Guru’s backward glance at 2007

Human resources’ most notorious commentator looks back at the year that was 2007. Only the names and dates may have been changed to protect Guru from too much extensive research.

There is only ever one place to start when delving into a retrospective look at the year that’s just gone by. So having a big stretch and taking a quick shower, Yours Truly dived straight in to the…

The dark depths of winter…

The year began with a bang as those mad mullahs in the US sent their bombers over to Somalia and, in another great example of precision targeting, missed their man. Meanwhile, the same double-standards agency that is America was joining the UN call for the Sudan to stop bombing itself in Darfur – after all, surely that’s a job for stars and stripes-clad helicopter gunships.

Back in the world of HR, things were decidedly less… um… dangerous, although perilously close to seriousness, with positive discrimination kicking off the year in Personnel Today, the start of what was to become one of the profession’s favourite topics of the year. The CBI warned against adopting the policy willy nilly in the cornfield, as it were. The esteemed employers’ organisation was troubled by the concept of importing US-style ‘minority quotas’, which Guru notes in future years could become a useful bit of pointless jargon.

Old jargon

Fortunately, Guru was quite correctly concerned with the very same topic – standing up for the unnecessary use of jargon. It is, after all, one of the things that makes this country great, so the thought that old jargon should be kicked into touch and be replaced by new, more relevant lingo seemed a bridge too far, a walk in the dark, a fate worse than death. And while the Yanks may come up with most of the verbal diarrhoea that lays strewn across our formerly great empire, the Brits’ capacity to regurgitate and adapt this linguistic garbage into half-baked near-truths and nonsense is second to none.

The bottom line has to be that jargon has its place in society, and any attempt to ‘sunset that idea’ needs to be firmly wrapped up in cotton wool and put out to grass.

A similarly urgent call for unsung professions was answered when Yours Truly saw a star in the East. It rose in the sky, crossed from east to west, and then went down behind some trees. Guru took it as a sure indication that there is a God and that shepherds everywhere would now know that it was… er… dark, and leave the sheep alone for a few hours.

Eagle-eyed Disciple Val revealed the existence of one UK shepherd and, as a breed, they are certainly one section of the community that could do with a bit more diversity. Statistically, one shepherd is pretty exclusively one particular race and gender, so perhaps its more a numbers game.

Of course, a key part of a shepherd’s job is to keep the wolf from the door. And back in January, the HR community could have been forgiven for feeling a tad edgy as chief executives laid into HR over its lack of talent, while anyone who had an interest in unions was branded a troublemaker and mentalist, and the profession’s professional bias against older staff was exposed on the front page of Personnel Today. The wolf was clearly wearing a coat of many colours and HR credibility was living in a house made of straw, constructed on a flood plain. Testing times.

But then a small ray of light, when the Chinese owners of MG Rover announced they would be restarting production of MG sports cars at the Longbridge plant. Wearing his best British-made boots, Guru wondered whether the vehicles would be badged ‘made in China – in England’, and urged caution on this first step in the rise of neo-Sino Imperialism. Would MG Rover workers now be imported from China? Would they be paid less than their UK chums?

Tough questions. And the question of equal pay was also ‘vexing’ the HR community, which by now was being battered by the growing equal pay storm that was brewing just off the coast of the good ship UK plc, after a Treasury official snubbed a local government plea for cash to help solve the crisis. Quite why women should be paid the same amount as men is a bit of a mystery to Guru, as he’s always been of the view that migrant workers and small children offer better value for money.

Talking of which, migrant staff were another topic of choice for the discerning HR practitioner, as the profession was rocked by an outbreak of doctor outrage over plans to send highly skilled migrants packing with a retrospective ‘get out’ clause and the outsourcing ‘sweatshop scandal’. When the news came through that IT workers from India were being exploited right under our noses by unscrupulous subcontinentals, Guru’s musings on the covert imperialism of the tiger economies seemed clearly well founded.

Migrant lock-up

The timing of these revelations couldn’t have been worse, however, what with the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery just around the corner.

Unfortunately, also just around the corner was Yours Truly, attempting to explain what a good thing that was to the 64 illegal migrant workers he kept in a lock-up garage in Harlesden, churning out £4.99 tank tops for a major high-street retailer. Needless to say, they were not impressed. Fortunately, Guru has since sold them on to a ruthless gangmaster in Liverpool, allowing HR to let out a collective sigh of relief as its number one commentator is no longer sullied by the ‘unscrupulous employer’ tag.

