This week’s letters

Call it a day on ‘teddy bear HR’

I see that Personnel Today recently launched a section called HR Strategy
Forum (see page 16 of this week’s edition). I hope it has been earmarked by
your readers because today, there is a strong message for HR in this country:
it is time to evolve and move on. Don’t hang on to the old for old-time’s sake.

The UK perception of HR has often been seen as a ‘safe’ job. Careers
counsellors see it as ‘sensible’, parents see it as ‘responsible’ and everyone
else views it as potentially boring. HR was the epitome of the ‘fur-lined rut’
job – a one-track safe, warm and comfortable job with no challenges beyond its
narrow confines.

Exposure to new ways of working by candidates from more inclusive and
community-focused countries means that sweet, ineffectual ‘teddy bear HR’ in
the UK may soon be over.

Competition is entering the UK from countries where HR has regular and
sustained interaction with external stakeholders. Dealing with customers,
suppliers, investors and the community is considered part of the job

There is, for example, the more holistic, creative and external approach in
South Africa and the Scandinavian block.

In South Africa, it is not unusual for HR at management level to have active
involvement in the community in which employees reside.

"Ten years ago in South Africa, my role as HR manager with De Beers
Industrial Diamonds, and Pilkington Glass, involved active participation in
local community, welfare and education bodies. Additional work as
vice-president of the local chamber of commerce, and then as industrial labour
representative for the South Africa Chamber of Commerce, helped me to provide
positive impact on behalf of employees," reads one CV.

Here is a new breed of HR: the people services director/executive who adds
to the long-term strategic direction of the organisation.

Back in the UK, it is clear that being responsible for an organisation’s people
also means helping to shape the culture of your organisation. In turn, HR needs
to be aware of the external influences shaping the organisation.

Take note too that HR will move beyond the collation of personnel data,
benefits, etc. To make a strategic difference, the HR manager needs to speak
the same language as the other members of the board – finance, IT and
marketing/communications – and to understand and be responsive to influences
such as balanced scorecards and SWOT factors (strengths, weaknesses,
opportunities and threats) to the business and industry. Those kind of skills
will dramatically enhance your career prospects.

At a strategic level, HR needs to concentrate on the things that make up the
core competencies of an organisation – the people. If the process of achieving
this change entails outsourcing and/or sharing services, then so be it.

Wayne Carstensen
Managing director, Arinso UK

Not necessarily right statement of the law

On 7 October, you published an article by Stephanie Patterson
in the legal section on the right to sue for the loss of the chance to claim
unfair dismissal.

Patterson referred to the case of Virgin Net, where the
Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) gave a different decision to that given in
Raspin. She says that employers can now feel safe in that they do not have to
worry about the principle of an action being brought for the loss of the right
to claim unfair dismissal.

However, both Raspin and Virgin Net were heard at the EAT and
although Virgin Net is much newer, it is not necessarily the right statement of
the law as both cases are on equal level.

It will need a decision by the Court of Appeal to sort out the
question of whether a case can be brought when an employer in breach of
contract terminates an employee’s contract of employment, thereby depriving
them of the right to bring a case of unfair dismissal because they have not
achieved one year of service.

Barry Mordsley
Head of employment department, Salans

E-mail ban may help us talk

You recently reported that John Caudwell, chief executive of
mobile phone retailer Phones 4U, had banned internal e-mail among his 2,500
staff to improve productivity. I would argue that he might find there is a
welcome spin-off in improved motivation among his workforce.

In many companies, e-mail has replaced face-to-face meetings or
phone calls between colleagues. A comment made in an e-mail can be taken out of
context, resulting in either a protracted ‘e-mail conversation’ or ill feeling
among employees. It is also difficult to create emotion in an e-mail,
especially when passing a compliment, saying thank you or delivering bad news.

I accept that there will be some people who would see an
internale-mail ban as an infringement of their liberties. Perhaps the way forward
is to begin with a series ofe-mail-free Fridays to get people used to talking
to each other again.

Graham Povey

Managing director

Capital Incentives & Motivation

HR must respond to review strategically

n The Accounting for People Taskforce’s review of human capital
management (HCM) reporting (News, 4 November) has put the value of people
firmly on the business agenda.

