This week’s letter

CBI selective when it comes to the ‘flexible’ UK economy

It seems that even the CBI is willing to selectively use statistics to
bolster its claim that a flexible labour market can be directly linked to low
unemployment levels.

In particular, its claim that the UK has the lowest unemployment in the EU
is patently untrue.

While it is true that France and Germany have significantly higher
unemployment rates than the UK, the latest OECD figures show that Austria,
Ireland, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands all have lower unemployment rates.

Moreover, in Sweden and Denmark – countries that most people would consider
offer a very high level of social security – the unemployment rate is only
marginally higher than the UK. The reality is that there is no discernable

It is also interesting that more than half of the EU countries have lower
unemployment than the US, which both Labour and Conservative politicians
promote as an exemplar of a flexible labour market. While flexibility may well
have a part to play in providing employment to a low-skilled workforce, this is
no basis on which the UK can compete with low-wage economies such as China.

If the CBI considers flexibility as "a jewel in the crown of the UK
economy", one must only assume that it considers everything else as being
mere cut glass.

Graham Evans
Details supplied

Doctor’s letter gave me good belly laugh

Having just about stopped laughing after reading Dr Phil Peverley’s letter
(News, 2 September) regarding sick notes, I would just like to say how very
true to real working life this is.

I am the MD of two businesses within the printing industry and my associates
and I are constantly battling against absenteeism due to supposed illness. We
have a number of employees who continually flout the sicknote scheme, and
unless you come straight out and accuse them of lying, there is nothing you can
do. And if you did accuse them of lying, you would probably be stuck with a
constructive dismissal charge.

Here’s an example of a recent situation concerning one employee.

The employee had been off work for two weeks and had made no phone calls or
any other attempt to contact the company to explain his absence. When he did
contact us, he said he had had enteritis, which two days later had turned into
food poisoning. Two days after that he had two wisdom teeth extracted. Another
two days later, his fifth grandma died. Then he developed a mouth infection
from the teeth extraction and now had lockjaw.

When he returned to work last Monday, lo and behold, he had backdated sick
notes covering everything. We tried to approach his GP, but of course all the
information is confidential.

Never was an article so true to life.

David C Tye
Managing director, Nottingham Print Finishers

Take steps to avert the impending crisis

It is gratifying to see, at long last, that business is beginning to
recognise the critical role played by people in securing success.

With disciplines like human capital management, HR professionals are
demonstrating to the board how strategic management of ‘soft’ people issues can
lead to hard performance gains.

Retention and succession planning are key elements of any people management
strategy. But how many companies are acting to capture and retain the knowledge
that resides within their employees’ heads, and in their employees’ informal
work networks? And how many have even determined how much of that knowledge is
relevant and useful?

With the Baby Boomer generation nearing retirement, this is becoming a
critical issue. For some sectors the day of reckoning is uncomfortably close.
Energy is just one example. Here, according to the Society for Petroleum
Engineers, 44 per cent of the industry’s experienced knowledge base is due to
retire by 2010.

Each individual who walks out the door represents the loss of decades of
accumulated experience and expertise. Enterprises do not think twice about
securing, and insuring, the value of easily replaceable physical assets such as
vehicles and computers. Yet they adopt an entirely different attitude when it
comes to the real source of value in the business – knowledge.

Clearly, this cannot continue. Businesses need to act, and they need to act
now, if they are to avert the coming crisis.

HR professionals can play a critical role in preparing enterprise for future
knowledge deficits, and they can do this by factoring knowledge succession
planning into their wider strategies for attracting, retaining and replacing

The good news is that the rewards of such an integrated approach can be
harvested now, and not just in the future. Building knowledge management into
people management strategy will yield benefits today, in terms of increased
business agility and competitiveness.

And, for HR professionals, adopting this integrated approach will support
them in their ongoing campaign to become a partner to the business.

Dorothy Leonard
The William J Abernathy Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business

Journalists are not always out to get you

Your feature on how to handle a TV interview (23 September) was timely. The
fallout from Enron and WorldCom, from Higgs and now the Hutton inquiry, mean
that the national media is interested as never before in how organisations are
run and how they treat their people.

However, this is not necessarily bad news for HR and it is a shame the
feature focused on how frightening facing the camera can be. Actually, for the
HR community this is a wonderful opportunity to find its voice at last, and to
be listened to attentively.

Journalists are not always intent on tripping you up. Most of the time, they
are simply trying to get to the facts, spot the trends, present some compelling
human interest stories – all of which HR professionals can help with, while at
the same time grabbing the chance to spread the good news about their
organisation’s policies and practices.

Colette Hill
Managing director, Colette Hill Associates

Sexism in the police force is no surprise

Your article ‘Watchdog warns police over sexism’ (News, 23 September)
explains that the Police Complaints Authority has criticised lenient punishment
for sexist officers who escape with a fine rather than dismissal.

Well surprise, surprise. In the private sector, it is common for those with
rare, expensive skills to exploit the organisations’ reluctance to let them go.

Everyone knows of situations where Teflon-coated spin doctors can break
rules, behave incompetently, and push sexism boundaries in the workplace with
complete impunity. Need to replace a cleaner? Easy. They will probably behave
and call you ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. But if you need another radar computer
programmer, it is probably easier to smooth the waters over than find a

Where unscrupulous individuals want to play havoc, the organisation suffers
in the long run, through inefficiency, bad press and stress.

The high cost of putting an officer on the street will always mean that
inspectors and superintendents will be compromised between booting out PCs,
being under-resourced in the community and giving them a slapped wrist for
sexism in the workplace.

I don’t have all the answers, but if police officers faced a stint in the
local military police clink – like their peers in green uniforms – maybe they
would start to behave. Unfortunately, this is not an option on civvy street.

Tony Howell
Details supplied

CIPD member does not mean ‘better’

I was alarmed to read recent correspondence from one of your readers who
believes they have been unsuccessful in finding a new role thanks to
narrow-minded recruiters rejecting those without appropriate CIPD
qualifications (Letters, 23 September).

As much as I would like to believe that the contributor simply did not fit
the person spec or that their experience does not fit the job spec for the
positions they are applying for, I cannot help but think that maybe it is
because they do not have the CIPD qualification

I find it alarming that so many companies seem to insist on the requirement
to have a CIPD qualification. I myself do not have the qualification; indeed, I
refuse to pay money to confirm what could be confirmed simply by taking five
minutes to read over my CV.

I am as capable and knowledgeable without the qualification as I would be with
it, so why then do so many practitioners refuse to look any further when
candidates do not possess this ‘essential’ selection of letters?

Could it be that they are compelled to create a person spec of some
substance and then stick to it come hell or high water? Or, as I suspect, they
do not recruit outside the CIPD circle as to do so would invalidate their own
sense of worth over having achieved membership of a club for which they spend
their hard earned cash on maintaining?

Have HR practitioners become so insecure in their own abilities and
experience as to rely so heavily on a membership (and it is a membership, not a
qualification) that is barely rated among many HR practitioners and

I do not doubt that the CIPD could play a significant role in taking the
profession forward. Is it not maybe more damaging, however, to create a
standard that is an irrelevance to many within the profession?

A good practitioner will be good regardless of membership, just as a poor
practitioner will be poor even with the membership.

The letters CIPD change nothing about a professional other than to dip into
their wallet/purse.

Alasdair Martin
HR officer, Quisine Foods

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