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Colborn’s Corner: The HR year in review

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Quentin Colborn
HR consultant, Quentin Colborn takes a nostalgic look at the year in HR, 2005 and reflects on the issues, current affairs and trends that have impacted on the profession.


The year stared with the disaster of the Tsunami in South Asia. Plenty has already been written on this event but what about the impact within the UK? Firstly I think it was amazing to see the generosity of people within the UK and also the dedication of those who undertook that vitally important role of identifying the remains of those who perished.

I am aware that those who did this task received the necessary counselling and support, but it raised the question in many a mind as to how well employers generally are at supporting staff that have to deal with harrowing situations. Many do so very well, but is this the case for all?

The year has also seen an election within the UK – remember it? Is this likely to lead to significant changes within the HR scene? I doubt it in major terms, although a couple of interesting issues arose during the process. One of the proposals that came to the fore and will be rolled out in future legislation will be the extension of maternity leave and the option for some of the leave to be transferred to fathers.

To my mind this gives the nightmare situation of employers transferring data on how much leave has been taken by each parent. I recall seeing Alan Johnson sitting on the couch on BBC ‘Breakfast’ telling us that employers would face no more red tape and inferring that the Government would take care of this by the CSA. I wonder! I can see this being an administrative nightmare for HR with little reward for our efforts.

Just before the election we had the demise of Rover in its previous form. Another change in the industrial landscape of the UK, but not one that we should be surprised at – who did buy a Rover anyway? But the lesson for all of us is that nothing is set in stone in terms of organisations and where they are going.

I find when speaking to groups of employees I still have to explain that the world moves on and that roles and businesses do change. My view is that if your job description doesn’t change in the course of a year then you had better watch out, as your organisation may not be keeping up with the rest of the world.

July brought us not only the Olympics but also the London bombs – such hugely contrasting events over two days. How well do we think we will handle the effects of the Olympics on HR? Being based only 40 minutes from Stratford, I am already seeing businesses that will have to relocate out of the area and I’m also wondering what the construction challenge will do for wage rates in the area.

In terms of the bombs, while by all accounts employers and employees handled the disaster in a highly professional and stoic manner, it provided the challenge to us all to look at our disaster and contingency planning. On a very basic level, how many employers could contact all their staff by phone if a building were incapacitated?

BA have faced industrial relations problems this year, along with their suppliers Gate Gourmet. Does this suggest a new militancy after years of relatively harmonious industrial relations within the UK? Is there more to come? My expectation is that we have not seen the end of matters at BA yet, but what about the role of the unions in general?

My expectation is that notwithstanding some major disputes, we will see a gradual transformation from collective to individual representation with a much greater emphasis on supporting individuals that assert their rights against their employers.

As the year ends there are two major topics on the agenda for the HR community. Firstly Age Discrimination where I think we have a lot of work to do before next October. The final regulations are not yet available, but I think that especially within smaller organisations there will be many who fall foul of some administrative procedures for no other reason than they forget some aspects!

For example, the requirement to give six months notification of retirement may sound straightforward, but if you have one retirement every two years I can see much potential for getting the process wrong. At the other end of the scale I think there will need to be a significant cultural change when it comes to age and recruitment – watch out for both some silly interpretation of the rules and also a good few Tribunal cases!

Pensions have to be the other major issue to end the year on. The Turner report suggests some radical changes in terms of pension contributions and retirement dates. While there can never be easy answers, I believe the challenge for management is to get the message out that you don’t get something for nothing and that somehow pensions have to be paid for.

This will mean changing attitudes that have been with us for decades, the prospect of early retirement was one of the benefits of new technology as it was rolled out, things won’t change overnight but to be professional we will need to be working on the topic of pensions for years to come.

Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant supporting businesses by both addressing strategic and operational issues. To contact him T: 01376 571360 or e-mail him at [email protected]

Colborn’s Corner: series articles

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