"You can't know where you're going unless you know where you've been”. When it comes to the evolution of human resources and worker welfare, this old adage certainly rings true.
Some 250 years ago, employees’ wellbeing wasn’t exactly high on the agenda. Obviously, things have improved dramatically in the past two-and-a-half centuries, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. As our timeline shows, employees have become more empowered over the years, and employers know that in order to get the best results, they must ensure that their staff are happy, engaged and looked after.
In 2016 it’s time to put these good intentions into practice.As we’re about to discuss, HR specialists will play a leading role in making this happen this year - the year in which HR professionals become increasingly influential, earning their place around the boardroom table and initiating positive changes that make the world a better workplace.
The rise of HR in the UK
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History teaches us many lessons and it’s uncanny just how many quotes made by historical figures are still relevant in HR today. For example, Frances Hesselbein, CEO of The Girl Scouts USA between 1976 and 1990, was once quoted as saying: “Dispirited, unmotivated, unappreciated workers cannot compete in a highly competitive world.”
There’s no doubt that the introduction of HR departments - which, as our timeline graphic shows, really started to take hold in the 1980s - was a positive shift. Now, it’s vital that business owners break the shackles that have constrained their HR experts, allowing them to drive a much more fluid and forward-thinking approach to maintaining high levels of wellbeing and happiness. HR leaders are taking their seat at the table, playing a vital strategic role.
New research undertaken by Bring Digital on behalf of Best Companies, which covered more than 1,500 people in total, shows that the term ‘HR’ has negative connotations for many people. It’s clear that HR professionals have a fantastic opportunity to overhaul perceptions of human resources by helping to shape policies that have people at their core.
Why it’s time to empower the UK’s HR professionals
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An end to silos?
Arguably, the biggest issue that HR professionals have at the moment is operating in silos. Think about the structure within the company that you work for - is the HR team cut adrift from everybody else, only getting involved when there’s a dispute or issue to deal with? Herein lies the problem. Rather than being seen as troubleshooting negotiators, HR specialists should have hands-on involvement in the day-to-day development of employees and the overall business strategy. In short, effective HR is proactive, rather than reactive, and it should be woven into the fabric of a business.
From Best Companies’ survey results, it was encouraging to see that just over 8% of respondents said they had daily involvement with their employer’s HR officers, while a similar number confirmed that they liaised with their HR team on a weekly basis. While these figures are fairly low, it suggests nevertheless that at least some organisations are making a conscious effort to adopt a more fluid and comprehensive approach to HR and staff development. This is something we’ll see much more of this year, and we expect the number of employees having regular engagement with their HR team to rise substantially.
A recent report published by Deloitte gives some in-depth insight into where HR is headed. While there’s a clear disconnect between what business leaders want and what their HR team are allowed to deliver, it seems that things are slowly slotting into place, with greater emphasis being placed on the retention of talent, and more frequent use of data to highlight weak points within a business. In 2016, the most successful businesses will be driven forward by their HR representatives, who will focus on nurturing workers and using data to identify areas of the company that need the most attention.
How HR specialists can influence strategy & get board-level buy-in with data
HR professionals are set to make a real splash, of that there is no doubt. But to have the greatest possible impact in the boardroom, it’s useful to show how much difference your focus on people is really making.
While your colleagues will notice word-of-mouth accounts from employees who have benefited from your hands-on approach to creating a better workplace, they’ll still want to see something a little more solid. This is where data comes into play. Can you show your directors exactly where silos are forming within the business? Why are people in one area of the business performing better than others? Are they happier? Are they being managed differently? All of this is quantifiable.
First and foremost, you need to know how employees really feel. You can't always rely on piling them into a room with their direct line managers and asking them for honest feedback on how things are working out. You won’t always get it! We’re just too polite (or scared). Anonymous and comprehensive employee engagement surveys are crucial for generating real data that can be used to pinpoint problem areas in your business. Your data should enable you to identify trends, and you can then take effective action to rectify any issues.
By obtaining data that enables you to score your managers based on their performance, you can make direct comparisons, assessing where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and how they stack up against their colleagues or external benchmarks. You can use this information in appraisals, for working out what training is required and to give managers extra support, enabling them to learn from one-another.
As we stated in our timeline, businesses will pay much closer attention to managerial behaviour in 2016. According to the Health and Safety Executive, the main causes of workplace stress are excessive workloads and a lack of support, and it’s widely acknowledge that people leave managers, not companies. It’s no secret that overworked, mismanaged employees are more likely to a) underperform, b) call in sick and c) leave. If HR specialists can get their hands on data that paints a clear picture of where managers might be struggling, they’ll be able to provide the support they need to transform their team.
Why companies need to adopt a 21st century approach to HR
In our timeline, we touched on the point that the vast majority of businesses in the 1930s weren’t all that bothered about what their staff thought of them. Unemployment was rife and company owners knew that if one employee didn’t like the working conditions, there was a long line of people ready and willing to take their place.
Although we saw echoes of this in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, things are changing, as the war for talent is intensifies. A study by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) suggested that mistakes made by some employers in the recruitment process are threatening to damage their reputation, making it much harder for them to attract the very best talent. The study, published in June 2015, found that 93% of workers who were unimpressed by their last candidate experience were not asked for feedback from the employer following an interview.
Organisations can no longer assume that they’re doing workers a favour by employing them. People who aren’t happy - whether they’re a promising candidate or a 25-year stalwart of your business - will go elsewhere.
A recent report published by Jobvite showed that 86% of UK recruiters expect the job market to remain as competitive or become even more challenging within the next 12 months. All of a sudden, in-demand talent holds the aces, and those who aren’t engaged in their current role have more opportunities to move to pastures new. The Jobvite study covered some of the ways in which employers are planning to attract and retain the best talent, with all of the usual suspects - flexible working provisions, pensions, free transportation/parking, relaxed dress code and free snacks - cropping up.
However, the reality is that it will take more than free Bourbon biscuits and a fruit bowl to keep workers happy. As this article published by HR Magazine shows, workers are more likely to stay loyal to a company if they are given opportunities to develop. There was one particularly interesting point within the piece, which suggested that forward-thinking employers have accepted the reality that career paths are different these days and that employees rarely stay in the same job for as long as they used to. The job for life has been replaced by a ‘portfolio career’. Having made peace with this, some businesses are using it to their advantage by presenting their staff with different development options. This kind of openness and transparency bodes well, as employees - safe in the knowledge that their current employer genuinely has their best interests at heart - are more engaged and more likely to remain loyal.
Again, if we refer back to our History of HR timeline, we’ll see that Frederick Winslow Taylor called this a long time ago. He was once quoted as saying: “In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first ... The first object of any good system must be that of developing first-class men.”
If we gloss over his omission of women - which was unfortunately par for the course back in the 1800s - for now, Mr Taylor’s observation that businesses need to embrace a culture of nurturing talented employees appears as shrewd in 2016 as it did back in the 19th century.
Numerous pieces of research have shown us that the biggest challenge facing businesses heading into the new year is skills shortages, so it has never been more important for employers to go the extra mile to ensure they retain the talent they already have within their ranks.
As our survey results have shown, it seems that the vast majority of businesses need to empower their HR teams to create a framework that enables them to maintain a happy, healthy and engaged workforce.