The British worker is poorly trained, and less productive than most of their European counterparts, despite working longer hours.
I don’t say that to slate the country’s workforce, of which I am part. It’s just what the official figures say.
The question is why.
The fault might not be so much with the employees as it is with their employers.
If the latter fail to invest in them, in training them, developing them, honing their skills, and treating them as a valuable and valued partners, then the unhappy state of affairs I outlined above will inevitably continue.
A group of big investors would like to address that. The members of the Pension & Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA), have £1.9tn at their disposal and represent more than half the pool of institutional money invested in the UK. They are the sort of investors who park the money that they oversee for the long haul and so it is in their interests that companies have happy, engaged and productive workforces.
The latest cost cutting drive to boost the CEO’s bonus and flatter the next trading trading update is of rather less importance.
Recognising that Britain has an issue, they decided to take a look at what companies are up to, commissioning the Lancaster University Management School to conduct to an analysis of the annual reports of 98 FTSE 100 companies; leading businesses that ought to be exemplars of best practice.
The findings have been published in a report – Hidden Talent: What Do Companies’ Annual Reports Tell Us About Their Workers – and they do not reflect well on the companies considered.
While nearly all liked to bang on about how important their workers are to them, just 43 per cent bothered to report on how their staff added value to company strategy.
Incredibly, some 91 per cent discussed their workforces in relation to “risk management”. That’s right, the people who create their products, provide their services, make the money that their CEOs report on every few months, were viewed not as resources but as risks.
That’s indicative of some seriously woolly thinking at the top of corporate Britain because, well, what do you do with risks? You certainly don’t invest in them. Instead you do what you can to minimise them, to box them up and hope they don’t blow up in your face.
Annual reports are typically glossy, expensively produced affairs in which companies like to blow their own trumpets. But wait, what’s this? Another disturbing finding from the PLSA, which complains that their trumpeting of management achievement does not extend to the achievements of workforces, with their issues reported “in a balanced, self critical fashion that was not systematically focussed on the positive”.
Now there’s something to be said for balanced and self critical reporting. But in this case consider the context: annual reports are a company’s shop window. They are used by bosses to say ‘hey, look at us, we’re great, come invest!’ If within them they then say, ‘but, oh, yes we’ve these terrible people called workers to worry about but we’re doing our best to minimise the problems they cause us’ it doesn’t send out a terribly encouraging message to people who might have money to put down.
Just 18 per cent of companies gave information on staff turnover, which can serve as a useful indicator of corporate health, and an early warning of problems if it suddenly starts to increase. Less than ten per cent offered meaningful data on the breakdown of part time vs full time staff, or on the use of agency workers or casuals. While most provided stats on gender diversity in the workforce, only 15 per cent mentioned ethnic diversity. Only a third gave information on how they foster employee engagement. And so it goes on.
At a time when there are high levels of concern about exploitation in the so called ‘gig economy’, and the Government claims to want to give more of a voice to the worker, not to mention the ongoing issues of poor productivity and the skills gap, one would think more attention would be paid to issues like this.
Can the report change that? Not on its own. It’s timely, and ought to be given due consideration by employers given from whom it is coming. But it also requires the PLSA’s individual members to play their part by pushing its conclusions.
Change, and it is clearly needed, will only come if they are willing to step up their engagement, and indulge in some judicious arm twisting when they have their regular post results pow wows.