Working mother speaks from experience at CBI

In a week where HR professionals were being urged to drive through flexible working policies or face losing out against more enlightened competitors, here is one example of what a small adjustment in working hours can do to help the work-life balance.

Susan Anderson, the new CBI director of HR policy, is contracted to do a 30-hour week. Although acknowledging she puts in more hours than this, the flexible contract means she can leave work early twice a week to pick up her two children, aged 10 and 12, from school. When they were younger she worked a three-day and then a four-day week.

It is heartening to meet a senior policy adviser who has the practical experience of juggling work with family, particularly as she has been involved in negotiations on part-time working, both in Westminster and Brussels.

As the Hay Management Consultants survey warned (Personnel Today, 4 July), companies that are late to adapt to family-friendly working “can expect to receive a battering from their more enlightened rivals”.

And this week a DfEE study on the work-life balance showed that only 10 per cent of employers in banking and insurance allow flexitime working.

Less than a month into the job, Anderson said she recognises that the work-life balance and the issues this throws up for employers will be a key plank of the CBI’s HR agenda for the coming year. As the political parties draw up their election manifestos, the CBI is conscious that this is an important issue for its members.

Her view is, of course, the employers’ one. “The employee who puts in a request to work part-time should not dictate which days they work – that is up the needs of the business. But they have a right to be considered.”

During her five years at the employers’ organisation, which claims half a million members, Anderson has been attached to one of the three divisions in the HR group as the head of employee resourcing. As well as working on the National Minimum Wage, pensions and the New Deal, she lobbied the European Commission on employment issues.

She is a member of the social affairs committee of Unice, the European employers’ organisation, and visits Brussels about once a month for meetings.

The HR directorate has about 22 policy advisers and is similar in size to the CBI’s economics directorate. “HR has been a key area with the Government’s minimum standards agenda and a huge amount of legislation.”

She was the CBI negotiator during the social partner talks on the Part-Time Work directive, which she has followed from its embryonic days in Brussels to the fully-fledged UK regulations.

In this piece of legislation she has evidence to show that UK employers are ahead of most of their European counterparts. “Twenty-five per cent of the UK workforce is in part-time work – second only to the Netherlands.”

And she says employers should have little to fear. “It is about treating people equally which is what we are doing already in the UK.”

The next EU directive to be transposed into UK legislation is the Fixed-Term Work directive, which has a deadline of June 2001. And this, together with lobbying on agency workers legislation and making sure the Charter of Fundamental Rights does not turn aspirations like “a living wage for all” into rights enshrined by law.

There are many other issues she covers. One is training and the skills shortage. “We are spending a lot of money on it and one problem is that employers are training the basic skills like numeracy and literacy.” She thinks employers should not have to dig into their pockets for this type of training – it is a problem for government.

Another initiative is the Headstart scheme, an HR benchmarker tool or “HR probe” to show what contribution personnel is making to the bottom line.

As with other policy and lobbying organisations, the CBI promotes from within and critics would say that Anderson, who does not have a qualification in personnel or an HR background, last worked in business (retail management) some years ago.

She counters this by saying she has constant contact with business leaders and HR directors involved in the committee work.

“What we have are the lobby skills and we know how to represent our members,” she said. “I could not run an HR department or be an HR director, but an HR director could not be a lobbyist.”

The HR profession will be watching her progress with interest or they might be knocking on the door thinking they can do the job after all.

www.cbi.org.uk

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