Strikes, Strictly and Brexit

I heard an interesting theory put forward recently (by comedian Frank Skinner) that Strictly Come Dancing led to Brexit. In the 2008 series, journalist John Sergeant was possibly the most hopeless contestant to ever appear on the programme. However despite the  frequent condemnation of the dance judges, the public voted week after week to keep him in the show. Skinner suggested that it was perhaps the moment that people realised they could ignore “experts” and get the result they wanted through voting in sufficient numbers.

In common with every other area of business, HR professionals are currently grappling with the implications of Brexit. Much of the debate surrounds employment law (will it change or not, and if so how?), recruitment (what will be the rules on recruiting EU nationals, will they be required to have work permits), and skill shortages (will we still be able to employ existing EU staff, and if not how will we fill the skills gap?).

However, one overlooked area is that of Employee Relations. We’re currently seeing a wave of industrial disputes – railways, airline staff, Post Office workers, airport baggage handlers, Weetabix factory workers. While some suggest this is some wave of 1970s style union militancy, the fact is that the majority of these disputes are over ‘old-fashioned’ pay and conditions matters, and they are overwhelming supported by affected staff in secret ballots. Perhaps the Brexit vote has convinced ‘ordinary workers’ that they can change things by voting?

What it has also revealed is the poor approach of management in most of these situations. It may be arrogance – a belief that management proposals can always be implemented because the employer wants to, irrespective of the views of employees. Or it could be a refusal to believe that people will do something so ‘stupid’  – they won’t vote to strike and lose pay before Christmas (just like they won’t vote to leave the EU or for a dancer as poor as John Sergeant). Mostly however I suspect it’s a lack of competence – managers, including many in HR, just don’t know how to negotiate on a collective basis. It’s interesting that several of the disputes have been quickly solved when expert negotiators from ACAS have become involved.

So perhaps that’s another Brexit issue for HR people – the need to brush up on, or even gain in the first place, the knowledge and skills to manage employee relations. As someone who cut their HR teeth in this area, I’m looking forward to some full and frank discussions with trade union colleagues in the coming months and years!

God Loves A Trier

Much as I like Twitter and find it to be very useful as an source of up to date HR and Employment Law debate and information, there is one really irritating thing about it as a business tool – the urge of some people to tweet “inspirational” or “motivational” quotes which are normally no more than platitudes. One that particularly annoys me, and which bizarrely seems extremely popular among HR people, comes from Yoda in Star Wars


(As an aside, it does bemuse me that people find inspiration from a swamp-dwelling homunculus with the voice of Fozzie Bear and a lack of knowledge of English sentence structure).

Let’s just examine that. Firstly – Do or Do Not. Well if those are my options, I think I’ll do not, thanks. After all, doing seems like a bit of effort.

And then “There is no try”. Nonsense (unless Yoda is referring to the video ref in a rugby match). We try all the time, and encourage others to do the same. What is the standard response when a child won’t eat a new food? “Just give it a try”.

Trying new things is an essential part of being human. It combines the excitement of doing something new, with the risk that it might not be successful. But even if it’s not successful, we learn something from it – even if it’s our own limitations. Look at a programme like Strictly Come Dancing. People who are famous for other things try to learn to dance. Some of them become extremely accomplished. Others find it a real effort and plod around the dancefloor. Occasionally one or two are so hopeless that it becomes difficult to watch without embarrassment. But the key thing is that they all try. And indeed some of the plodders become extremely popular with the viewers because they are seen to be making the effort, even if they don’t succeed.

No try means no learning, no development, no change, no possibilities, no growth. Trying is understanding that “failure” is sometimes the right outcome – and that if you do nothing unless you’re certain of the outcome then nothing is what you’ll do.