Should you only work once?

How many jobs should one person have? I don’t mean in the entirety of their life, but at any one time. My default belief, probably like many of you, is one. I mean if you can’t get paid enough from one job, then there’s probably something wrong with it. Isn’t there?

As contracts change and employment practices vary to meet with the needs of consumer demands, as different expectations become the norm I wonder whether we are placing a value judgment on the singularity of employment that needs not be the case. Of course, where there is a requirement to work two or more long, unpleasant jobs to make ends meet, then this is never going to be ideal. Where contracts are exploitative or overly balanced in favour of the employer, we should seek to question and challenge.

But could good work be possible across multiple employers? It feels ironic in some ways that at the upper end of the employment hierarchy we see people aim for a “portfolio career”, where they can engage and work for a range of different employers. Yet when we see this occur in more manual roles we assume the arrangement to be exploitative. And maybe that’s because it has been, but does it need to be?

I wonder whether the debate that we need to have is not about the quantum of hours per se, not about the structure of contracts but instead about the working relationship. About the balance of power and the clarity and equity of requirements from both parties on one another. You don’t have to look far back into the history of the world to see a time where people would have one or more occupations or means of putting bread on the table. The idea of a single employer is relatively recent.

And of course, if we do see ourselves (as I believe is inevitable) go down this route, the challenges to employers, to HR functions and leaders will become increasingly complex. Where a relationship exists with more than one company, the relationship does becomes entirely different – but not necessarily bad.

Who is HR responsible for?

In the fallout from the BBC pay debate, I found myself responding to indignant comments about the “state of HR” by pointing out that I very much doubted that the contracts that were under discussion were covered by the BBC’s HR team. The debate was around the payments made to the “talent”, the actors and presenters that were contracted to the BBC. They weren’t (as far as I can understand) actual employees.

I haven’t worked in television, but my guess is that the commercial contacts for “talent” are probably handled entirely separately to the pay and wage structures that would be handled by the HR team.  A comparison would be a football team – whilst many of the big clubs now have HR Directors, they’re normally responsible for the teams that operate behind the scenes and not the players themselves. That’s why situations such as a Bosman can occur – something that would never normally happen in an employment contract.

The closest I’ve ever been is my time in publishing and I think it would be fair to say that it would have been considered entirely bizarre if I’d suggested as HR Director that I should have had some input to the structure of the contracts that were signed with our authors. But should I have had?

That’s the real question that the situation at the BBC brings to the fore. Most of us in well run businesses now are focussed on pay structures, on job evaluation, equal pay and of course gender pay reporting. But only for those “employees” or “workers” that are seen to be the remit of the HR department. In a world where increasing focus is being placed on the fairness of compensation structures should we be extending the same principles that apply to employees to other associated groups of people (I’m not entirely sure what to call them as a collective). Not necessarily as the responsibility of the HR function – simply using the same methodology.

The BBC have rightly had the light shone on them, but what about Sky, ITV, Channel 4, Amazon, Netflix etc.? And whilst we’re at it, what about the vast difference between the pay of premier league footballers versus their female equivalents? Are there justifiable reasons? Which other industries have groups of non-employees where there are discriminatory pay practices that pass under the radar because they’re not strictly considered employees?

Maybe this is an opportunity for HR to share its knowledge of remuneration and compensation management with other parts of the business. To use our expertise in handling similar situations and the lessons we’ve learnt as we’ve worked to improve the balance between our employees. If our principle concern is unfairness, it seems to me the issue goes far beyond the BBC.

 

 

