Saturday, 31 October 2009

Now is (not) the winter of our discontent

Personally, I’d be happy to return to an era when the pop charts were filled with classics by The Police, Pink Floyd and The Boomtown Rats (though I’ll pass on Dr Hook, The Bee Gees and Lena Martell), but it seems that despite a rash of strikes involving Royal Mail, British Airways refuse collectors and the fire service, fears of a return to the UK-wide strikes of 1979 are overstated.

The CIPD’s employee relations adviser recently said that the UK was unlikely to face a repeat of the “winter of discontent”. He claimed that the disputes in Royal Mail and the transport sector were “anomalies in terms of industrial relations, because the government is still seen as the ultimate banker or guarantor of service continuing”

The adviser did add, however, that during the current recession, the private sector would “still have lower levels of industrial action because of changed staff attitudes and an increasing need to be competitive globally.” He also predicted there would be more strikes in the public sector, particularly after the likely spring general election. This prediction is based on the assumption that there would be a backlash against a new Conservative government proposing to introduce legislation to deal with industrial relations in essential services.

Sounds pretty much like 1979 to me.

By the way: best selling UK single of 1979? Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel.


Friday, 30 October 2009

The cost of poor HR: €1 billion and 25 lives

Regular readers of HR Case Studies will be familiar with the shocking series of suicides at France Télécom which have taken place while the Company has been implementing a modernisation drive.

Since February 2008, there have been 25 suicides and a further series of attempted suicides.

The cost of a badly managed restructuring programme now stands at a 6.4 per cent drop in third quarter profits, 25 lives and (announced yesterday) a €1 billion stress-reduction programme intended to enable staff aged over 57 to work part time. The part-time jobs would be made available on a voluntary basis to employees who felt that full time work was endangering their health.

Company Chairman Didier Lombard is blamed by unions for disorientating staff through a massive change programme since the business was privatised in 2004. Unions blame performance targets, tough management and imposed workplace mobility measures for the series of suicides.

The former state monopoly has been forced into a wide-ranging review of working practices overseen by Stéphane Richard, a former French government adviser who took over as deputy chief executive this month.

Mr Richards has already admitted that the group has ''gone too far'' into its attempts to supervise staff through the introduction of ''control tools''.

Times Online: France Télécom to invest €1bn to prevent suicides
  • How could the engagement of a robust HR function have prevented this situation from developing?

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Royal Mail dispute: what's all that about then?

Is it just me, or are you also in the dark over what the Royal Mail strike is actually about? OK, it’s obvious that management of Royal Mail want to “introduce modern working practices” (whatever that actually means) and striking staff feel the need to protest against Royal Mail for “making efficiency cuts without modernising the service” but beyond that, the details of the dispute seem to have evaded me.

With that in mind, I’m therefore not sure whether my local postie is a workshy, lazy, trouble-maker (assuming that he’s one of those on strike) or a strike-breaking scab (if he’s not!)

Terminology like this is the subject of a brief article in this week’s Personnel Today, which also explores the inevitable polarisation of opinion that takes place during any dispute. The forced choice for Royal Mail staff to nail their colours to the mast of either “striker” or “scab” leads to the inevitable creation of stereotypes which in turn brings about “a self-fulfilling cycle that further divides the groups, as they consistently look for positive similarities with their own group while making negative comparisons with colleagues in the other group. Any small or insignificant differences are quickly blown into major points of disagreement, leading to emotional, long-lasting divisions between once friendly and supportive colleagues”

So, as the article suggests, although the Royal Mail dispute may have a short-term resolution, the rifts that form during strike action tend to be long-lasting and deep.

Strikes: the psychological impact on non-striking staff
  • One for teachers: research the background to the Royal Mail dispute to ensure that students are aware of the positions of both parties
  • One for HR professionals: if you were part of Royal Mail, how could you improve the public’s awareness of what this dispute is actually about?
  • One for the rest of you: where do your sympathies lie in this dispute?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Cocaine in the City: not so much a reward system - more a way to keep going

According to a report in yesterday’s Financial Times, the use of cocaine remains a serious problem among City workers in spite of rising unemployment and lower wages following the credit crunch.

