This week’s letters

Dare Kearns take on CIPD debate?

I was amused to see you still devote space to self-appointed HR strategy
guru Paul Kearns (HR Viewpoint, 21 January), who seems capable of doing little
other than misrepresenting what other people write.

I would respectfully suggest that if anyone is stuck in an out-of-date time
warp, it is he. Kearns seems blissfully unaware of the changes that have
occurred in the profession, which your Delivering HR Strategy series has

Everyday HR professionals make a significant contribution to the success of
their organisations.

Rather than "making up for lost time", the CIPD has actually been
researching these links for 10 years. As your piece in the same issue entitled
‘Handling Accountability’ (Features, 21 January) illustrates, we are taking a
leading position on the current issue of reporting on human capital in annual

Far from being a ‘black box’, our latest study Sustaining Success in
Difficult Times uses a dozen case studies to demonstrate how these links
actually work in practice. The 400 delegates at our Harrogate Conference who
heard a senior nurse in the cardiac ward at Royal United Hospital Bath, and the
sales director at Nationwide, describe how HR practices have made a significant
difference to their organisations would not agree with Kearns’ assertion that
our work lacks strategic impact.

I accept that not every HR department in this country is at the leading
edge. Wouldn’t it be better if Kearns helped HR professionals in all types of
organisations – as the CIPD and I are doing – to practically improve their
contribution, rather than constantly carping and criticising from the

I challenge Kearns to debate with me, in public, private, print or person,
just whether his backward-looking curmudgeonly pessimism reflects the reality
of HR today.

I gave up my job in a major consultancy because I believe in contributing at
the CIPD to helping the profession make the shift. What has Kearns ever done to

Duncan Brown
Assistant director general, CIPD

Editors response: Paul Kearns is keen to have this debate and both he
and Duncan Brown will be joining our Forum on Delivering HR Strategy. See box

Firms benefit from private healthcare

It is very tempting for employers to cut back on apparently unaffordable
private healthcare plans schemes (HR Viewpoint, 28 January).

The next big thing in the UK – following the US trend – may well be defined
liability plans where employees have a capped annual amount to spend on private
health treatment.

Private healthcare costs are increasing so rapidly because employees are
choosing to use private over NHS treatment.

For companies, the benefit of this increased use, if targeted correctly, is
that employee illness is treated more promptly and periods of sickness absence
are consequently reduced, thereby increasing productivity.

Therefore, rather than reducing healthcare treatment through defined
liability plans, or other means, employers might consider an alternative
approach – that of strategically investing in employee healthcare and managing
this more effectively as a way of reducing sickness absence.

If they don’t, the narrow approach of cutting healthcare benefits will
merely increase employment costs elsewhere.

Steve Clements
European partner, Mercer Human Resource Consulting

EC opt-out law can bring flexibility

I read your fascinating report outlining the reaction to the potential
removal of the UK’s opt-out of Working Time Directive regulations (News, 21
January). It was no surprise that UK employers reacted negatively to the latest
proposals. In the current climate any additional cost or pressure on
competitiveness is unwelcome.

What is perhaps more surprising is that this report also demonstrates the
value employees place on flexibility and choice. There is an increasing demand
for systems to facilitate and manage flexible working practices, such as the
introduction of annualised hours and flexitime, and they can have a positive
impact on recruitment and retention. This is particularly the case in highly
seasonal businesses that would perhaps be hardest hit by the rigidity of the
current Working Time Directive (WTD) legislation that averages hours worked
over a 17-week period.

Customers who have embraced the WTD have found their investment in the
detailed reporting required by the legislation most revealing and would not
return to their previous staff scheduling practices.

However, it is true to say that even where the WTD is in place, staff
opt-outs often mean that staff schedules cannot be managed consistently. For a
piece of legislation intended to protect the employee, it has received a very
negative reaction from the very people it was designed to protect.

Demand for more flexibility in working practices from both employer and
employee is now a fact of corporate life which it seems they would rather
mutually agree than receive from on high from Brussels.

Keith Statham
Managing director, Kronos Systems

Delivering HR strategy

Personnel Today is drawing together a forum of experts on Delivering HR
Strategy. Don’t miss our coverage over the coming months – we’ll be giving you
the opportunity to tell the forum about the strategic HR challenges you face,
as well as providing practical guidance on how to deliver it 

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