This week’s letters

We’re a nation in danger of never
finishing a thing

So, as a country, we are 30 per cent less productive than the French (News,
10 August)? The French?

Are we talking about those same mesdames et monsieurs who take at least an hour off for lunch instead
of wolfing down a baguette at their desks? The very people who do a 35-hour
week, and would, allegedly, rather have a good time than work?

Apparently, we Brits have to work more than 10 hours more per week to
produce the same outcome as the French. And it doesn’t stop there.
Unfortunately, we are less productive than most of the nations in the developed

Various theories have been put forward to explain this: the UK hasn’t
invested so much in technology; our weather isn’t as good; we work longer and
make up the productivity, so it doesn’t matter; we have the fourth largest
economy on the planet, so why worry?

Well, we should worry, a lot. We are becoming a nation of ‘starters’ –
people who are outcome-driven, and not input-led. Everyone wants to do the
exciting bit. Fewer people want to do the unexciting bit of seeing the job
through to the very end.

Too many people are ‘wowed’ by the ‘ra-ra‘ and
flag-waving that surrounds exciting ideas. But then they lose sight of the
outcomes and whether, or what, they have actually achieved.

Two-thirds of business strategies fail. This is reflected from the top down,
and we are developing a frightening culture of never getting anything done.

To all of you leaders out there: let us make it our business to praise the
people who produce the outcomes. Reward those who finish the job. We could, for
example, bring people out from behind the PCs and recognise their achievements
in keeping the database in good order. For without the people who actually
finish the job, the starters simply wouldn’t get anywhere.

The truth is, too many ‘gonna do this and that’s’
just spoil the broth!

Jane Sunley,
Managing director, Learnpurple

New laws drowning voice of small

Since 1997, more than 30 significant individual employment rights have been
introduced in the UK.

It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that small businesses, often with
no separate HR function, feel that it is becoming increasingly difficult to
employ, manage, discipline and sack people without being put to significant
expense. And the latest of these rights will even require employers to extend
their grievance procedure to ex-workers.

Many smaller employers feel their voice has been left unheard in the debate
about employment rights between the so-called social partners – the Government,
unions and the CBI. After all, what business case is there for requiring an
employer to extend its grievance procedure to ex-workers? This right is an
attempt to get the employer and ex-employee to resolve issues outside the
tribunal. It is a cost-cutting exercise likely to have little or no impact on
the seemingly inexorable rise in tribunal claims.

Isn’t it time for a more balanced approach to the creation of employment rights,
even if that is limited to a clear delineation of the principle that employee
rights should come with employee obligations – a crucial, but some would say,
missing part of the employment equation.

Martin Brewer
Partner, Mills & Reeve

Gimmicks will not stop absenteeism

The recently announced Royal Mail scheme to reward staff
who don’t
take any sick leave for six months by entering them into a
prize draw for a car is nothing short of discrimination against genuinely ill
employees. How can offering a car for attendance help the health of the

If employees are genuinely ill, they need to take time off to fully recover
– enticing them to keep working with the possibility of winning a prize is
really not the way to manage the problem of absenteeism. Malingerers who
regularly take ‘sickies‘ are the only ones to benefit
from this scheme. It could also have legal implications for the Royal Mail.

Managing absence is a complex process that cannot be addressed with
promotional gimmicks. The only way to effectively manage absenteeism is through
a combination of early medical advice, and accurate, systematic management

Alan Aldridge
Managing director, Active Health Partners

Young guns never really get fair shot

In all the debates and discussions about age discrimination, I have noticed
very few references to discrimination at the opposite end of the age scale in
relation to the employment of young people.

We are overlooking a very important aspect of the debate on the consequences
of the ageing workforce, and its impact on the economy.

The main thrust of the Government’s initiative to address the impact of an
ageing and shrinking workforce (birth rates are falling across Europe) – and,
of course, to go some way to address the pension deficit – is to encourage
employers to extend working life. While this is very important and will help
slow the tide of exits from the workforce, it overlooks the very important need
to renew and replenish the workforce at the opposite end of the spectrum.

It seems to have become increasingly difficult for young people to break
into the job market around the age of 15-16, when they start looking for some
independence from their parents and want to establish themselves as

I know this from my 15-year-old’s experience in trying to get a Saturday
job. Many of her friends are desperate to work but cannot get jobs because
employers are not interested in employing them.

When I spoke to the store manager of our local supermarket recently (a large
national food retailer), I was told that they do not take anyone on under the
age of 18, because the whole focus is on employing mature people who already
have work experience. I had been expecting the reason to be the more onerous
regulations around the employment of young people. I followed this up with
calls to three other employers and received a similar response. How

It is imperative we give young people an opportunity to work early on. Apart
from the obvious waste of talent and a chance to channel their energy, we are
also denying them the opportunity to develop an interest in work and its
long-term rewards. Even more importantly, and worryingly, we are not preparing
a workforce for the future.

Deirdre Golden
Head, ORC Worldwide

Make sure you pick the right staff to

I read with interest the piece ‘Training opportunity passes by one in five
workers’ (News, 10 August).

I agree companies should regard training as an investment, and staff should
make the most of courses offered. But it is vital to take time out to ensure
the right staff are sent on the right courses.

Before a company implements a training programme, it’s worth taking a step
back to undertake a needs analysis to examine the company/ individual
requirements to maximise the return on investment. This will involve
identifying how an individual undertakes their job, how long it takes to
complete the task and the quality of the end result. The analysis will also
look at the additional tools that the individual needs to help them in their

It’s just as important to check that the candidate is committed and ready to
be trained. DTI research reveals that 85 per cent of employees don’t make the
most of training opportunities. There’s little point spending money on those
who don’t want to learn.

Michael Graham
Managing director, Pitman Training

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