HR and “Fake News”

Last Friday (15 Sept) the tweet below appeared regularly in my timeline.

Screenshot (5)
Given that unpaid internships – along with zero-hour contracts and ‘disguised’ employment (Uber/Deliveroo etc) – are the big ethical no-nos in HR currently, it will not surprise you that the response to the tweet was much collective tutting on behalf of those in the profession (including me initially)
But something nagged at me. Whether it was the fact that the original tweet was not from one of the usual HR sources; or the fact that there was no link to the offending advert, merely a picture; or that I’m currently studying the “Calling Bullshit” online module; or as an HR person I’m used to carrying out disciplinary and grievance investigations and digging beneath the surface of issues. But mostly it was the fact that the story seemed too good to be true.
So, in my lunchbreak I did a little research. And in around 10 minutes – significantly less time than this post has taken to write – I discovered the following:
1. There is no such charity as “Fight Against Slavery”. No organisation of that name is currently registered or has been registered in the recent past with the Charity Commission (an essential requirement to describe yourself as a charity in the UK). Nor is any such organisation listed on the publicly available Police list of Anti-Slavery organisations.
2. There was a Crowdfunding page set up around a year ago with the aim of starting a charity under this name. It seems to have raised precisely no money at all.
3. The Daily Mail appears to have run a story on this in January this year. Given that newspaper’s reputation for playing fast and loose with facts, and its ability to twist any story to one of its political narratives (in this case “The HYPOCRISY of LEFTIES who tell US what to do while THEY do the opposite”), it’s possibly not a reliable source.
4. A quick bit of fact-checking on the Mail story reveals that the advert was allegedly placed on the Gumtree website, a general classified ads site that does include job adverts. At this distance of time there is no way of checking whether the advert was ever posted there.
5. The alleged spokesperson for the charity is one Chiara Chiavaroli. The only person listed on LinkedIn with this name is a Bologna University student, and while there are around 10 women with this name on Facebook, all also appear to live in Italy (Disclaimer – I didn’t check individual profiles). The crowdfunding page above lists a different organiser.
So, was this a prank to fool the Daily Mail, or an invented story to raise an issue of concern? Or is there some other explanation? What it certainly isn’t is a charity abusing its role or an example of an organisation exploiting people (since real charities can and do operate with volunteers, a situation which is both legally and ethically accepted). And it shows that even HR is not immune to the concept of fake news, something that we should all be aware of when commenting or retweeting stories related to the profession.

BBC Pay – what does it really tell us?

“A little learning is a dangerous thing” said poet Alexander Pope. A little bit of data can be dangerous, as today’s release of the BBC’s top salary information shows. Making assumptions about gender pay gaps and equal pay in an organisation on figures solely of well-known personalities is always likely to be fraught with problems, although that hasn’t stopped plenty of people offering their viewpoint.

First of all (something HR people should know, but other readers may not). Equal Pay is not the same as a Gender Pay Gap.

Equal Pay is paying the same wage for the same job – or a job of equal value –  to an individual regardless of sex. Not to do so is illegal in the UK. So, paying a male production line worker £300 per week and paying a female one doing exactly the same job £250 per week is not allowed. Where it becomes difficult is trying to judge if two different jobs are of equal value. There is no simple way to do this and trying to compare roles often ends up in long and complex employment tribunal cases.

A gender pay gap, in contrast, is not illegal. It is simply a snapshot of average salaries between men and women. It may for example show that men earn 10% more than women in an organisation – the important thing is to identify why this is the case (more men than women in the organisation overall; more men in senior positions; or a small group of highly paid men skewing the figures are among possible reasons).  Without knowing the cause, it is impossible to address the problem . Companies with more than 250 employees must report their gender pay gap figure (actually 6 different figures) on an annual basis, starting no later than April 2018.

So, do the BBC figures reveal a Gender Pay Gap in the Corporation? We simply don’t know. What we have are the salaries of the 96 most highly paid “names” – TV and Radio presenters, journalists and actors. That’s a drop in the ocean – the BBC has many thousands of employees. The fact that a male Casualty actor earns more than a female journalist tells us nothing in itself.

What about Equal Pay? Actually the data at face value does suggest some potential claims. Why is Strictly judge Darcy Bussell paid less than fellow Strictly judge Bruno Tonolli? Why does Today presenter Nick Robinson earn more than colleague Mishal Husein? But I’m pretty sure that on investigation there will be valid reasons (appearing on other shows, for example), as I can’t believe a major national organisation with extensive HR and legal resources would expose itself to such a reputational and financial risk.

Of course, a lot of this is nothing to do with pay equality, but a chance for some to make political points about the BBC and for others to express incredulity at presenter salaries (usually ones we don’t like – “Nick Knowles gets paid how much?”). Let’s see what transpires when the BBC does actually publish its gender pay figures before jumping to conclusions.

