their mobile phone and their receipts should be emailed to them.

9. Look at the numbers

If you have a website, you should be getting weekly statistics including what your customers are doing and where the blockages are.  This is important information, in just 10 minutes I enabled a 100% increase in takeaway orders just by pointing out where the barriers are for customers and how to get over them.

Do a user test, find someone who’s not seen your website before, give them a task, for example buy a vegetarian or meat feast pizza for delivery, and watch how they use your site.  Do not prompt or guide them and see if you can learn from this to improve the customer journey to increase sales.

The websites analytics should also give you the keywords customers are using to find your website.  Are they looking for meals or services that you don’t currently provide, and you could? – If customers are looking for these meals you know your onto a winner.

10. Create a Wow factor

As a family of four we take turns to order one takeaway per week so we like to try different meals. In our town the pizzerias all offer the same types of pizzas, there’s virtually no difference between them and none of them have tried to educate and sell Roman, Sicilian or Detroit style pizzas.   None have talked about milling their own flour onsite or getting their flour from a local stone mill and therefore they have a low carbon footprint.  I’m not aware of any of them demonstrating their special techniques or trying to raise their personal brand.  Have a look around and see what you can use to develop a wow factor in your restaurant and takeaway.

Thoughts on happiness

Angela Lawrence, Associate Dean, Staffordshire Business School


There are lots of things that make me happy, but not many of them are material things. My “thing” is more profound, more enduring and gives me a far greater sense of purpose and contentment. Over the years, my thing has changed, adapted and moved in different directions, but it comes down to this – seeing things grow and develop into beautiful entities that I appreciate and am proud of yields more happiness than anything tactile you could gift to me.

So, watching my children grow into independent, hard-working adults that I am so proud of makes me happy. Seeing them enjoy the delights of parenthood themselves brings me great delight. Watching their children, my grandchildren, blossom and thrive in a world full of confusion and mixed messages, knowing that they love me unconditionally, is priceless.

Greeting students on their first day at university, nurturing them through the highs and lows of academic life, watching them mature and grow over years of study, applauding proudly at their graduation and then following the development of their careers on LinkedIn or Twitter gives me a huge sense of pride and hope for the future. Over my career, few jobs have ever made me as happy as I feel on graduation day.

I must make mention of the gift of nature and the delights of watching seedlings emerge from warm soil in the springtime, cultivating and raising those seedlings at my allotment to be strong independent plants that delight me and provide sustenance, both for my dinner table and to share with others – never forget the delights of sharing. The pleasures I gain from growing at the allotment are more profound and not only make me happy but provide head space for me to escape from the complications of modern life. I am in my absolute element when rummaging in the soil and watering my crops. Thinking time is so good and fresh air so invigorating.

I never would have thought 40 years ago that I would say studying makes me happy, but it does. Who would have known that I would still be studying? Yet here I am, halfway through my Doctorate in Education and thriving on it. Pondering why this should be so, I believe it is about being able to express myself, able to share with others what fascinates and challenges me, in the knowledge that I will bring something fresh and new to my field of study. At times I forget how much this matters to me, when deadlines are looming and time is precious, but it is always worth the effort and undoubtedly will be so when I cross that platform to receive the title of Doctor.

In all of this there is a theme of nurturing, be it people, plants, thoughts or words. Incredibly we don’t need money or objects to nurture, we just need to be ourselves and to learn to derive happiness from the small things that we can control in our lives. It’s true what they say – all the money in the world cannot buy you happiness. Find your “thing” and create your own – smile and be happy!

International Day of Happiness – March 20th

Preparing for the New Normal – How accommodation providers in France are rethinking and adapting their services and what can we learn from this?

Paul Dobson, Senior LEcturer,Staffordshire Business School


It’s been a challenging, confusing and worrying time for most industries during this current Coronavirus Crisis. But the hospitality sector in particular stands to be one of the hardest hit as it struggles to contemplate how it can continue to trade successfully keeping social distancing in mind, coupled with a rapidly shrinking economy.  As part of Staffordshire Business School’s support to organisations I’ve been supporting the local and international hospitality sector and as the French businesses are ahead of us in coming out of lockdown I’ve noted some points to help prepare UK organisations.

