Keeping the purse strings tight - The Week in HR

02 August 2016

A report from TUC published last week suggested that Britain has suffered a bigger fall in real wages since the financial crisis than any other major economy. Within the OECD, only Greece rivalled the UK in this unenviable statistic.

Of course, the post-Brexit fall in the value of Sterling had a huge part to play in this. Before then, Britain was hardly ahead of the pack, but it hadn't slumped to Mediterranean levels of wage distress.

But it is clear that earners continue to feel the pinch. The latest data shows that pay settlements continued to be subdued in the three months up to July. XpertHR's pay trend analysis revealed that the median basic pay award for the period was 1.8%.

The uncertainty leading up to the vote on the UK's membership of the European Union has played a part. Understandably, prudent employers wanted to keep tighter control over their overheads until the outcome of the vote was known.

It'll be interesting to see how wage growth is affected now that our future outside the EU has been decided. Reports have already come in of some employers postponing planned pay increases in the aftermath of the vote for Brexit. Others have frozen pay altogether.

If I were a betting man, the smart money would be on wage growth to remain weak throughout the rest of the year and into 2017. The message seems to be clear: against a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty, employers are choosing to keep their purse strings tight.

More employees suffering from mental health problems

Despite some successes from national campaigns, the issue of mental health remains a sensitive topic in the workplace.

The good news is that many corporations are getting much better at being open about the issue. 46 percent of respondents in a recent CIPD study reported that their employer supports employees with mental health issues either "very" or "fairly well".

The bad news is that most of us would still rather not talk about it with our boss. Less than half of respondents (44 percent) said they would feel comfortable disclosing unmanageable stress or mental health problems to their employer. It seems the stigma still lingers.

The CIPD study shows that the amount of workers suffering from mental health problems has increased to nearly one third of workers, up from one in four workers five years ago. 42 percent of those workers had experienced the problem in the last 12 months alone.

Those figures might be a good prompt for HR teams to review what existing initiatives their business has implemented to tackle mental health issues and promote a healthy work life balance. And what more can be done?

After all, despite the cynicism of some parliamentary select committees, the overwhelming majority of employers really do want to do right by their employees. If the board needs an economic rationale to boost mental wellness up the agenda, it's now almost a trite fact that happy employees are also more productive and are more likely to stay with the business.

There's an added sense of urgency for organisations in regulated industries, such as financial services, to tackle mental health robustly. There's a very compelling compliance rationale for making sure your traders and senior executives, who are required to make decisions that affect not only the business but society at large, are healthy and well balanced.

Graduates value culture over pay

What do we want? More work parties! When do we want them? Now!

New research commissioned by Accenture Strategy has revealed that nearly two in three graduates now value culture and a good social atmosphere over pay, when looking for their first job.

Perhaps that's a good thing, as we seem to have run out of money to increase salaries?

Surprisingly, in addition to 'top banter', the thing that's right up there are flexible working arrangements. In a separate survey by Regus, more than nine out of ten professionals said that given a choice between two similar jobs, they would choose the one which offered more flexible working hours.

Perhaps HR managers who have been saddled with a cost-reduction mandate can use culture and bespoke working policies as a softer and, crucially, more cost-neutral tool to attract and retain talent in the uncertain post-Brexit landscape?

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