Government doesn’t make bad employers

Before the election I was asked to write a piece for HR Magazine laying out my dream policy. The sad fact is that whichever party had come to power the idea of providing free cheese and wine to HR Directors was never really going to get any traction. We can but dream. But, if you’re really interested, you can see the series of articles here.

Since the election, I’m hearing a lot of noise from left leaning, liberal, tree hugging, social media loving types, highlighting the risk to the world of work and employee rights from a right of centre government. And whilst it isn’t surprising (we all know the pantomime lines after all) it does seem to neglect the power that organisations have themselves to create good work and a good working environment.

There seems to be a perspective on organisations that “if you allow them to do it, then they will” which I find patronising and naïve in equal measure. The fact is, that lots of us work incredibly hard year in and year out to make work better AND make profit. That doesn’t mean that we always get it right and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t dodgy employers out there either.

The irony is that the same people who preach trusting employees in the workplace, reducing policies and procedures and placing the emphasis on adult to adult relationships seem to change their tune when it comes to CEOs and their relationship with Government. Employees should be treated like grown ups, but companies? Heaven forbid.

I’ve been involved in the Good Recruitment Campaign, a brilliant initiative from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation supported by many, many large employers who want to ensure high standards in recruitment. I’ve also been involved in the superb Learning to Work initiative from CIPD, which also has many, many high-profile businesses working to help reduce youth unemployment and connect the unemployed with opportunities in their businesses. These are just two, I could go on.

Beside these organised initiatives, there is also good practice going on in organisations up and down the country. Leadership and management teams that are trying to run their organisations well and responsibly and also provide shareholder return. After all, we all benefit from successful companies.

We have it in our power to be either good or bad employers, to treat people well or to treat them badly, to be supportive or attritional in our working relationships. No-one makes us do anything and ultimately we have the choice. The Government doesn’t have to set the agenda for HR, we can set it for ourselves. Instead of whinging and whining about matters beyond our control, let’s get back in to our businesses and make the argument for doing the right thing, regardless of who is or isn’t in power.

Get your sexy on….

Having a mouth that moves faster than your brain can have both advantages and disadvantages. Like anything in life, you have to take the crunchy with the smooth. It was at the end of an interview with HR Magazine that I uttered the words, “Before I die, I want to make HR sexy, that’s my mission in life,” A phrase that has gone on to be mocked and criticised in equal measure. That’s ok, I’m good with that… don’t wear the shirts that I wear unless you have a thick skin.

Now clearly, I didn’t mean that I wanted the profession to don suspenders and a basque or to in any way physically get a little bit jiggy with their business. Only those with the stunted intellectual prowess of a failed Parisian artist dragging their sorry carcass from an 18th century absinthe parlour in the early hours of a fog soaked night would draw that conclusion. In fact, the idea that I, or indeed anyone, would suggest anything of this sort is just down right dumb and borderline insulting.

But that isn’t the main thing that struck me from the whole sexygate nonsense. It was more the slightly embarrassed self mockery that came from the profession itself. Like suggesting the awkward bespectacled geek or, the child of the orthodentist who takes too much of his work home with him, could actually become the prom king or queen. Who us? Get away. Clearly the person saying it is mad. Right?

Because HR doesn’t want to be sexy, it wants to be serious. It doesn’t want to be desired, it wants to be respected. It doesn’t want people to feel, it wants them to think. And that is the reason, why unless we change the way in which we represent ourselves, we will never be any of these things.

People have choices about the careers that they pursue, they take views from their friends and their families, from their tutors and advisors. Most people want to do something with their lives that makes a difference, that appeals to them on both an emotional and intellectual level. They want to do something with meaning.

HR for me is the profession that sees more of an organisation than any other, it is the profession that can systemically improve performance and deliver results and profitability, it can make people’s working lives better, it can drive innovation, entrepreneurialism and creativity, it can improve customer service, shareholder return and employee satisfaction.

And, if that wasn’t enough, it can be fun, lighthearted and even irreverent at times.

A profession that does all of this, that can improve the lot of all major stakeholders and be fun? Sexy?

I mean, really……that’s just stupid. Clearly I’m mad.

DISCLAIMER: The title of this blog post is in no way intended to suggest that any reader should in any way, physically, mentally or metaphysically perform any sort of inappropriate act or make any suggestion either orally, in writing or through the medium of contemporary dance that could be deemed inappropriate by any other individual. Always seek the consent of anyone with a 5 metre vicinity, before getting your sexy on.