People policies across Europe are worlds apart, says Cranfield research

Sep 17 2001 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The predicted development of a harmonised Europe has yet to come to fruition, at least in terms of employment policies and practices. Evidence released from Cranfield School of Management shows that there are considerable national differences between organisations’ approaches to strategic human resource management.

As part of Cranfield’s Cranet survey, over 4000 organisations in 14 EU countries were questioned on their use of a variety of people policies such as training, remuneration, working terms and conditions. Key findings include:

  • Developments in home-working in the UK are dwarfed by the scale of teleworking in the Nordic countries, particularly Sweden, where three quarters of organisations are using teleworking compared to only one in ten UK organisations. Workers in these countries have found creative solutions to coping with the large geographical distances and difficult weather conditions that last for at least half of the year, by taking advantage of their technology industry and feeding the new ways of working into their organisations. This is resulting in both a flexible and technologically competent workforce – key factors in a competitive labour market.
  • Part-time work is by far the most prevalent in the Netherlands, where it is acknowledged that this contributes to low unemployment as a feature of the country’s strong economy. In that country, four in ten organisations have more than a fifth of their workforce on part-time contracts compared to two in ten organisations in the UK.
  • Belgium is the forerunner in using external providers of services for pay and benefits, recruitment and selection, and training and development activities. Some 87% of companies outsource their training and development, 81% their recruitment and selection, and 65% their pay and benefits activities. Organisations are realising the benefits of concentrating on core organisational competencies, whilst being able to buy-in additional services from a well-developed market place of service providers. Whilst UK companies are increasingly acknowledging these benefits and are outsourcing particularly their training and development activities, other HR functions are being outsourced at around half the rate of the leader in the field.
  • It is accepted that selection methods vary greatly in their ability to predict future performance of candidates, yet some of the instruments with the highest predictive validity are still only being used by a minority of organisations in most countries. However, there are examples of countries leading the way in their use: Spain leads in psychometric testing, the Netherlands leads in assessment centres, and France leads in graphology.
  • The research bears out that UK companies share with their US counterparts a belief that working longer equals more output. The research shows that the one area in which British companies can claim to lead Europe is in overtime: a quarter of all organisations are still claiming to be increasing the use of overtime as a means of building flexibility into working practices. The culture of long hours and presenteeism contrast with the more relaxed, flexible and balanced picture of mainland Europe.

    Cranfield’s Elaine Farndale, co-author, says: “Our research shows that despite a closer European Union and associated directives, far from being a melting pot, national boundaries are as strong as ever. It is widely accepted that companies that are employee-focused reap benefits for both themselves and the national economy. However, the UK is slow in comparison to its European neighbours in taking up some of the policies and practices that encourage this. Historic, social, and cultural factors all play a part and need to be confronted for the UK to move forward in line with its neighbours.”

    Other findings of the research present a complex picture of the changing face of UK employment patterns and trends:

    Downsizing: Downsizing has outpaced the shrinking of the HR function in the UK: during the last decade the ratio of HR staff to total-workforce has increased rather than decreased.

    Flexibility: Over the decade UK organisations have consistently reported a growth in working time and employment contract flexibility: yet in the vast majority of organisations, full-time permanent employment remains the norm.

    Training and development: Everywhere in the EU training efforts focus on managers and professional staff rather than lower grades of employees.

    Rewards: The share of UK organisations using performance-related-pay has fallen for the first time in a decade. The trend can be found across all sectors of the economy.

    Employee communications: The growth of individual employee communication over the last few years has been massive, and particularly so in the UK. However, collective channels of employee representation – unions, works councils, consultative committees, etc. – although still present are not seeing the same degree of growth.

    Research results are published in The HR Healthcheck. Benchmarking HRM Practice across the UK and Europe (FT/Cranfield Management Research Series), tel: 01279 623333,

    For further information contact:
    Penny Clewes, Press & PR Officer, Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield, Beds, MK43 0AL
    Tel: 01234 754348, e-mail: [email protected]