A spokesman for The Priory psychiatric hospital in north London, told the FT that the number of bankers coming for treatment had risen significantly over the past three years, even when taking account of a large dip after the onset of the financial crisis in 2008.

The Priory spokesman earlier told MPs on the parliamentary home affairs committee that people working in financial services were more likely to run into problems with powdered cocaine abuse than other elements of society. "They often have a high-pressure job and will often start using it not so much as a reward system but as a way to keep themselves going," he said.

Recent Home Office figures show that Britons are the biggest consumers of cocaine in Europe, with at least one million people estimated to have taken the drug in the past year. About 12,000 people are being treated for their use of powdered cocaine.

  • Are you surprised by the figures quoted in the report above?
  • What do you believe that organisations should do to minimise the incidence of drug use in or around the workplace?
  • Bankers "often have a high-pressure job and will often start using it not so much as a reward system but as a way to keep themselves going." What do you think of this statement?

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

BMW Links Executive Pay to That of its Line Workers

While the salaries of UK FTSE-100 chief executives are rising twice as fast as salaries for shopfloor workers, in Germany, BMW has become the first major company to link the bonuses of its top managers to those of its assembly line workers.

The company stated that creating a fairer work environment was its reason for adopting this approach. Given BMW's size and weight in the global business market, other firms seem set to take notice.

Starting in 2010, the company will use a common formula to ascertain and award bonuses to its upper and lower level employees, based on the company's performance as measured by profit, sales and other factors. That means that upper level management could potentially lose more money than their lower level counterparts for bad performance.

A spokesman for BMW said the company's goal was to create fair and transparent compensation practices and to prevent a gap between management and the workers, as the underclass, from developing. "We don't just want to build sustainable cars. We also want to have sustainable personnel politics. We think this is good for the company culture," said the spokesman during an interview with Spiegel Online.

BMW Links Executive Pay to That of its Line Workers
  • What are your view on such an approach?
  • How do you think that this approach will be viewed by (a) senior managers and (b) lower level employees?
  • Do you think that this approach is likely to spread beyond Germany?

Targets made easier to hit for UK Chief Executives

Why does this not surprise me?

Despite the country being in the depths of recession, the chief executives of Britain's top companies earned the same amount in the past year as they did during the booming economic times in 2006.

According to pay specialists Income Data Services, the total cash remuneration for the bosses of companies in the FTSE 100 fell by an average of just 1.5% in 2009 compared with 2008, with a 29% drop in bonuses partially offset by a 7.4% rise in salary.

Or, in plain English, what the Chief Executives lost on the bonus swings, they more than made up for on the salary roundabout.

Though the reduction in bonuses may be the largest fall in the past decade, it still means that the typical chief executive took home an extra £500,000 on top of their basic salary. The IDS research also shows that the average bonus payment fell from £707,000 to £502,000 over the past 12 months. Hard times indeed for the Chief Executives!

A spokesman for IDS said that "what is surprising is that the credit crunch has had so little impact on the rate at which chief executives' salaries are rising. Salaries for FTSE-100 chief executives are rising twice as fast as salaries for shopfloor workers."

It also seems that the chinning bar is being lowered to increase the likelihood of success for the Chief Executives. The IDS spokesman said: "This recession is posing difficult questions about how directors should be remunerated. When incentive plans fail to trigger, remuneration committees often respond by redesigning schemes so that targets are easier to hit.”

Shareholders are understandably becoming worried that the rules of the game are constantly changed and this has provoked a number of pay protests at company annual meetings this year, including at Royal Bank of Scotland, Shell and BP.

The HR Case Studies editorial team will be returning to this issue over the course of the week, but feel free to add your comments below!

Company bosses' earnings remain at boomtime levels

  • Can there be justification for Chief Executive Salaries to be rising at twice the amount of shopfloor workers?
  • What are your views about the suggestion that the targets for Chief Executives are being made easier to hit?

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Brits: Miserable again.

It’s cold, raining, and windy.

The clocks going back mean that it’s dark just after lunch.

Hardly any wonder that we’re a miserable bunch.

But it’s official. For the average employee in the UK, job satisfaction has plunged from a score of 46 to 37. To make the situation even grimmer, 28% of us believe that our personal living standards have worsened, compared to a miserly 14% (presumably bankers!) who consider them to have improved.

