News round-up

Human Resource Management International Digest

ISSN: 0967-0734

Article publication date: 12 January 2015



(2015), "News round-up", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 23 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

News round-up

Article Type: News round-up From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 23, Issue 1

Time is up for the concept of retirement

Organizations in the UK need to respond to the challenges and opportunities of aging to prevent a significant drain on the economy as a whole, according to a think-tank on longevity and demographic change.

An age audit by the International Longevity Center – UK points out that if the over-65s are unable to find employment, those who are in work will account for a diminishing proportion of the population. Tax revenue from those in work may fail to keep up with demand for social security from an increasingly large proportion of people aged over 65 and out of work. Economic growth may come to depend on either substantially increasing the productivity of those in work or the numbers of people over 65 in work.

The age audit reveals that:

  • The over-65s in the UK currently spend around £2.2 billion a week on goods and services. Assuming that their weekly spending rises in line with annual inflation of 2 per cent, they are likely to be spending over £6 billion a week by 2037.

  • From now until 2037, the 15-64 age group in the UK will, on average, grow by 29,000 a year. By contrast, the number of people aged 65 and over will rise by 278,000 on average each year.

  • Across more economically developed countries, the proportion aged 65 and over will rise from 16 to 26 per cent and the proportion over 80 will rise from 4.3 to 10 per cent.

ILC-UK argues that if businesses make the right decisions to support increasing flexibility in the workplace, raise the health and well-being of the workforce, counteract ageism and embrace continuous learning, the concept of retirement as we think of it today will no longer be valid.

The ILC-UK Chief Executive, Baroness Sally Greengross, said: “Aging poses both an opportunity and a threat to businesses around the world. With growth in the number of people aged 15-64 likely to slow over the coming decades, businesses will be forced to emphasize recruiting older talent and ensuring lower levels of brain drain from their organizations”.

“At the same time, consumption of goods and services by the over-65s is likely to grow at a faster rate than any other demographic group, necessitating innovations in design and marketing to tap into the grey pound. Businesses that anticipate and plan for these changes will be best prepared to flourish, while those that fail to prepare could struggle to survive”.

The age audit contains an eight-point action plan

1. think strategically about ageing;

2. deliver flexible working;

3. become age neutral;

4. support those with disabilities, as well as the wider health and well-being of the workforce;

5. embrace continuous learning;

6. support inter-generational fairness;

7. help people to afford a good retirement; and

8. tap into the grey pound.

Meanwhile, research for Irish insurer MetLife Employee Benefits shows that employers estimate up to a third of their staff would struggle to continue in their current jobs past traditional retirement ages, even though 54 per cent of them expect an increase in the proportion of older staff.

Almost a third of employers say their workplace has a positive attitude to older workers, with 54 per cent saying their company is neutral on the issue. Only 12 per cent of companies questioned admit that people in their workplace have a negative attitude to older workers.

Among the concerns cited by human resource (HR) directors was a rise in absence – 10 per cent believe older workers will take more time off and 6 per cent believe the rise in older workers will make career progression and recruitment more difficult.

Tom Gaynor, Employee-Benefits Director, MetLife UK, said: “Employers are on the front line and need to respond positively to the demographic changes we are starting to see in the workforce. It is encouraging that there are mainly positive attitudes but there is still an undercurrent of concern and misguided thinking that could inhibit positive change. Older workers have a tremendous amount to offer and should not be seen as a problem but as a solution to many workplace challenges”.

Feeling bad at work can be good (and vice-versa)

Feeling bad at work can be a good thing, while feeling good in the workplace can lead to negative outcomes.

Research by Dr Dirk Lindebaum, of the University of Liverpool, UK, and Professor Peter Jordan, from the Griffith University, Australia, found that the opposite assumption fails to take account of differences in work contexts which affect outcomes.

For instance, anger does not always lead to negative outcomes and can be used as a force for good through acting on injustices. In some cases, anger can be considered a force for good if motivated by perceived violations of moral standards. An employee, for example, could express anger constructively after a manager has treated a fellow worker unfairly.