As the world’s media trod carefully through the minefield that was the rumour that weaponry supplier BAE Systems was set to be exposed by the Serious Fraud Office over a deal with Saudi Arabia – no doubt involving big fat wads of unmarked fivers – HR departments everywhere were on alert over a much more weighty issue.

The government was being put under heavy pressure to outlaw ‘fattism’. Now, Guru is not sure which lardy lummock suggested such a thing, as everyone knows that this great land’s HR professionals cannot start the day without a good six or seven slices of toast inside them – fattists unite, fattists fight, fattists take a bite.

Somebody then pointed out that, unlike fascism – and let’s face fats… sorry… facts, Mussolini was a great advocate of the double panini – ‘fattism’ referred to discrimination against the tubbos, and not large gatherings of the cake-munching porkers.

The joys of spring…

HR and the wider world then overlapped a bit, as it emerged that our great capital city was struggling with an Olympic-sized swimming pool of an ’employee contract fiasco’ down ‘eass larn way’, as well as having to prepare for a massive influx of migrants with lorries shaped like fruit who always precede the start of the Tour de France.

Of course, March also saw the real highlight of the year, with the launch of the Guru Blog, giving everyone access to their daily hit of wit and wisdom from Yours Truly. It’s ‘soft launch’ in February fooled nobody, and Guru was already pedalling furiously, trying to keep up with the cavalcade of e-mails – and by July, when the Tour de France descended on London for real, it had all become too much and a little helping hand was hired (fortunately, Mrs Guru is a real trouper when it comes to multi-tasking).

Chip-wrapping champ

Diversity and positive discrimination would not get out of the headlines in March, so Guru did the honourable thing and, following in the footsteps of legendary fat-boy prince George IV, headed for Brighton.

Ostensibly there to visit the enthralling goings on at the Public Sector People Managers’ Association, Guru took the opportunity to visit an outlet of Harry Ramsden’s for a bag of chips. This brought to mind the productivity genius that is Selim Sener, who can wrap 10 portions in a minute. Yours Truly wondered whether Sener could be called in as a productivity consultant to Whitehall, as his job mainly involves folding bits of paper and sending them out to the public at large, while the nation’s public servants… um… mainly fold bits of paper and send them out to the public at large. Surely there is some cross-border co-operation that could go on here?


Guru also found himself campaigning for hardworking Brits everywhere, including defending the actions of a 20-pints-a-shift brewery driver who could only work effectively with a full tank (of beer), and the dentist who doesn’t wash his hands or instruments and pees in the sink – everyone knows urine is sterile, so what’s the problem?

Naturally, such heavyweight issues were not making too much noise in the world at large, which was coming to terms with the ban on smoking in public places, the cash-for-honours crisis, the ‘climate of fear’ created by the excessive use of the word ‘tourism’ by George W Bush, who still desperately wanted another war to deflect attention from his bungled attempts to rearrange ‘iRaq’, and the threat of global warming.

Yours Truly, meanwhile, continued to focus on the really important stuff.

Stuff like saving the planet through the thoughtful use of corporate toilet facilities entering into personal correspondence with young Tory… sorry Tony Blair and applauding the soon-to-be Brit peacemaker in the Middle East for paving the way for the reinstatement of ‘football specials’ on the rail network, thereby providing job opportunities for all the squaddies he sent home from the front line in Iraq (rather foolishly, considering the new job he was about to take up).

April obviously starts with April Fool’s day, and Guru’s in-box was bulging with nonsense, including the clueless chap who contacted loyal Disciple Sarah for a spot of work experience with the legendary opening line: ‘I just wabt to now if icould come and do my placment there with u im doing an nvq…’. Obviously a member of the ‘iPod generation’, this fool was quite correctly not even told where the door was before he could be shown it.

Summer time and the leaving is easy…

What passed for summer was uncharacteristically characterised by a whole raft of scare stories: ranging from George W threatening all and sundry, and bird flu outbreaks, to life imitating art as police intelligence caught up with TV’s Waking the Dead and ‘cold cases’ suddenly started to be solved.

Fortunately, the HR community remained firmly ensconced in its bubble of self-loathing, as the threat to jobs from private equity takeovers raised its head above the parapet.

And news that the new top job at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Dev­elopment was going to attract the top candidates on account of its six-figure salary sent morale into a tailspin.

The mood was not helped by employer anger over the lack of action on the Leitch skills pledge, the refusal of companies to sign up, and the skills envoy’s attack on the government for wasting six months. This was the beginning a long hot summer of simmering skills… er… skirmishes.

