Arup human resources chief refutes decline of ‘job for life’ if the strategy is right

The demise of the ‘job for life’ has been greatly exaggerated, according to the human resources (HR) chief at leading consulting engineering firm Arup.

Stella Littlewood, Arup’s group HR director, said she disagreed with the common perception that employees would no longer remain with one company for the duration of their working life.

The company boasts the lowest labour turnover among its competitors. The average for the consulting engineering sector is about 21%, with Arup’s currently running at less than 10%.

“There are people who say that the ‘job for life’ is gone, but I would argue that is rubbish,” Littlewood told Personnel Today. “If you are a really good company, treat people well, give them exciting work to do and reward them well for it, in theory, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t stay with you. That’s why I think the majority of our people have been with us for a significant amount of time.”

But she admitted this raised problems in terms of maintaining a healthy level of new ideas and knowledge.

“From an HR perspective, performance management is very important because you can’t afford to carry any passengers. HR has got to make sure that everybody is contributing and, if they are not, you have got to force that movement [of staff].”

Arup has increased its headcount by 20% over the past year, with more than 10,000 staff worldwide. Littlewood attributed the growth to the “spiritual employment contract” offered to staff, which defined Arup’s ethics, values and social responsibility.

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