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Charlie Duff

Sift Media


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Recession continues: Don’t forget your workforce


Many were expecting news of a small, but not insignificant, recovery of the recession when the lastest quarterly results were released. When, in fact, the economy was found to have contracted by a futher 0.4% it was a surprise to many who had predicted ‘green shoots’, and not without evidence.

According to the recent 2009 Business Pulse Report of 7,200 smaller and medium enterprises in the UK, some 61% of respondents were confident about business prospects for 2010. Meanwhile 75% were looking forward to a general economic upturn. Some 35% of SMEs reckoned that better times were just around the corner, with January 2010 cited as being the tipping point.

Commenting on the results, Mick Hegarty, strategy director, BT Business, said the results reflected that the UK had been through a challenging and confusing time. “We’ve had the biggest recession since the 1930s,” he noted. “We’ve seen the collapes of financial icons that we thought would be there forever. Now we keep hearing about the green shoots of recovery from so many places that it’s like we’re on Gardener’s Question Time.

“But there is room for optimism. The question now is, if we are seeing this how likely is that optimisim to translate into sustainable business and performance?"

Former Minister of State for UK Trade & Investment Lord Digby Jones had some additional words of advice: “If you’ve got this far, I’m not surprised that people are being optimistic. But more businesses go bust on way out of recession than on the way in,” he noted.

He also urged firms to remember their workforce: “When you thought the world was ending and you thought it could get no worse and then it did, you said no payrises and we don’t want you on Fridays, and you all said ‘we’re in this together.’,” he said. “Well, remember them as you start to climb back up. Stick an extra £20 in their paypacket and say thanks. You can do that as an SME. Thow them a party at Christmas. Workers are not listening to what you say, they’re watching what you do. “

A worrying report from the CIPD highlighted the current problems facing employees, who reported plunging job satisfaction levels as well as falling standards of living over the last six months. The quarterly Employee Outlook survey, of more than 2,000 employees throughout the UK, explained that despite the resurgence in the stock market,  the ‘real’ economy as experienced in people’s day-to-day lives has yet to witness any signs of recovery, with people under increasing pressure both at work and in their personal finances. Employees are more than twice as likely to say their personal standard of living has worsened (28%) over the last six months, as they are to say it has improved (14%). At the same time the CIPD net employee job satisfaction score has dipped substantially from +46 to +37 since the spring.

The fall in job satisfaction, which has been marked across both the private and public sectors, has been accompanied by an increase in the proportion of people reporting they are under excessive pressure at work, either every day or once or twice a week to 42% from 38% six months ago. Employees are also more likely to say that they have seen increases in stress and conflict at work, as well as bullying by line managers as a result of the recession.

Claire McCartney, resourcing and talent planning adviser, CIPD, said: "Back in the spring we interpreted such high job satisfaction in the face of the recession as a ‘fixed grin’, where employees felt lucky enough just to have a job. It seems that in this quarter the fixed grin is slipping and the temporary goodwill is being replaced with increasing frustration. There is a danger this could undermine productivity and competitiveness among firms where the problem is acute, putting any sustainable recovery at risk."

McCartney continues: "The survey underlines the importance of employers looking to build the resilience and engagement levels of staff in the face of rising stress at work, which is linked both to ill health and lower productivity. There’s a real danger that employers could face a talent drain as the labour market recovers – just when they need all hands to the pump to capitalise on recovery. Effective communication and consultation becomes critical in times of organisational change and turmoil to ensure employees feel consulted and, therefore, motivated to go the extra mile. Employers should also focus on developing the people management skills of their front line managers if they want to manage stress effectively and encourage and enable employees."

The disappointing news means HR still has its work cut out to ensure staff keep the faith through continuing tough times. Motivation and retention must be top of the agenda in the coming months – businesses need their people more than ever in these bleak times.

2 Responses

  1. HR’s time to shine

    I agree – many people are reporting ‘things getting better’ in a very broad sense – and this will more than likely help the overall economy. A feeling of optimism really can contribute and this is something HR can seek to inspire in every organisation. This may be HR’s time to shine – working with business to create great teams and fantastic organisations with drive and focus.

    HR has a hard job, being in the thick of making unpopular redundancies, implementing pay freezes and asking managers to do more with less – but HR also has the power to be sensitive to survivors, to inspire and engage and appreciate their employees. This can make all the difference between a good organisation and a great one.

    Make yours a great one!




  2. Remember to take good care of your staff

    Great article Charlie, I couldn’t agree more with your views on the benefits of looking after your staff who have gone the extra mile over the last 12 months.  Although the economy is still not technically out of recession, we have certainly noticed an increase in the number of companies investing in their people and are optimistic about the opportunities 2010 will bring…


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Charlie Duff


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