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.

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.

Are we there yet? The art of onboarding.

So you’ve made the hire, done the deal, the offer has been sent and accepted. Now you just have to wait until they’re finished in their current gig to join. Job done.

Or is it?

That period between offer and commencement might be a chance to get on with things for you as a line manager or recruiter. But what about the candidate? What is going on for them and how can you possibly help them during that interval?

As a candidate you’ve been through the competition, you’ve landed the prize, you’ve won. You’ve the sense of elation, the satisfaction, the excitement. And now the wait…

It is a funny period of time psychologically, you’re neither one place or another. You have hopes for the future that you can’t fulfil and attachments to the past that are slowly separating. It is the ultimate transition.

First of all, don’t forget communication. Stay in touch by text, by email, with a call. Especially when the notice period is long, maintaining contact can maintain the positive bond that has been made during the recruitment period.

Think about the sorts of materials or information that you can send in advance – are there business reports, structure charts, handbooks or brochures that go beyond the offer pack that would be helpful?

How can you prepare them for day one? What practical and helpful information can you make available to them? Where will they be, what will they do, what should they wear, where can they get lunch, what do they need to bring?

How can you maintain engagement beyond your personal relationship? Think about the opportunities to meet other people, to attend company events, to have a coffee or a breakfast or a glass of wine. Start creating the supportive network before day one.

Onboarding is more than paperwork, it is about the psychological transition from one organisation to another, from one state to another. Done well, it can not only enhance your employer brand, but also increase the speed at which your new hire starts to be productive and at ease in both the organisation and their role.