Improving working life can deliver business benefits

Ian Foster (‘Do voluntary work if you’re not about helping the business’, Letters, Personnel Today, 4 October) is correct that the efforts of HR professionals should be focused on producing measurable performance improvements in their organisation. But the danger of this exclusive and narrow focus on business results is that precisely the reverse happens.

In a remarkably frank interview in the current McKinsey Quarterly, the chief executive of Barclays, John Varley, admits that the bank became too focused on short-term financial results and didn’t think enough about creating the positive culture in which employees would be motivated to deliver the high levels of customer service that produce those financial results.

No doubt Foster would regard the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) initiative to promote the employment of ex-offenders as naively idealistic social work.

Yet not only has this helped to produce a demonstrable economic benefit for the society in which Foster lives, it has also helped employers to address their critical skills shortages, as well as helping some of the individuals concerned to develop their own human capital.

The CIPD’s publication, Making Corporate Social Responsibility Happen, produced in association with the Department of Trade and Industry, gives numerous examples of how HR professionals have helped build long-term business performance for their employers by addressing the needs of their employees and wider stakeholder interest groups.

In a knowledge economy, improving working life is one of the most effective strategies for improving business performance – not a nice, soft, squidgy alternative to it.

Duncan Brown
Assistant director general, CIPD

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