Fed up yet? It gets worse! Six month ago only 38% of us reported excessive pressure at work, but this has now risen to 42%. We’re also more likely than a few months ago to say that we have seen increases in stress and conflict at work, as well as bullying by line managers (of whom women are by far the worst, as readers of HR Case Studies already know.)

The CIPD, who commissioned the survey, interpret its results by saying that “in the spring we interpreted high job satisfaction in the face of the recession as a 'fixed grin', where employees felt lucky just to have a job. In this quarter, the fixed grin is slipping”

To top it off, more of us would ideally like to change jobs (if we could actually find one to go to)

What does this mean for employers? “Employers could face a talent drain as the labour market recovers – just when they need all hands to the pump to capitalise on recovery,” says the CIPD. “Employers must also focus on developing the people management skills of their front line managers if they want to manage stress and encourage and enable employees.”

Hemlock anyone?

UK job satisfaction has plunged, says CIPD report

  • What can companies practically do to motivate employees during such challenging times?
  • The survey concludes that “productivity and competitiveness could be undermined in firms most affected.” What is this likely to mean in practice?
  • Deep and philosophical question: Spike Milligan once said, "Money can't buy you happiness but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery." Was he right?

Friday, 23 October 2009

Have you got the right tools for changing careers?

Although the chief editor of HR Case Studies is not generally too keen on woolly advice and guidance on job seeking techniques, a very brief article in the current edition of People Management Magazine contains these very down-to-earth and eminently sensible tips for the job seeker of 2009:
  • Make all your contacts face-to-face ones as far as possible - get remembered.
  • Seek out organisations and people who are bucking the trend.
  • Believe that someone you meet soon will make the biggest difference, and work backwards from that.
  • Ensure that your CV says everything you would if you were in the room.
  • Plan for rejection - hiring decisions are often arbitrary and are not valid feedback.
  • Job seekers and career changers: do you find these tips useful?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

An innovative way of addressing salary anomalies!

It's been a long week in the offices of HR Case Studies, so here's a little light relief.

This type of behaviour might be acceptable for American HR Managers, but I'm sure that us true blue Brits wouldn't indulge in such scurrilous activity.

Would we?

Time for change in the recruitment of teachers?

The Schools Recruitment Service has just announced the launch of its new “innovative online system designed to streamline the application process for those applying for jobs in schools.”

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has claimed that Schools could save up to £30m by using the new website to hire teachers and support staff. It’s estimated that English schools spend nearly £50m annually on advertising and filling 100,000 teaching vacancies, and a further 50,000 non-teaching positions such as administrative staff and school catering staff, so a typical payment of around £250 per year to use the service will inevitably sound very attractive to head teachers.

In an e-mail sent out to those would-be teachers already registered with the Training and Development Agency (TDA), candidates are informed of the following advantages of the new system:

  • Find suitable jobs - Search by your job preferences and apply online
  • Saves you time – Your details automatically pre-filled on new applications
  • Let employers come to you – Create your Talent Profile to join the talent pool
  • Receive job alerts – Find out about suitable vacancies as soon as they come up
  • Instant communication with schools - receive confirmation that your application has been received, every time.

Clearly the system is in its early stages (which possibly explains why there are currently a mere four teaching jobs live on the website!) but with 52 local authorities, representing more than 8,000 schools and 32 academies already interested in using it, the process of applying for jobs in the education sector looks set to change.

Friday squabbles in the staffroom over the Times Educational Supplement may soon be a thing of the past!

Schools Recruitment Service Website

Personnel Today: Teacher recruitment website could save schools up to £30m

  • Teachers: what do you think of this new approach?
  • HR professionals and recruiters: any thoughts?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Grin and bear it chaps! You're just not as rich as me!

Stiff upper lip, Jeeves! It seems that something else has been added to the ever-growing list of things that us Brits need to be tolerant of.

According to Conservative peer Lord Griffiths, who is also vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International and a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher (so he would say that, wouldn’t he?) the British public should "tolerate the inequality (of bankers’ bonuses) as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all".

