What will the election mean for HR?

As we move towards the General Election, The main parties are making their manifestos available and so far the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have published theirs. There is surprising consensus about the main themes to be tackled, but of course difference in approach and tone. So what are they saying about the world of work?

Executive Pay

There’s been a lot of reference to executive pay ratios and both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats commit to pay ratios across the board. The Conservatives state that listed companies will be required to publish pay ratios between executives and broader UK workforce pay, the Liberal Democrats point to “larger” companies having to publish the ratios between “top” and median pay.

In addition, they both also refer to binding shareholder votes on remuneration policies and executive pay.

Labour also mention pay ratios, specifically a limit of 20:1 in the public sector and for those companies bidding for public sector contracts, but perhaps surprisingly don’t reference the broader business community. There is no mention of any constraints on executive pay but instead to their “excessive pay levy” which would be paid by companies for employees earning over £330,000.

Minimum Pay

At the other end of the remuneration spectrum, all three main parties make reference to minimum wage rates – however, the content is particularly confused by the loose use of language, exceptions and omissions.

Labour commitment to increasing the “Minimum Wage” to the level of the “Living Wage” for all employees aged 18 or over.

The Conservatives plan to increase the “National Living Wage” to 60% of median earnings by 2020.

And then the Liberal Democrats commit to an independent review to set a “genuine Living Wage”.

No much clarity there then!

Employee participation

This is perhaps the most interesting area of discussion, with more inches dedicated to this than I can remember in any previous election. 

Labour approaches this through involvement of the trade unions, with a promise to repeal the Trade Union Act, a commitment to sectoral collective bargaining and guaranteeing Trade Union rights to access all workplaces.

The Liberal Democrats refer to employee representation on remuneration committees, the “right for employees of a listed company to be represented on the board” and to “permit a German-style two-tier board structure to include employees” but they’re not quite clear on whether this is an obligation, or an encouragement.

Finally, the Conservatives will make companies either nominate a board director from the workplace, create an employee advisory council or assign specific employee responsibilities to a designated non-executive director.

Employment rights

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats commit to the abolishment of tribunal fees, the Liberal Democrats also committing to merge those “enforcement agencies” that oversee employment rights.

Zero hours contracts come in for a lot of attention. Labour promise an outright “ban” whereas the Lib Dems refer to preventing the abuse and a formal right to request a fixed contract. The Conservatives make broader reference to protecting the interests of those in the “gig economy”. The Lib Dems and Conservatives also point to the forthcoming Taylor Report as a means of change.

Labour make a high profile commitment to an additional four statutory bank holidays (picked up by a lot of the national press) and a less high profile, but no less interesting pledge to ban unpaid internships.

The Conservatives make reference to a new right for employees to request information on the future direction of their company albeit, “subject to sensible safeguards”.

The Liberal Democrats present a right for employees in listed companies with over 250 employees to “request” shares in the business. They also float the idea of a kite mark for “good employers” that  covers areas such as paying a living wage, using name blind recruitment and removing unpaid internships.

Summary

Overall, my sense is that we can expect to see pay ratios being widely implemented in reporting in the same way that we are seeing with the gender pay gap and increasing focus on excessive executive pay.

The output from the Taylor Report looks more and more likely to be a turning point in terms of formal consideration of changes to working practices as a result of the “gig economy”. From recent press coverage, we can hope that the recommendations will be thoughtful and considered.

And finally, the debate about employee participation and voice is going to be fascinating. How do employees get a voice at the top tables of organisations, how do we formally enshrine employees as a meaningful stakeholder and how do we ensure more transparency?

Disclaimer

I’ve tried to remain as neutral and factual as possible, you’ll have your views as I will have mine. If inadvertently I’ve mis-portrayed a perspective, then it is entirely unintended.

I appreciate that there are other parties that will play a role in the election that aren’t included. I’ve used the information available at the point of publication.

If there are inaccuracies or omissions, please let me know and I will edit and amend as appropriate.

Are you an HR snowflake?

Life is full of debate and discussion about issues and events. One of the joys of being social animals is the ability to express, challenge and build on the opinions of others. But always respectfully, thoughtfully and decently – no matter how robustly.

And business, like life, can be tough. There are a lot of great professionals working in-house that know how to navigate through their environments and to ultimately be successful. But the spectrum goes from some of the most inspiring colleagues I’ve worked with to those that frankly weren’t renowned for their thick skins.

Wherever you work in the broader HR family, you live and die each day based on your ability to perform in the environment in which you work. We know that we will be challenged daily and have to be robust in our pursuit of success. It isn’t a place for the weak-willed or the fragile. Not if you want to succeed.

