Monday, 31 August 2009

For Teachers Only!

Morning all! In case you're looking for some last minute ideas before the new term gets underway, and have only just stumbled across the HR Case Studies website, to avoid you drowning in the items on here, here are a few suggestions and ideas to get things moving in your Business Studies class.
  • Use one of the updates with multiple entries to follow the progress of a particular HR issue over the summer period. Royal Mail, British Airways and BT are all organisations that have featured heavily in the press and online media over the summer break.
  • Use the subject tags/labels (in the right-hand sidebar) to explore how particular HR activities, strategies and objectives have been dealt with in different UK companies.
  • Use the Useful Website links to see what HR items are currently in the news, and how they are reported by the various media channels.
  • Give your students a particular organisation that has had HR challenges to face up to to research and feedback to the class.
  • Get the students to look at the number of times that a particular HR area (e.g. Competitive Organisational Structures, Developing and Effective Workforce, Effective Employer/Employee Relations) has featured on the HR Case Studies website over the summer break, and question why the areas that are at the top of the entry league table have occurred so regularly

As ever, please give feedback on any particular issues that you would like to see included on the HR Case Studies website!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

If the foreigners don't understand, just speak louder

Yesterday's GCSE results in England highlighted the study of languages continuing its steady decline, with data from the exam boards showing fewer people taking French (down 6.6% on last year) and German (down 4.2%). Figures produced in a report earlier this year also show that at 550 state comprehensive and secondary modern schools fewer that one in 10 pupils was awarded a top grade A* to C grade GCSE pass in a language. In 34 of them - including two of the Government's flagship academies - not a single pupil gained a high pass. This report suggests that a class divide is opening up in the teaching of languages. Of the 62 schools where all pupils received an A* to C, 58 are independent schools and four are selective grammar schools. Admittedly, the government has introduced a strategy to increase language teaching in primary schools, and also aims to make it compulsory for every child to start to learn a language from the age of seven by the end of this decade. But all of this may be too little too late if UK workers are to avoid to continue being thought of as the dunces of foreign languages.

Poor language skills 'hamper UK'

  • As the UK now operates within a global market, how important is it for employees to be equipped with language skills?
  • Are UK jobs which require proficiency in a foreign language regarded as specialised as, for example, ones requiring engineering or accounting skills?
  • What is likely to be the long term effect of the UK lagging behind in the language league?
  • Research activity: which are likely to be the most widely spoken languages in the next decade, and are we prepared to meet this challenge?

Christmas cheer as Sainsbury's recruit 20,000?

UK supermarket Sainsbury's has announced that it is intending to recruit up to 20,000 temporary staff to cover the Christmas period, of whom 1,000 will probably be retained in permanent positions. This is the largest number of seasonal staff that the store has ever recruited, and is in addition to a further 2,300 posts that are to be created in Scotland and the North of England by the middle of 2010. With 23 million customers passing through their 817 stores in the few days before Santa gets his reindeers on the move, it's obvious that Sainsbury's needs to carefully manage the resourcing challenge created by this seasonal surge of customers.
  • How soon do you believe that Sainsbury's will need to commence their recruitment campaign?
  • What selection methods would you expect to see in their recruitment campaign?
  • Sainsbury's will inevitably have to handle tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of applications for these positions, not all of whom will make it to the interview stage. What methods of sifting and shortlisting would you expect them to use?
  • Other supermarkets are in very similar positions, so if you were in charge of the Sainsbury's recruitment campaign, how would you aim to attract the best candidates?
  • What measures may Sainsbury's be considering to identify the 1,000 employees who are retained in permanent positions?
  • Are there particular challenges that the supermarket will have to face in motivating and managing the performance of the majority of employees who know that they will only be with the company for a few weeks?
  • Update! Asda creates 10,000 seasonal jobs Now that ASDA have jumped on the recruiting bandwagon (or should that be sleigh?) what challenges will the major UK supermarkets face now that at least three (Sainsbury, Asda and Morrisons) are all competing for seasonal recruits?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Where there is no vision, the people perish

The King James Version of the Bible may not be the automatic first place to look for advise on mission statements for organisations, but the writer of Proverbs 29:18 hit the nail on the head with his observation that "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Many organisations have recognised this and created vision and/or mission statements which are intended to set the organisation's purpose, guiding values and principles, and the way it intends to achieve its objectives, often also recognising the interests of customers and other stakeholders. Producing a successful mission statement is by no means an easy task: too short and it might appear bland, too long and it will turn people off; too strategic and it might alienate the workforce, too tactical and it will be uninspiring; too aspirational and it may well sound corny. Above all, a mission statement will only ever be of value to an organisation if the people within it understand what it means and the business subsequently practises what it preaches.