Only a year after the entire banking industry was rescued by the taxpayer, Goldman Sachs is currently on track to pay the biggest ever bonuses to its 31,700 employees after raking in profits at a rate of $35m (£21m) a day.

Speaking in St Paul’s Cathedral last night (er.. and if I remember correctly, wasn't it Paul who dropped an e-mail to his friend Timothy saying that “the love of money is the root of all evil”?) Griffiths said "I believe that we should be thinking about the medium-term common good, not the short-term common good. We should not, therefore, be ashamed of offering compensation in an internationally competitive market which ensures the bank businesses here and employs British people."

He also pulled out the old veiled blackmail threat that if the Brits didn’t pay out such bonuses, someone else in Europe or the Far East would. "If we said we're not going to have as big bonuses or the same bonuses as last year, I think then you'd find that lots of City firms could easily hive off their operations to Switzerland or the far east," he said.

For those planning on relocating (and I suspect there will be few) take the Central Line from St. Paul’s, change at Oxford Circus, and then take the Bakerloo Line to Paddington, where you will be able to catch the Heathrow Express. Swiss International Air Lines are offering flights to Zurich from £108 each way.

Public must learn to 'tolerate the inequality' of bonuses, says Goldman Sachs vice-chairman

  • Right! Any questions from the floor? Man in jeans and a white shirt in the second pew from the back?

"Surf's Up!" says Harriet.

Harriet Harman, the UK minister for women, has told a Treasury Select Committee that a lack of women at the top of City firms is due to "institutionalised gender discrimination" and that action is needed to end the "nightmare" of male-dominated leadership of major companies.

Women need to get on their boards and ride the waves along with the guys said Ms Harman.
(OK, she didn’t say exactly that, but sure that you get the drift.)

Apparently only 19% of senior employees at the Treasury are women, leading Ms Harman to say that both the private and public sector have room for improvement.

However, she said the UK would not be following the lead of Norway, which introduced a 40% quota for female membership on the boards of its largest companies.

Oddly enough, although it was new fathers that were also highlighted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission yesterday (for not taking their full entitlement to parental leave) chairman Trevor Phillips told the same committee that women faced "chronic" discrimination in the City due to entrenched structures. And to make sure that the wrinklies didn’t feel neglected, he also said City firms prioritised staff between 25 and 39, giving the impression that those over 40 had "nothing to contribute".

BBC Business News: Get more women on boards - Harman
  • Should, as Harriet Harman suggest, firms take the lead themselves and encourage flexible and part-time working?
  • What do you think of Norway’s approach of introducing a quota for female membership on the boards of its largest companies?
  • Speaking at the same committee. labour MP Mark Todd said some industries needed a whole culture change in terms of their attitudes to female employees. What does he mean?
  • “Make sure you have diverse boards and a proper meritocratic approach,” said Ms Harman. What does this mean in simple English?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

France Télécom halts restructure amid suicides

HR Case Studies readers will be familiar with the shocking series of suicides at France Télécom which have taken place while the Company has been implementing a modernisation drive.

Since February 2008, there have been 25 suicides and a further series of attempted suicides.

Calls have been made for the resignation of Didier Lombard, France Télécom's chief executive. The French Government summoned Mr Lombard to a crisis meeting last month and demanded that he produced an urgent action plan.

With some similarities to the current situation in Royal Mail, there is a drive to dispense with many of the Company’s outmoded working practices and make the organisation more competitive in the international market. The vast majority of France Télécom’s workforce were recruited when the Company was a state monopoly, and when a job for life was practically guaranteed.

Although Mr Lombard had already eased up on a programme of compulsory job changes for managers, today’s announcement is of a complete halt to the restructuring until next year at the earliest.

How the company will use the 100 additional advisers in human resources that it recently recruited to address the issue of workplace stress is not yet clear

  • What lessons are to be learned from the problems that France Télécom has encountered?
  • Are there particular sensitivities that need to be dealt with when undertaking restructures in former state monopolies?
  • What, if any, are the similarities between the situation in France Télécom and that in Royal Mail?
  • There was some heated debate a few days ago in response to an article in The Times entitled HR Departments: What's the point of them? Is there anything that the 100 additional advisers in human resources would be able to achieve in France Télécom to answer those critics who believe that HR is a waste of space?