In such cases, anger can be useful to prevent acts of injustice from being repeated. Likewise, being too positive in the workplace, rather than resulting in greater well-being and productivity, can lead to complacency and superficiality.

Other research reveals that, in team situations, negativity can have a good effect, leading to less consensus and therefore greater discussion among workers which enhances team effectiveness.

Long hours’ culture is leading to stress

Extra time off for employees, including the return of half-day closing in shops, will reduce the burden placed on the UK National Health Service for work-related sickness.

Professor Craig Jackson, lecturer in occupational-health psychology at Birmingham City University, UK, commented: “The British workforce still has the highest mean number of full-time working hours of any European country. As a country we work too many hours – and we also rely on the culture of unpaid overtime and the willingness of millions of employees to work outside of the 9 a.m.-5 p.m. for free, on a regular basis”.

“Without the culture of unpaid overtime, many white-collar sectors would struggle to compete. Working unpaid overtime is now expected of workers in countless organizations, and technological advances facilitate this”.

“It is no coincidence that the rise of e-mail in the 1990s tied with when the stress-epidemic began. E-technology facilitates and enables excessive working on countless smart-phones and tablets”.

“Since the trading laws were relaxed in the 1990s, millions of people in the retail sector in the UK have felt the effects of the shopping culture. A suitable remedy would be for companies to voluntarily bring back half-day closing on one day each week. It would give workers a break and allow them to do other beneficial things in their lives. Any lost revenue would easily be saved by fewer workers needing to consult doctors for work-related psycho-social issues such as stress”.

Bosses need to learn how to thank their employees

One in five people works for a boss who never says thank you and so may be seriously undermining the success of their organizations.

The Power of Thank You report shows that business leaders who do say thank you have more motivated staff and higher rates of staff retention. They find it easier to recruit and have better reputations. Three-quarters of workers feel that they do not receive sufficient gratitude from their boss for the work that they do.

Almost a third of workers said that the most common form of recognition they experienced was a simple thank you from their boss when work is done well, while just under a quarter get a more tangible thank you in the form of cash or gifts at least once a year.

More than 10 per cent of workplaces say thank you using incentive schemes, providing a bonus or reward linked to hitting certain goals or milestones. The research suggests that these prove effective because people want their thank you to feel that it has been earned by their individual efforts and not just given as a matter of routine.

Declan Byrne, UK Managing Director of One4all Rewards, which commissioned the research, commented: “In a busy working environment it is easy for bosses to forget to say thank you as often as their employees would like them to, but failure to correct this will severely affect performance and profitability. A simple thank you, delivered in the right way, can boost performance by as much as 44 per cent, save considerable money through better staff retention and avoid the need to pay inflated salaries in order to attract people with the best skills”.

Volunteering scheme makes great connections at national grid

Volunteering gives staff new and varied opportunities to enhance their skills and, if integrated into an organization’s wider learning and development strategy, could have a longer-term impact on organizational success.

A new report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development unveils a framework to get more employees volunteering to help young people to get into work.

Volunteering to Learn: Employee Development through Community Action shows how volunteering can have hidden benefits for businesses if they link schemes to staff development. The report features a range of businesses such as National Grid, Marks & Spencer and the Nationwide Building Society that are promoting corporate social responsibility in their organizations and focusing on schemes that help young people. National Grid, in particular, makes sure that all employees have equal access to volunteering opportunities.

Kate Van Der Plank, head of UK community action at National Grid, said: “Sharing our skills and expertise through high-quality volunteering has never been more important. We are all feeling the pressure on resources which has enabled us to rethink the traditional employee-volunteering model and really sharpen it up. Working closely with our HR team, we focus on volunteer activities that create shared value for society as well as our business. We have already seen great results”.

“Sharing our business and professional skills enables charity and community organizations to gain access to expertise they may otherwise have to pay for. It helps them to become more commercial in the way they operate, making them more sustainable. At the same time, we benefit from rich and engaging learning experiences in skill areas relevant to our business”.

