Much has been made of the deal between courier firm Hermes and the GMB union which gives self-employed ‘gig economy’ workers various benefits, such as holiday pay, provided they sign up to follow delivery routes laid down by the company rather than simply set their own delivery route.
One interesting side debate that has occurred among some HR professionals is whether this deal is indicative of the lack of trust that businesses have in employees, and the underlying assumption that employees are inherently less productive than the self-employed unless they are controlled.
It’s an opinion, but one which I think is incorrect. It seems to ignore that work is a complex relationship, with economic, psychological and sociological aspects, which has at its heart a ‘bargain’ – I (the worker) will give you (the business) my time and skill in return for pay, a safe environment and fair treatment by the employer. The power in the relationship usually lies with the employer although there can be times when the employee has the upper hand.
The nature of any bargain is that if I give something up, I expect something in return – otherwise it’s not ‘fair’. So in this situation, the employer giving extra money to individuals wants something back for it – in this case a higher degree of control over the working arrangements. It doesn’t necessarily suggest a lack of trust (the existing system of drivers setting their own routes seems to have worked well enough for both sides) but a recognition that the relationship has subtly changed – and crucially still feels fair to both sides.
Think about it this way. When you are dating someone it’s a fairly loose arrangement, a little like true self-employment. When you’re not with your boy/girlfriend, there’s a certain element of trust (you assume that they are not dating others when you’re not around) but generally you don’t bother too much about what they are doing. When you move in together, the relationship changes – you give up certain things (the ‘right’ to come and go as you please, watch what you like on TV, decorate your room in a particular way) in return for other benefits. No-one is suggesting that loss of control over the TV remote or letting your partner know where you are implies a lack of trust or an inherent belief that single people have more freedom than the cohabiting. You each make a bargain to give certain things up in return for other things, in order to preserve fairness and balance.
So rather than examine the specifics of the GMB-Hermes deal, look at it in the round – it’s about maintaining equilibrium in the relationship.
(If this all sounds a bit theoretical and airy-fairy, there are some real practical implications in the world of work – find out more here)
Aspiring Conservative leader (and potential Prime Minister) Andrea Leadsom hit the headlines last week when she was accused of exaggerating her CV, suggesting that she had undertaken more senior roles than she in fact had.
It’s a problem that many businesses – large and small – face in recruitment. How reliable is the information contained in a candidate’s CV?
Most small businesses are unlikely to have the time, or resources, to undertake full background checks on potential candidates. And indeed it hardly creates trust between you and your potential employee if you feel you have to verify every aspect of a candidate’s career history. Having said that, a quick comparison with their LinkedIn profile might be useful!
Clearly, if you discover that a candidate has lied outright (claiming they have a qualification they don’t, or worked in a role or for a company they didn’t) you can withdraw a job offer or even dismiss after they have started.
But in most cases, it will be that a candidate has perhaps oversold their experience. What to do then?
It’s worth remembering that a CV is a marketing document. It is the person’s attempt to impress you as their potential new employer, so it’s understandable that they will want to put a positive spin on their achievements. After all, you don’t put in your brochure or website things like “our products are pretty good but battery life is better in our competitors” And it’s also a fact that individuals and their employers will often collude to make job titles sound more important and prestigious. “Senior HR Executive” implies there are more junior ones when in fact there may not be!
It’s a further reminder that recruitment should be a rigorous process Use interviews to test out the claims in detail. Everyone will accentuate the positive, but good questioning techniques (not this sort of nonsense) and effective listening will allow you to get a better picture of the candidate in front of you and what they actually have done. And you can then decide whether they have broadly the right skills and experience for the role or if you’ve been seduced by their marketing skill!
After all, we don’t complain about advertising unless it’s deliberately misleading; treat your candidates’ CVs in the same way.
Every day, I get bombarded with emails about “happiness”, “wellbeing”, “mindfulness” and “resilience”. Now, no-one, including me, wants people – whether they are employees or not – to be unhappy, in poor health (physical or mental) or unable to cope with things. But, as is often the case in the world of work, too many in HR are spending their time trying to tackle the symptoms, not the causes.