Does Dad still bring home the bacon while Mum brings up baby?

Some fascinating figures on paternity have been released this week: It emerges that almost half of working fathers don’t take their right to two weeks' statutory paternity leave. This is not because they want to escape the squawking babe, but because they can't afford to.

Additionally, a fair proportion of the new fathers feel frightened to ask for flexible working arrangements, as they are concerned that it might limit their career prospects. Even so, almost half of the male population feel that they don’t spend enough time with their children.

In line with the survey, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has called for paternity pay to be increased from the statutory £123 a week to 90% of fathers' actual pay.

Once again, the Brits could do with taking a look at practices in other European nations where a much more generous approach to paternity leave is in place: in Norway and Germany, fathers on paternity leave are given 60-80% of their income and the period of time they are allowed to take off is far longer than in the UK.

Especially as the model of family life where Dad brings home the bacon and Mum brings up baby is rapidly shifting, the call for a new approach to paternity leave seems sensible.
  • Are the calls for an increase to paternity leave and pay valid?
  • A significant number of men seem frightened to ask for their entitlement to flexible working arrangements concerning child care. What can be done to prevent this?
  • What do you think about the complaint of individuals without children that they are denied a benefit that those employees with children have?
  • The Equalities and Human Rights Commission is quoted as saying that companies which have adopted forward-thinking policies towards families are reporting increased productivity, reduction in staff turnover and reduced training costs. Why might this be?

Monday, 19 October 2009

Hey! Listen to this one! There were these three job applicants . . .

Have you heard the one about the Asian, the African and the White person who all applied for the same job?

Surprise, surprise, the white person got invited to interview far more often than either of the others.

Undercover researchers for the government (sounds a bit dodgy to me…) sent out 3,000 job applications with false identities. In order to assess possible discrimination by employers against people with foreign names, the CVs used names from three different communities: Nazia Mahmood, Mariam Namagembe and Alison Taylor. The applications were created to paint a picture of similar experience and qualifications and every false applicant had a British education and work history.

It emerges that people with African and Asian names had to apply for 16 jobs before getting an interview, although applicants with ‘white’ sounding names only had to apply for nine jobs before getting an interview.

Jim Knight, minister for employment and welfare reform, called the results “shocking” and said he was considering barring employers found guilty of racial discrimination from applying for government contracts.

The use of standard application forms, a practice favoured within the public sector, does appear to suggest that discrimination might be reduced by the use of such forms. The results showed that public sector vacancies, which usually use standard application forms, did not discriminate at the initial recruitment stage.

Employers discriminate against foreign-sounding names

  • The use of standard forms rather than CVs does appear to eliminate a degree of discrimination at the application stage. Are the results of this research sufficient to warrant the mandatory introduction of either anonymous CVs or application forms?
  • What do you think of Jim Knight’s threat to bar employers found guilty of racial discrimination from applying for government contracts?
  • Will we ever completely eliminate discrimination (of any type) in the workplace?

Mind your language!

Stupid. Unjustified. Unreasonable. Wrong.

With language like this characterising the current impasse between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) the suggestion that the conciliation service ACAS should be invited to mediate between the aggrieved parties sounds long overdue.

Unless there is a sudden change of heart by either of the parties, on Thursday, 22 October, mail centre staff and drivers will strike (“Unjustified!” says Royal Mail) The next day it will be delivery and collection staff (“Unreasonable!” Says Royal Mail)

In response to the threat of strike action Royal Mail is intending to double the 15,000 temporary staff it usually recruits before Christmas (“Stupid!” Says the CWU) These extra workers will deal with the backlog caused by the strikes as well as helping with the Christmas rush.

Meanwhile, sitting like vultures on the sidelines, TNT (the UK's largest private mail firm) is lobbying the government to allow it to deploy its postal workers on the streets if the stoppage goes ahead.

  • Does the dispute between Royal Mail and the Trade Unions epitomise a relationship that has broken beyond repair?
  • Previous disputes which have similarly featured such antagonistic language have ultimately been settled. Is such language possibly merely rhetoric?
  • The management of many organisations would claim to work in a spirit of partnership and collaboration with Trade Unions. Can you see such a relationship ever existing within Royal Mail?
  • Is it ever right that a Trade Union can in effect hold members of the public to ransom in furtherance of its cause?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Is this a five minute argument, or the full half hour?

