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A week in HR: News round-up and commentary

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HR weekThis week, Annie Hayes reports on October’s new employment legislation, the productivity slump and the workers that just want to get away from it all.


1 October 2008 not only brought a distinctly autumn chill and another bout of credit-crunch nervousness, but a whole raft of new employment legislation to get to grips with. Amongst the goodies is a hike in the National Minimum Wage and the implementation of the Fixed Term employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) (Amendments) regulations 2008 stating that agency workers on contracts of less than three months are not excluded from statutory sick pay with effect from 27 October 2008. Luckily HRZone.co.uk has rounded up a list in its October employment law briefing.

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Whilst the big hitters that we have seen in recent years such as age discrimination legislation were notably absent, the amendments to maternity and paternity leave regulations have caused some reaction. Changes mean that women whose expected due date is on or after 5 October 2008 will ‘broadly continue’ to benefit from all terms and conditions of their contract of employment throughout the 52-week maternity leave period, not just during the first 26 weeks. Commenting on the changes, Kathleen Healy, employment partner at international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, said: “There are some tricky issues thrown up such as whether under the new regime employees should be entitled to a full discretionary bonus for the maternity leave period. And what about continuation of benefits which may or may not be considered to be remuneration, such as childcare vouchers?”

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The cost of health benefits is also on the rise by an average 5% per employee. According to Mercer, despite the rising costs, companies plan to maintain their health and benefit programmes – citing the role health benefits play in attracting and maintaining staff as a key objective against a backdrop of welfare reforms and tighter controls in state benefits and health provision.

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Wellness has also hit the headlines this week with the onset of flu. MASTA, a provider of vaccination services to businesses, says official figures indicate that the main cause of short-term absence is minor illness such as colds and flu. A 2008 national survey by the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) revealed that the average cost of absence has increased to £666 per employee per year with time off work now averaging eight days a year. MASTA cite the typical cost of a flu jab as being around £20.

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Productivity is usually the first to be hit with absence and new figures out show that productivity measured by output per worker has slumped. According to the Office of National Statistics, each UK worker is now producing less than in the last sharp productivity downturn in 2005, when employers hoarded staff during what was a short and mild economic slowdown. John Philpott, chief economist at the CIPD, said that these figures indicate that employers have responded by working staff harder, with the result that output per hour improved slightly in the second quarter, although still well below what was being achieved in 2006 and 2007. “Even without the impact of the latest global financial market turmoil this makes a late autumn and winter shake-out of jobs all the more likely – and means that the Bank of England should make an immediate and substantial cut in interest rates,” he added.

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The bleak outlook has also given employers a chance to examine their staff. A survey conducted by www.Skillzbase.com has revealed that as many as 92% of employers wouldn’t re-employ at least one member of staff, given the chance. Only 8% of employers were completely satisfied with every member of staff. It also revealed that 86% of employers felt at least one member of staff acted completely differently to how they acted during the interview; 62% of which felt employees had exaggerated and/or lied on their C.V. about their knowledge and experience. It begs the question whether the CV has had its day – see HRZone.co.uk’s in-depth briefing by Karl Gregory on the subject.

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Of course, holding onto your talent is the other end of the equation. Former BBC head of people development, speaker on HR and development Nigel Paine is giving a presentation on inspiring staff and realising their potential in London next month. Paine – a TrainingZone.co.uk (sister site to HRZone.co.uk) Agenda writer – will argue how increased employee autonomy and consultation, flexible working, and better development opportunities can help businesses hold onto their greatest assets. “In tough times, the winners are those who can retain, inspire and leverage their people,” he said, “and the losers are those who feel that the talent pipeline is endless and for everyone who leaves, someone better comes through the door.”

The presentation is a free event hosted by public relations agency Energy PR. Anybody interested in attending should phone Louise Findlay-Wilson on 01993 823011 or email [email protected].

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Harbouring talent also usually brings on the question of development. Lack of line management buy-in is the key barrier to learning retention, according to 40% of people who responded to a World of Learning online poll. The survey also revealed that 37% of the 300 respondents believed that the lack of follow-up further hindered the success of learning retention. Another 25% felt that lack of coaching/mentoring negatively affected the effectiveness of learning and development opportunities. A similar proportion – 24% – felt that lack of learner buy-in was a major issue.

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Going global, however, also brings further issues. In another report by Mercer, partnered with Harvard, data management was identified as the number one outsourcing challenge to HR executives in supporting the globalisation of their operations. The survey showed that HR executives face significant business issues that threaten to slow their progress in supporting globalisation – in particular, the decentralised and fragmented nature of the HR data they have to work with. The findings of the survey are outlined in the white paper entitled HR’s expanding frontier: From local to global strategic partner, which is available at www.mercer.com/HRexpandingfrontier.

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With the economic downturn and general doom and gloom, it’s no surprise that eight out of 10 workers say they would like a bank holiday this month. A survey of 4,255 people by employment law firm Peninsula found that 92% of employees think that there should be at least one new Bank Holiday, and 79% believe it should fall in October. So, employees want more time off – no surprises there – but who are the nearly one in 10 who don’t?

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