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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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HR ‘out of touch’ with workforce realities, claims report

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Evidence of a “striking mismatch” between what HR professionals perceive to be key issues and the reality on the ground means that they simply must make more effort to understand their workforces, a report has warned.

According to a survey of 350 senior HR practitioners, all too many are out of touch. They are failing to predict staff grievances accurately, are cutting employee engagement initiatives despite plummeting morale, investing time and expenditure on the wrong personnel and are “sleepwalking into a storm of discrimination claims”.
 
Robert Thomas, an employment partner at law firm Speechly Bircham and joint author of the report said: “There is a striking mismatch between what HR perceives to be the major issues and what actually happens in practice. There is clearly a need for management, and for HR in particular, to move closer to their workforces.”
 
The study entitled the ‘State of HR Survey 2012: the age of uncertainty’, which was jointly published with King’s College London, revealed that 62% of respondents had to deal with employee grievances last year, although only 45% had expected to.
 
The source of such grievances had remained fairly constant, however, and ranged from bullying and harassment, relations between staff and management to stress and pay and conditions.
 
In addition, although seven out of 10 cited employee engagement as their top concern, up from 65% last year, the number undertaking activities to try and increase staff participation in management decision-making, for example, dropped from 70% last year to 50% this.
 
Potent mix
 
But even though engagement levels were found to increase and absence levels to drop if HR resources were focused on managing ‘high potential’ and high performers rather than poor performers and senior personnel, too many employers did the opposite.
 
Some 72% concentrated a disproportionate amount of time and expenditure on managing under-achievers, while 49% focused on senior staff and only 46% on ‘high potential’ workers.
 
To make matters worse, only one in five of the HR professionals questioned currently offer training and development for older workers, even though half expect the size of this age group as a proportion of their workforce to grow in future.
 
More than 50% likewise had no plans to monitor the gender pay gap despite the introduction of the Equality Act in 2001, although this figure was up from 75% last year. A mere 2% said that they had signed up to the government’s gender pay reporting initiative, however.
 
But Thomas warned that, with changes in legislation such as the removal of the default retirement age and the new agency worker regulations: “Organisations need to wake up to these issues if they want to avoid sleepwalking into a storm of discrimination claims.”
 
Stuart Woollard, director of King’s management learning board and co-author of the report, pointed out, meanwhile, that rising workloads, employee absence, increasing levels of presenteeism and stress should all be of deep concern to HR departments.
 
“Yet, we are seeing that initiatives to drive employee engagement have fallen significantly this year and that employee health and wellbeing is considered a lower priority than many other HR challenges,” he said. “This is a potent mix and one that suggests that business and HR strategy is not focused enough on these key areas, undermining any ability to create a highly engaged and sustainable workforce that can leverage competitive advantage.”
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett
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