Being robust, being willing to express a point of view, but also remaining open to challenge and being willing to listen, learn and amend your perspective is crucial. Closing off contrary viewpoints, becoming entrenched in blinding self conviction is a critical failure.

I particularly find it interesting that in areas of the profession that will talk about learning, growth mindsets, curiosity and development we so often see the opposite. If we are to be credible and valuable, then we should always stand up and practice what we preach. Not run away.

Don’t be an HR snowflake. If someone challenges your world view, take time to consider, question yourself and their perspective, recognise it as a chance to learn, grow and adapt. You have a choice, to listen, or to disengage. The successful will never, ever choose the latter path.

Pay to play

There is work, then there is the other stuff. For the purpose of this piece, let’s call that “play”. Play is everything else that you do in your life, the hours that you use at your discretion (parents and carers, I know it doesn’t always feel like this!) for things that matter to you. For the majority of us, we need to work in order to be able to play – it pays the bills, affords us the chance to do other things and allows us to eat drink and sustain our existence.

So which one comes first?

As a kid I was brought up to believe that you couldn’t have what you didn’t earn – you did without until that point. It is a belief that I’ve carried with me ever since. It is a value that drives both my work and play, and the intersection between the two.

You want a promotion, or more money? You get your head down and work hard.
You want a holiday to your fantasy location? You save until you have enough to treat yourself.
That promotion is more likely if you don’t take a holiday at that time?

I question whether this is a value set that is firmly set in the past.

There are people who will say that you should make your work your play, but that’s frankly a patronising, middle class, privileged perspective. Most people don’t have a choice about the work they do, how they do it and where or when. They work because they need to.

But in a world that increasingly seems to offer an unfair deal, are people right in looking for more for less? If your current deal is so woeful, why wouldn’t you strive for much, much more? An if it means cutting corners, if it means taking a step more than you’re ready for, if it means getting now and worrying later, then what’s the harm?

I’m not talking about a generational trend, I think this is a change that has been coming for a long, long time. The inequality that exists, drives behaviour that compensate.

When we talk about work ethic, we talk about with a critical tone. But rarely do we combine it with corporate ethic. The replacement of career paths, pension schemes and security of employment with engagement, discretionary effort and doughnut days has repercussions beyond the individual organisational context.

Work to play? Maybe we’ve thrown it away once and for all.

7 lessons I’ve learnt in HR

I was asked last week, what advice I would have given myself at the beginning of my career. After a little bit of reflection, I think it would go a little like this.

  1. Reward yourself
    There are a number of specialisms that you can often move in to. It is very easy early on to be lured into resourcing or learning or employment relations. But if you want to make it to the top of your profession, the one you really need to get your head around is compensation and reward. That’s the area that really requires your attention, thought and understanding.
  2. Brands don’t matter
    The best jobs aren’t always with the best known companies. It is very easy to be attracted by the thought of working for the bigger brand names, the ones that will be familiar to your friends and family, but the best opportunities will often lie elsewhere. Rather than looking at the logo on the add, look at the reviews of the company, think about the experience that you want to develop.
  3. Titles mean nothing
    When I started my career, job titles were pretty standard across companies and between teams. There were always a few areas of overlap, but it was pretty linear. Very quickly things started to change and it all got a whole lot messier. Job titles mean almost nothing. You can be the CEO of a business of one, or a Manager of hundreds of people. Think content, think scope, don’t think business card.
  4. Move around
    You will learn more by changing industries than you will ever anticipate. Explore the opportunities to go elsewhere, learn from different cultures, different models, different sectors. Show you can be successful in any environment and adapt your practice. There are assumptions made that industry experience is a necessity, it isn’t, that’s just a lazy lie.
  5. Go global
    Our workplaces, our organisations and our workforces are increasingly international. And whilst people have broadly the same constitution whether you might be in the world, the way in which they interact, the way in which they consider issues and they way in which they work together will be different. Getting experience of this doesn’t mean jumping on a plane every week, instead think about how you gain good international exposure.
  6. Have fun
    Nobody is going to die from the work you do. Well, not normally. So don’t forget to enjoy what you are doing, have fun, be playful, be light-hearted and remember that the more positivity you exude the more you will get back. People spend more time than they should at work and helping them to enjoy that experience is part of your job too. Don’t think discretionary effort, think discretionary enjoyment.
  7. Don’t dig in
    Don’t go in to the trenches when you think you’re under attack, but instead seek to understand how you can change, learn and grow. A lot of the work that you do won’t be welcomed by a standing ovation and streamers and balloons. But you need to differentiate the normal reaction from the times when you get it wrong. Understand that you can learn from other people in the business about how to do great work, not just from conferences and journals.