Sadly, no prizes (other than eternal fame!) but can you identify the following organisations from their mission statements? And how successful do you believe these mission statements to be?

  1. (We are) an international group of independent non-governmental organizations dedicated to fighting poverty and related injustice around the world, working together internationally to achieve greater impact by our collective efforts.
  2. To be the consumer's first choice for food, delivering products of outstanding quality and great service at a competitive cost through working "faster, simpler and together"
  3. To provide its customers with safe, good value, point-to-point air services. To effect and to offer a consistent and reliable product and fares appealing to leisure and business markets on a range of European routes. To achieve this they will develop their people and establish lasting relationships with their suppliers
  4. To be the UK's best fast service restaurant experience
  5. To be the place for health and beauty customers. We want to secure market leadership in the UK and build on our brands' growing success internationally
  6. A high profile organisation which campaigns successfully for trade union aims and values, assists trade unions to increase membership and effectiveness, cuts out wasteful rivalry and promotes trade union solidarity
  7. To lead in the development and promotion of good practice in the field of the management and development of people, for application both by professional members and by their organisational colleagues.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Too much advertising?

An organisation close to the HR Case Studies Head Office (!) is currently recruiting a Head of Human Resources. The role has been advertised in not only a national broadsheet newspaper, but in both of the major UK journals for HR professionals (both in print and online) and also across a wide spectrum of online job boards. The selection process will include at least two interviews, a presentation, a test of HR knowledge, plus a variety of "meet the team" activities and opportunities.
  • Considering the current climate when the number of individuals applying for roles is often alarmingly high, is this organisation making work for itself in advertising the role too widely?
  • What are your views on the selection process?

Monday, 24 August 2009

Ryanair and Virgin: Compare and Contrast!

Blaming the decision on Manchester Airport's refusal to lower its charges, Ryanair is either closing or switching nine of the 10 routes that currently operate from Manchester, with a loss of up to 600 jobs in the area. This news once again brings controversial Chief Executive Michael O'Leary into the limelight, and provides an opportunity to compare the organisational cultures of Ryanair with that of Virgin Airlines.


  • Michael O’Leary appointed as Chief Executive in 1985
  • Concentrates on the short haul, mainly European market
  • No frills approach
  • O’Leary (Mr. Grumpy?) becoming infamous for his “earthy” language, controversial advertising and unusual practices including suggesting that passengers may have to carry their own bags” and pay to use the toilet (!)
  • Ryanair operates in only one market
  • Ryanair makes it clear that price is its main reason for gaining repeat business
  • Ryanair cabin crew are employed by a third party


  • Founded by Richard Branson in 1984
  • Mainly concentrate on long haul flights
  • Positioned at the quality end of the market
  • Branson (Mr. Happy?) often appears personally in publicity to indicate closeness to employees and customers
  • Airline is part of a major brand including trains and financial services
  • Virgin works hard at customer loyalty
  • Virgin cabin crew (frequently glamorous blondes!) are employed by Virgin and are selected through a lengthy recruitment process

  • What are the differing HR challenges in both of these organisations?
  • How successful would these two organisations be if they had to switch the markets in which they operate?
  • How well do you believe each organisation is placed to survive the current economic downturn?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing (or subcontracting) such a key element of the workforce as cabin crew?
  • Could either organisation be successful without its dynamic, charismatic and controversial Chief Executive?

