The Future of HR

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In a future where many jobs will be lost to automation the question arises as to both the future of the workforce and the need for traditional departments such as HR.

The reality though is that whilst automation will encroach further and further into the workplace removing swathes of jobs and assisting with others, AI for all its hype, has its limits.

To understand where the watermark rests is not quite so simple, but there are guiding principles. Machines are capable of processing huge amounts of data instantly and identifying patterns, trends and correlations. This provides enormous benefit to decision makers who can leverage this data to make informed decisions.

However, decision making at a high level is often the result of considering not just one data point however well evidenced, but many and from different disciplines. Computers often can do one thing very well and fast but can rarely assess the bigger picture.

Neural Networks are capable of learning, but again this is often domain focused. We will see in future the rise of self-driving cars and literally billions of pounds are being spent each year to make this a reality. Whilst there is a high degree of confidence that this huge investment will succeed, the code behind it won’t be able to diagnose cancer in a patient.

Humans are never born to drive or diagnose a patient but have the unique ability to learn completely new and unrelated skills. Given the rapidly changing world and technology, this is a good thing, and it is ironical that whilst we are rapidly adapting to new technology, technology itself is not very good at adapting.

So, what does this all mean for the workplace, the new world of work and HR? Computers and AI will be focused on “narrow field” activities and tasks, those that require speed, accuracy and analysing big data. On the other hand, humans adapt rapidly, have holistic and “outside the box” thinking, multi-disciplinary knowledge and creativity.

Whilst HR contains a lot of administrative tasks which can be automated, there is much that cannot. HR requires a whole range of diverse knowledge and insight from understanding the Law to the values and culture of the organisation, from the needs and objectives of both company and staff to respecting union rules and the wider culture of society in which it operates.

HR acts not just to re-enforce polices and values, but also a change maker within the organisation. In fact, to do HR well, you need to understand that you are working with human beings; A statement so obvious it is often missed when discussing how a computer (with no sense of self, empathy or deep understanding) could replace people in role that requires deep interaction with others.

Computers can learn but learning without context can be at best a disaster, and at worst, catastrophic. For example, Microsoft took down Tay, an AI Chatbot on twitter only 16 hours after launch because – through learning – had started tweet offensive and racist comments. It had no moral compass or understanding of the wider culture to recognise that there is good learning and bad learning.

Imagine you are driving your car 60 mph when a child crosses the road in-front of you. There is no time for you to break without hitting the child, so you can either swerve the car up onto a pavement and hit a wall (with the potential you will incur life changing injuries) or kill the child. This is not hypothetical but a real moral and legal dilemma for the manufacturers of self-driving cars. Is their legal responsibility to the owner of the car or to other road-users? There is no legal requirement for a driver to risk or sacrifice their life to save another. Supposing the car is programmed to risk your life rather than kill the pedestrian, but now the person running across the road is a terrorist with a gun whom you are trying to stop with your car.

You might think this is going off-topic, but having a moral perspective, values and a big picture view are all important for the right decisions to be made every day.

Even the best AI lacks these things and for those who believe these issues will be sorted in the future, the answer is that we might not need to wait after all. Many in the AI field believe these kinds of issues can only be solved if AI moves to a biological architecture (rather than digital), that it requires consciousness, self-awareness and intentionality. If correct, then these attributes already exist in what we currently call humans.

The Money is Not Enough

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Whilst we often avoid the cliché’ it is generally recognised that the combined knowledge, skill and talent of your workforce is the engine of corporate success. Attracting and Retaining talent is a relentless task that will become even harder as employment levels continue to rise and competition for talent becomes greater.

However, I suggest that simply offering Money is not enough nor is it a sound strategy for attracting or retaining the talent of today.  The first reason is obvious; money isn’t unique or special. Any company can simply match or exceed your offer. The second reason is just a reflection of our times; The 80’s dream that students would retire in their 50’s and live a life of leisure for the following 40 years has disappeared. Today they can expect to be working for 50+ years and want to do something meaningful and rewarding not just in work but outside of work. They value time as much as they value money.

The problem may seem daunting but the solution is very much alive within the public sector where pay is often very limited and they have no option but to explore other means of attracting and retaining staff.  Their solution is Flexitime – providing staff flexibility around what times they work during the week. This popular approach helps attract and retain staff who otherwise might be attracted elsewhere through the promise of extra money.