Reasons to be cheerful

  1. We’re talking about gender pay – After a week of headlines about the BBC, this might not feel like a positive but the fact we are even having the conversation is. It is very easy to single out the BBC, but I wouldn’t mind betting that the details of their commercial rivals wouldn’t look any better – and potentially could look worse. And that’s before we turn our attention to other entertainment sectors – like sport. We have the introduction of gender pay reporting this year, which will also undoubtedly make headlines of the wrong sort. And whilst no-one can reasonably defend the differences – at least they’re starting to be highlighted, discussed and rectified.
  2. There’s a shift in routes into employment – As someone who has been banging on about this topic for the past six or seven years, I genuinely believe we are seeing a shift in the perception of routes into the labour market. The increasing cost of university education (of variable quality) combined with an improvement in the breadth and range of apprenticeships and more creative thinking by employers is starting to provide more routes and opportunities for young people.
  3. The immigration debate is getting more realistic – OK, I know this one is a little bit sensitive, but the rhetoric on immigration has changed substantially over the past months and there is an increasing understanding that immigration is necessary for the successful functioning of the British economy. Not just in terms of the “professional” classes, but across all labour groups. The end result of Brexit on the labour market isn’t known yet, but if you listen to the messages coming out from both sides of the political debate, there is an increasing consensus.
  4. The robots aren’t taking over the world – Well not yet, at least. I remember watching Tomorrow’s World in the 1970’s and 80’s and being fascinated by the fact that in my thirties I’d be travelling in some sort of hovercraft, whilst my robot workforce cared for my every need. Truth is, I’m in my forties, driving a Skoda and still having to do the washing up. There is no doubt that technology is advancing and in a good way, we just need to channel out the noise made by conference organisers and “gurus” who want to sensationalise the natural progression of technology in the workplace for their own economic ends.
  5. We’re having a better conversation about work – As I wrote last week, I believe the Taylor Review is a thoughtful contribution to the debate about working practices in the UK. We need to get beyond the “ban zero hours contracts” rhetoric and start to understand how we provide a balance between protection and flexibility. We need to start understanding how our “demand” as consumers impacts on the labour model that employers are increasingly needing to explore. If we want good and services around the clock at the tap of a screen, that requires us to think about our workforce planning. It cannot be without good protection and support, but the answer will only come out of discussion and thought – not from trying to roll back time.

There is much to take from The Taylor Review

Last week saw the publication of the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. Inevitably it made headlines and drew attention to a number of high-profile ongoing debates – not least the “gig economy” and the challenge of flexibility. Perhaps unsurprisingly it also managed to draw criticism from both the trade unions and some within the business community – I generally think anything that fails to appease two potentially opposing groups must have something interesting and progressive about it.

The debate about work, the future of work and the working practices that we want to encourage in the UK is one that weaves a tricky path between those that argue for deep legislative protection for employees and those that argue for total liberalisation of the employment market. The answer almost certainly lies somewhere in the middle and navigating the world of compromise and pragmatic outcomes is always harder than taking a simplistic, dogmatic position. It is always much easier to highlight the issues that aren’t solved, than to look at the solutions that are actually proposed.

The report is over 100 pages and yet most of the reporting focused on relatively small sections and all in all there is much to be commended in the review. It provides one of the most balanced, thoughtful and helpful assessments of the challenges of developing an economy whilst maintaining good work and working lives – particularly in a world post membership of the European Union.

The definition and scoping of “good work” aims to take the debate beyond simple wage growth or contractual status – but without suggesting that they’re not important. Like the political manifestos of all major parties, it recognises the importance of employee voice and participation within the workplace and discusses the importance of work life balance and working conditions.

The section on learning and skills and employability is one that has had perhaps the least attention but is perhaps one of the strongest. Let me give you three direct excerpts:

On education policy: “Government should use its convening power to bring together employers and the education sector to develop a consistent strategic approach to employability and lifelong learning. This should cover formal vocational training, ‘on the job’ learning and development, lifelong learning and informal learning outside work. It could be linked to the longer-term development of life-time digital individual learning records. As part of this, the Government should seek to develop a uni ed framework of employability skills and encourage stakeholders to use this framework.”

On careers education: “In developing a national careers strategy, the Government should pay particular attention to how those in low paid and atypical work are supported to progress. It should take a well-rounded approach, promoting the role of high-quality work experience and encounters at different education stages.”

On unpaid internships: “The Government should ensure that exploitative unpaid internships, which damage social mobility in the UK, are stamped out. The Government should do this by clarifying the interpretation of the law and encouraging enforcement action taken by HMRC in this area.”

The Taylor Review doesn’t answer every question on the future of work, but it provides an incredibly helpful, thoughtful and balanced starting point. It is beholden on all of us associated with and interested in the UK economy, productivity and good work to take the outputs of the review and to build on them to develop our country’s approach to work. There is much good within the review and much to consider, we mustn’t lose this amongst the faff and nonsense of special interest groups concerned with looking after their own, increasingly dated agendas.