Ruth Stuart, learning and development research advisor, said: “It is fantastic to see such a big increase in the number of employers advocating volunteering opportunities to their employees. We welcome the trend for corporate social responsibility, HR and learning and development teams to work together on this. But it is also clear that more needs to be done not only to maximize the developmental opportunities that volunteering offers employees but also to ensure that what an organization does within its CSR activity is connected to a more strategic HR and learning and development agenda around growing your own workforce and building talent pipelines”.

“There is definitely an opportunity for volunteering to form part of an organization’s wider learning and development strategy. To support this, our research highlights the need for companies to delve further into the key skills and behaviors that volunteering can build and considers how learning and development and HR specialists can use community action to drive development in order to achieve organizational success”.

Employers suspicious of job-hoppers

Leaving one job for a better one can be a smart career move but too many employment changes in a short time span can give employers cause for concern.

A survey of more than 200 chief finance officers from companies across the UK reveals that employers are suspicious of employees who move job more than once every two years. Most respondents said that they would remove a candidate from consideration if they deemed him or her to be a job-hopper.

Small businesses (93 per cent) are more inclined to remove a job-hopper, followed by large firms (84 per cent) and then medium-size ones (82 per cent).

Phil Sheridan, Senior Managing Director of recruitment firm Robert Half UK, which commissioned the research, commented: “The job market has rebounded in recent years, and employers understand that job candidates may have had short stints in some positions. However, businesses look for people who will be committed to the organization, can contribute to the company and help it to reach its short and long-term goals. Too much voluntary job-hopping can be a red flag”.

He offered questions to consider when determining whether to stay at a current job or look for a new one:

  • Why do you want a new opportunity? Are you looking for a greater challenge or more money? A shorter commute or more flexible hours? A better relationship with your manager? Be sure to keep the job factors that are most important to you at the forefront of your decision and pursue a new opportunity only if it helps to address those issues.

  • Have you looked within? Do not assume that you need to leave your company to find the job you want. There may be other jobs with your current employer that are a better fit.

  • Where is the greatest long-term potential and stability? Is your best chance to build your skills and advance your career with your existing firm or another one? Which business is on the most solid footing? You do not want to make a move only to learn your career progression is stalled or your new company is struggling.

Workplace stress leads to less-productive employees

Employees suffering from high stress levels have lower engagement, are less productive and have higher absence levels than those not operating under excessive pressure.

According to research from professional-services firm Towers Watson, levels of workplace disengagement significantly increase when employees experience high levels of stress. The study shows that, of those employees who claimed to be experiencing high stress levels, over half also reported that they were disengaged. In contrast, only one in ten employees claiming low stress levels said they were disengaged and half of this group claimed to be highly engaged.

Rebekah Haymes, Senior Consultant and Well-Being Specialist at Towers Watson, said: “The research clearly shows the destructive link between high levels of stress and reduced productivity. A third of respondents said they are often bothered by excessive pressure in their job and this can lead to higher instances of disengagement and absenteeism – clear indicators of low productivity in the workplace”.

According to the research, absence levels are also influenced by stress, with highly stressed employees taking an average of 4.6 sick days a year compared to 2.6 days for low-stress employees. “Presenteeism” – the act of attending work when unwell and unproductive – was 50 per cent higher for highly stressed employees, with an average of 16 days a year versus around 10 days for employees claiming to have low stress.

Rebekah Haymes continued: “Wellness is about promoting changes in behavior and encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Companies could take more responsibility for educating employees about the benefits of better sleep, physical activity, good nutrition and a work–life balance in order to keep employees healthy, happy and productive. Some companies are making great progress in this area and are already starting to see the business benefits of having a healthy workforce”.

The reasons for high stress levels were also explored in the research. Inadequate staffing was the biggest cause, cited by more than half of employees. However, few employers consider this to be a major problem, with only 15 per cent of senior managers acknowledging it as a cause of stress in their organization. Conversely, a third of employers thought technology that made employees available outside working hours was one of the top causes of stress but employees largely disagreed, with only 8 per cent listing it as a contributor to workplace pressure.

