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Annie Hayes

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A week in HR: News round-up and commentary

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HR weekThis week, Annie Hayes reports on the end of the bonus culture, managers behaving badly in the downturn, HR turning their backs on business jargon and the lesbian couple that were allegedly told to put up and shut up because they would “never suffer in the way that the Jews did”.


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As four bank chiefs lost their jobs, news hit that the bonus culture is at an end. According to a leading economics consultancy, the bonus forecast to be paid in the New Year is to be slashed by 60% compared with peak payments for 2006. These are the findings of the centre for economics and business research (cebr) that predict “a new bonus culture” will emerge where bonuses are lower and based more on long-term results.

Yet news of toned-down fortunes wasn’t enough to deter the Trades Union Congress from slating the letter from the Financial Services Authority to the Chief Executives of UK banks, advising them on remuneration policies. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “We take the rather old-fashioned view that bankers, like the vast majority of people at work, should be paid a proper wage for doing a good job, and should not require bonuses to get up in the morning.” The bonus debate has also got Nick Jefferson heated – in his HR blog spot he says it’s time HR stood up to give their view. What do you think? Why the silence, he says?

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Despite news that the banking four have fallen on their swords, a report shows that UK managers are keeping a cool head in the face of looming recession, with 55% being optimistic or very optimistic about the next 12 months for their business. A poll of over 11,000 managers, by the Chartered Management Institute, found that while more than half felt that work was more stressful, 75% said the downturn presented “greater challenges” and 37% felt they were more focused at work. A third of respondents said their organisation had already frozen recruitment, with 44% focusing on developing the skills of core internal staff. A focus on management and leadership skills was seen as key to helping their organisation survive the recession by 82%. The Chartered Management Institute will be launching a micro-site at the end of this month to provide employers and individuals with resources to help lead them through the downturn at www.managers.org.uk/however.

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Yet in a sign that a vast chasm exists between managers’ perception of how they are dealing with the crisis and the view from their employees, a separate survey has revealed that 81% of business people think that UK bosses have little or no experience of how to deal with a downturn. A further 74% think that many companies are reluctant to communicate the full extent of the financial downturn they are facing. The survey, by The Aziz Corporation, also uncovered a widespread perception that business leaders are reluctant to come clean over their financial problems. Eighty-three per cent of managers believe that while businesses are quick to announce good news, they are disinclined to release information that may be bad for their firms unless they are obliged to do so. Almost three quarters think that many companies are reluctant to communicate the full extent of the financial downturn they are facing.

The research also highlighted a new problem brought on by the advent of electronic communication, with 85% of executives reporting that too many managers have become used to using email at the expense of face-to-face meetings with their teams. As many as 95% believe that face-to-face communication is more important in times of economic uncertainty.

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Communication is one thing HR has got right, however. They were recently voted the best at not using business jargon, according to research by MWB Business Exchange. The vast majority of workers (72%) believe that using business buzz words hinders productivity in the office. Phrases such as ‘think outside the box’ and ‘in the loop’ are still being used by a large section of Britain’s office workers, with more than a third admitting to using them every other day. However, most workers find these buzz words irritating. One in five rate ‘thinking outside the box’ as the most annoying phrase they hear in the office, while 11% rate ‘blue sky thinking’ the most irritating. The research, conducted in conjunction with Tickbox, shows that women are more likely to use business jargon than men, with only a quarter of men admitting to using it compared to over a third of women.

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Finding the right words can be tough in a redundancy situation. SHL is warning HR that redundancy practices, including the popular ‘last in, first out’, can be highly irresponsible. Instead, the talent assessment solutions provider is advising companies to focus on how to decide who should be retained in as clear, objective and efficient a way as possible. With redundancies now moving outside of the City and affecting companies across all sectors, SHL fears that some organisations could be getting it very wrong when tackling redundancies and redeployment. SHL advocates that companies avoid criteria that could be deemed discriminatory and suggests they should be clear about the future organisational agenda, identifying the competencies required by creating a forward thinking job profile for each key role.

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With all this to chew over, it’s little surprise that over a third of all HR staff eat lunch at their desk. The survey, commissioned ahead of ActionAid’s Child Poverty Day on Friday 17 October, found that almost four in 10 of those working in HR eat lunch at their desk and don’t take a break. With the credit crunch in full swing, the survey also shows that workers all over Britain are already tightening their belts as they start to spend less on buying lunches, in favour of making their own, with 85% of HR staff spending less than £3 on lunch and nearly half choosing to bring their own food to work.

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Further food for thought is which is the best company to work for, if indeed it is still in business. Registration for the Best Companies Accreditation and The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For competition closes at the end of this month. Organisations interested in taking part should visit www.bestcompanies.co.uk or call 01978 856222. Announcements of Accreditation successes will be made in January 2009 and The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For competition winners will be announced next March.

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And in news from the dock, a lesbian couple were left “humiliated” after colleagues joked about their sexuality. Reported by the Telegraph, Beth Moules and Sharleen Amos, both 24, and both saleswomen for Bristol-based Aquatec Rainsoft, told the hearing they were ridiculed by a senior staff member who branded their sexuality “disgusting”. They claimed a colleague told staff the pair had performed a threesome with their sales manager being “the meat sandwich between them”. The women, who live together in Swindon, Wilts, are claiming sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal at the tribunal in Bristol. They claimed the firm ignored their complaints of sexual harassment, and they were allegedly told to stop complaining because “lesbians had never and would never suffer in the way that Jews did”. The hearing continues.

If successful they will be one of the lucky ones. According to an HR blog posting by Stephen Simpson, as many as one in 10 successful claimants are unable to get the amounts awarded to them by employment tribunals from their employer.

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