Business Well-Being Network annual conference addresses employee engagement

Pay restraint is needed to stop people losing their jobs, a leading economist told delegates at the Business Well-Being Network annual conference this month.

Lord Richard Layard, emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics, said that employers and employees should work together to prevent rising unemployment.

“We should be doing everything we possibly can to limit unemployment,” said Layard at the event organised by employee engagement and wellbeing specialists Robertson Cooper. “One powerful way is pay restraint. I’m very much in favour of pay freezes. Anything HR can do to ensure that as few people as possible lose their jobs has to be good.”

Lord Layard at Roberson Cooper event>

Layard warned that rising unemployment would lead to “hundreds and thousands of young people with no self respect and a terrible start to their life”.

Layard also called for more attention to mental health from employers, the education sector and the NHS.

“As a country we’ve completely disregarded the NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) guidelines for the treatment of mental illness,” he said. He is involved in the Government’s “Improved access to psychological therapy” programme that helps people with mental health problems back into work.

Layard is part of a group of people setting up a “movement for happiness” to be launched in April 2011.

He argued that people in the West needed “to move away from a childish attitude to work”.

“Our value system is excessively individualistic. Increasingly, ‘are you feeling good about yourself?’ equals ‘are you doing better than other people?’. The belief that everybody should be as productive as they can possibly be is illiterate philosophically and economically,” he said.

Layard argued that “the central issue is not economic growth but how to have better relationships”.

He also criticised performance-related pay controlled directly by managers because it led to competition between colleagues and reduced the incentive for them to cooperate.

Layard founded the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE and is the author of “Happiness – lessons from a new science”, published in 2005.

Other speakers

Editor-in-chief of The Philosophers’ Magazine Julian Baggini told delegates that corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes focused too much on public perception and not enough on making changes.

“You have to be doing things as well and that may well involve risk,” said Baggini.

He also argued that employee-engagement initiatives should be careful not to coerce employees. “It’s giving people the opportunity to engage rather than forcing them to,” he said.

“It’s not for management to impose on people what they should do… Some people don’t want to go on a group-bonding weekend.”

He also warned about superficiality in engagement programmes such as calling employees “members” or “colleagues” without giving them a say in how their work is organised.

“People hate hypocrisy and they’re quick to sniff it out,” said Baggini.

Ivan Robertson, a director of Robertson Cooper, advised delegates on how to “mainstream” wellbeing in the workplace by “looking at all the core processes of an organisation through the wellbeing lens”.

He said this was particularly important in the current recession when restructuring organisations and advised HR to focus on the “resilience of survivors”.

He also said that outplacement schemes should include some resilience training and development, “so they [employees] are equipped in resilience terms when trying to find some work and are not successful”.

Robertson said that resilience training should be part of recruitment and selection, induction, leadership and management development, and restructuring and downsizing.

He encouraged HR to develop a resilience profile of staff, perhaps using the free i-resilience tool from Robertson Cooper. Employees should be prepared for the stresses of the job during induction, and leaders in organisations should understand the business case for building employee wellbeing while managers should be supported on how they deal with wellbeing issues in their role.

The Business Well-Being Network annual conference, hosted by employee engagement and wellbeing specialists Robertson Cooper, took place on 4 November 2010 in London. The Business Well-Being Network is a community of professionals from public and private sector organisations that aims to move engagement and wellbeing up the corporate agenda, while generating practical solutions for members to use inside their own organisations.

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