The failure of HR

Well, after much speculation, and a weekend of leaks, yesterday saw the publication of the Taylor Review into employment, entitled “Good Work”. Much of the focus has understandably been on the Employment Law implications (excellently summarised by Darren Newman) and there has been a mixed reaction to the proposals.

But one of the key things that struck me from the report was the implicit failure of HR Management over the last 20-30 years, in allowing this situation to develop. Taylor’s concept of ‘good work’ would not look out of place in any CIPD document (and isn’t radically different to the ideas of a Victorian-era Pope). But the fact that Taylor feels it necessary to state that:

·         Flexible working is currently one-sided, in favour of the employer

·         A culture has grown up of insecure work and unpaid overtime

·         Employees and other workers are not listened to and often have no way to put forward their views

·         Not enough time or money is invested in training and development

·         The over-control of workers leads to problems with individual wellbeing

Suggests the reality – of what HR are doing – doesn’t match the theory.

So why is this? There seem to me to be five main reasons for HR’s failure.

·         Clinging on to outdated ideas – like “Best Practice” – a set of theories that derive from a discredited 1980s management study

·         A mistaken perspective, that sees businesses as some kind of corporate North Korea where dissidents (anyone disagreeing with the management viewpoint) are trouble makers to be removed, or re-educated via ‘employee engagement’ programmes.

·         Alternating between scaredy-cat approaches where we hide behind “policy says no” and “we might set a precedent”, and macho ‘business partnering’ where we try to act like the corporate equivalent of mafia hitmen.

·         Dehumanising people by referring to them as “human capital” (an oxymoronic term that reduces people to data on spreadsheets)

·         Becoming obsessed with the process rather than the outcome. I don’t care which “Applicant Tracker System” is best or about the relative merits of an ‘e-learning portal’ v ‘online facilitation’.  

I’m glad to see that the CIPD are having a review and consultation around our professional standards. But it’s how HRM is put into practice that worries me, and it seems we are way off the game in a lot of areas.

 

Virgin on the Ridiculous

This tweet – and the responses to it – has been bouncing around my Twitter timeline over the last day or so. 

It’s been used as an example of the incompetence of management of railways in the UK; as a case for the renationalisation of the rail industry where profit isn’t the motive; and as a warning against privatisation in the NHS (where apparently Virgin are keen to become involved). Even a national newspaper weighed in

Sadly however, the real reasons why this problem occurred is more complex and mundane, and comes back to the Cinderella of HR, Employee Relations.

There are three factors at work here: Firstly, being a train driver is not an unskilled task that anyone off the street can do. So Virgin can’t just simply recruit to fill its staffing gaps without planning for the extensive training period required (nor, as a passenger, would I want any old individual sitting in the cab of a 140mph Pendolino as it hurtles along busy train routes). Nor are there vast numbers of qualified drivers sitting around twiddling their thumbs in the hope that someone from Virgin Trains will give them a call.

Secondly, train drivers hours are – again as a passenger, quite rightly – restricted, originally by the wonderfully named Hidden Regulations, with maximum length of shift and minimum rest periods, and now by agreement between management and unions in accordance with the Working Time Regulations.  So even if someone wanted to work overtime they might not be allowed to.

And finally, it’s because management and unions have – for many years, certainly back to the days of nationalised British Rail – have had agreements in place to allow drivers to supplement their income by working overtime on their rest days. Staffing rosters have been designed so that there is always overtime available. (I believe it dates back to the 1970s where people got around the Government-imposed pay restraint policies during a time of high inflation by ensuring that overtime would make up the difference – but if you know differently please let me know).

And most of the time, the system works well. Drivers are generally willing and able to work overtime and the train operators are happy to maintain good employee relations by ensuring it is available. Occasionally, as happened at the weekend, the system fails, but the industrial strife that would be caused by trying to ensure it never happened would be far more disruptive.

Dear Deliveroo…

An open letter to Will Chu, founder of Deliveroo

Dear Mr Chu

I read with interest your recent comments that you’re unable to offer the riders who work for Deliveroo better terms and conditions because to do so would ‘risk the flexibility’ that they enjoy.

I fully understand that entrepreneurs who have a great business idea aren’t always experts in things like marketing, finance or – in this case – managing people. But most of those who make a success of their business get expert advisers to guide them through these issues and ensure that they support their business aims in a legal and effective way.

I can only assume that you haven’t done so when it comes to employment matters, so I’m happy to correct some misapprehensions you seem to have.

Firstly, you suggest that it’s up to the Government rather than your company to define individual employer status. Actually, it’s not. There are a number of long-established legal tests that can be applied to determine whether someone is an employee, a worker, or self-employed. It may be true that 21st century economy needs 21st century legislation – and certainly the Government are looking at this at the moment – but at the moment the existing legislation does seem to be able to deal with most situations, even in the dynamic ‘gig economy’.