So: you’ve got a manager who’s working 14 hours a day, spending every evening doing emails and is aging visibly before your eyes. It’s ok – just send them on a resilience workshop.
Or an employee on minimum wage who’s worried that they can’t feed the family all week. No problem – a bit of mindfulness meditation will solve that
Or that guy who can’t sleep because they are failing to achieve the ever demanding targets of the company – just stick a Fitbit around their wrist and give them some feedback on their heart-rate. That way they can worry about the fact they aren’t doing their 10000 steps a day as well as everything else. (And of course we can add to our HR metrics too, to optimise their work performance)
The issue is that all of these situations, the problem is passed to the employee. It is their fault they can’t cope. As responsible employers of course, we make sure they’ve got the tools to deal with their failure to cope with the situation; after that they are on their own. Rarely do we acknowledge, let alone tackle, the organisational symptoms that contribute to the problem. Instead, we shrug our shoulders and conclude that, with all the support we’ve given them, if they can’t hack it in our environment they know what to do.
After all, HR has no responsibility for things like pay rates, working conditions, culture, organisational development, performance management or training do we…?
There’s been a bit of a furore on social media this afternoon about this (apparently genuine) recruitment advert:
HR professionals will know the answer to the question in the title. Recruitment agencies should, but clearly not all do. But if you’re the owner of a small business, without a great deal of knowledge of employment law, you would expect that retaining an “expert” to assist you with filling a role would ensure that you don’t
a) Contravene the Equality Act. It’s illegal to advertise for someone of a particular sex (with some very clear exceptions) or age, yet this advert visually implies that only young women can be secretaries. As the client, you would be held liable together with the agency if an individual decided to make a claim – and remember that they could do so without ever having applied, if they could show they were dissuaded by the advert.
b) Send out some very negative messages about your company. The implication that women can only occupy subservient positions to male bosses is hardly likely to attract many good quality candidates, and is the suggestion that errors may result in physical punishment really the impression you want to give of how your company works?
You wouldn’t plan when advertising a job that it would result in you breaking the law or damaging your company’s reputation, yet that’s exactly what has happened here. It doesn’t matter if you or your agency think you are being “witty” by make a reference to a cult movie if your potential candidates (or indeed your customers on a wider basis) find it tasteless and sexist.
Clearly in this case the client were very badly advised by the agency concerned, who themselves seem to lack a basic knowledge of employment law or what’s often referred to as employer branding. I’m all for doing something original and interesting to set your job advert apart from your competitors, but this isn’t the way to do it. It’s a warning to small businesses to carry out the same checks on the professional advisers you engage as you would do with anyone else you’re entering into business with.
“It’s Custom and Practice” is a phrase that I used to hear a lot when negotiating with trade unions. And even though today far fewer workplaces are unionised, virtually every one has its own customs and practices. It could be the company gives people a day off pre-Christmas; it could be that the company always gives enhanced redundancy terms; it could be that staff can swap shifts between themselves without reference to managers. Whatever it is, it’s almost certainly not written down as part of the organisation’s policies and procedures.
Trying to change these things can be one of the hardest parts of employee relations – not because there are any particular legal difficulties but because people have an expectation of these practices. And the argument that “it’s not written down” simply does not wash. I had very little sympathy with Mondelez, the firm that owns Cadbury’s Chocolate, when the furore over the chocolate used in Creme Eggs broke last week. As consumers complained that the company was now using a cheap substitute rather than Cadbury’s signature Dairy Milk brand, the company spokesman pointed out that Creme Eggs weren’t marketed as “Dairy Milk Creme Eggs”. Factually of course, he’s correct – the company have done nothing ‘wrong’ in changing the type of chocolate. But consumer egg-spectations (sorry) were that if they bought the product, they would get a particular type of chocolate, the same they had had for over 40 years.
It shows, yet again, that imposing change on people – even if you have a good reason for doing it – is likely to lead to a backlash. If you need to make changes within your business, don’t make the same mistake as Mondelez