New research suggests (oh, how I groan whenever I hear that phrase….) that having an almighty ding-dong with your work colleagues could be beneficial for all concerned.

According to strategy consultants Cognosis
(and I can feel another groan on the way …) a heated argument can encourage a robust exchange of ideas, leading to innovation and improvement in policy and vision (can this man possibly fit any more management jargon and buzzwords into one sentence, I hear you ask?)

“Great strategy emerges when people are encouraged to challenge the status quo, ask awkward questions and examine 'sacred cows'," says the report based on a survey of more than 1,000 executives from across the business world.

Helpfully, the Cognosis report also includes handy hints on how to argue effectively:

  • Direct, assertive, high-energy exchanges can trigger breakthrough thinking
  • No personal agendas
  • Listen, ask 'why', try to understand other viewpoints
  • Use open and encouraging body language, not defensive or closed
  • Raised voices may be OK but keep tone civil
  • Don't think winners/losers, explore ideas to co-create winners/winners
  • Ensure there's an agreed deadline for resolution

Responses to the research has been mixed. One workplace psychologist (yes, it’s time for a third and final groan) commented “This has clearly been dreamt up by people who are in control of their thinking, their bodies and their emotions, but the rest of the world is not so angelic”

Can a blazing row at work be productive?

So, come on you horrible lot: answer these questions and share your views.

  • Do you agree with the suggestion that a good row in the office might be a positive thing?
  • What's the difference between arguing and challenging constructively?
  • Is any form of aggression in the workplace unacceptable?
  • Are there some work environments where a "full and frank exchange of views" may be more acceptable than others?
  • Is aggression ever appropriate for a workplace leader?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The real bullies: older women

According to a recent survey undertaken by the Unison Trade Union, one in three young women in the UK claims to have been bullied at work. The publication of the survey’s results has been timed to coincide with the Union’s demands for new anti-bullying laws.

But it emerges that it’s not men who are the perpetrators of the bullying; young women are particularly at risk of bullying and the most common perpetrators were older women in more senior professional positions.

Of those who have been on the receiving end of the bullying, 73% believed that bullying was fuelled by increased work pressures during the recession and 40% felt that bullies were tolerated in the challenging environment created by the credit crunch.

The concern of the Trade Union is directed at the fact that although the vast majority of organisations have a policy on workplace bullying, many victims believe that the policy is ignored, leading to anger, mental stress, depression, lowered confidence and insomnia.

Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, said: “Our research has shown that bullying is accepted in many organisations – we need to change this attitude now. This shocking survey shows that the bullying and harassment of young women in the workplace is spiralling out of control.”

People Management: One in three young women bullied at work
  • What’s your response to the results of this survey?
  • Is it a surprise to learn that it’s other women who are often the bullies, rather than men?
  • If such behaviour is a result of the challenges created by the recession, will it just disappear when the economic situation improves?
  • Can legislation be effective in removing unacceptable behaviour in the workplace?
  • Can individual organisations address this issue without the need for a change in legislation?

Monday, 12 October 2009

What keeps American HR Managers awake at night: the thought of bare legs.

On this side of the Atlantic the recent focus of HR debate has been on the virtually metaphysical topic of whether HR departments actually serve any purpose. The breadth of opinion expressed - to say nothing of the amount of vitriol outpoured - has been almost as wide as the ocean that divides us from our American cousins.

This month's hot topic in the Land of the Brave and the Free is centred (or should that be "centered" ?) on an even more pressing and fundamental issue; that of whether it's acceptable for women in the workplace to display bare legs, or whether failure to wear "pantyhose" should be added to the list of dismissable offences. (By the way, if you don’t think that this a critical issue for President Obama’s HR Managers, just read the number of comments on the website below!!) Panty Hose Matter to Employers?

  • Just one question, dear readers: how much does our national culture drive the items that are on our HR Agenda?

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Out To Lunch? Not the Brits!

Apparently, over a quarter of British workers claim they're far too busy to leave the office for lunch.