Secondly, employment status doesn’t prevent you offering flexible working arrangements or work patterns.  I’d have thought the data you collect on ordering times for takeaway meals would allow you to identify regular peaks and troughs in demand and schedule your labour requirements accordingly. Using a bank of casual labour, paid through the payroll, would allow you to offer sick pay, holidays and pensions to your regular core workers and supplement these at peak times.  It’s a bit of a 20th century solution, but sometimes old ideas still work effectively

Finally, I have to say that trying to disguise the nature of the working relationship – by using phrases like “invoice” not “timesheet” and “branding guidelines” instead of “uniform” – won’t cut the mustard if you’re challenged. Employment Tribunals will look at what actually happens rather than the words on a page and are pretty adept at seeing through sham arrangements.

I’m always happy to help growing businesses avoid simple employment mistakes and so if you need some further advice please give get in touch, although if you do have 15000 workers I’d probably suggest you need to have some full time in-house expertise. You might find my book helpful though, it sets out clearly and simply what entrepreneurs and small business owners need to know about people management.

Best wishes

Simon

 

Ch..Ch..Changes

Over the last few weeks, there seems to have been a welter of articles and events on the changing shape of work and –  as a consequence – how we need to throw our models of change and organisational design out of the window. Whether it’s the robots coming to take our jobs, the gig economy, globalisation or Brexit, everything’s changing and we’re living in scary new world where nothing is certain.

Except perhaps it’s not changing quite as much as we think. For example, recent data suggest that the rate of increase of the use of robots has actually slowed across Europe in the last five years and is at a lower rate in the US. That might speed up again but even now is only at a level of 2.5 robots per 1000 workers.

Similarly, the gig economy – as recognised by a recent CIPD report – still only forms a small percentage of the workforce, most of whom remain in traditional employment relationships. Even if we extend that to all self-employed workers, despite the growth in recent years they still only form around 15% of the working population.

I’ve been hearing about the impact of the VUCA world for at least 5 years now. Looking around, most of the organisations I work with are still structured in a very similar way to the way they were in 2012 – and I suspect they will not look that different in 2022.

The reason – humans adapt slowly to change. The technology to create driverless cars may exist, but until they are socially accepted they won’t take off. And that won’t be until numerous ethical and political issues are resolved. How many people talk to Siri/Cortana/Alexa currently? A growing number, but still only a tiny minority. Many humans find the idea of conversing with an inanimate machine a difficult concept. It will come no doubt, but over a longer timescale than the proponents suggest.

So while we should review our models and theories of change (particularly dumping the outdated Lewin model in the dustbin of history) we should remember that change will be controlled by the speed that humans want it to – not simply by the fact that we have the ability to do something.

Scenes from A Recruitment Process

 

Location: A meeting room at the London Evening Standard

HR Manager: We’ve used name-blind shortlisting and come up with these four candidates, sir

Proprietor: (reviews the CVs) Not excited by any of them, Susan. Career journalists, all of them. You know I like you to throw a wild-card candidate in. Let me see the other CVs

HR Manager: But sir, none of them meet the spec we agreed.

Proprietor: Give me them anyway (goes through each CV in about 15 seconds) Nah…Nah…Nah…oh wait. This one’s interesting. Lives in Cheshire…never worked in journalism…sacked from his last job…

HR Manager: yes, we always get the odd idiot who puts in a CV without reading the job spec. Usually it’s to convince the Job Centre that they are still actively seeking work, to protect their benefits.

Proprietor: Let’s see him anyway

HR Manager: But…(realises it is useless to protest and goes off to arrange interviews)

 

Location: The same room, a week later

HR Manager: Thank you for coming in, Mr Osborne. I wonder if you could talk us through your CV

George Osborne: Well, I’ve done lots of things, I’ve been Chancellor of the Exchequer

HR Manager: I was thinking about relevant experience for the job

George Osborne: I always wanted to be a journalist, I just never got the breaks

Proprietor: (beaming) We’re always trying to encourage new talent at this paper

HR Manager:  So what do you know about London issues?

George Osborne: Well I do visit a lot, it’s only a couple of hours from Cheshire. And you get a nice view of Wembley as you’re coming in on the train.

HR Manager: Yes, this other job you do, MP isn’t it? How much notice do you need to give?

George Osborne:  I was planning on carrying it on. The advert said you promote flexible working arrangements

Proprietor: You’re right – Susan here (he nods towards the HR Manager) is always telling me that we should be doing more about this flexible working stuff. Attracts millennials apparently.

HR Manager: Well, thanks for coming in, Mr Osborne, we’ll be in touch in the next week or so

(After the candidate has left)

HR Manager: Well, he was useless. No experience, no local knowledge, kept name-dropping his ‘contacts’, thinks he can do the role part-time to keep his second job.

Proprietor: I liked him. Offer him the job