In my previous blog I talk about the problems faced by leaders in trying to motivate a multi-generational workforce with widely differing personal goals and career aspirations. The generational differences were well illustrated in episode 1 of Radio 4’s new series The New Workplace. If you didn’t catch it this week, I highly recommend tracking it down on BBC iPlayer: (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0656f2d).
The question the series explores is: Can the relatively low paid, low skilled jobs the UK’s famously flexible labour market has generated in abundance deliver the productivity and growth needed for future prosperity?
The soundbites about the UK’s work environment at the start of the programme paints a depressing picture:
“…low productivity, well below its potential…”
“…unpaid internships; zero hours contracts…”
“…high skilled jobs shrinking; low skilled jobs increasing…”
“..a lack of key skills at all levels..”
“..the skills of our 16-24 year olds are no better than our 55-64 year olds…”
Presenter Michael Robinson looks for answers to the above question within the Whitbread business empire. It is easy to see Whitbread as a microcosm of the UK economy – their roots in manufacturing (brewing), but now exclusively in the hospitality and services industry, owning brands such as Costa Coffee, Premier Inn and Beefeater Restaurants. Whitbread, with a global workforce of 45,000 managed by a leadership team of just 60, effectively illustrates the impact that technology has had on the size and shape of large organisations, with junior employees taking on more and more responsibility, but at much lower pay than their middle management predecessors, which appears to be a dying breed.
“People expect far less from their employers than they did a generation ago”, says Ewart Keep, professor of education, training and skills at Oxford University. Older employees have learnt this from bitter experience. The younger have never known to expect more. It’s no wonder that employee engagement is such a hot topic for so many employers, and for Whitbread in particular, who are keen to reduce the 50% staff turnover that is such a drain on a business’s productivity and performance.
Listening to this programme, it’s clear that the businesses that will succeed in this challenging and fast evolving environment will need to be agile, open-minded and pragmatic. Support functions such as HR and Internal Communications have an increasingly pivotal role to play in achieving alignment between corporate and individual goals and aspirations.
Read Michael Robinson’s article about episode 1 of The New Workplace.