For a more detailed case study on Ryanair and Virgin, see "Management and Organisational Behaviour" by Laurie J. Mullins (FT Prentice Hall)

Sunday, 23 August 2009

BT hangs up on graduate recruitment


The challenge of finding a job for the UK's graduate population has just got harder as telecommunications giant BT has taken the decision to pull the plug on its graduate recruitment scheme. They also have no current plans for re-entry into this market. Last year BT received 4,800 applications for just 130 jobs, an increase from 3,800 two years previously. It is not only graduates that are in BT's firing line: the company has already stated that it intends to reduce its headcount by 30,000 in two years, and staff have been encouraged to take an extended year-long holiday in exchange for a significant cut in salary.

  • Is this decision of BT short-sighted?
  • What do you believe will be the long-term effect of such a decision?
  • Research Task: By how much does a university degree increase an individual's life-long earning capability?
  • Research Task: Which UK organisations continue to recruit significant numbers of graduates?
  • Which particular groups of university graduates are likely to be affected by this decision, and what other opportunities remain open to them?
  • Recent statistics indicate that 835,000 people aged between 18 and 24 in England are not in work. What do you believe are the long-term prospects for this group?

Update: BT is not abandoning its graduate scheme and will take on 130 university leavers this year, the firm’s director of people and policy has said.

Friday, 21 August 2009

360-degree appraisal: is honesty the best policy?

The use of 360-degree reviews (where an employee is given feedback by not only his or her boss, but also by peers, colleagues and subordinates) continues to grow in many organisations. In some companies, the annual salary review may be linked to scores on the annual 360-degree feedback. Although anonimity is sometimes available, generally those providing feedback are aware that any comments will be linked to the person providing them.
  • How seriously do you believe the scores on such 360-degree reviews should be taken?
  • Will a subordinate always be tempted to be rather generous in reviewing his or her boss?
  • Consider ths scenario: as the HR Manager it has been drawn to your attention that a group of employees have jointly agreed that they will all review each other, and give each other the highest marks available. How would you respond?
  • Consider ths scenario: as the HR Manager for a particularly demanding client in the business, last year you received disappointingly low scores from this individual. How might this affect your performance, behaviour and also the likelihood of you asking this client to review you again this year?
  • What other methods can individuals use to obtain performance feedback from colleagues, peers and subordinates?

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Asda: Sales turnover is up, staff turnover is down!

(Hi! If you've found your way to this item while actually looking for inormation on Asda Sales Turnover rather than staff turnover, I'll help you out by revealing that Asda sales figures at the end of 2008 were approximately £16.8 billion)

Asda have announced that their staff retention rate is currently as high as it's ever been, with 67,000 of their 165,000 employees having completed at least 5 years' service - up 10% from last year. The supermarket giant states that their labour turnover rate is in the region of 20% per annum, and puts this down to a wide spectrum of employee-friendly policies including staff discount, money-off vouchers, plus other benefits. The ability to progress from "colleague" (shop floor employee) to manager is claimed as another factor in the increasing retention rate.

Personnel Today: Asda staff retention rates rocket
  • How does the labour turnover rate in Asda (retail sector) compare with other sectors?
  • How much of the improved retention levels may be due to the current economic situation, particularly the difficult job market?
  • Is five years service a long time for an employee to remain with a company?
  • When are employees more likely to leave a company?
  • How significant a factor do you think the employee-friendly policies are in improving retention?
  • What other measures might an organisation like Asda use to retain its staff?

Dispute at Royal Mail gets political

As more postal strikes hit the UK (see yesterday's entry) the temperature in the dispute has heated up with calls from Business Secretary Lord Mandelson for the Trade Union to "wake up" and help stop the further decline of the business. His comments have been declared "an absolute disgrace" by senior members of the Trade Union, who have also claimed that government ministers are attempting to destroy the Trade Union. Lord Mandelson has also refused to get actively involved in the dispute, leaving both sides to slog it out between themselves. Royal Mail are insistent that the door remains open for further discussions about how modernisation can be introduced. Small businesses are understandably concerned that this will negatively affect them, and there is also a worry (denied by the Royal Mail) that the delivery of this week's A Level results may be delayed. Royal Mail has already made it public that they are in a tight financial position and that cuts are inevitable.
  • Why might Lord Mandelson on behalf of the Labour Government refuse to intervene in the dispute?
  • Earlier this week the Government also declined to become involved in the call for a Commission on High Pay in UK businesses. What might be the reasons behind this, and are there some arguments between employers and Trade Unions (or groups of employees) where it would be essential for the Government to become involved?
  • What other Trade Unions are represented within Royal Mail?
  • Research Activity: Explore the history of the Trade Union Movement and its links with the Labour Party