Flexitime is a “integrated” solution because staff can blend their work patterns and home patterns, and this is more beneficial than simply a pay rise elsewhere that would disrupt their home patterns (whether that be dropping the kids off to school, going to the gym or a myriad of other activities). It fully integrates staff to the organisation whilst providing the work-life-balance they value.

THE NUT IS BIGGER THAN YOU THINK

This will often lead into a discussion about whether the solution is a sledgehammer and the problem being just a nut. Staff turnover varies from organisation to organisation but the average is 15%. In general, you feel the pain less because attrition occurs over a year – imagine the pain if 15% resigned in a single week!

In general, it will cost you one year’s salary to recruit and train a new member of staff. This does not allow for all the knowledge lost that cannot be quantified though figures. But the numbers add up.

Of course, not all attrition is due to conflicting work patterns which is why staff exit interviews and surveys are important so you can assess the issues and impact of solutions.

But what if you could decrease attrition by a third? What impact would that have on productivity, reduced recruitment and training costs?

Then there is staff recruitment. Do you survey those that decline a job offer? Are you losing the best candidates because of inflexible work patterns? Does when people work matter more to you than how well they do their work?

How many staff take sick days because of personal diary conflicts? Almost impossible to measure but almost certainly it occurs in every organisation with inflexible work patterns.

THE VALUE OF TIME

The final discussion is often about how valuable flexitime is to staff. The answer of course is that depends on the individual, but only by extent not by absolute.

An employee on £10 per hour will earn about £19,500 per year (gross) and spends 2 hours a day commuting to work during rush hour. By working flexibly, he can cut his journey time from 2 hours to 1 hour a day by avoiding the rush hour. That’s worth (deducting his holiday time) £2,400 per year NET. The equivalent in gross salary would result in an 18% increase.

In another example, an employee that commuted by train to work could save between £500 and £1,500 a year by traveling off-peak.

So, benefits for staff are not just about fitting in personal plans but also saving time and in some cases saving money.  And in these examples, many companies would struggle to match the cash value that translates into flexitime.

ITS ABOUT TIME

Whether the discussion is about how to reward staff when times are commercially tough or how to attract and retain staff when times are good, it’s about time to start discussion now.

Some tips to get you started;

  1. Analyse the figures for staff turnover and categorise the reasons. Your exit interviews need to be carefully constructed to gain genuine and informative information.
  2. Similarly, you need to follow up your application rejections to gain insight.
  3. Get a deeper view of sickness. Not just occurrences but durations.
  4. Implement the Bradford Factor to get another layer of detail.
  5. Identify the staffing groups that easily map to flexitime
  6. Be clear about what times are flexible and what are not.
  7. Create a policy with clear and transparent rules.
  8. Ensure you have a system in place that eases administration, provides transparency and helps demonstrate the benefits.

 

Flexitime – Attract and Retain Talent

Organisations that deploy flexitime create a strong bond with their employees through personalised schedules that meet not only the employers business needs but also the employees preferences. This blended and personalised relationship not only retains key talent but also attracts new talent in a highly competitive market.

Health & Safety is not simply compliance

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These days the amount of compliance organisations must follow can often sink a ship. With all the tick box exercises and audits it can be easy to lose sight of their actual purpose. Health & Safety is just one such case. However, at its core, it is that organisations (whether private or public) owe a duty of care to their staff and covers the environment in which they work, the duties they carry out, the hours they work and the tools that they use to conduct their duties.

Inadequate equipment, poor environment, fatigue through long hours can impact on quality, cause accidents, absences and in serious cases reputational damage, legal action and loss of revenue. If care of your staff doesn’t grab your attention, then the potential costs most certainly will. Two of the world’s biggest disasters (Chernobyl the Exxon Valdez oil spill) were the result of human error linked to fatigue. An accident in your organisation may not end up polluting the world, but it could just put you out of business.

But many organisations regard Health and Safety as simply a “compliance issue”, a burdensome admin job that someone needs to do, when in fact Health & Safety when done right is a competitive advantage that improves productivity, efficiency and quality as well as staff retention and motivation. Once you think of Health & Safety not as a compliance issue but a commercial one your whole approach changes.

The good news is that technology is readily available to simplify and automate many aspects of Health & Safety not simply to avoid the manual paperchase but to improve the health and safety of your staff and the competitiveness of your organisation.

For instance, there have been many studies that show working long hours reduces both productivity and quality, e.g. working 60 hours a week does not deliver 50% more than 40 hours a week. Once you factor in potential for poor quality and accidents then you may be getting nothing in return for paying additional hours. Getting hours right has other benefits too; A recent study in Sweden showed that a 6 hour working day reduced sickness by 50%.