After 2 months enduring some of the strictest lockdown controls in Europe, France is slowly opening up its economy and society. And the vast, hugely varied accommodation sector, which historically welcomes visitors across the world, is undergoing a rapid and radical revolution to ensure it can continue to attract customers in these unprecedented times.

The newly forced need to keep distance and natural sense of personal safety has fallen well into the hands of some of the self-catering sector. Private homes and villas, especially those that can offer generous outside space as well as little or no contact with others, have seen a huge demand since the 11th of May when the French Prime Minister officially declared that travel up to 100km was now permitted. The public, who have been largely “imprisoned” with massively limited scope to be outside their own homes since the middle of March inevitably have an overwhelming desire for a change of scenery. However, this is not a universal permission and policy, and restricted zones still exist across France, and indeed many local governments, even in the less-infected “green regions” are enforcing the continuation of heavy trading restrictions and forced closures of accommodation providers. But where these rules do not apply, the flood gates have opened and demand, all from customers within the 100km radius, has been significant. Also worthy of note is that the average length of stay has seen a dramatic increase for this time of year.

That’s not to say that this is return to normal times for these accommodation owners. French hospitality organisations have had a massive increase in questions about sanitation, personal responsibility and uniform industry standards on cleanliness and contact that the UK accommodation businesses will need to be prepared for when lockdown restrictions are relaxed. As of today, these restrictions haven’t been totally clarified in France, and only “best practice” guides from local tourism authorities exist online. Some of the leading booking platforms and websites for this sub sector are advising “safety gaps” between customers of, for example, 24 hours to allow any surfaces to become less likely to cross contaminate in the future. What is apparent from discussions with French hospitality businesses is that there is an increased desire for customers to have  “direct online contact” with the service rather than through  online booking platforms.  This could be a welcome shift in attitude as this not only allows peace of mind for the customer, but also less commissions for the business owner to pay to the booking platforms which have come under much public criticism and scrutiny of late because of their high charges. One of the French businesses I’ve talked to has had an 800% increase in Facebook messages, their analytics has shown an increase in both mobile and desktop visitors to their website and the number of emails has increased by over 200% compared to last year.

The B&B (Chambres d’hote) and Hotel sector have reported an uphill challenge. With a mix of different guests under their roofs, all with potentially varying attitudes to respecting the new government guidelines, this poses a significant threat to their short- and medium-term existence. However, those that can offer genuine space, especially outside, have a clear advantage over those that cannot. Going from one restrictive box to another isn’t likely to be a great draw for the new discerning needs of the Covid-19 era traveller.  Forced confinement has brought about a new desire to be out and about in nature, and burn off all those excessive calories consumed since March.

But with the high season fast approaching during which these businesses would traditionally run at maximum occupancy, the reality is that these organisations will be forced to not only give “buffers” in between guests checking out and the next ones checking in, but also run at a lower occupancy to ensure that interaction between different customers is minimized. Therefore “Making Hay whilst the sun shines” will this year inevitably bring about a lower yield, and reduce the vital cashflow which sustains many of these businesses during the quieter months. 

An example of changes implemented is the hotelier Tim Bell and Ingrid Boyer in the Auvergne region of Central France. Tim has developed their website to include a link to their Covid-19 guidance on their home page (see https://chabanettes.com/). This is updated on a regular basis and outlines their commitment to client’s safety.  He implements rapid alterations to its usual offerings and has created the foundations for business continuity and customer confidence.  He has also set up a Facebook forum for like minded accommodation owners in Europe seeking support and advice. Tim collates industry data, statistics and best practice ideas from all over the accommodation sector and share his opinions and advice with the group.

The sector in which he operates is having to rethink more radically about its traditional services to ensure competitivity and customer confidence. This ranges from the provision of catering which is leaning initially more towards a “Room Service” culture to a complete overhaul of the check-in/check-out customer touch points, looking to technology and globally recognised physical safety barriers to reduce risk of viral spread. For an industry which relies heavily on close, personal contact for their reputation and overall experience, keeping a balance between customer satisfaction and safety is proving challenging, but not impossible. Clients now expect a more sterile and distanced world, with supermarkets leading the way in some innovation and rethinking of the customer journey that the hotels are learning from, such as one-way corridors.

