Where is the New Deal?

The Future Talent Conference was a grand event with a host of witty, entertaining and erudite speakers, ranging from the former head of HR of the BBC, Sir Anthony Selsdon and a range of commentary on leadership, resilience and other topics that vex leadership. The pretext of the conference was the pending crisis that industry and society faces of a lack of skills and the curse of youth unemployment and the cost of lost opportunity.

They all queued up to tell us that the ‘Old Deal’ of employment was over. This is defined as no longer a job for life, secure employment, pensions and a share in the companies’ success. It seems no one was a fan of the bad old ‘paternalistic bad old days’ of strikes, low productivity and no control. Recent research from the LSE suggests that UK productivity (eg amount of product produced per worker) is still lower than in 2008 and worse than the rest of the G7.

The voices, although from different industries, were homogenous. The same message, broadly, speaking repeated. Having attended a similar conference in Berlin last year, I couldn’t help notice that whilst the challenges voiced were similar, there were different voices on the podium eg those of the Works Councils and Trade Unions. This is a complete anaethema to us in the UK.

Employee Engagement is said to be the number one priority for all Executives in the UK but only very few firms actually get close reaching a level of engagement that is acceptable..Recent research by the CIPD suggests that anything up to 50 Percent of employees hate their jobs or managers or both… This seems to lead to more and more activity with consultants, training leaders, analysing data whilst little impact is made. Engagement and loyalty seems to be on the decline…. Trust is at an all time low with our politicians, and so it seems to be the case with business leaders, when in reality business is a critical contributor to society and not only exisiting to create mega profits.

It seems that nearly everyone is willing to point out the death of the old deal, there was a complete vacuum regarding articulating anything resembling a new deal. For many years now workforces have been told to take control of their own development, learning and this in the face of low pay rises and relatively worsening benefits, unless you are very lucky.

With this in mind is it any wonder that the ‘’Psychological contract’ between organisations and employees is weak and that in a strengthening job market loyalty is low. The flexible labour force we so cherish also has these hidden costs in business. Low levels of Engagement mean lower discretionary effort, which leads to lower productivity and ultimately unhappy customers. Is it any wonder that British productivity levels are at the lowest for a generation?

This may create opportunity to fill the gap, and for HR to find its voice and play to our strengths,
putting people at the heart of the strategy. This does mean creating a change of mindset in how we as professionals can help create meaning in peoples’ work and how we measure the impact of managing talent, and fundamentally, how we interact with other stakeholders such as unions.

Much of employee dissatisfaction stems from the lack of career progression, security or lack of understanding in how to develop. (See 2011 CEB Research on drivers of engagement). The financial impact of not retaining talent is documented but can we also make the case the talent that we fail to develop? HR/Talent professionals can play a huge role in developing hard measures to win this case. In this ‘big data’ world of ours, we HR and Talent professionals must be able to synthesize the available data and build compelling arguments to make the case for all leaders to take responsibility for developing talent and not see the issue as an HR ‘add on’. For this to happen, HR also needs to develop a business mindset and not be seen as policing the process.
In a world where employment may no longer be for life, just maybe the Unions/Works councils can be engaged to help business and employees through this. When businesses need flexibility and up to date skills, surely Unions can become a valued partner. With co funding and consultation, can they become a training partner of choice and conscience of the organisation? With closer relationships, can they help employees bridge the gap for their members through periods of uncertainty and into new employment?

If the idea of a flexible, but engaged workforce, is nothing more than a pipe dream, perhaps we need a radical shift in behaviour from all stakeholders?


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