Is trust a term and condition?

I was struck by the news this morning of the deal between courier firm Hermes and the GMB Union on employment status. The latest in a line of challenges to self employment and the so called gig economy.

Employees will now be able to opt to have 28 days paid holiday and a guaranteed hourly rate above the minimum wage, in return they will have to accept to follow the delivery route set out by the company rather than choosing the order in which they deliver their parcels.

The logic presented by the company is that if they’re going to guarantee an hourly rate then they need to ensure that couriers take the most efficient route. Which on first reading makes sense, but also raises an underlying question.

Is the suggestion that people are less likely to seek the most productive route if they are paid by the hour, that they’re more likely to (for want of a better word) slack? Or is it that the company don’t care about lack of productivity if they’re not paying for it, that’s the courier’s (and subsequently the customer’s) problem?

Whichever way you look at it, it points to an interesting interpretation of the contract of employment – that “terms” trump the psychological aspects of the employment relationship between worker and employer. It suggests issues of trust.

My guess is that the company is trying to distinguish between the self employed and employed by taking away a freedom that their current couriers appreciate and enjoy. If you want the good stuff (holidays and guaranteed wage rates) then there’s a cost to you too – the deal is on the back of losing an earlier employment tribunal.

But regardless of the specifics of the case it raises questions for us all. What assumptions do we make about the behaviours of people that work for us? And do those assumptions help or hinder what we are collectively trying to achieve?

Deal or No Deal?

When I started work, I don’t remember thinking I was due anything other than a pay cheque at the end of the month. I’d received my contract and terms and conditions and I accepted the deal  – the amount of holiday, the level of pension and the protection for sickness. That is about all there was in those days.

I figured that if I worked hard, put in the hours, managed to show a bit of intelligence and initiative that it would help me. Not to get a promotion, but to get experience and ultimately a good reference. Because when I started the job, my director had been very clear – I wasn’t going to stay.

It wasn’t that he was a hire and fire them character – far from it – but he had taken a policy to hire young, eager, recently qualified professionals and to give them a chance in the world of work. In return he realised that he got good quality people, but one’s that would want to move on pretty quickly – and he was ok with that. That was the deal.

Throughout my career, I’ve heard reference to “entitlement” more and more. It really wasn’t a term I was familiar with back in the mid 90s. And whilst I’ve worked with some people who truly believe they were the most entitled on the planet, “we’re unicorns, Neil, that’s what you need to do if you want to hire unicorns”, I’ve met more who’ve been disappointed that a promise they were led to believe, hasn’t materialised.

The thing about a deal is that it has to work for both sides, and yet as organisations too often we want to pretend we have something greater than the reality, in the belief that what we actually have wouldn’t be appetising. The implication of this is we don’t believe that job applicants and employees are capable of making an assessment based on facts and acting in accordance with their best judgment.

So instead we talk about nebulous concepts such as career enhancement, progression, development opportunities and stretch, which are easily misinterpreted and can be unintentionally disingenuous. Frustrations normally kick in at about two years into the employee journey, when people start to realise that their interpretation of the phrase wasn’t the same as the organisation’s.

There’s nothing wrong about a straightforward deal at work, in fact I’d argue there is something pretty refreshing. “If you come here, you’ll be working with good people to do your job, we will look after your health, safety and wellbeing, we will pay you x and give you y on top. You’ll learn and hopefully enjoy yourself and in the future, who knows, you might find something else here you like or you might choose to move on. And we understand and respect that”.

Deal, or no deal?

Your sickness policy is killing the world

Did you ever think that policy you introduced to protect against “shirkers” was going to cause a global crisis? Well maybe you need to think again.

Last year, Public Health England warned that unless we started to address resistance to antibiotics we could see 10 million more deaths a year within the next thirty years. At a cost of £66 trillion in lost productivity. Which is…pretty stark.

“But what does that have to do with me?”, I hear you ask. Because one of the major causes is over prescription, with levels of prescription being clearly linked with areas of higher immunity and resistance. Nearly 40% of patients now expecting to be prescribed antibiotics when they visit the GP for ailments that will cure naturally over time.

Now of course none of us like being ill and the sooner we can be back to health the better, but I can’t help thinking that organisational culture and sickness policies are also part of the problem. Many years ago I was made aware of a retailer that had a process that involved sitting on a long bench in a communal area with a sign that read, “We’re sorry  you’ve been unwell, take a seat until a manager can come and speak to you”.

And of course it isn’t just the crass examples, its organisations that don’t pay waiting days, that don’t pay above statutory minimums, that change shift patterns or working hours or demand a GP note for any type of payment.

So next time you’re reviewing that policy, or you’re under pressure to make sure that you tighten up on the amount of sickness absence in your organisation, remember, our demand for always on, always available employees isn’t just ruining trust and engagement, it’s potentially ruining the world.

We are better together

I read this post recently, by my friend Sukh Pabial on whether Learning and Development should be part of “HR”, or should be a stand alone function. It is a debate that raises its head on a regular basis and plays out in both L&D and Recruitment and Resourcing. With Brexit like certainty, the proponents promise abundant riches if only we were able to stand alone.

The first issue with the argument is that it never clearly defines, “HR” and instead homogenises everything else into a faceless mass that is responsible for all ills. Are we talking about employee relations, recruitment, succession planning, compensation and benefits? What exactly do they mean by “HR”?

The second issue is that it ignores the interconnectivity that is critical to successful people management in organisations. There are fundamental connections and interplay between L&D and resourcing and reward. There are issues that are raised through employee relations cases that directly inform the learning and development agenda.

Finally, it fundamentally limits the value of the L&D function by diminishing the influence, reach and resonance. In the same way that the UK risks diluting its international influence through separation from the EU, the fragmentation of the people function would fundamentally do the same.

The key in all of these issues is building better understanding, closer alliances that act in the interests of all parties and a united front that acts in the best interests of the people that we are there to serve, our employees. Not silly little tittle tattle arguments of importance that are better off left in the playground.