Until the world is safely vaccinated against the virus, the accommodation industry will have to adapt quickly and radically to guidelines, legislation and customer fears. History has told us that businesses that do this will have the best chance of survival, and those that don’t not only fear a downturn in business, but also a very visible online reputation for ignoring what is now the number one priority for the 2020 traveller – Safety.

Top tips on how to be an influencer

Paul Dobson, Senior Lecturer, Staffordshire Business School


Over the past three years, as part of our Digital Marketing courses, we’ve worked with one person per year and enabled them to be influencers earning over £3,000 per month working part-time so I know that there is a proven and systematic way of doing this. See our undergraduate BA (Hons) Marketing Management and Post Graduate MSc Customer and Data Analytics. As part of this, there are some top tips that I’ve learnt.

  • It doesn’t matter if you’re shy and not out-going.

Some of the best people in my area of Digital Marketing, such as Michael Stelzner and Pat Flynn, have admitted that they’re not extroverts.  This helps make them more authentic and real in-front of the mic and camera.  Remember as well that when you record your audio or video that no one is listening / watching, you have control and people only see this when you post on social media etc. So you can do this, even if you have uncertainty and fear.

  • It doesn’t matter if there is competition.

This helps prove that there is a market for your area and they have already set the ground work. You can also be different from them or even compliment them, so that you become partners with them.

  • Right now, is the best time to start.

When people are in lockdown and a potential recession may be around the corner this isn’t a barrier. Some of the best businesses out there such as Disney, Google, Facebook and FedEx started during a recession.  The start-up costs are very low and the potential is high… There is no reason to delay.

  • Choose a niche that you love.

You need to treat this as a part-time business that you need to develop to earn money. It needs working on, so choose a hobby, past-time, area that you can learn (yes, you can learn a new area and do this) that you enjoy… I hear people all the time saying I don’t have a hobby or I don’t do anything and every single person after a chat has had a good potential area.  There are interesting ways in all areas for example there is someone with over 1.5M subscribers who cooks with their dog watching (see https://www.youtube.com/cookingwithdog ), so the world really is your oyster.

  • You do not need complicated equipment.

Some of the influencers we’ve worked with just use their mobile phone but ensured that the sound and video looked OK, e.g. enough light and not a lot of background noise.  You can get cheap mobile stands or stands with light fairly cheap online, for example one of the influencers we’re working with at the moment has bought a basic one for less than £4, and a more comprehensive one with a stand etc for less that £13.

  • Yes, you do need to make time.

As noted above this does need treating like a job, i.e. don’t put it off, and you do need discipline to keep developing your materials etc for your niche on a timely regular basis that your audience can listen to / watch. You will need to develop and post this material at least once per week but the potential reward is fantastic.

  • It will need research and keeping an eye on.

You will need to research and consider your audience and competitors. What areas are people interesting in, need help with, want to learn, have problems or issues with that you can discuss?  What areas are the competitors covering, how and can you be different or complimentary?

When you start your journey what areas work, what doesn’t and why?  Use these as learning points to develop your podcasts and videos etc.   Always keep an eye on what your audience is saying, sharing, and listening to / watching for a long time, so that you can use to improve what you do.

Stay Safe


Paul Dobson MSc, MA, MBA, PGCHPE, Senior Fellow HEA, MIPM, FCMI, MAM
Senior Lecturer in Digital and Strategic Marketing
uk.linkedin.com/in/paulmddobson/

Work-related stress: Tips for businesses

Vanessa Oakes, Lecturer, Staffordshire Business school


Stress is no longer a mental health condition that organisations can afford to ignore. In 2018/2019 12.8 million working days were lost due to stress, depression and anxiety (HSE, 2019) at a cost to the economy of £34.9bn. This cost is related to temporarily replacing absent staff, the cost of disruption to the organisation and lost opportunity costs, the cost of paid sick leave and the time required to manage employees who are off work, with an average number of days lost per case at 25.8 (HSE, 2019).