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Problems for Royal Mail

This week will see further strike action by members of the CWU (Communication Workers Union) within Royal Mail as a result of disagreements over job cuts and reductions in service. As ever, there are two sides to every dispute.
The Trade Union believes that Royal Mail is failing to invest properly in modernisation and is removing jobs without agreement;
Royal Mail believe that changes are essential, but the Trade Union is opposing them
The Trade Union believes that service quality will be compromised by the reduction in jobs;
Royal Mail believe that the Trade Union need to join the Company in tackling the challenge by the increase in electronic media
The Trade Union have called a series of strikes in key locations over the next week to highlight their case;
Royal Mail have condemned the CWU for striking locally over much-needed modernisation and change and said that they are expecting 90% of their staff to be working normally.
  • Which government agency could be involved in mediating in such a dispute?
  • What steps must a Trade Union take before calling its members out on strike?
  • What action can (and can't!) a company take against striking employees?
  • What other examples are there of organisations that have struggled to introduce change to working practices as a result of technological change?
  • Now that the Royal Mail no longer has a monopoly over the delivery of mail in the UK, how is this likely to restrict the immediate impact of the strike action?
  • Further Research Activity: compare the cost of sending a simple letter through thedomestic mail in different coutries. Do your findings make you more supportive of either the Royal Mail or the Trade Union

Hard times for recruitment consultancies


Michael Page, who are one of the largest recruitment consultancies in Britain, have announced that their profits over the first six months of 2009 have fallen by 49%, leading to the worst set of financial figures reported by the company since they were listed on the UK stock market eight years ago. Although the company still employ nearly 4000 staff, they have had to reduce their workforce by more than a third since the beginning of this year. Clearly they blame the downturn in the labour market for their performance, and there is no immediate hope at the end of the tunnel as the summer period is renowned for being a quiet time for recruitment.

  • What practical steps can recruitment consultancies take to ensure that their business remains viable?
  • Why might companies that are recruiting choose to manage the process themselves rather than engage a recruitment consultancy?
  • What businesses other than recruitment consultancies are likely to be affected by a downturn in the job market?
  • What businesses and organisations may be required to recruit additional staff as a result of an increase in joblessness?
  • Despite reporting such a dramatic drop in profits, shares in Michael Page went up rather than down. Why might this be?

Monday, 17 August 2009

Time for government intervention on excessive pay?

Although few would now argue that there should be a legal requirement for a minimum wage, calls for a High Pay Commission to curb excessive pay will inevitably create a stir in the boardrooms of the UK. A number of major public figures have added their names to the campaign of Compass (a UK centre-left “Think Tank”) to do just that, and the campaign is already receiving a high level of media coverage and comment. Compass argue that the current economic crisis was largely fuelled by the high salary and bonus culture particularly within the finance and banking sector, and that now is the ideal time for the government to be taking action. The argument is illustrated by an example of an employee on the national minimum wage who would have to work 226 years to earn the same amount as a Chief Executive of a FTSE 100 company earns in just one year. Compass also argue that top managers are often rewarded for short-term success, but never penalised for long-term failure. Especially as many of the failed banks are now in public ownership, it’s argued that the government has a moral obligation to set reasonable pay structures within such institutions.
  • What’s the current national minimum wage in the UK?
  • It’s often argued that large institutions (particularly financial organisations) have to pay their senior managers seriously high salaries, otherwise they would be recruited by rivals, or possibly tempted to move overseas where salaries may be higher. As the UK is as deep in the financial crisis as the majority of other industrial nations, is this argument valid?
  • Many organisations have introduced links between the company’s performance and the financial reward of all employees. Typically, a professional employee (earning around £25,000 per annum) may receive a bonus of 5% if the company hits all its performance targets. The Managing Director (probably earning upwards of £100,000 per annum) may receive a bonus of over 40%. Is the motivation to perform the same for both employees?
  • What other mechanisms may a company wish to introduce to share the financial success of the business between all employees?
  • What do you believe will be the reaction of the UK public to the call from Compass for a High Pay Commission?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