Solutions such as Imperago™ enable rosters to be generated that not only meet business demands but also consider suitability for staff, Risk & Fatigue. The result is shift patterns that not only meet business requirements and benefit staff but also reduce costs and risks.

Time and attendance solutions enable organisations to easily manage and monitor worked hours to minimise overtime and breaks between shifts to prevent staff fatigue. Some solutions also come with roll-call options that link to fire alarms and produce real-time muster reports direct to managers (or printers) in case of fire.

One of the reasons why hfx developed CloudMuster and MusterPoint (Links to fire alarms and 3g eMusterPoints) was the result our office fire in 2015. As a technology company we knew that a clipboard and pen was not an efficient or accurate way of checking the whereabouts of our staff.

Naturally not all staff work in a building or offices, many (for instance care workers) make many external visits a day and this creates its own set of safety issues (Lone Workers) but again there are eSolutions that enable staff to be tracked (via GPS) during working hours to ensure their safety.

Of course, you shouldn’t ever just react by throwing technology at a problem and walking away, but neither should you throw a clipboard, pen and tick box at it either in the hope that this absolves you or your organisation of responsibility for the Health & Safety of your staff.

Above all a positive approach to health & safety comes with the realisation that everybody wins when staff safety and wellbeing is a core part of the business plan not an external imposition.

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Time to Reboot Productivity

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Time to Reboot Productivity

One thing is clear from the myriad of UK statistics; A huge number of UK companies just aren’t productive. They may be working hard for their customers and stakeholders, but they just aren’t working Smart.

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And here is the evidence;

  • Productivity (measured as output per hour worked) is as a huge 18% below the G7 Average (ONS) and the widest since 1995.
  • If we compare the UK to EA/EU productivity growth (2016) we are just above Italy and Greece in the group of 32 countries.
  • Historically our productivity growth was 2% per year. Since 2007 growth has evaporated and as of 2017 (Q2) we are .5% below 2007 levels.
  • To put this into perspective we are 20% poorer due to productivity stagnation than we would have been had productivity continued to improve at 2%.
  • These figures are bad enough but when you remove London (home to the Finance Sector and 32% higher than UK average) from the figures productivity is even worse than the headline figures.

How does this affect your business?

The statistics reveal that the problem of poor productivity is not a problem that affects “some other business” but to some extent and degree most businesses. Poor productivity results in loss of competitiveness, reduced profits, wage stagnation and skill/staff attrition. If any of these resonate then you too may be one of the many and not the few.

Whose fault is it anyway?
Whilst it is true that national infrastructure (Rail/Roads/Broadband) contribute towards productivity (something the government is “working on”) this is just one factor which is outside of the control of business. The other critical and contributory factors remain with the CEO and the company board.

Management.
A task too often focused on maintaining the status quo rather than constantly striving to improve the efficiency of their area of responsibility.

Skills.
Ensuring your staff are fully trained to perform their tasks at optimum performance. Improving skills not just increases output it also reduces rework though improved quality.

Processes.
Outdated paper-based and unwieldy processes that simply burden staff and reduce their productive time must constantly be identified, reworked – or eliminated – and automated.

Technology.
The ability for technology not just to automate processes but transform them is no longer a vision but an everyday fact for most high-tech business. Both process transformation and (technology) automation should be viewed as a single inseparable goal and activity.

Planning & Measurement.
The transformational impact of technology enables not just improved planning but also real-time measurement enabling a business to close the loop on productivity initiatives and implement continuous improvement easily and cost effectively.

Where do I start?

For many businesses the answer is obvious and that is to measure the output per hour worked.

One of the biggest costs for businesses is staff and highly productive companies have the following information at their fingertips and often in real-time;

  • Where are my staff?
  • What are they working on (activity/task/client/contract/customer)?
  • Are my staff working patterns aligned to business demand?
  • What changes must be made to align staff to business demand and avoid unnecessary downtime, overtime or unproductive time?
  • What is my staff’s overtime, absence and unproductive time today/this week/this month?

If you cannot answer these questions simply and quickly about your greatest and most expensive asset (your staff) then you cannot even start to identify issues, implement improvement plans or measure the effectiveness of those plans.

Nor have you laid the foundations for continuous improvement.

The biggest mistake companies make with improvement projects is that it is a one-step process rather than a continuous never-ending cycle that is impacted by technology, methodology, tools, training and materials.

