Letters

This week’s letters

Mad rush to export call centre jobs shows little faith in UK plc

We could all benefit from a little balance on the job exodus from call
centres.

As so many of our local call centres in Glasgow and the West of Scotland are
staffed by people who have already lost a job in the traditional industries,
you can begin to appreciate their fears. What do they retrain for next if we
are planning on exporting their jobs?

The wages paid to call centre staff in the UK are obviously higher than
those on the sub-continent, but then people here tend to have a better
understanding of client priorities, and are comfortable selling extra services
to clients that could easily generate the additional revenue that UK finance
directors require.

If they really used native UK skills, companies would achieve more, and
would (hopefully) gain positive PR by demonstrating their commitment to the UK
market. I am confident that the Indian market will have more than its share of
challenges in the future, as all the PLC’s moving their call centres out there
to make savings promptly pay them back out again in costs for new
infrastructures, share options, ludicrous salaries, and bonuses for the fat
cats already at the top of the tree.

I truly believe the companies that demonstrate they will provide a decent
service at a fair price, recognise their staff and avoid paying excessive
salaries to an elite group, will gain an enhanced market reputation that will
sustain growth for years to come.

Alan Cunningham
Skills adviser, Gorbals Initiative

Offshoring no quick fix for UK business

In Personnel Today, 25 November, you reported on the growing threat of
middle management jobs, including certain HR roles, being relocated to foreign
countries.

This practice, sometimes referred to as ‘offshoring’, has quickly gained
currency in the US as a solution to remaining competitive, and also appeasing
demanding shareholders. The UK it would seem, has followed suit. Lloyds TSB
recently announced it was following the trend set by other banks, by offshoring
a number of middle management jobs to the sub-continent.

HR should be worried about this new phenomenon. The drive to cut costs is
not always guided by consideration of the people factor, but HR must be
thankful that human capital management (HCM) is now a vogue issue.

With the Accounting for People Report on HCM pushing the HR profession
skywards, now is the time for its practitioners to prove their real value to
companies.

Labelled in some quarters as purely transactional, and hence ‘offshoreable’,
the Kingsmill report provides the UK HR profession with the necessary
ammunition to prove that its future does not lie in Bangalore or Bangkok, but
at the heart of British business.

Sally Davis
Director, Penna

HR is toeing the line not selling its soul

Stephen Overell writes a thought-provoking article in his last Off Message
of 2003 (9 December), questioning whether HR is dancing to the devil’s tune. Of
course, we will never know whether the world would be a better place without so
many rules and regulations for society and employers to embrace and enforce.

But it certainly feels as if we are becoming increasingly shrink-wrapped in
legislation, and that our businesses are suffocating.

Meanwhile, HR continues to become an increasingly tough discipline to
function in. I support the coaching of line managers and encouraging them to
have direct conversations with their people, rather than calling in HR to give
good or bad – usually bad – news. Yet many still view HR as an untrusted
function – as the ‘hirers and firers’.

HR has to have a foot firmly in both the employer and employee camp. That is
like walking along a six-foot high wall that is only three inches wide.

HR isn’t ‘selling out’, as Overell puts it. Practitioners are simply having
to walk that high and narrow wall – negotiating some large spikes lining the
top – and do their utmost not to fall off it.

Clive Lewis
Group HR and IT director, NXT plc

Employer branding is here to stay

Employer branding is reaching a ‘tipping point’. Two years ago, the number
of references for ’employer branding’ on the Google internet search engine was
around 250. Now there are now 2,500. A recent Economist study revealed
significant levels of awareness, not just in the UK, but worldwide.

Many major companies have embarked on significant employer branding
programmes. This is more than a passing fad. Leading companies are fast
realising that valued employees, like profitable customers, are free to make
choices. The central tenets of branding and brand management (close attention
to the needs and aspirations of target audiences, clarity of focus, and
delivery of coherent and consistent brand experiences) have long proven their
commercial value, and are as relevant to the brand you work for as any brand
you might buy.

Given its additional value in helping to forge a closer relationship between
HR and marketing, I believe employer branding is almost certainly here to stay.

Richard Mosley
Managing director, People in Business

Heroic attempt to cast out arrivistes

Stephen Overell is my hero! He has articulated exactly what I have been
thinking for years (Off Message, 9 December). Obviously, he is a man of
significant intellectual acuity.

His views are spot on. There are far too many ‘arrivistes’ in the HR
profession, many of whom get profiled in Personnel Today. They often seem like
brutal self publicists, promoting their career agendas at the expense of
harried employees. OK, there are some skivers out there who play the system.
But there are far many more who are overworked and desperate – and HR people
often couldn’t care less about them.

Please print more about the ‘ordinary’ HR heroes who are trying to balance the
needs of business and employees. And if Overell fancies employing an assistant,
I’ll be first in the queue!

Mary Louise Brown
Lecturer, Department of HR management Aberdeen Business School

Rewarding staff leads to retention  

I have just had the results of a survey carried out by Argos Business
Solutions into employee benefits.

We have found that although a large number (90 per cent) of HR professionals
feel that rewarding staff is important to the overall operation of their
business, more than half of those questioned believe the boards of their
respective companies do not view staff motivation as a priority, and should be
regarded with greater importance.

In my experience, rewarding staff greatly improves business efficiency and
the ethos of a company. Rewarding employees appropriately for their
contribution and motivating them to perform at their best is an essential
contributor to company success, and should be viewed as such by the board,
rather than as a non-strategic indulgence.

It is often the difficult job of HR professionals, who implicitly know the
value of making employees feel valued, to communicate this message to the
board. However, measuring motivation is not easy, and identifying return on
investment can be hard for those not well-versed in seeing value in the
‘softer’ elements of an organisation.

Yet saying ‘thank you’ to your employees is not only easy and apt to do, but
can really make a difference to the way staff look back on their year.

Chris Hartley
General manager, rewards, Argos Business Solutions

Communication key to tackling stress

I am bemused by the debate about whether stress exists or not.

For many at work, stress is a reality because of the way we treat each
other.

When managers – and colleagues, for that matter – fail to support each
other, a culture of mistrust and poor communication results.

One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits (from his book Seven Habits of Highly
Effective People) is ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’. Often
the lack of understanding of others and of their needs causes the breakdown and
mistrust in the first place. So a good start in nipping stress in the bud would
be listening to the other person, asking them for their opinion and seeing
things from their point of view, before launching in or criticising their
actions.

Many of our clients suffer because their managers don’t understand how to
manage people. Their people are not motivated and don’t perform, which means
people panic and behave in ways they would be horrified about if they stopped
to think about it. Stress is often the result – not just for the staff, but
also for the managers.

One of our clients has found that making work a fun place to be not only
alleviates the problems of stress, but produces dramatic improvements in
commitment and performance. This all started with the way they developed
people, and how they trained managers and staff.

Get the support right, stress levels fall and performance goes up. Sounds
good to me.

Bill Esterson
Director, Leaps & Bounds

Prescott needs to share his fortunes

I am concerned to find that there is blatant discrimination in the
second-highest office in the land.

It would appear that while the deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has the
use of two Jaguars, his permanent secretary only gets the use of a coach and
even has to share that with the ODPM board.

Surely he should know better! I think Personnel Today’s Guru should bring
this matter to the attention of the PM at the earliest opportunity.

Mary Hough
Personnel administrator, J P Kenny

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