A few thoughts about Works Councils

It may come as a surprise to learn that the English Trade Union movement was closely involved in the rebuilding of post-war industrial Germany, in particular in establishing the framework of employer/employee relations. In contrast to the UK which now has a wide range of somewhat complicated employment legislation, the German legal framework is relatively straight forward, especially concerning the duties and responsibilities of Works Councils, the bodies that are charged with ensuring harmonious working relationships within organisations. The role of the Works Council is to “safeguard the interests of the employees in dealing with the employer. The Works Council and the employer shall work together in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation with the trade unions and employers’ associations for the good of the employees and of the establishment.” German employment legislation also lays down, for example, those business issues where the company is required only to inform the employees of its plans; those where consultation is necessary, and those where negotiation is called for.

  • What are the differences between informing, consulting and negotiating with a workforce.
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of a relatively simple employment legislation framework, both for the employer and the employee?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks for a company in being required by law to have to inform, consult and negotiate with employees on a range of issues?
  • The legislation referred to above essentially applies to all companies with a head office in Germany. Why might an English or US firm that is merging with a German company wish to set up its new head office outside Germany?


Reports in the UK press indicate that pressure is being put on the government to introduce legislation to restrict the number of hours that taxi drivers are allowed to work before a formal break is taken. As many taxi drivers are self employed, they can claim exemption from the European Working Time Directive which would otherwise limit them to a maximum 48 hour week, with regular breaks every six hours.

On the one hand, taxi drivers who have been working for long periods without a break clearly represent a safety risk to their passengers, and therefore safety campaigners argue that such legislation is neccessary. On the other hand, many taxi drivers argue that the introduction of such legislation would limit their ability to earn a decent wage.

  • Should the government be able to enforce legislation which, although increasing safety, makes it difficult for self-employed people to make a living?
  • The rules affecting taxi drivers date back to 1831. What should be the attitude of the government to updating potentially out of date legislation?
  • Many taxi drivers work for small companies (or are possibly self-employed). Should employment legislation apply equally to large and small organisations?
  • When a taxi driver who has been put under pressure to work excessively long hours is involved in a serious accident, who should be held responsible?

Friday, 14 August 2009

If it's Friday, this must be ...

Rising unemployment, companies asking their staff to work shorter hours, banks being taken back into state ownership, concern over the level of directors' pay, support for left-of-centre political parties dropping to a record low: sounds a lot like the UK, but all the items in this list are actually from this week's news in Germany (where the managers and staff of HR Case Studies have just enjoyed a well-earned break in the land of bratwurst and lederhosen)

And just as in the UK, how HR can help companies survive the recession, the increasing role of women in the workplace, and getting the most out of existing employees are key themes to be discussed at Zukunft Personal, the European HR Exhibition and Convention that is to be held in Cologne next month.
  • What are the obstacles to implementing in one country HR initiatives that have been developed in another?
  • How much is language a barrier that prevents our understanding of HR best practice in another country?
  • Although we often speak of the UK and the USA being two countries divided by a common language, is it inevitable that there will generally be more understanding and therefore exchange across the Atlantic Ocean than across the English Channel?

Saturday, 1 August 2009

European rules to prevent doctors from working long hours introduced in UK


The European Working Time Directive, which prevents employees from working more than 48 hours per week has been applied by the UK government to junior doctors. Organisations responsible for training doctors have said that the legislation will limit opportunities for training, but the government believes that the requirement has already been met by 97% of the NHS. A spokesman from the BMA (the body that represents doctors) has stated many doctors may be pressurised to lie about how many hours they are actually working.

  • Is it resonable for a government to limit the number of hours that individuals work?
  • Was it safe for doctors to work up to 100 hours per week as was the case in the past?
  • Individual doctors can still opt out of this legislation and work more than teh 48 hours. Is this acceptable?
  • How can it be checked that doctors are not either being encouraged to opt out, or lie about the number of hours worked?
  • If a patient received ineffective (or perhaps life-threatening) treatment from a doctor who had been pressurised into opting out from the Working Time Directive, who should be held responsible?