According to a new survey (quoted in Management Today) 28% of British workers fail to leave the office all day. Half of the office prisoners skip lunch too. It’s suggested that this is due to two factors: heavier workloads, and fears about job security. Apparently the recession is leading to businesses trying to take on more work without expanding their workforce. And employees are too concerned about losing their job to protest about the extra workload, so are working through their lunch hours instead.

It’s estimated (although the HR Case Studies editorial team is not convinced that there’s any real evidence here) that this lack of breaks is contributing over 45m hours of unpaid labour every week

  • Should companies encourage employees to take a formal break for lunch?
  • What other initiatives are organisations taking to look after the well-being of employees?
  • What factors would companies take into consideration when, for instance, deciding whether or not to introduce a staff restaurant?
  • Are employees who take a formal break at lunchtime likely to be more or less productive than their office-bound colleagues?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Wookey Hole Witch position up for grabs after Halloween

A woman who beat 3,000 people to a £50,000 a year job as a resident witch is to be sacked after Halloween, it has recently emerged.

Former estate agent Carole Bohanan, 40, was appointed to the position at Wookey Hole Caves in July of this year. As part of the selection process candidates had to demonstrate their scaring skills to both the outgoing witch (who presumably must have decided to take her broomstick elsewhere) plus the cave manager.

The owner of the attraction (if that’s not a contradiction in terms!) has stated that "In a job like this you need a people person and I'm afraid Carole isn't." Carole may well be thinking of creating some evil spell to cast on her current employers. In the meantime, her only incantation is one of "I have given it my best effort. People were saying I was doing a good job."

Wookey Hole witch to be sacked after Halloween

  • Clearly Carole's short spell (groan!) in the job reveals that the selection process was ineffective. What could have been done to ensure that the appointed candidate possessed the necessary skills for the role?
  • Is three months in a role sufficient for a person to have demonstrated whether or not they are capable of doing the job?

Monday, 5 October 2009

HR Departments: what's the point of them

The HR world seems to be buzzing today in response to Sathnam Sanghera's “Human resources departments: I've never understood the point of them” article in The Times online.

Human resources departments: I've never understood the point of them

Sanghera does rather blot his journalist’s copybook early in his frustrating but challenging piece when he admits that “I’ve never dealt with HR myself” thereby reducing his article to the level of a book review written by someone who has not actually read the book in question!

The article does also remind me of those who mutter, “I don’t know much about Art, but I know what I like” or, in Sanghera's case, what he doesn’t like. Unfortunately, his claim to be neutral on the merits or otherwise of HR is very easily blown out of the water through a swift peruse of his blog which trumpets that he was HR Journalist of the Year in the 2006 and a Watson Wyatt (a major HR consultancy) Awards for Excellence winner this year. Come on Mr. S! You can't have your cake and eat it! Let's face it, you make your money from rabble-rousing articles written about and also for the HR profession, so to claim that you've never had to deal with HR yourself is simply untrue.

He does rather miss the point when he claims that “HR can’t even decide on what to call itself. "Recent suggestions vary from “personnel” to “human capital management”, “employee resources”, “organisational capability”, “talent management”, “performance management”, “organisational development” and “human relations”” Most would agree that many of these are discrete elements of HR, and are focused on entirely different areas; they are not interchangeable terms for the same activity.

Having said all that, as a member of the demonised group, I do find myself having to agree with some of the points made about the HR profession not being able to adequately explain to others what it actually does

As some of you (especially the teachers) will be aware, I've recently been writing a series of articles for students of A Level Business Studies under the title of "What do HR Managers actually do?" and have been following the framework of the CIPD Profession Map to do this. Some of the areas on the map are clearly explained, but I would have to confess that a bright A Level student would be hard-pressed to read some elements and gain an adequate overview of what we claim to be doing when we're involved in, for example, Employee Engagement. If we can't explain what we do in simple terms, then we need to stop doing it.

Also when the CIPD announces, as it has done today, the launch of "a major research programme which will paint a picture of how the HR function needs to evolve" I suspect that many of us groan inwardly and mutter, "here we go again!" With all the changes that we impose on ourselves as HR professionals, sadly I believe that we're in danger of becoming like Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat: slowly fading away until nothing of us is left other than our smile. And perhaps a policy or two.

