Red tape stifles development of HR across European Union

A survey of HR across Europe reveals that most countries are struggling to come to terms with the European legislation mountain. Surprisingly, reports Michael Millar the UK is ahead of the pack in adapting to change

A pan-European survey of the HR sector shows that personnel departments are struggling to deal with an increasingly complex and legislation-bound working environment.

However, UK experts believe the Management Centre Europe’s (MCE) Future of Work Research Report shows that British HR practitioners are well ahead of the field when it comes to adapting to change.

The report will be launched at the Global Human Resource Management Conference in Spain in late April.

One of the most damning statistics in the research of 500 HR managers and directors, is that seven out of 10 European HR personnel do not understand the full implications of European employment law.

Frazer Younson, vice-president of the Employment Lawyers Association, said HR staff in the UK were better prepared for European law as British courts were required to immediately apply continental changes to the cases they deal with.

European states tend to favour civil codes, which means EU law is not applied until the civil code is changed.

“Because the UK and Ireland operate a system of common law, the impact of cases is much more immediate,” said Younson. “But this does mean that HR always has to be on its toes.”

The survey also showed that poor communications and a lack of trust are obstructing flexible working schemes. While 66 per cent of organisations allow employees to work from home, four out of 10 said poor communications hindered flexible working and almost a third said that a lack of trust stopped staff from working at home.

Penny de Valk, managing director of the Ceridian HR Consultancy, said the UK took a broader approach to flexible working.

“There is a greater prevalence of part-time work across the rest of Europe, but it is largely available to women with children,” she said. “In the rest of Europe, flexible working is driven less by work-life balance and more by caring for dependants.”

The study found that a third of board directors in large organisations undergo less development than other staff.

However, the Institute of Directors (IoD) believes that at board level in the UK there is a wide acceptance of the benefits that targeted training brings to both organisations and individuals.

Andrew Spencer, head of training and development at the IoD, said the UK was “ahead of the curve” in board-level training, with mainland Europe playing catch-up.

The vast majority of those questioned in the study (94 per cent) said e-learning was effective while two-thirds have used it.

However, the MCE voiced concerns that it could become a substitute to practical face-to-face coaching and will be used as a “tick in the training box”.

Martyn Sloman, learning, training and development adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said HR in the UK was well aware of this danger.

“After a period of disgraceful over-hype of what it could deliver, we’ve learned from our mistakes,” he said. “Training managers are now asking intelligent, worthwhile and sensible questions about when it is appropriate to use e-learning.”

The Achilles heel seems to be the inability of UK HR to recognise and harness the potential of the physical space in which people work.

Most Europeans think their offices do not encourage productivity and Frank Duffy, founder of workplace design and strategy firm DEGW, says the UK is way off the pace.

“If HR took more interest in the use of space, it would be able to pull some important levers to increase productivity,” said Duffy. “At the moment, the TV show The Office depicts [the British workplace] all to well.”

Working in Europe

67% of HR managers and directors do not fully understand the implications of European law

55% of HR managers and directors do not feel Europe should have a standardised retirement age

44% of HR managers and directors have seen an increase in the number of job applications from other European countries in the last couple of years

Employment benefits

29% of organisations offer a better maternity package than the statutory minimum

18% of organisations offer a better paternity package than the statutory minimum

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