Are employees a “necessary evil”?

A new study has investigated the details of the challenges being faced HR professionals in today's workplaces.

In 2009 the world was in the grips of the financial crisis, but for many economies there has been a return to prosperity in recent years.

A study undertaken by Morgan Redwood recently compares challenges for HR managers now with those of 2009. While some of the findings are UK-centric, many of the takeaways are universal.

Workforces have increased substantially in the last few years with many respondents reporting an increase of at least a quarter and more increasing by at least 20 per cent. 

More than 40 per cent of those polled expect to be increasing the workforce in the coming 12 months. In 2009 the majority were reducing staff numbers.

Attracting better talent to the business is one of the major priorities for HR departments with 39 per cent citing it as their main focus. More than a third say that reducing staff churn and costs are key priorities and up-skilling workers and improving productivity also rank highly.

Work-life balance is a hot topic for both employers and their workers but the poll reveals a disparity between what HR teams know, and what they plan to do. It was rated as the most influential factor in staff motivation in 2014/15 compared to the 6th most influential in 2009; but is the tenth priority on the “to do” list.

Despite the high level of job losses in 2009 morale has declined. The study found a morale rating of 6.4 out of 10 in 2009 and 5.4 out of 10 in 2014/15 with work-life balance again rating as the top factor for reduced morale along with redundancies.

Employee health has taken a plunge in terms of importance for employers with 95 per cent believing that employers have a duty of care for workers’ health in 2009 compared to 46 per cent in 2014/15. Those employers who feel that workers’ health relates to performance has dropped too, from 58 per cent in 2009 to 25.6 per cent in 2014/15.

The management team’s attitude to employees was also analysed and 54 per cent of respondents felt that their management style did not get the best out of workers. 

While 41 per cent see employees as “brand ambassadors”, 39 per cent see them as “individuals to be nurtured” and a third see them as “crucial team players”; 22 per cent say they are “an easily replaced commodity”, almost 17 per cent say they are “difficult to manage” and 13 per cent call them a “necessary evil”.

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