Above all, its time to measure, not once or twice but constantly to ensure improvements are not one-off but continuous. The UK needs a Productivity Reboot and businesses should not wait for the government to make it happen but make the changes only business can make. That time is now.

 

 

Flexitime – The new normal

 

Historically flexitime was niche perk in a few large – mostly public sector – organisations that perhaps couldn’t offer the cash incentives offered by other – more commercial – organisations. In the private sector it might be the butt of a joke or twisted as an expectation that staff would stay until the job was done regardless of their contract hours but most certainly not some “new age” work-life-balance arrangement. For most though, the traditional 9 to 5 was the social norm. It had always been like this and there was never a need to change.

However, over the last 30 years so much has changed in terms of demographics and in the political, financial and social sphere that has created a tipping point and we see flexible working accelerating and filtering through into every organisation.

In the 1980’s there was a vision – if not a promise – that as countries got wealthier and our pensions bigger we would be retiring in our 50’s. The so called “Bucket List” of things to do when you retire became a favourite pastime; after all, with life expectancy increasing you had to make plans for a long retirement.

The bucket list remains today, but the dream of retiring at 50 is all but gone for the majority. In 2011 the Government removed the default retirement age (DRA) and have plans to increase retirement age to 68 with some forecasting it could raise to 75 by 2064. Pensions are not what they used to be and even without government initiatives some people just can’t afford to retire.

A student starting work today will be looking forward to 45+ years in work rather than the 30 that the 80’s tantalisingly promised and, when they retire, it is unlikely they will be able to cross many items off their bucket list. The conclusion for many is that if you want to achieve anything on your bucket list you need to be doing it during your working life not waiting until it is over. Our Flexible Survey hinted at such with 31% of those asking for flexible working gave a reason of outside interests/lifestyle.

Another major impact on flexible working has been the increase of women both in work and in leadership positions. In 1976 only 55% of women were in work compared to 93% men, by 2016 that had reached 70% (80% men).

The impact is felt in several ways; historically flexible/part time roles were largely fulfilled by women, but the more women in work, the more this has been normalised and this has been accelerated by women who have subsequently taken on leadership positions and embraced it. In addition, the historical gender bias that the mother is the primary care-giver has been replaced with shared parental responsibility. Now men are asking for for the same flexibility as their spouse to share that responsibility.

Whilst the government has various child care schemes and tax breaks, the fact remains that childcare remains expensive and often inflexible leaving the parents to pick-up the slack. This alone would be sufficient for a tsunami of requests for flexible working, but now we must also consider an aging population and that parental responsibility covers not only looking after your young children, but now also looking after your aging parents.

With the government predicting 1 in 12 people will be aged over 80 by 2039 this additional responsibility outside work is only going to increase and employees are demanding solutions.

So, we have a backdrop of gender equality to – and at work – putting pressure on both parents to take responsibility for their children and their parents which – in the absence of massive state intervention – can only be met by the relatives working flexibly.

We have more women in work normalising flexible working, female leadership endorsing such approaches and equality laws ensuring that men should not be treated any differently.

The ever-increasing period people are expected to work before retirement is forcing people to think differently. The 30-year work sprint followed by 30 years in retirement is over. Employees want to pace their 45+ years at work and cross of some of their bucket lists along the way.

The flexitime “perk” that became a “request” is now becoming a demand even in the private sector with 55% of candidates (according to our latest 2018 survey) basing their decision on this factor.

Organisations are having to adapt to this new norm very quickly; Competition for talent is heating up with unemployment levels the lowest since 1975. With Brexit looming and lack of easy access to European talent, organisations will have to work hard to attract and retain talented staff.

But there is good news too; Often flexible working enables staff to reduce their time and costs (childcare, peak-time travel) which outweighs an increase in pay. Various studies show that flexitime workers are absent/sick less frequently too saving the organisation disruption and costs. In terms of staff retention, flexitime uniquely integrates the employee working and non-working time, making the employee much less likely to leave. Finally, with 55% of candidates including flexible working in their decision, promoting such a policy is likely to increase both the quantity and quality of recruits.

Therefore, in terms of increased productivity, reduced costs, staff engagement, retention and attraction a move to flexible working can provide an organisation with a significant competitive advantage. Whilst managing flexible working might have historically been a headache, new cloud-based systems remove all the pain and provide additional real-time information, transparency and integration into HR and Payroll.

Contact us for more information on flexitime