UK companies are stuck in an evolutionary mud hole, struggling to find a new approach to managing work in the 21st century. This is the conclusion of a survey out on Monday 23rd September from Ceridian Centrefile, the HR and payroll consultancy and Human Resources magazine.
The survey, "The Demanding Society: Managing Work in 2010", reveals that 89.7 per cent of HR professionals believe that businesses that don't customise their HR policies to meet the needs of individuals and reflect changes in lifestyle will fail to retain their employees. More than half (54.9 per cent) are also convinced that if staff were allowed to control their own work lives in terms of hours and place of work sickness and absenteeism would fall dramatically. Yet 4 in 10 employers still say that they cannot offer work-life flexibility to the majority of their staff.
Penny de Valk, group director at Ceridian Centrefile, says: "A significant barrier to flexible working are managers without the skills to manage people outside of the usual framework - 69 per cent of HR professionals identify this as a problem. The business case for a new contract between employer and employee is accepted by modern business. What employers must now tackle is how to change managers' skills set to reap the benefits of a 21st-century approach to work."
Trust and Loyalty
Another obstacle on the path to creating the new employer-employee contract is one of trust. HR professionals identified mutual trust and mutual obligations and expectations as the elements most important to employers in their relationship with employees. But overall the survey reveals that trust and loyalty are rare commodities in the modern workplace.
Nearly half of employees (45.2 per cent) say that they can't fully trust their employer and almost the same amount again (44.3 per cent) say that they never feel fully appreciated at work. And it seems that these feelings are justified as almost two-thirds (60 per cent) of senior HR people questioned for the survey admitted that employers only pay lip service to the mantra 'people are our greatest asset'. Rather, they say the reality is that they are talking about an elite few - the rest are expendable.
This disparity between what employers are saying to their workforce and what they really think extends to their attitude to older workers. Eighty-eight per cent of HR professionals recognise that demographic change will compel employers to extend or abolish retirement age. Nonetheless, nearly two-thirds (61.5 per cent) also think that businesses will remain ageist in their approach and will not take full advantage of the pool of older workers.
Trevor Merriden, editor of Human Resources magazine, says: 'Ageism is still rife in many organisations. Many workers, partly through concerns over inadequate pension provision, are willing to work beyond their current retirement age, yet there remains a marked reluctance on the part of employers to let them.'
It seems that the lack of trust between employer and employee has contributed to a change in employees' attitudes to job security. More than half (52.1 per cent) of the HR professionals questioned for this survey agree with the popular belief that staff no longer want to be tied to cradle-to-grave jobs.
In stark contrast only 12.2 per cent of employees agreed with them. A significant 55 per cent of employees claimed they would be attracted to an employer that offered a job for life. Within this group more men (60.8 per cent) than women (50 per cent) were keen on life-long job security.
"For the past ten years the received wisdom has been that the new contract between employer and employee is based on equipping staff with skills that both benefit the organisation and increase an individual's employability," says Penny de Valk.
"But security will always be highly valued. For the majority of companies unable to offer a job for life - but keen to earn employee loyalty - issues such as flexibility, more control over one's working life and a meaningful job become important."
With a quarter (26.8 per cent) of employers firmly of the opinion that workers and bosses are moving further apart, not closer together, and with 4 out of ten employees agreeing with them, can trade unions step in to fill the breach?
It seems not, as only a quarter (23.1 per cent) of employers think that in the future unions will help to pave the way for more effective relationship between employers and staff. In the public sector this figure climbs to 36.4 per cent but drops to 19.6 per cent in the private sector.
For employees the view on the value of unions is split with a third (35.1 per cent) believing that there would be value in belonging to a union in the future, a third (31.4 per cent) neutral and a third (33.6 per cent) who felt no need to join.
Work and Society
Employers and employees agree that inflexible working patterns and demanding hours are having a detrimental effect on family life and society as a whole.
Three-quarters (75.9 per cent) of employers agree that staff are finding it increasingly difficult to meet personal and social obligations and satisfy the demands placed on them at work. More worryingly, few (18.9 per cent) senior HR people would argue with the premise that the demands of modern life are making it difficult for people to be good parents - and nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) think this trend will continue.
Over half (54.5 per cent) of employees agree with this sentiment. People working in large organisations (83.2 per cent) and the public sector (81.8 per cent) have the gravest concerns that family-life is suffering due to the demands of work.
Excessive work commitments also have a social dimension. The majority of employers have little confidence that government initiatives to tackle juvenile anti-social behaviour (63.6 per cent) or promote volunteering and community activities (55.6 per cent) will succeed without a change in working patterns.