Cohesion is the next big thing

You want to know what the next big thing for business is going to be? Of course you do, we always want to know the next big thing. Right?

But this time it’s serious. I’m serious.

The next big thing is cohesion.

When we talked about the future of work being human, we were almost there. But not there enough. I’ve been writing on this site for seven years, talking about being the need to be more human focused, but it isn’t quite right. We’ve been distracted by debates around AI and technology and missed the main point.

The future is something much bigger and much more important.

In my forty-four years, the political, economic and social environment has never felt more fragmented, more fragile and frankly more perilous.

As organisations, as employers we have an obligation to bring something to the party that is greater than the simple exchange of labour for money. We have an obligation to bring something that creates more than we extract. That binds and helps communities to heal.

This isn’t simply about corporate responsibility, used by too many organisations as a social-conscious healing makeweight. This is about endeavouring to change the existence of the communities in which we operate through our work, our practice and our existence.

This is about creating workplaces that are safe, both in terms of physical and mental wellbeing. Where individuals are respected for who they are, regardless of similarity or difference. That the rules of tolerance and respect are adhered to by all.

This is about building long-term and meaningful partnerships with employees, either individually, collectively or through their organised representation. Ensuring that decisions are made for the benefit of all stakeholders.

This is about developing skills and education for the long-term, both in the workforce and the community – recognising that we have a power to teach and to give, even to those who may not work for us.

This is about looking after those that work for us, on a financial and emotional footing. Ensuring that people are fairly paid for their labour, that the pay is representative of their skills and their contribution, not their gender or their race. That they need not worry in times of sickness or difficulty.

This is about ensuring that we are commercially successful so that we can invest back into the infrastructure that supports employees, creates new jobs and allows us to share that success both directly and indirectly.

And it is about leadership that recognises the importance of every single individual that works in an organisation and genuinely respects the roles and the participation of everyone.

Cohesion is going to be the next big talking point in the world of HR. Don’t forget you read it here.

Inclusion means acceptance

I’m going to let you in to some secrets, just don’t tell anyone you heard this from me….

  • Not everybody wants to work flexibly. Some people like being in the office every day.
  • There are people who come to work each day for the money. They don’t care who for.
  • Some people don’t want to be promoted, their ambition is to be left alone to do their job.
  • Self development doesn’t have to be about work. Some people learn all the time without you.

I could go on….

The thing is, just because we think it’s valuable, doesn’t mean it is.

As HR professionals, as professionals in the world of work we have to be incredibly careful that we don’t affirm our own and our professional biases on the workplace. We happily argue that we need to be more flexible, that we need to develop flexible organisations, but then we tell people that we’ve benchmarked our pay and that we are a median to top quartile payer and look with disdain at anyone who suggests they should have more. Why is one more important to us than the other?

We talk about inclusivity, without realising that means we need to create the environment that allows people to value the things that we don’t. That it means we need to accept that not everything will conform to the HR 101 Model Workplace and that we will need to accommodate a genuine breadth of needs and requirements.

Who says the person that needs extra money in order to pay for their family to go on holiday is more unreasonable, less worthy or more indulgent than the person who asks for flexible working to spend a day at week at home with theirs?

Who says that the person that comes in at 9 and leaves at 5 and doesn’t want to attend any of the learning and development courses, but spends their evenings learning different languages, has less potential than their colleague that takes any opportunity to advance their career?

When we think about the world of work, when we think about our organisations and workplaces, we need to check ourselves and ask which lens we’re looking through. Are we really making decisions that allow all to benefit? Or just the ones that we agree with.

A rewarding conversation

I read a lot of blogs from the HR community, both here in the UK and in other less developed countries….like the US. I read good, bad and indifferent posts about a range of subjects. I read about engagement, resourcing, learning, strategy (pause for theatrical laughter) but I seldom read about reward.

The very essence of employment is reward. We might try to shy away from it, we might try to avoid it, but put simply, work is undertaken only for reward. Whether it is the exchange of goods, the promise of salary or of course the contentious bonus.

We work for return.

So why is it that we talk so much about so many other areas of our remit, but so little about reward?