However, HR professionals must respond in a strategic rather
than knee-jerk fashion to demands for better reporting. Developing measures and
reporting mechanisms outside of a strategic HCM process is likely to lead to
the collection of interesting, but ultimately meaningless data – such as
focusing on cost rather than investment – and potentially a lot of wasted time.

Boards and investors must understand the changing value of
human capital and the actions being taken to increase this as key lead
indicators of business success. To provide this insight, measurements,
benchmarking, evaluation and reporting all need to focus on the key strategic
differentiators that drive the business forward.  

John Ingham
Principal consultant, Penna Consulting

What about the right to run a

I was astounded to read such a short-sighted and self-righteous
review from Carol Davis on the subject of parental benefits (Letters, 4

Clearly she is not in a position where she has to act as
mediator between unreasonable parents demanding their ‘rights’ and managers who
have a business to run.

I wonder if Davis would take the same view if she was actually
running her own business?

How would she feel if it were her business being directly
compromised by frequent absences for non-critical reasons or unreasonable

People choose to have children; their employers do not force
them to do so. Why then should employees be able to shift their parental
responsibilities onto their employers?  

If parents want to see all their children’s ‘first time
occasions’, perhaps they shouldn’t be working in the first place. Like a lot of
things in life ‘you make your bed and then you lie in it’. The sooner parents
realise that they cannot ‘have it all’, the better.

Thankfully, not all parents are so unreasonable and do their
best to honour their work commitments as well as their families. They achieve
this through compromise, not by making unreasonable or unrealistic demands.

This is just as well, because if all parents jumped on this
bandwagon as Davis suggests, the wheels of UK industry would surely grind to a
halt and these parents might find themselves out of a job altogether. Then they
really would have something to whinge about.

Details supplied

GPs attitudes at root of sicknote

Having read Dr GC Moncrieff’s letter (Letters, 4 November), I
would like to congratulate Personnel Today for its coverage of the sick/stress

As an HR manager, I have strong views on this matter. I must
say that sicknotes are only pointless because of the attitude of GPs towards

It strikes me that if GPs had been on top of the whole thing to
start with, and refused to sign a sicknote if they genuinely believed the
individual wasn’t really sick, then they wouldn’t be inundated with patients
who know the doctor is a soft touch.

Let’s be honest: if a patient was ‘trying it on’ but refused a
sicknote, they wouldn’t be in such a hurry to return. And if a patient is
genuinely sick, then I would expect the GP to be qualified enough to make a
diagnosis and sign them off appropriately.

Also, if an employer is having to pay someone for
being off sick and/or provide additional cover for that time, they should be
entitled to know the exact nature of the illness without it being a breach of

Countless companies in the UK are bearing the financial brunt
of the sicknote and compensation culture, and many other organisations are
unwittingly fuelling the flames.

K Hunt
HR manager, IMG

OH buy-ins are not practical for
rural UK

I refer to recent articles in Personnel Today regarding doctors
issuing sick-notes. I wish to express my concerns about the proposed
alternative of buying specialist occupational health (OH) services, based on my
own personal experience.

I service a number of small businesses in Derbyshire, and I
worry about the cost, availability and effectiveness of the proposed solution.

Apart from the major centres of Derby and Chesterfield, most
employers in this area are based in small towns and villages. It is already
difficult for them to find doctors who are willing to do pre-employment
medicals, and there are no obvious local sources providing cost-effective
private medical or OH services. So where are the potential service providers?

For any OH service to work, it is going to need a sufficient
group of regular clients to be viable and this will not exist in most parts of
Derbyshire, so the service will probably only be available in Derby itself or
in Chesterfield. Requiring sick staff to travel miles to be examined seems
unfair if they are so unwell that they cannot attend work.

The proposed solution may well fit large companies and cities
where the service will be readily available and at a per-head cost that is
acceptable. In rural areas, the service is unlikely to be available except at a
considerable distance and with only a small number of staff being referred, at
a high premium. And, who would pay the transport costs?

This proposal looks good on paper, but will be unworkable
outside the big cities.

MJ Blake
Personnel consultant, Belper, Derbyshire

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