These numbers make for sobering reading, particularly if you are a business owner or a manager who has seen sickness absence related to stress, increase in your team. However, there is more than just a financial cost to the organisation. Your organisation’s reputation as an employer diminishes with high rates of absence due to stress, the engagement levels of your staff drop and in response, so does productivity and all of this happens because you are sending the message to your staff that their mental health isn’t as important as the performance of the organisation.

When it comes to proactively managing stress in the workplace, there is a lot that can be done to reduce stress before sickness absence takes hold. The CIPD’s 2019 Health & Wellbeing at Work Survey reports that 61% of organisations are recognising this as a priority, at Board level. But what can you actually do to reduce stress for your workforce?

Determine if employees are suffering from work-related stress or stress in their personal lives.

If your employees are experiencing stress at home, this will also impact their productivity too, so help them to acknowledge it and provide as much support as you can. An EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) can help you to offer support to staff without having to pry into their personal lives and will show your employees that you are concerned about them.

If your employee is suffering from work-related stress, then there is a lot that can be done to improve their environment. Firstly, take a look at your expectations of them.  Are they achievable and realistic? Do they have the support and authority needed to do their job? Are they under excess pressure to deliver? Can their responsibilities be shared by others or delegated?

Look at your absence management process – is it too harsh or too lenient? Can you build flexibility into your process to ensure you are able to support staff who are suffering with stress?

If too harsh, it may be forcing staff back to work before they are ready because there is a financial impact, or they may be afraid for their job security. These staff don’t get the time to deal with their stress before they are plunged back into it, and so may get worse over time. Are you conducting return to work interviews consistently for all staff? This is the best opportunity to determine if you employee is ready to be back at work.

Where your absence management process is too lenient, or you don’t have one, do you know why your staff are off sick? If you don’t know then you can’t help. Maybe your line managers don’t feel that they can ask such personal questions? If so, provide training to boost their confidence.

Focus on health and well-being

Communicate regularly with staff about the importance of their health and wellbeing and ask them about initiatives they think would improve health and wellbeing for all. It might be that water coolers within easy reach of desks will mean they are better hydrated; encouraging walks at lunchtime could improve the mental health in many different ways; having a space for staff to eat lunch, away from their desks means that their focus will be away from their work for at least a short time during the day. Most importantly though, ask them what they think and follow up on it! They will often have the best ideas about what would improve things for them.

Make sure that you react proactively when you suspect an employee is under stress, don’t wait for them to go off sick. This requires your managers to be more alert to possible changes in behaviour, timekeeping and work productivity and quality. Ensure that they receive training in how to start conversations about stress and mental health, and that they can signpost employees to other services if they are unable to help.

Finally, it may seem like managing stress and the related absence is time consuming, costly and unnecessary, but it has been proven to pay off. The CIPD’s survey found that three quarters of organisations who implemented proactive health and wellbeing strategies, however informal, saw a positive improvement in metrics such as morale and engagement, lower sickness absence, improved employer reputation, better retention of staff, a reduction in reported work-related stress, improved productivity and better customer service levels. Supporting your staff through difficult periods in their personal and working lives pays dividends when it comes to the success of your organisation. Now is not the time to delay!

Currently, it is even more important than ever to consider the health and wellbeing of staff as they endure lockdown and furlough leave. One thing which no organisation can offer, is certainty but there are ways of encouraging staff to maintain their health and wellbeing whether they are on furlough leave, working from home and trying to juggle childcare and other caring responsibilities. Here are a few tips:

  1. Communicate with them as regularly as you can – you may not be able to reassure them that their jobs are safe, or that things will return to normal quickly, but at least they will know that someone is still looking out for them.
  2. For staff on furlough leave, ensure that you have given them written details of their remuneration – try to avoid uncertainly building about how much they will be paid and when.
  3. Ensure that managers are in touch with their teams to ensure that each gets individual support – some employees might be coping well; others might be feeling higher levels of stress and may need more support.
  4. Remind your staff about their importance to your business, what their strengths are, how much they are valued and their latest achievements. They need to hear this now more than ever.

These steps should help you to maintain an engaged and productive (if they are homeworking) workforce during this challenging time and beyond.