Is it too hard? Is it too sensitive? Or have we forgotten the essential element that underpins our existence as HR people, because we would rather focus on the froth?

Reward has been the driver behind so much of our corporate success and corporate failure over the last gazillion decades. It has taken more mainstream column inches than any engagement initiative or recruitment technology. Yet for all the creative thinking that the blogosphere offers, so little of it is dedicated to the biggest prize of all.

When I’ve written about reward in the past it has had a mixed reaction.

My mind boggles, I need to address these topics, I need to think about these things more clearly. I don’t have the answers, I’m not even sure I have the questions, but I know that as a profession we need to be thinking about this topic in so much more detail.

So…..why aren’t we?

How little are you worth? Pay, the economy and a living wage

It is very rare that I hear something on the radio in the morning that makes my blood boil. Mainly because it is normally so early that I’m still half asleep and more interested on getting to the train on time than getting aggrieved at an inanimate object.  I made an exception this morning to the views being expressed by Mark Littlewood from the Institute of Economic Affairs on the National Minimum Wage.

The argument goes, and I should add that it isn’t only Mr. Littlewood that makes this argument; the minimum wage is stifling job creation. Put simply if it was lowered then people would hire more, there are bosses out there who have work that needs doing but don’t think it is worth £6.08 per hour to get it done.  It is, in his mind and many others, a simple economic argument: business will pay the least for labour that it can.  He even went on in the interview to connect the level of the minimum wage with the youth unemployment figures.

The argument is infuriating in its simplicity and appeal. It is also completely facile and ill-conceived.

So what is the problem with this?

Before we deal with the moral arguments (which are a matter of opinion) let us have a look at the more practical business arguments.  First the argument assumes a homogeneity of skills and ability, that labour is universally transferable therefore the only market determinant is price. And of course this just isn’t true.  There isn’t one labour market, there are several interlinking labour markets and massive differentials in skills and abilities.  Companies compete with one another for labour and that is why there are wage differentials.  John Lewis will pay vastly different wage rates to the likes of Argos for example, but they are both employing retail workers.  If businesses only employed at the lowest possible level, then this simply wouldn’t happen, they would all pay at the £6.08 level.

Next let us look at the youth unemployment argument.  Unless I am massively mistaken and there has been emergency legislation over night, the 16-17 year old rate and the 18-20 year old rate of the National Minimum wage are lower (at £3.68 and £4.98). So IF businesses have all of these jobs that need doing but don’t think that they are worth £6.08 an hour and IF the labour market is purely financially driven, then surely we should be seeing unemployment in these age groups dropping? Of course a flick through the recent unemployment statistics shows that not to be the case.  Tuition fees, education and skills gaps? No. The reason these guys are unemployed is the adult  national minimum wage rate being set too high.

I worked in the business services sector before the National Minimum Wage.  We employed a lot of people in very labour intensive low skilled roles for a variety of clients from big private sector names to government departments.  I can tell you that the hourly rates that were paid by some of these businesses were shocking (less than a pound an hour in some cases).  And this is where we come to the root of Littlewood’s argument, because in this labour market there is a homogeneity of skills and transferability of labour and very often there is greater supply than demand.  This is where wage rates can be pushed down.

But this is also exactly why the National Minimum Wage was introduced back in 1999, to protect the most vulnerable and to afford everyone the right to a living wage.  We’re talking about £6 per hour here – for a forty hour week that would equate to less than £12,500 before tax and National Insurance. Does that sound too much to pay someone to clean your floors, to pick your fruit, to bring you your Caramel Macchiato?

We are living in difficult times, every time we switch on the television, turn on the radio, open a newspaper or flip the cover on our iPad, there are forecasts of doom and gloom. And in these times there are people who will push ideological messages under the cover of economic messages. Littlewood has his views and I have mine, that is the wonderful thing about a democracy. But when you hear people talking about the removal of this right or that right, the reform of this or that and basing it on an economic imperative, take a moment to look under the surface of the argument and examine whether it really is as simple as it seems, or whether there is something else lurking within.

UPDATE: In the UK, you can now listen to the original interview here (the interview starts at 28m 15s in).