Workplace unrest rises as austerity measures take toll

Employers face a sustained increase in workplace unrest as staff work longer and harder without greater reward.

This is according to the State of Human Resources survey by Kings College London and law firm Speechly Bircham, which found that half of organisations surveyed have increased staff working hours, while pay rises and bonuses continue to be withheld.

The survey of 550 senior HR professionals highlighted the correlation between staff working longer hours and increased absence, stress and employee grievances.

One-third of organisations saw a rise in employee grievances this year and a quarter expect an increase in 2011. Poor relationships between staff and managers and bullying/harassment were identified as the main causes.

Richard Martin, partner and head of employment at Speechly Bircham, warned that unrest in the workplace could cause further problems for employers. “The combination of increased workplace conflict, longer hours and rising stress levels is a potent cocktail which could lead to a significant rise in tribunals and industrial action if not properly addressed,” he said.

With 70% of employers making compulsory redundancies in 2010, it is perhaps no surprise that HR identified employee engagement as the key HR issue for 2011.

Stuart Woollard, managing director of Kings College London’s HRM learning board and co-author of the survey, said that the results question the sustainability of current HR strategies: “Organisations must carefully consider the likelihood of erosion in employee productivity, work quality and performance as a consequence of lean workforces and additional working hours. With an apparent leadership/management disconnect with staff, firms may also not realise the nature and extent of the problems ahead.”

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