This week’s letters

Breeding discontent among real backbone of the nation

Having read the article ‘UK has long way to go on keeping workers informed’
(16 March), I felt rather aggrieved at the following comments: ‘We need every
woman to have 2.1 babies’; ‘British women are simply not delivering the babies
we need’; and ‘Older people tend to be more stable, more loyal and more
committed workers’.

The UK has still done very little to help support the working women who have
children. Women have to have career breaks to have children. And despite
flexible working arrangements, etc, the UK still has one of the highest charges
for childcare and nursery provision.

Women cannot afford to stay at home and take care of the children, and the
cost of quality childcare is extortionate.

I have two children aged two and eight. I work full-time as an HR
professional, but can only just afford to pay for morning childcare, which
takes half of my net take-home pay. My husband has to work nights [to be around
during the day] so that we can cut the cost of childcare and after-school club.

If the UK economy needs us to ‘breed’ more, someone has to take a close look
at the issues involved. We are still stuck in a very old, traditional
environment, where flexible working is only effective on paper – not in
practice. The current salaries and long-hours culture do not balance with
childcare provision.

As for ‘older, more committed employees’, we should not assume that just
because they have passed their young family days they will therefore have spare
time and more commitment, and will not have to rush off to collect children
from school.

Tina Robinson
Details supplied

Networking really is a business benefit

HR Hartley – whoever you are – I couldn’t agree more with your comments in
Personnel Today on 9 March (I am sorry I have only just gotten around to
responding – I have been too busy networking).

As an employed HR professional, the use of local networks with other HR
people/employers in the same town was obvious to me when developing new
policies, sourcing suppliers for training, etc. Unfortunately, my experience
reflects your recent article, which said other HR professionals are not always
responsive to networking. In HR we often work on confidential information. Are
my colleagues just applying it to everything they do? Or are they using it in
competition for the (often limited) talent in the workforce?

I would like to say a positive word for networking. When you share knowledge
and contacts, people appreciate you, and that is a nice feeling. Networking
also develops other business skills, such as the ability to present yourself.
Last, but not least, you get to meet some interesting people – a bonus for
those of us in the people profession.

I attend the Oxon HR Club, a networking event held in Oxford once a month.
The event has good-quality speakers and without doubt contributes to my professional
development. We are keen to find other HR professionals to attend. If you know
anyone who is lurking in the Oxford area on the second Thursday of the month at
about 7.30pm who would like to give networking a go, send them our way.

Deborah Atkins
Consultant, HR Insights

Knee-jerk solutions are not the best way

I read with interest the article entitled ‘It’s the way we work… not the
people’ (Features, 16 March).

The gist of the challenge to the status quo made by John Seddon is that
top-down, hierarchical, ‘command-and-control’ work structures are a major part
of the organisation problems – as much as 95 per cent; that HR is at best
addressing the 5 per cent of an organisational system that represents the
people; and that adopting a systems-thinking approach (instead of a
‘command-and-control’ hierarchy) to organisational structure may hold some

It is quite possible to have a hierarchical structure in the organisation
and still take a systems approach. As a former systems
engineer-turned-organisation development person, it may be easier for me to
take this view than others.

The key is to find the root cause of the problems, and then act accordingly.
People at every level of an organisation (especially senior managers) are very
good at responding to problems. Unfortunately, their actions are mostly
directed at the symptoms, and not the root causes – partly because of perceived
time pressures demanding quick fixes.

Here is an expensive example from real life. Stapleton is the old airport at
Denver in the US. It was plagued by delays. Excited politicians didn’t conduct
a root-cause analysis of why the delays had occurred. If they had, they would
have seen they were due to limited parallel runways. Instead, they built a very
expensive new airport that proved inconvenient to some local residents, was
completed late and over budget in key aspects (See Six Sigma For Everyone, by
George Eckes, page 47).

I believe organisations – including HR practitioners – are just as quick to
jump to a solution as the politicians in the example above. That, for me, is
the real issue facing organisations.

Martin Schmalenbach
Organisation development adviser, Hampshire County Council

Unemployment stats seemingly ‘created’

So unemployment is low according to Government statistics? Hmmm. Setting
aside the transient nature of the lower-paid sector, if that is truly the case,
it’s at odds with your recent article which stated that recruiters are deluged
with website applications (1,200 each week at Microsoft alone). Customs &
Excise received more than 5,000 applications for a handful of managerial posts,
and the Department for Work and Pensions has been inundated with responses for
a local unit.

If the employment market is so buoyant, why are there so many people chasing
the same jobs? The profusion of recruitment ads create a vision of plenty until
you realise that multiple agencies are all handling the same client.

I know of good professionals who have experienced difficulty in securing
interviews (let alone jobs) because of the high volume of applicants. Ageism is
another factor – how many greys are reflected in the statistics?

Contrast this with the continual merging and ‘downsizing’ of businesses as
well, and things don’t quite seem to stack up. I think there’s some creative
accounting going on.

Jayne Robinson
Details supplied

Brown’s job cuts will be a costly mistake

As a civil servant trying to gain promotion at this time, I believe that
Gordon Brown is making the biggest mistake of his political career.

Many of the departments in the Civil Service are already under extreme
pressure due to massive staff shortages. Many pay deals have to be financed via
staff savings. Almost 25 per cent of staff in the Department for Work and
Pensions (DWP) are on short-term casual contracts.

Efficiency will only improve when staff have genuine job security, receive
the right wage for the right job and get the proper training required to give
them the skills to deliver to the public the services they ask for.

A DWP employee
Details supplied

MI5 committed to development of HR

I am pleased to confirm that the success of the Security Service’s (MI5)
recruitment drive (News, 23 March) is mirrored by the success of its recent
online chatrooms on Graduate Prospects’ Careers Chat Live, on which employers
and students are able to sound each other out in a pressure-free forum.

MI5’s two Careers Chat Live sessions beat all expectations in terms of
popularity: compared with an average of 30-50 people, 260 students and
graduates logged on to question the panel on burning job-search issues.

The most frequent questions were about the social implications of working
for MI5 and which languages are currently required (Arabic, Urdu and Gujarati
are the top three).

The fact that the service is making the effort to explore new routes to the
graduate employment market demonstrates its commitment to developing the HR
function to meet its recruitment needs.

Mike Hill
Chief executive, Graduate Prospects

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