Keeping his finger well on the pulse of the industry, after attacking Hull when Lithuanian migrants complained about the facilities, Guru was inundated with letters extolling the virtues of this versatile city, and took to attacking Middlesbrough instead. But these were mere amateurs in the world of council self-hatred, as Birmingham was always going to be waiting in the wings.

Sure enough, it transpired that the city couldn’t find a good-looking gal to represent the Brummies and had, in fact, imported a woman from the hotbed of hot totty that is Stoke on Trent to represent it in the Miss Great Britain beauty contest. Needless to say, Birmingham did not win, although any inference that inhabitants of the city are a bunch of losers would be strongly opposed by Yours Truly.

Back in the real world, Tony Blair finally stepped down, miraculously unbesmirched by the BAE Systems inquiry, or rather the lack of an inquiry, despite his all knew Middle Eastern envoy role, and that big ol’ bear Gordon ‘Prudence’ Brown took over.

Dear Prudence

Surprisingly, few media commentators – apart from the rabid right-whingers – have been calling the big scots misery Prudence (something Guru hopes will change once they’ve read this). After all, Prudence kind of suits him. He would look good in a twin set and pearls. Failing that, he could always start wearing a tiny pork pie hat, and ask people to ‘follow the bear’ in a Hofmeister kind of way – although not, it has to be said, in a ‘Hoff’meister kind of way, as the legend that is the Hoff is way above anything as tacky as promoting a fake German beer.

The Hofmeister bear, incidentally, was called George, and was not known for his educated manner nor his vast intellectual capacity.

And with George W still banging on about ‘newcular capacidee’ in ‘iRan’ (presumably much like iRaq before it, and a neat pretext to allow the buffoon to deploy some F-15s over China any day now to bomb iPod City – otherwise known as Longhua – just outside Hong Kong), and foot and mouth and bird flu making an early assault on the fear threshold of the nation, it came as no surprise when something else scary happened: Boris ‘foot in mouth’ Johnson announced that he would be standing against Ken Livingstone in the battle to be mayor of London.

Somebody ought to stand up against Ken as he clearly has a balance issue, but is Boris the right man? Probably not, for as he stepped up his campaign, the former Spectator editor and Liverpool fan – not known for his deep understanding of… um… anything at all – put his foot well and truly in it by slamming the concept of flexible working, despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

The equalities ‘tsar’ Trevor Phillips took it upon himself to make HR feel even better about itself by suggesting diversity was an issue for line managers, and HR should have no input.

Leave it out…

The non-existent summer didn’t really begin before it ended, with the loud crash that signalled that HR credibility was again on the line in autumn, unlike the country’s leaves, which were conspicuous by their absence until November/December time. It seemed it was a breakthrough year for the leaf inspectors of Network Rail, but as Yours Truly likes to leave no stone unturned he found the lack of leaves was a myth. There were leaves they were just not being reported as such.

Now, apparently, there are ‘problem tracks’ – the implication being that wayward stretches of rail lack direction, have poor personal hygiene issues, and are generally obstructive. Nothing new there then, just the same old rail network.

Meanwhile, HR was up to its ears in skills: as large retailers, always known for the high value they place on their employee wellbeing and training needs – ‘That’s a till, take the money. Oh, and scowl a bit, could you?’ – refused to sign up to a retail ‘skills passport’ scheme, presumably on account of it requiring some effort or, indeed, work on their part then there was the fact that only 50 big firms were ‘rushing’ to sign up to the much bigger and more important Leitch skills pledge. It seemed that Guru had been the only person to spot that Prudence had jetted off to discuss just this issue with George Dubya, creating a good deal of confusion in what passes for the poor sap’s ‘mind’.

Christmas capers…

So far from lining up a winter of discontent, – despite the annual inane ramblings of the retailers worried about a lack of shoppers in the high street and the bleatings of the PCS union, which seems dedicated to bringing down the Department for Work and Pensions, it looks like a time of goodwill to all men. Why? Because Big Bad Bob Crow, the one-man strike machine, has gone a bit quiet – either that, or he’s grown a white beard and taken a job in Lapland.

That of course does not bode well for the world’s little children, as he’s no doubt surveying the cold temperatures, ancient technology and round-the-clock working conditions as we speak.

Search for solutions in Guru’s Christmas quiz

Want to win a Fortnum & Mason hamper? Answer Guru’s 10 questions in his Christmas quiz, provide a tasty tie-breaker and you could be tucking into some classic nibbles over the festive season.

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