HR professionals in the UK are ‘not waving, but drowning’ in a flood of
employment law, with their work made even difficult by the complex nature of
This was one of the key themes to emerge from the third annual HR Prospects
survey, conducted by Personnel Today’s sister publication, IRS Employment
It points to laws that are too complex, unclear, inflexible and impractical
to implement, and says HR professionals believe ‘simplification,
standardisation and consistency’ are necessary.
IRS surveyed senior HR professionals from more than 500 employers across all
UK sectors in February and March.
It found that, most HR professionals believe that recent legal changes have
had a neutral effect on their business.
Eighty-four per cent believe there is too much emphasis on employee rights rather
than responsibilities, that the employment law framework is too complex (83 per
cent), and that it does not give employers the flexibility they need (74 per
Looking ahead, the most commonly cited concern was the impact the Working
Time Directive will have if the 48-hour opt-out is removed.
Other problematic areas include legislation surrounding data protection,
transfer of undertakings (TUPE), maternity rights and dismissal rights.
Restructuring has been the most challenging priority of the last year by
some distance, and will remain so in the year ahead. But more HR professionals
cited absence management as a priority than any other issue.
The survey points to a consensus on the approaches to absence management
that holds good across all sectors. In particular, return-to-work interviews
are favoured by more than 80 per cent of employers.
Action targeted at individuals with poor attendance records and
rehabilitating the long-term sick are also widely adopted. Just over a quarter
of respondents use the offer of flexible working as an attendance tool, but
some HR professionals suggest it simply enables ‘problem’ employees to take
more time off.
Mark Crail, managing editor of IRS Employment Review, said practitioners
appeared more hopeful that they would be able to spend the next year dealing
with training, equal opportunities and other developmental issues as external
"The overall sense we have from this year’s study is that many HR
departments have had their work cut out over the past year dealing with
problems not of their making," he said.
By Mike Berry
HR challenges: Feedback from the profession
Liz Fraser, UK HR director, Weber
– Absence management has never been a big problem in our
industry. Recruiting and retaining the right people is challenging; it’s not
just about money, it’s about variety and career progression. Keeping on top of
new employment law is an on-going battle, but the Government has helped by
introducing the twice-yearly dates when it enacts new legislation.
Lucy Bolton, HR director (EMEA), RSA
– Recruitment and retention have been big issues for us over
the past year. Implementing new employment legislation was also a challenge,
especially the flexible working laws. Our priority is to retain and develop our
best staff and their careers. Talent management and recognising the potential
of individuals is vital to us.
Jane Burt, HR director, Abbey
– Our main priority in the next 12 months will be upskilling
the leadership capability of our managers and looking at talent management.
Keeping abreast of employment legislation is something we do thoroughly anyway.
With the number of staff we have working for us, we have to have the proper
processes and procedures in place.
Duncan Brown, assistant
– Organisations are dedicating more resources to dealing with
employment legislation, and becoming smarter when it comes to dealing with
absence management. One big challenge in the next year will be the Information
and Consultation Directive. Organisations need to think what staff involvement
in consultation actually means.