Deteriorating employee relations will be a hallmark of the year ahead as longer working hours for no additional remuneration, growing skills shortages and worsening relations with management lead to increased levels of stress and disengagement.
According to a survey among 550 HR professionals undertaken by King’s College London and law firm Speechly Bircham, 46% saw stress-related problems rise last year, mainly due to increases in bullying, harassment and poor relationships with line managers, while a further 42% expected the situation to get worse during 2011. A direct correlation between higher stress levels and higher levels of absence due to illness was confirmed, however.
More than half of respondents also pointed to an increase in staff working hours, while pay rises and bonuses continued to be withheld. But they said also that the situation was resulting in growing levels of staff absence, sickness, stress-related problems and higher numbers of grievances being reported, again mainly due to poor relations with senior or line managers.
Future rises in working hours were only expected to lead to higher staff turnover and workplace unrest over the coming year, however.
As a result, two out of five of those questioned anticipated seeing a deterioration in employee relations during 2011, while 29% believed that the number of employee grievances would continue to increase.
Stuart Woollard, managing director of King’s College’s HRM learning board and co-author of the report, warned that this year’s study raised questions about “the sustainability of current strategies to keep workforces performing at the required level”.
“Organisations must carefully consider the likelihood of erosion in employee productivity, work quality and performance as a consequence of lean workforces and additional working hours. With an apparent leadership/management disconnect with staff, firms may not realise the nature and extent of the problems ahead,” he said.
To make an already difficult situation worse, however, one in three HR managers indicated that they were experiencing shortages of key personnel, a rise from one in five last year. Where such skills shortages existed, however, staff turnover tended to increase and greater numbers of working days were lost to sickness and absence, which further exacerbated the problem.
But the coalition government’s new cap on immigration was not making the situation any easier. While nearly half of respondents said that they employed non-EU nationals, about 42% said the cap was having a negative impact on their ability to hire the required expertise.
Moreover, although just over two thirds of HR managers saw maintaining employee engagement as their key priority for 2011, the majority attempted to do so by trying to ensure that leadership and management was more effective. But initiatives such as enhanced job design, better employee participation and procedural fairness tended to have a more positive impact, the report said.