Rebekah Haymes explained: “If business leaders want to promote a lower-stress environment in their workplace it is vital that they understand the real causes of stress in their organization. These can be specific areas that are not immediately visible to management if good communication and feedback structures are not in place throughout the organization. Without this, even the most well-meaning management team can find itself focusing energy and resources on the wrong areas”.

Portfolio workers are gaining mainstream acceptance

More than 60 per cent of business leaders believe that portfolio workers – who have a number of different contracts in place with different organizations at the same time – will gain mainstream commercial acceptance within the next 10 years.

Yet only half of HR specialists questioned by accounting and advisory-services company KPMG accept that portfolio workers will be an acceptable face in business.

David Knight, associate partner at KPMG, said: “There is certainly a need for organizations to be able to switch on and off their workforce in line with demand without incurring financial liability, although flexibility within the workforce currently is not easy or effective. Combine that with a push from younger generations to work in a different way from their predecessors, and it highlights the need for better use of the workforce. Our research shows that this form of employment can become the norm in 10 years’ time”.

“The freelance model has always been about plugging in additional capacity on an ad hoc basis and often at premium rates that are typically higher than those of permanent employees. This has the potential of creating resentment across the wider workforce. We believe that the portfolio-working approach is a far more commercial and socially beneficial option”.

More than half of HR directors agreed that the biggest challenge is that there are not enough employers offering the portfolio-worker option. Client confidentiality and fears over loss of intellectual property were also high on the list for business leaders, with 46 per cent saying it was their biggest concern and 51 per cent of human-resource development specialists saying it was second from the top.

David Knight concluded: “For this system to work, employees need to be able to build up an acceptable personal portfolio of jobs. This means that a broad employer footprint is needed. Scale will be vital to moving a good idea into accepted convention”.

“The report shows that there are genuine concerns over confidentiality and intellectual property. Of course, sensible governance is needed in constructing the framework to enable this way of working to be established as well as a regulatory environment that balances employee safeguards with workforce innovation”.

The research suggests that organizations are willing to take up the challenge and this could generate a snowball effect.

There is more to work than pay say, say ambitious Millennials

Almost two-thirds of Millennial workers – those aged between 18 and 31 years – are looking to leave their jobs for reasons other than salary.

A study reveals that 38 per cent of Millennials would be prepared to leave their job because of a lack of development opportunities, while almost a third (32 per cent) have chosen one organization over another based solely on its professional-development scheme.

More than half of Millennials have a career plan in place and 94 per cent state that their career path is a priority for them. Although Millennials are sometimes labeled the lazy generation, twice as many as non-Millennials have a workplace mentor and 38 per cent cite lack of development as being the biggest reason for changing jobs. Meanwhile, despite the assumptions of a lack of respect for authority, 87 per cent of Millennials believe they get along with their manager.

Sophie Relf, Marketing Director of online career portal Jobsite, which carried out the research, said “The attitude of Millennial workers is very different from what people might expect. With 23 per cent planning to work for as long as they physically can, they are looking for more and more from their employers”.

Engage on social media or lose staff, says report

Internal communication teams are failing to engage with employees through a lack of social media integration and risk losing staff to competitors as a result.

A recent study found that there are still a large number of businesses failing to use these online tools to communicate with employees. The report – which surveyed more than 250 communication leaders across Europe – revealed that only 38 per cent of participants agree that social networking platforms are integral to internal communications.

David Broome, Executive Director of recruiter VMA Executive, which carried out the research, commented: “Recruiters and businesses invest significant resources in social-media engagement to attract talent from competitors. Companies that do not invest similar resources in talent retention will leak staff and be left behind. When we also consider that such a large number of communication leaders identified employees as a key audience, a real opportunity is being missed by failing to integrate social media into internal-communications strategies in order to retain staff”.

“Recent figures also suggest that over half of employees post messages, pictures or videos on social media about their employer and more than a third have shared praise or positive comments on-line. Clearly then, internal communication teams should be using similar platforms to engage with, and ultimately retain, their employees”.

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