This week’s letters

HR can help small businesses through legislation minefield

Does HR have a place in the small to medium sized business? Very often when
HR is publicly discussed, it is often the larger business and the public
services that are the reference points.

However, smaller businesses are increasingly using the services of HR
professionals, particularly companies undergoing change and growth. So how can
the HR function add value? In many small businesses, especially in the early
stage of a company’s development, HR is just an administrative function with
the chief executive or chief financial officer handling HR issues on an ad hoc,
reactive basis. However, as the company grows there is a critical point at
which the lack of a formalised HR strategy becomes detrimental to the business.

Some fear the introduction of formalised HR policies will have a negative
impact on employees’ creativity and ability to innovate by being overly
bureaucratic. It is my experience that the opposite is true. It is essential to
have the discipline that a documented and well-communicated strategy offers in
order to underpin the continued growth and creativity of the business. However,
it is vital to get the balance right.

The introduction of an effective HR strategy, policies and procedures should
have the aim of freeing up the CEO and CFO and other senior level staff from
being so involved in operational issues so that they can concentrate more fully
on growing the business. This, of course, has the effect of devolving authority
and power to operational managers; all of which makes for a healthy and
competitive working environment.

Mary O’ Dowd
Consultant, Blue Yonder plc

Treat SMEs fairly to boost the economy

I would like to add to your news story outlining the TUC’s concern that
‘government reforms will cause increased tribunals’ (6 January).

I was part of the team that worked very hard to ensure employers as well as
employees were treated fairly under Employment Act 2002 draft regulations. I
completely agree with the comments of Mike Emmott, the head of employee
relations at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, who said
that increased employee rights could mean increased claims. By issuing
contractual rights for employees to use the three-step procedure from day one,
small and start-up businesses will no longer have a 12-month lag before an
employee is entitled to take them to court for unfair dismissal.

As the owner of a recruitment company my focus is to create jobs and to find
the right jobs for the right people. I completely agree people must be treated
fairly. However, I can also see that small business must be treated fairly as

We must be careful that employment legislation remains relevant and doesn’t
become overly burdensome to the point where it deters business from taking on
new staff.

Legislation has to strike a balance to protect everyone’s rights so that the
economy can continue to grow and support us all.

Sarah Anderson
Chair, MaydayExec

Healthy outlook for HR role in the NHS

I read with interest the article, ‘Tackling health and safety difficulties
within the NHS’ (News Analysis, 9 December 2003). I am currently working as an
interim HR manager within the NHS and confirm that there is some really good
work being carried out, such as the Improving Working Lives and Agenda for
Change initiatives.

More use of IT is also helping HR in providing the numbers and trends we
need to move forward and get more transparency within this industry, which is
the third largest employer in Europe.

I noted the 4.6 per cent sickness absence rate was mentioned in the article.
However, I do not feel that the use of a percentage to indicate sickness levels
is helpful. Local authorities have targets in days, I believe, and currently
the target is an average of nine days sickness per employee, per year.

When looking at sickness statistics, I feel we need to look at working days
lost. Such a figure can then be better analysed and truly costed, and
initiatives can be further fine-tuned or established where necessary.

Colin Rodden
Interim senior HR manager, The Mosaic Initiative

People and success go hand in hand

I have just read Stephen Overell’s excellent column ‘Dancing to the devil’s
tune’ (Off Message, 6 January). The pendulum has certainly swung from HR being
a benign, if somewhat inert cog in the organisational machine, to being a
bullish engine for change.

While I welcome the move towards a more strategic role, I fear that this
will be at the cost of a loss of focus on the human dimension (Ulrich’s
’employee champion’ bit).

I always feel sad when I hear HR professionals talking about business
success and people satisfaction as if they are opposites. If you can only
manage one of these missions then get out of the profession.

Surely the real challenge is to manage both with clarity, passion and
integrity. Well done, Stephen, for challenging the popular mantras of today and
reminding us that people remain the heart and soul of organisations.

Graham O’Connell
Development & Training Consultant, CMPS, Cabinet Office

‘The management’ lives in its own world

I couldn’t agree more with Stephen Overell (Off Message, 6 January). As an
HR manager in a government quango (perhaps the same one?), a recurrent gripe
from ‘the management’ has been that I’m too much on the side of the staff. I
don’t feel quite so alone in the wilderness now, though that isn’t going to
stop me from leaving the profession next year.

Details supplied

Diversity is not just a matter of morality

The recent legislation surrounding diversity in the workplace has put the
issue at the top of many organisations’ agendas, possibly for the wrong

All too often, organisations take on the issue of diversity as either a
reaction to legislation, or because they see it as a moral thing to pursue.
Organisations are failing to realise the business impact that diversity can

Many HR professionals in the UK have heard from colleagues in the United
States that diversity is a big issue. But in the US – as is likely to become the
case in the UK – diversity has been tainted by mandates from government.
Diversity initiatives can so easily be derailed by excesses of quotas and
targets, and the UK is headed this way unless organisations can identify and
understand the real business benefits behind delivering diversity.

The fact is, diversity matters and it can offer a route to better business
performance. Research recently undertaken by Sirota has shown that a diverse
workforce, together with an inclusive work environment, has the potential to
have a major impact – both positive and negative – on business performance.

When diversity is successfully integrated into a workforce it has been shown
to enhance many other dimensions of performance that organisations strive for,
such as innovation and customer service.

Surely this should make diversity within organisations a ‘must have’, not a
‘nice to have’?

Nick Starritt
Managing director, Sirota Europe

Has someone slipped up on their maths?

Your recent article on absence mentions that "civil servants took 50
per cent more sick leave than private sector staff last year". However,
the caption under the photo next to the article says that "Civil servants
took twice as much sick leave than private sector staff".

My maths may not be all that good, but even I know that a 50 per cent
increase and "twice as much" are not the same thing. In fact there is
quite a substantial difference.

I don’t have access to the report mentioned, but could you perhaps clarify
which of the two figures it is?

Robert Ivey (not off sick today)
Head of personnel, National Weights & Measures Laboratory

Production Editor’s reply: You are quite right. The caption was
incorrect. The real figure was in the article. Apologies.

Minister misses the point on check pay

How can Home Office minister Hazel Blears believe that "organisations
will see the disclosure fee as a price worth paying for the additional

Prior to the creation of the Criminal Records Bureau the service was carried
out free of charge by the local Police Authority and with a guaranteed two-week

Mary Wight
HR manager, Tynemouth College

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