Oh, and by the way Sathnam: who needs journalists these days either?

One in three UK firms impose pay freeze

According to research published by Incomes Data Services (IDS), one in three UK firms has imposed a pay freeze on its workers this year.

The areas in which pay freezes are most common are the motor industry, construction, chemicals, road and air transport and the media. Employees in energy, pharmaceuticals, bus and rail transport, food production and finance are more likely to have been awarded pay awards this year. If you’re one of the lucky ones to have received a pay increase, on average you will have received 2.9%

The report states that "In many cases pay freezes have been justified through commitments to safeguard jobs. Firms are conscious of the need to retain a skilled workforce for when the market picks up"

If inflation rises as economists predict, IDS say that there will be an upward pressure on pay, with most private sector increases in the 2.5% to 3% range. The report also warns that unemployment may remain high but if the economy recovers, skills shortages will soon re-emerge.
  • What are the reasons why employees in the motor industry, construction, chemicals etc. are least likely to have received a pay award this year?
  • Further research: some organisations have even persuaded employees to accept a pay cut this year. Which well-know companies have done this?
  • Some companies are attempting to retain their skilled workers for when the market picks up. Is this more difficult for smaller organisations?
  • Explain why unemployment can be high, but at the same time companies may be experiencing skills shortages.

Friday, 2 October 2009

What sort of Corporate Prisoner are you?

A recent report by talent consultancy Chiumento has concluded that the recession is forcing a lot of people to stay put in their jobs, even if they don't like them. Rather dramatically, the report tags these people as “Corporate Prisoners.”

A Corporate Prisoner is someone who stays with an organisation without being fully engaged. Their personal aspirations and needs are no longer aligned with those of their employer. Rather than move on to a new role or new organisation, the Corporate Prisoner stays. Some out of choice – some for reasons beyond their control.

Can you spot yourself here?

Have little or no desire to stay but can’t afford to leave until there’s another job to go to. Already plotting how to escape and just waiting for the opportunity.

Economic prisoners
Want to move on but can’t afford the price of doing so. Stand to lose far too much in monetary terms to even think about leaving

Going nowhere – at least not any time soon. The antithesis of Escapers, they have little or no career ambition and have settled down in a role that is well within their capability while meeting their basic economic needs.

Prisoners of Conscience
Really believe in what the organisation does. It is why they joined and why they stay. Often drawn to not-for profit organisation and public sector. The problem is that their belief in the organisation can outweigh their capability

Prisoners of circumstance
Individuals with the desire to both stay and perform – but ability to do so is compromised by external factors. May have been unable to access training or development – or are constrained to working particular patterns in specific locations.

Visiting stars
Individuals who join to meet an immediate need – often economic – but with no intention of staying longer than necessary. Some may be workers looking for a safe haven to shelter from the economic storm.

Chiumento Green Paper: 'Productivity sapped by dispirited employees'

  • What are the implications of this report for an organisation’s career management strategy
  • Is it reasonable for organisations to categorise employees using such terminology (either formally or informally)?
  • How could such information be of use to organisations selecting individuals for redundancy or redeployment?
  • Has this report identified a new phenomenon, or have there always been such individuals in organisations?
  • What sort of “prisoner” would organisations prefer: one who has no desire to leave, but doesn’t have the ability to perform, or one who wishes to leave but is an excellent performer?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Watching the nation grow older

The link below opens up an interactive and thought-provoking chart illustrating how the population of the UK is gradually growing older. The application allows you to choose which demographic indicator you wish to explore – from the percentage of the population aged 0-15 to that which is above state retirement age and beyond.

The ageing of the United Kingdom 1992 - 2031

The implications from an HR point of view are obvious, so think about the following questions?

  • What does an increasingly older population mean from an employee resourcing point of view?
  • How might the information on the chart be of relevance to the Pension Funds of major UK companies?
  • How might companies respond to the peaks and troughs in the age of the workforce?
  • The UK High Court has recently ruled that it is not unlawful for companies to force employees to retire at age 65 (though it is likely that this ruling will be amended in the near future) How might the information on the chart be used to reverse the recent High Court ruling?